Seeking God: Acts 10:1-48

 

SETTING: v. 1-8

Luke’s narrative of the Acts of the Apostles introduces us to an important character who will move Luke’s narrative forward into the redemption of the gentile world.

Caesarea is of both practical and symbolic importance in the Acts narrative:

  • Caesarea had been the provincial capital and place of residence of the Roman governor since A.D. 6.
  • Caesarea was a Hellenistic-style city with a dominant population of Gentiles.
  • The Jewish minority experienced considerable friction and civil with the larger Gentile community

Caesarea was formerly known as Strato’s Tower – a second-class harbor city with a shallow entrance and vulnerabilities to strong southern winds – but Herod the Great initiated a remarkable reconstruction policy that rebuilt this city into the economic powerhouse and provincial capital that it has become.

Herod’s project included engineering marvels such as:

 

  • Deepening the harbor
  • Building a breakwater against the southern winds
  • Rebuilding the city
  • Building an amphitheater
  • Building a temple in honor of Rome and [Caesar] Augustus
  • Constructing aqueducts to bring in fresh water
  • Establishing a Roman garrison of soldiers to protect the harbor and the fresh water supply.

 

 

Luke introduces us to a man named Cornelius, who was a Centurion in the Italian Regiment:

  • The Roman army was composed of legions of 6,000 men each.
  • The legion was divided into ten cohorts of 600 soldiers each.
  • A Centurion commanded one century: 100 men.

However, historical evidence from Austria suggests that the Italian Cohort in Syria at this time was an auxiliary regiment:

  • Auxiliary regiment composed of 1,000 men.
  • Centuries composed of 100 men.
  • Centurions commanded one century: 100 men.

The Roman historian Polybius described centurions as “not seekers of adventure but men who can command, steady in action, reliable.”  Rome considered the Centurion to be the backbone of the Roman army, and it is noteworthy to mention that the gospels speak very highly of Centurions as well (Luke 7:1-10).

There is very little known about Cornelius himself outside of Luke’s account in Acts 10:1-11:18:

  • We know that the name “Cornelius” was common in the Roman world from 82 B.C. onwards when Cornelius Sulla liberated ten thousand slaves, who took his name as they established themselves in Roman society
  • Cornelius may have been a descendant of one of the freedmen of Cornelius Sulla’s day.
  • He is identified as a centurion of the Italian cohort.

Cornelius himself is described as a devout God-fearer:

  • This term often describes those who followed the Jewish religion without becoming full converts to Judaism
  • Cornelius realized the moral bankruptcy of paganism and sought to worship a monotheistic God by practicing prayer and justice

Cornelius’ “regular prayers” most likely references the Jewish hour of prayer that occurred everyday at 3:00pm.

  • This would be equivalent to the traditional Chinese afternoon nap

Cornelius’ Devotion: v. 1-2

Cornelius’ devotion is important throughout this narrative (v. 2, 4, 22, 35) because it carries the two disciplines of the early Jewish disciples (2:42, 45; charity and prayer) into the gentile narrative and demonstrates how precious spiritual devotion is in God’s sight:

2 Chronicles 16:9a (CSB) — 9 For the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him…”

Jeremiah 17:10 (CSB) — 10 I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.

The force of Cornelius’ devotion leads directly to one of the main conclusions of this narrative:

Acts 10:35 (CSB) — 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

OT Theological Setting: 1 Chronicles 28:9 (CSB) — 9 “As for you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him wholeheartedly and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands the intention of every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will reject you forever.

“Memorial offering”: The angel tells Cornelius that his prayers and acts of charity have ascended as a memorial offering before God.

Psalm 141:2 (CSB) — 2 May my prayer be set before you as incense, the raising of my hands as the evening offering.

Philippians 4:18 (CSB) — 18 But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:15–16 (CSB) — 15 Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

 

Prayer That Establishes the Church: Luke’s Theology on Prayer in Acts

The Church that prays is established in the will of Christ because it is in prayer that the unified Church seeks God.

Consider what Luke says about prayer in Acts:

  • The disciples were continually united in prayer before Pentecost (1:14)
  • The Church devoted herself to prayer (2:42)
  • The disciples set aside daily time for prayer (3:1; 10:9)
  • The Church worshipped God in prayer (4:24)
  • The ministry of the word is linked to being devoted to prayer (6:4)
  • The prayers of those who fear God are precious in God’s sight (10:4)
  • The Church sought deliverance from persecution in prayer (12:5)
  • The Church committed her elders to God in prayer (14:23)
  • The Church had set up regular places of prayer (16:13)
  • The apostles prayed for miraculous healing (28:8)

 

 

 

 

PETER’S VISION: v. 9-16

Luke mention’s Peter’s hunger because noon was not a usual weekday meal time.

