There was a certain man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian
cohort. Caesarea was located in the Proince of Samaria. Under the Roman empire,
Caesarea was the capital of Palestine. The Roman empire had five battalions of
soldiers stationed there. Each battalion consisted of about 600 soldiers. Of
the five battalions four consisted of Palestinian. Only one battalion consisted
of Romans national and they were known as the Italian cohort. Cornelius was a
centurion in that cohort. He was a devout man, a proselyte to Judaism.
The conversion of Cornelius to
Christianity was made possible through Peter by the guidance of God (Ac
10:3-48). Peter and Cornelius were total strangers. They lived far apart from
each other. The meeting of Peter and Cornelius was a significant event. It was
through this meeting that the first gentile church was set up.
God is not partial
The laws of Moses distinguished
clean food from unclean food (Lev 11:1-47; Deut 14:3-20). The Lord Jesus
abolished this distinction declaring all food clean (Mk 7:19). In a Vision,
Peter saw all kinds of four-legged animals and crawling creatures of the earth
and birds of the air. And a voice called Peter to kill the animals and eat.
Since the law of unclean food was abolished, the Jews who once abstained from
taking unclean food could from then on associate with the gentiles and eat
meals with them. Therefore, on seeing Cornelius Peter said to him immediately,
“Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep
company or come unto one of another nation; but God had shewed me that I should
not call any man common or unclean. Therefore, came 1 unto you without raising
any objection when 1 was sent for” (Ac 10:28-29). Here it is noteworthy that
Peter addressed Cornelius and his friends as people from “another nation” and
not “gentile”. Opening his mouth, Peter said, “I most certainly understand now
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.”
Here, Peter pointed out two
important teachings. First, God is not partial to anyone. Second, the word of
the Lord Jesus is the gospel of peace. Concerning the gospel of peace Paul has
explained it in great detail in Ephesians 2:11-22. There are two verses to take
note: “For He Himself is our peace who made both groups into one and broke down
the barrier of the dividing wall” and “He came and preached peace to you who
were far away and peace to those who were near”. Paul called the preaching o~ the
gospel of peace a mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons
of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the
Spirit; that the gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and
partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph 3:5-6).
Concerning God’s impartiality,
Paul explained further by saying that he was not ashamed of the gospel of
Christ. For it was the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to
the Jews first and also to the Greek. Both the Jews and the Greek stand as
equals as regards salvation. God is also impartial in judgment. God will render
to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good
seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are
selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath
and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man
who does evil, of the Jews first and also of the Greek, but glory and honour and
peace to every man who does good, to the Jews first
and also the Greek. For there is no partiality with God (Rom 2:6-11).
Who is a Jew?
To Paul a Jew was not a Jew who
was one outwardly; and circumcision was not that which was outward in the
flesh. But he was a Jew who was one inwardly; and circumcision was that which
was of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise was not from
men, but from God. The royal priesthood, an honoured position once given to the
Israelites during the Old Testament period (cf Ex
19:5-6) is now given to the believers of the Lord.
“But you are a chosen race, a
royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you
may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into
His marvelous light; for you once were not a people but now you are the people
of God, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet
2:9-10). Paul said, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ
Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is
neither male nor female: for we are all one in Christ. And if ye be Christ’s
then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:26-29).
Before Cornelius believed the Lord
he had three virtues which pleased God very much.
First, he and all
his house feared God. Cornelius was not only a devout man himself. He
influenced his household and his soldiers to be God fearing (Ac 10:7). He even
shared the vision he saw with his soldiers. His servants openly praised him
before Peter by saying that Cornelius was a just man (Ac 10:22). Also, before
Peter arrived, Cornelius had already invited his kinsmen and close friends to listen
to Peter’s words. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and were baptized.
We too must, like Cornelius, bring our relatives and friends to fear God.
Secondly, Cornelius gave alms.
Despite being a Roman centurion, Cornelius did not despise the Jews. He loved
them and gave alms to them. It was rare for a Roman official to treat the Jews
that well. In this connection, the Bible teaches that one who is generous and
gives alms will be remembered by God and favoured by men (Ac 9:36-41; Ps
112:5-6; Prov 22:9; Lk 12:33-34; Gal 6:9-10).
Thirdly, he prayed constantly. The
Jews in those days prayed three times daily at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, at
12.00 o’clock at noon and at 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon (Ac 2:15, 10:9,
10:3). David and Daniel prayed three times a day (Ps 55:16-17; Dan 6:10). Some
prayed seven times a day (Ps 119:164). The prayers of the saints are like
incense which rises before God. In his prayers, the angel of the Lord told
Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God (Ac
10:4). As believers, we should be like Cornelius and do more good deeds and