Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-33)

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa. The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”” (Acts 10:1–33, ESV)

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We are going to see two visions that do not make total sense in the moment, but both Cornelius and Peter are obedient and act without haste to the Lord’s leading through the visions. Cornelius was a well established centurion soldier who was a commander of over 100 Roman soldiers. In addition to this position, he was part of the Italian cohort which consisted of 600 men with 6 centurions as commanders. Cornelius was a man of power, wealth and position. He was paid 5 times the amount as ordinary soldiers.

The text identifies this very successful soldier and all of his household, as a God-fearers. Basically, He was a Gentile man who worshipped the Jewish God. He attended Synagogue and honored the Jewish laws and customs but had not officially joined the congregation through the act of circumcision. He was a morally upright man who committed himself to prayer and giving to the poor. Although he was morally on point, he did not know Christ. During the traditional hour of prayer for the Jewish people, Cornelius saw a vision form the angel of God, clearly in the light of day. Cornelius was terrified and said, “What is it Lord?” The angel responded to Cornelius, “your prayers and gifts to the poor have ascended as a memorial before God.” This is pointing to a gorgeous display of a sacrifice. Cornelius’ prayers and gifts to the poor ascended to the Lord like the beautiful aroma of incense during a sacrifice. They were pleasing to God. God choose Him. He was preparing his heart to receive the Gospel.

The angel tells Cornelius to send men to Joppa (31 miles away) to bring Simon who is Called Peter who was staying with a tanner named Simon. When the angel departed, Cornelius was quick to act and sent men immediately after explaining all that he had seen. Let’s pick back in verse 9 and we will read through to 33. Peter is staying with this Tanner, a man named Simon (whose occupation probably made Peter a little uncomfortable because of his often state of uncleanliness from handling animal hides).

Around noon, Peter went up onto the roof of Simon's house to pray. The roof may seem like a strange place to pray and perhaps even a bit dangerous, but this was a common place of prayer in Judean houses. The roofs were flat and had easy access to them. In the heat of the summer, a cool breeze could be felt. It was a place of retreat—a place to ponder, reflect, and pray. Also, noon was not a traditional time to pray in the Jewish Culture, which indicates that Peter was a praying man.

Do you have a place where you can go to get away and spend time with the Lord? Is it at an unconventional hour or unusual setting? For me, waking up early to pray and dive into scriptures is almost a total guarantee that one or both kids will hear me and will wake up. How do they sense these things friends? So my morning often looks like this: We wake at 7, momma has her coffee because that is as essential as breathing, obviously. We get dressed, eat and I load my two precious kids in the van and we drive to the YMCA. I check my kids into the nursery there and I resort to my elliptical. My place to pray as I am blasting worship music into my earbuds. After my time of prayer, I load the kiddos back up and we go home. It’s 9am and I put Ellie Grace down for her nap and Jude in his room for some independent play time and I dive into the word and also grab a shower. It’s an unconventional set up and it looks differently than most moms I talk to but it works for me. So think, in what ways even the unconventional ways, could you add more prayer into your day? Could it be turning your radio off on your commute to work or praying while taking a shower in the morning? Make prayer an important time in your day and be intentional with it. So Peter was praying when he became engulfed with hunger and while his hosts were preparing him lunch Peter fell into a trance. Have you ever been so hungry that exhaustion sets in and you are just still? I imagine that’s what is happening here with Peter. His defenses were low and he was still praying and resting when suddenly he sees a vision. The heavens open up and something like a great sheet descends upon the earth by its four corners. So in this sheet were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds. Every form of creature was represented here in this vision. Clean and unclean animals alike were displayed. And a weird request is voiced from God, “Rise Peter, kill and eat!” What an insult this devout Jewish man. It was not kosher for him to eat animals labeled unclean and he responded in disgust almost in a way to defend why he wouldn’t kill and eat these animals. You see that abstaining from unclean animals was not a matter of preference or etiquette but rather part of the Jewish heritage and identity.

So then we see that God speaks to Peter a second time, “What God has made clean do not call unclean!” and this happened three more times before the thing was taken up at once to Heaven. Can you imagine being left with this vision? I don’t think Peter fully grasped the true meaning behind this vision. But God was gracious and already preparing Peter’s heart to reach the Gentile’s, the unclean peoples with the Gospel. You see how God was widening his arms to individuals outside of the Jewish culture? Even more humbling, he was using Jewish disciples to bring his Gospel to the unclean people. Can you imagine the loss of identity in your pure Jewish heritage and the stripping down on one’s pride this must have produced? How could one even begin to comprehend all of this? It was new, it was uncomfortable and honestly, these people weren’t their people. It was insulting to think of people outside of the Jewish culture embracing their God and his gospel. As Peter was mulling over the vision and trying to grasp an understanding of it, the men arrived who were sent by Cornelius. Peter’s heart was tender and open from his vision and he invited them in as his guests.

The following day, he followed them back to Caesarea. Cornelius was awaiting their arrival and had called all of his relatives and close friends to hear Peter. When Peter entered the room, Cornelius met him and fell to his feet and began worshipping him. Cornelius heart was ready to receive the Gospel but I can’t help but think he just didn’t know what to expect. So many feelings and emotions to sift through that seeing Peter walk in was enough to bring him to his feet. He was more than likely relieved and eagerly anticipating whatever Peter had to say. His gesture was a form of reverence but Peter wanted none of it. He lifted the bulky centurion and exclaimed, “stand up, I too am a man!” He didn’t want any praises or form of worship that was reserved for God only. When he saw all the people gathered he confessed that he finally understood the meaning of his vision. “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean!” So when the men arrived, Peter followed without haste, but asked them why they sent for him. Cornelius reveals his vision to Peter.

In what areas do you grapple or should you grapple with what you are uncomfortable with for the sake of the Gospel?

Do you limit the Holy Spirit to a time during bible studies or Worship, do you want to rob someone of hearing the Gospel potentially for the first time because you need to be somewhere else?

Do you struggle with racism and culture mixing into our traditional church culture? Do you reach out to your neighbors who need Jesus?

Do you disciple someone or avoid it because you feel you have nothing to give or its awkward and uncomfortable?