  • The custom was to have a light midmorning meal
  • Then a more substantial meal in the late afternoon

Peter falls into a trance and sees a vision of a large sheet with clean and unclean animals being lowered down to earth by its four corners.

This vision is repeated three times.  And each time he is commanded to eat.

  • The four corners of the sheet represent their worldwide mission to the ends of the earth
  • The clean and unclean animals represented the diverse nations and peoples they were being sent to with the gospel

Peter is deeply perplexed about the meaning of this vision because he does not yet understand the meaning behind God’s law about “clean” and “unclean” animals:

Leviticus 20:24b–26 (CSB) — 24 … I am the Lord your God who set you apart from the peoples. 25 Therefore you are to distinguish the clean animal from the unclean one, and the unclean bird from the clean one. Do not become contaminated by any land animal, bird, or whatever crawls on the ground; I have set these apart as unclean for you. 26 You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be mine.

By making certain animals “unclean”, God set Israel apart from the other nations because this law greatly limited the kinds of interactions the Jews could have with the outside world.

We see this reality throughout the gospels:

  • Jesus warns the disciples about the Pharisee’s leaven when they reach Caesarea-Philippi (Matthew 16:5-6).
  • They mistook his meaning because they had forgotten to bring bread and couldn’t buy bread from gentiles

One simply could not dine in a Gentile’s home without inevitably transgressing the Jewish Dietary laws

  • By consuming unclean meat
  • By consuming meant that had not been prepared in a kosher fashion (cf. Acts 15:20).

Jesus spoke into their misunderstanding of the “clean” and “unclean” foods by teaching his disciples that external things like food does not defile a person, but rather, it is the internals of heart that render one truly unclean:

Mark 7:18–23 (CSB) — 18 He said to them, “Are you also as lacking in understanding? Don’t you realize that nothing going into a person from the outside can defile him? 19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into the stomach and is eliminated” (thus he declared all foods clean). 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.”

This was precisely the point of Peter’s vision: God declared the unclean to be clean.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ teaching was immediately followed by his ministry to a Gentile woman (7:24–30), just as we will see in a moment that Peter’s vision regarding clean and unclean foods was followed by his witness to a Gentile.

 

 

CORNELIUS: v. 17-33

The answer to Peter’s questions is arriving at his doorstep from Cornelius’ servants just as his vision is concluding.

  • The Spirit directed Peter to the three messengers standing at the gate and identified them as men he had sent
  • Peter asks the servants why they came
  • The servants tell him of their mission to bring Peter to deliver a message from God to Cornelius

Luke could have summarized by simply noting that they told him of Cornelius’s vision.  Instead, by employing dialogue, he emphasized two important points of the vision:

  1. The devoutness of Cornelius
  2. The leading of God.

Peter was already beginning to understand the meaning of the vision as he invites these gentile guests to spend the evening with him; he was already beginning to have fellowship with Gentiles he formerly considered unclean.

The next day six believers from Joppa accompanied Peter to Caesarea with Cornelius’ servants (see 11:12).  These believers are featured in the next movement of Luke’s narrative as Jewish eye-witnesses to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring upon Gentile believers.

  • Demonstrates that the apostles, even Peter, didn’t have unilateral authority over the Church
  • Demonstrates that the Church relied on witnessing God’s movement to lead them

Next, we see Cornelius’ deep hunger for righteousness in the manner of his preparation for Peter’s arrival:

Acts 10:24, 33 (CSB) — 24 The following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 33 So I immediately sent for you, and it was good of you to come. So now we are all in the presence of God to hear everything you have been commanded by the Lord.”

PROMISE: Matthew 5:6 (CSB) — 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Cornelius falls at Peter’s feet with “reverence” (πρσκυνεω – proskyneo) when he arrives, perhaps thinking like a Gentile would think that there must have been something supernatural about Peter.

  • Peter’s response shows that such reverence was unacceptable
  • Peter’s response shows that the apostles were also mortals
  • Peter’s response rejects any such quality of hierarchy in the Church

Peter tells him: “I am only a man myself” (cf. 14:14–15; Rev 19:10; 22:8–9).

