The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS
- The book of Acts is a book of conversions, and a very important conversion is recorded in Acts 10 -- the conversion of Cornelius, the first notable Gentile conversion.
- Peter led Cornelius to saving faith in Christ in his home in Caesarea, and then in Acts 11 Peter returned to Jerusalem and "rehearsed the matter from the beginning" (11:4), explaining how the Lord saved Cornelius and his kinsmen and close friends.
- It is a wonderful conversion story. The conversion of Cornelius covers all of Acts 10 (48 verses) and it is repeated again in Acts 11:1-18.
- Then it is summarized again in Acts 15:7-14.
- A.T. Pierson said the "repetition gives emphasis to the personal guidance of the Spirit, which is the grand truth here taught, leading us also to expect plain indications of duty whenever we are truly surrendered to the Lord for service" (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).
- The emphasis given to the conversion of Cornelius indicates that it was a very important event in the history of the early church.
- It was significant because it broke down the great barrier between Jew and Gentile (10:34, 35). The apostle Paul elaborates on this in Ephesians 2:11-22.
- Ephesians 2:14 says Christ "hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us."
- Another great lesson we find here is God’s unmistakable guidance and providence in preparing souls for salvation.
CORNELIUS WAS RELIGIOUS, BUT LOST (10:1, 2).
- Too many people equate being religious with being saved. But most religious people are not saved. In fact, there are millions of religious people in hell right now.
- Our Lord said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21).
- Acts 10:1 tells us Cornelius was a Roman centurion, i.e., he was a commander of 100 men (from the Latin word centurio).
- The “Italian band” was a group of Roman soldiers recruited in Italy. Cornelius was a “devout man” (10:2). He recognized God; he acknowledged God; and in his own way he was seeking after God.
- Jeremiah 29:13 says, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
- One day our Lord said to a certain scribe, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). Cornelius was not far from the kingdom of God.
- Notice also that Cornelius was a God-fearing man (10:2). There was a day here in America when it was a supreme compliment for some one to say, “He is a God-fearing man.” But not today.
- Cornelius was a God-fearing man. He was not an atheist. He was not an agnostic. He was not an infidel. He was not a mocker or a scoffer or a scorner. He was not a member of the ACLU.
- He had many good qualities, but he still was not saved (cf. Acts 11:11-14).
- Apparently Cornelius was a good family man – He “feared God with all his house” (10:2). He led his family the best he knew how. He taught them to fear God. He taught them to pray. He taught them to respect God’s people. Cornelius “feared God with all his house.”
- Cornelius was a good giver – Acts 10:2 says he “gave much alms to the people…” Some heathens are more generous than some Christians. I say that to your shame. Some Christians are cheapskates. They can squeeze a penny so hard that President Lincoln will start crying. But Cornelius gave away “much” money (10:2).
- Cornelius “prayed to God always” (10:2). He prayed regularly – always. He fasted too (Acts 10:30). Some Christians never fast, but Cornelius fasted.
- Cornelius had a good reputation among the Jewish people (10:22). Though he was a Gentile, he respected the Jews and got along with them.
- Cornelius was a devout man (10:2). Evidently he was a very sincere man. He was a man of character. But he still was not saved.
- Some people think Cornelius was already saved and that Peter did not lead him to the Lord. For example, A.C. Gaebelein said Cornelius "was a godly and a converted man before Peter ever came to him and preached the Gospel in his house. It is wrong, therefore, to speak of the event described in this chapter as the conversion of Cornelius."
- However Acts 11:13 and 14 says an angel visited Cornelius in his house, and said to him, "Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved."
- Cornelius was living up to the light he had, but that was not enough to get to heaven. Since he responded to the light he had, God gave him more light.
- In this story about the conversion of Cornelius, we see God’s providence, God’s grace, God’s guidance, and God’s intervention (10:3-6).
- In fact we see God intervening in the lives of people all throughout the Bible (cf. Acts 8:26, 27; 9:3-5; 16:14).
- And we see once again the personality of the Holy Spirit (10:19; 11:12) and the power of the Holy Spirit (10:38, 44-48; 11:15).
CORNELIUS RESPONDED TO THE LIGHT THAT GOD HAD GIVEN HIM (10:7-16).
- Cornelius obeyed God. He responded to the light God gave him, and then God gave him more light (10:1-8).
- God gives every one a certain amount of light. Speaking of Jesus, John 1:9 says, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
- When we respond to God’s light, He gives more light. But when sinners withdraw from the light they go deeper into darkness.
- God not only supernaturally directed Cornelius, but the Lord was directing Peter at the same time.
- Dr. Graham Scroggie was one time preaching from Acts 10:14, where Peter said to the Lord, "Not so, Lord."
- At the close of the service Dr. Scroggie was approached by a young woman a professing Christian, who had been greatly stirred, and greatly convicted.
