The First Gentile Convert

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Acts 10:1-48

This week we will look at one of the most important chapters in the book of Acts, chapter 10. This chapter marks a major changing point in the life of the early church, one that makes it possible for world at large become part of the family of God.

In Acts 1:8 we see Jesus predicting how the church would spread and through the following account we can see the circle growing outwards. The Jews in Jerusalem were first (Rom 1:16), and after them Samaritans (Acts 8:1) were added to the church.  After those groups we see a proselyte from Egypt joins (Acts 8:36). With each addition we get further and further from a Jewish only church. Now in Acts 10 we are talking about a group of people that are so far removed from the Jewish community that it takes visions from God and visits by angels to orchestrate it.

The chapter opens with us seeing a Centurion named Cornelius praying to God. It appears that he was a God-Fearer, that is a person that is not a Jew but believed in the God of Israel. He was a gentile, and worse then that he was a leader among the Roman guards.  Cornelius represented everything the Jews’ hated that time and yet the text says he well respected among the Jews and that he was devote. Through this we can see he was actively seeking God.

While he is praying an angel from God visits him and the text tells us he was struck with fear. This is worthy of noting because men in his position were picked because of their stout courage and their ability to stand against any enemy with out wavering. Today when people talk about being visited by angels they rarely if ever mention this great fear, yet consistently through out the Bible fear always is the response of men, so much so that the most common thing an angel says is “be not afraid.”

The angel moves quickly to calm his fears by telling him that God has heard his prayers and accepted his gifts to the poor as a sacrifice to Him. We do not know what the content of Cornelius prayers were at this time, but the response is to send Peter to him. Philip is likely already in the city at this time, yet Cornelius is told to send for Peter. We will read later in Acts 11:14 that the angel had Cornelius send for Peter so that Cornelius and his household might be saved.

This rises a bit of a problem for us. Here we have a man that is obviously seeking after God with his heart, he is trying to live right, and is well respected as being a devote man, yet the scripture makes it clear he is not a Christian. Not only do we see that he prays to God, but we also see that God hears his prayers and sends an angel to him. This tells us Cornelius’ religion was not an act and in fact he was completely sincere in his prayers and life. Yet, he had to send for Peter before he could be saved.

There are two problems here we need to look at, first is why was not Cornelius saved at the moment he prayed, and two why send all they way back to Joppa for Peter when Phillip was likely already in town (Acts 8:40) and an angel was already with Cornelius.

First let us deal with this problem of Cornelius’s salvation, as it more directly applies to us in the modern day world. To understand what is happening here we will need to turn to a book that gives us the foundational basics of how Christianity really works, Paul’s letter to the Romans. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul tells us that a person needs to hear the Gospel preached in order to be saved. That implies that a person who lives some place with out any exposure to the Gospel cannot be saved. That seems unfair, cold and unjust to us, yet that is what is clearly implied in the text, and clearly modeled here. The other thing modeled here though is that God will do what ever it takes to get a preacher to the person seeking God so that he can be saved. Just look at the lengths God went through in this text. He sends an angel to Cornelius, and a vision to Peter. They both we prepared for the meeting through direct divine intervention.

God chooses to use human instruments to lead people to salvation, and nothing else. The whole of creation stands in witness (see Psalm 19) to who God is, and every man is given enough knowledge to seek God (Rom 1:19) so that all men are with out excuse, however no one can be saved with out some human presenting the Gospel to them. In the end times we will read about an angel giving the Gospel to the whole earth, but what we do not read in that account is that anyone is being saved because of that preaching.

The other problem here is that Philip is in town, and preaching. Why did not God send Philip instead? Cornelius could have been saved that very night instead of four days later. Well this is where Christianity has to smash through an unmovable wall, the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. To the Jew, a Gentile was unclean and a Gentile’s very presence made things defiled. They could never eat with a Gentile, nor would they ever enter a Gentile’s house. This is why the vision of animals was sent to Peter, and why six witnesses came with him. A preacher was needed to lead Cornelius to salvation, and one of the pillars of the church was needed to break down the wall and let Cornelius in to the church.

What we see modeled in Acts 10 is critical to today’s world. First is that Gentiles (which is likely almost everyone reading this blog, basically anyone not born a Jew) are being admitted in to God’s family for the first time, and second that a person that never hears the word of God can not be saved. The problem the second part raises for us is what about that long lost tribe somewhere where people have yet to receive the word, are they dammed to hell with out recourse? Yes, unless someone comes and preaches the word to them. What we see here in this chapter, (also see Acts 8:26-40 for another example) and what is backed up by countless stories from the mission field, is God will do what ever it takes to orchestrate a meeting between those seeking him based on the light they are given, and those that can preach the word to them.

The person that presents the Gospel only needs to be a willing vessel; there are no special qualifications for it (see Acts 10:26, nothing special about Peter). This situation where Peter himself was needed was only to break down the last barrier between man and the church. That barrier in today’s world is long gone. What this means for you, if you are a Christian, is that if you are not sharing the Gospel to those around you, you are not allowing them the opportunity to be saved. God has given that job to each and everyone of us as Christians. The only question that remains is are you sharing the Gospel so that those that know you have a chance at salvation?

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