A devout man.
A man who feared God.
A man who gave generously to the poor.
A man who prayed continuously to God.
A righteous man (fair and just, law-abiding).
A man who is well-spoken of by God’s people.
That’s a great reputation to have, isn’t it? Those are character traits that all good people aspire to live up to. I would be glad if someone described me as such a person! Wouldn’t you assume this man was on his way to heaven, destined to receive a great eternal reward?
Meet Cornelius, an upstanding citizen of Rome with an impeccable reputation. As commander of an Italian battalion, he had earned the respect of his community, his family and friends, and the men who served under his leadership. There was just one problem. While God did indeed hear his prayers and see the good things he did, he was not right with his Creator. He was still dead in his sins, destined for eternal separation from the God he sought to please.
Cornelius’ story and his encounter with Peter is one of the most encouraging passages in scripture. It reveals the loving character of God, who will go to great lengths to save and redeem. God had already begun His work in Cornelius; a recognition that there is a God, and we are accountable to Him is the first step, but it’s not enough. We must be introduced to Jesus, the author, and finisher of our salvation. Cornelius needed someone to tell him the good news of the gospel so that his seeking faith would bear the fruit of believing faith.
The heart of God is clear in this chapter. He gives Peter a strange vision three times, hammering home the wonderful truth that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him (Acts 10:34-35). What is it to “do what is right?” Peter is directed to Cornelius’ house to tell him. Cornelius has sent for him at the urging of an angelic messenger and gathered his friends and family in anticipation of the word from God he expects Peter to bring.
Acts 10:38-43 – You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.
Devout, religious people faithfully carry out the good deeds they believe will satisfy God every day, but without the blood of Jesus applied to their account, their sin remains. The outward appearance of external works is not enough…we must do what is right and come to God through the One He sent on our behalf, His beloved Son, Jesus.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
John 6:40 – For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
John 3:36 – He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
There are two main characters in Acts 10, Peter, and Cornelius. Their story unfolds at the will of the Sovereign Narrator and Author of all of our stories, God the Father. He spoke to Cornelius about his need to hear the truth, and He spoke to Peter to go share the truth. The best part is that Cornelius and his household responded to Peter’s message, receiving the gospel message about Jesus, and turning to faith in him to receive forgiveness for sins. The Holy Spirit “moved in” to their lives, affirming their welcome into God’s kingdom.
Who do you relate to in the story?
Are you like Cornelius, religious and full of good works, but lacking faith in Jesus? Or are you like Peter, blessed to already know Jesus and sent to tell His story to those God is drawing to Himself? Let us be like both of them and do what is right.