- "And why don't you yield?" asked Dr. Scroggie.
- "I'm afraid that if I should yield, I will have to stop playing the piano in a concert hall, and I am afraid that God may send me to China as a missionary."
- Dr. Scroggie opened his Bible to Acts 10. 14, and explained to the young woman the absurdity of Peter's answer. He said, "A slave never dictates to his master." And to say, "Not so," and then use the word "Lord" was impossible.
- "Now," said Dr. Scroggie, "I want you to cross out the two words, 'Not so' and just leave the word 'Lord'; or else cross out 'Lord' and just leave 'Not so'."
- Dr. Scroggie handed her his pencil and quietly walked away. For two hours she struggled. Then he returned and saw the words "Not so" were crossed out. With a glad light in her eyes the young woman went home, prepared and ready to do whatever her Lord told her to do.
- Peter said, "Not so, Lord," because he was a Jew and had an aversion to Gentiles and their diet, which he considered “common and unclean” (10:9-16).
- The word "unclean" is found 110 times in the book of Leviticus. In Leviticus 11 we see the word "unclean" 32 times in reference to certain foods, such as the rabbit and the swine.
- These Old Testament diet restrictions were for Israel, and were removed at the cross. First Timothy 4:4 and 5 says, "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."
- This was the message the Lord gave to Peter (Acts 10:9-16).
- Not only did the Jews consider Gentile food "common and unclean,” they considered Gentiles themselves "common and unclean."
- Back in those days, Christians went into the synagogues and preached the Gospel to the Jews but they had little interest in reaching the Gentiles.
- Yet our Lord said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15, 16).
- And, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19).
- The Gentiles were being ignored and it took divine intervention to change that. This is why the conversion of Cornelius was such an important milestone. It changed the course of history.
- By showing Peter that the Jewish diet restrictions were no longer valid in this dispensation of grace, God broke down the barriers of prejudice and made it easier to reach the heathen with the Gospel (Acts 10:28).
PETER LED CORNELIUS TO CHRIST (10:17-48).
- Once again, we see the direct intervention of God in the conversion of Cornelius. W. Graham Scroggie said, “There are wheels within wheels in Divine Providence” (Acts of the Apostles).
- The Holy Spirit said to Peter, "Behold, three men seek thee" (10:19).
- Peter (and “certain brethren from Joppa” – six according to Acts 11:12) obeyed the Lord and went to Cornelius’ house in Caesarea (10:23, 24).
- Note verse 24, “And Cornelius waited for them...” Christian friend, perhaps there is some Cornelius waiting for you to bring him the Good News that Jesus died for his sins, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Jesus loves him, and that Jesus will save him if he turns from his sin and believes in Him.
- Many times I have knocked on some lost sinner’s door and they told me, “I am so glad you came. I have been very despondent. I was wondering if God cared about me.”
- Notice also in verse 24, “And Cornelius waited for them, and he had called together his kinsmen and near friends.” Cornelius wanted his relatives and friends to get saved too (10:24-27).
- By the way, Peter certainly was no pope (10:25, 26)!
- It was the hand of God that brought them together in Cornelius’ house that day (10:27-33).
At Cornelius’ invitation, Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends and relatives (10:34-43). Peter exalted the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Only Jesus brings peace (10:36).
- Jesus is the Lord of all (10:36b). He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).
- Jesus was a man anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power (10:38).
- Jesus "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him" (10:38).
- Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead (10:39, 40).
- The Lord Jesus Christ will be the Judge of the quick and the dead. (10:42).
- Whosoever believeth in Jesus shall receive remission of sins (10:43).
- Cornelius and his group responded to the Gospel and were saved, and soon they were baptized (10:44-48).
- The gift of tongues was given to Cornelius and his kinsmen and friends (10:46), but never in the Bible is it said that speaking in tongues is the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit (cf. 4:8, 31).
- The importance of Cornelius’ conversion is noted in chapter 11. Some Jews were unhappy with it (11:1-3).
- But Peter stressed that this was God’s plan (11:4—17, especially verse 17), and that these Gentiles were genuinely saved (11:14).
- After Peter explained what happened, “they held their peace and glorified God” (11:18).
- Let me conclude with a few thoughts on Peter's sermon in Acts 10.
- Peter said in verse 38 that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power," and "God was with him" (19:38b).
- If the Lord Jesus -- God manifest in the flesh -- needed to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power -- how much more do we?
- If as a man, the Lord Jesus relied upon God, and "God was with him," how much more do we need to rely on God?
- He was "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power" (10:38). The Lord of all humbled himself and became a servant and lived his life in the anointing and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a great lesson for us.
- Jesus "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him" (10:38).
- If Jesus "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with him" (10:38), shouldn't we be doing the same?
- Jesus said in Luke 2:49, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"