Today’s read in Acts 10-11 takes us to Caesarea to visit with a centurion named Cornelius. Peter has seen a vision; God shows him a sheet full of unclean animals and commands him to eat them. Peter protests that he has never eaten anything unclean or impure (according to the Mosaic Law). This happens three times, just before Cornelius’ servants knock on the door and ask Peter to come with them. God has also spoken to Cornelius through an angel, who tells him to send for Peter.
When Peter arrives at Cornelius’ home, the meaning of his strange vision is clear. Cornelius is a Gentile. Peter understands that God, through Christ, is offering salvation to the nations and that Jesus did not just come for the Jews, but for all who would believe. If you’re not a Jew, you’re a Gentile. And before Christ came, only the Jews were the chosen people of God. Gentiles were excluded, and if you believed in God, you had to convert to Judaism. God’s plan was now being revealed that the way of salvation is open! This is good news for us!
Cornelius’ story also teaches us something else about salvation. Acts 10:2 describes him as “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.” Wait a minute. Doesn’t that describe a person who is already saved? Why would he need Peter to come to tell him anything?
The Greek word used to describe Cornelius as “devout” is “eusebes.” It is similar to “eulabes” (another word for devout) which suggests the piety which characterizes the inner being, the soul, in its attitude towards God. But this word, “eusebes” directs us rather to the energy which, directed by holy awe of God, finds expression in devoted activity (definition: BlueLetterBible). Cornelius feared God and had respect for Him, but it did not translate into a surrender of his soul to God. It only affected his outward actions. He appeared pious on the outside, knowing there was a standard to measure up to, but he was doing it on his own terms. He had not yet recognized his sinfulness before God. As Peter shared about Jesus, the gospel was received as the Holy Spirit did the regenerating work. God “granted repentance” and Cornelius was saved (Acts 11:13-18).
Cornelius had to hear about Jesus because good works only get us so far. They may reveal that we have a respect for God, but they cannot save. Salvation is found only in Jesus, as we recognize and confess our sin, and God grants repentance and forgiveness.
Are you a Gentile? Jesus came for you!
Are you a Jew? Jesus came for you!
Are you religious? Jesus came for you!
Are you full of good works? Jesus came for you!