 

 

 

THE GOSPEL: v. 34-43

Luke demonstrates the weightiness of this speech by using the literary formula, “opening his mouth, Peter said” (Ἀνοίξας δὲ Πέτρος τὸ στόμα εἶπεν·):

  • This formula marks weighty speeches in both Luke’s Gospel and Acts
  • The CSB renders this, “Peter began to speak”
  • Look at how your Bibles translate this sentence
  • Make a note and keep an eye out for this expression

Peter’s sermon follows the basic pattern of his other sermons to the Jews with several notable differences:

  • He stresses God’s perspective as being “without favoritism” ( 34)
  • He stresses Christ’s Lordship over all people from every nation without discrimination ( 35-36)
  • He stresses the universality of the gospel’s salvation to “all who believe” ( 43)

Even if you compare Peter’s sermon to the Caesarean Gentiles here with Paul’s sermons to the Gentiles of Lystra (14:15–18) and Athens (17:22–31), you will see considerable differences.

This suggests to me:

  • Luke’s record doesn’t intend to present a “gentile gospel formula”
  • Luke’s record of Peter’s sermon has unique points that it wants to stress

Now, finally, Peter fully understands the meaning of his vision:

Acts 10:34–35 (CSB) — 34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Peter uses a Greek expression for “favoritism” that comes from a Hebrew idiom meaning to lift a face:

  • God does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnic background, looking up to some and down on others
  • God does discriminate between those whose behavior is acceptable and those whose attitude is not acceptable

One of the reasons that Luke has repeatedly stressed Cornelius’ personal virtue (v.2, 4, 22, 35) is because one of the unique points that he is stressing from this encounter is that “in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”.

This is a continuation of a theme that Luke stressed in his gospel as well:

Luke 8:21 (CSB) — 21 But he replied to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.”

And this is one of the central principles of the impartiality of God’s righteous judgment:

Romans 2:6–11 (CSB) — 6 He will repay each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. 9 There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no favoritism with God.

 

 

 

 

Acceptable to God: v. 34-35

Before we move on with this narrative, let’s examine this closer:

Acts 10:34–35 (CSB) — 34 Peter began to speak: “Now I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

We preach that God saves sinners through faith in Jesus’ name and not on the basis of their work.

This is what we refer to as “justification”, and describes God’s gift of declaring us “righteous” on the basis of Christ’s righteousness:

1 Corinthians 1:30–31 (CSB) — 30 It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

PETER’S CONCLUSION: Acts 10:43 (CSB) — 43 All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Luke is describing the kind of character and heart that is acceptable to God, not describing the means by which Cornelius was saved:

Jesus is the author of this doctrine: Matthew 7:21–23

Paul also preached this doctrine: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8

The will of God is to present a holy and blameless bride to Christ.  To reject God’s call for personal holiness in the body of Christ is to reject God himself.

We must be careful of the kind of carnal thinking that wants to be God’s people and continue in sin:

Jeremiah 18:11–12 (CSB) — 11 So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look, I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds.’ 12 But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ ”

The grace of God expressed in the love of Christ will sanctify those who call on Christ’s name with faith:

Titus 2:11–15 (CSB) — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. 15 Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

 

Peter’s Conclusion to the Gospel: v. 37-43

Acts 10:37–43 (CSB) — 37 You know the events that took place throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him. 39 We ourselves are witnesses of everything he did in both the Judean country and in Jerusalem, and yet they killed him by hanging him on a tree. 40 God raised up this man on the third day and caused him to be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by us whom God appointed as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that through his name everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins.

ONE CHURCH: v. 44-48

The Holy Spirit did not wait until Peter was finished with his sermon, but descended upon the Gentile believers and caused them to begin declaring the glories of God in other tongues.

This was God’s testimony to the Jews that he had chosen the Gentiles for salvation as well:

Acts 15:6–11 (CSB) — 6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers and sisters, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he also did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

Therefore, in this Gentile-Pentecost we see the Gentiles and the Jews becoming “one”:

Ephesians 2:11–16 (CSB) — 11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In his flesh, 15 he made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that he might create in himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.

Ephesians 4:1–6 (CSB) — 1 Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

2 Replies to “Seeking God: Acts 10:1-48”

  1. You sort of glossed over a point a bit: that being that those who were “strangers” and “foreigners” were ALWAYS welcome in Israel if they wanted to serve YHWH. One of the two spies to the Land had been a gentile in Egypt; the first judge in Israel, Othniel, had been a gentile. Over and over that point is stressed through the Torah. The same laws applied to all. It was only when Pharisees began adding to the Torah through the Talmud that things got messed up. The Talmud is pretty explicit on the role of “gentiles” and it’s not at all pretty (It’s actually rather shocking, but I’ll leave it at that.) That’s how Paul came around to there being neither Jew nor Greek; the standard all along was inclusion. It was “religion” that wonked that all up.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.