(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

I am going to deal with this long passage in two parts. First of all I shall examine the inquirer, Cornelius, and secondly I shall turn to the messenger, Peter. Acts10 marks a turning point in the life of the church. God shows Peter, and through Peter all the believers in Jerusalem, that he is going to admit Gentiles into the Kingdom. There would be no going back.

(B) Many devout Jews would have undervalued Cornelius.

Cornelius would not have been highly valued by many religious Jews because he was not:

    (a) A Jew by race.
    Cornelius was not a descendant of Abraham. He could not trace his ancestry back to the father of the Jewish people. Cornelius was not one of the chosen and as a Gentile was little better than a dog. Jesus highlights this mindset, that was probably prevalent amongst his disciples, when he says ironically to the Canaanite woman who wanted him to heal her daughter, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Mt15v26.

    Racial discrimination is thoroughly bad. Yet there are so-called Christians who are prejudiced against people of a different colour. God is prepared to adopt sinners of every racial, ethnic, cultural and social group by grace and through faith in Jesus. He gives his Spirit indiscrimately to all believers whatever their race. Peter realised the implication of the Holy Spirit being poured out on Gentile believers. God accepted them. If God accepted them the church must accept them.

    (b) A Jew by conviction.
    We must be fair to Judaism. It was possible for a Gentile to convert to Judaism. To do this a Gentile was circumcised - accepted the sign of the covenant and became a Jew. Cornelius was a God-fearing man but he wasn't a proselyte. This probably meant he had reservations about Judaism. He may have rejected its legalism - all the rules and regulations including circumcision. This would not endear him to the super-orthodox.

    Every denomination contains Christians who have reservations about the doctrinal position of their denomination. As I make clear in my personal statement I do not agree with all the Grace Baptist Articles of Faith. Unfortunately, each denomination also has self-appointed guardians of its doctrinal distinctives. Zealots generally lack sympathy for fellow travellers with reservations!

    (c) A civilian.
    It may have been difficult for peace loving Jews, if there were any, to accept that a soldier could be God-fearing. In our own society some occupations are more respected than others. This can carry through into the church. It may be hard for us to accept that with God a supermarket trolly man is just as important as a brain surgeon. James urges: My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. James2v1.

(B) God valued Cornelius.

God valued Cornelius for at least eight reasons:

    (1) He feared God. v2: he and all his family were devout and God-fearing.
    This means Cornelius respected God. Genuine respect is based on knowledge and so this centurion of the Italian Regiment knew God. I had a quite different relationship with the boys and girls I taught than the children I supervised in the church youth club or coached for the cricket club. The young people I taught for any length of time knew me and on the whole respected me - the other children did not.

    (2) He was a man of prayer. v2: He ...... prayed to God regularly.
    No-one prays regularly without faith. You do not make frequent requests to a person from whom you don't expect a positive response. My cricket club asked me to organise a quiz, write an article and edit the newsletter because the members were pretty sure I would comply. My church is equally demanding!

    If we do not pray regularly, then, unlike Cornelius, we have low expectations of God. I am always sad when one of our church members really needs help and they do not ask me for assistance. How must God feel when his sons and daughters do not ask him for what he is prepared to give? Jesus said, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit those who ask him.!" Luke11v13.

    (3) He cared for the poor. v2: he gave generously to those in need.
    Elvis Presley was generous. He gave millions away. One man received three cadillacs. But Elvis gave to his friends; Cornelius gave to the poor.

    There are many ways of giving to the poor. I think that a man with a generous spirit will spend time listening to a poor conversationalist. If you visit the old then the same stories will be trotted out many times. I have discovered that most successful and admired individuals are unwilling to give time to folk who are not very interesting. They have a very low boredom threshold.

    The angel who appeared before Cornelius said to him, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." I hate it when preachers brought up on the doctrine of man's total depravity thunder: And all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah64.v6. In that self-same chapter Isaiah says: You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. v5. God did not consider that the prayers and kindnesses of Cornelius were filthy rags; rather he likened them to the sweet, ascending smell of a choice memorial offering. Woe unto you Calvinists for perverting God's truth.

    (4) He was a good influence on his family. v2: He and all his family were devout and God-fearing.
    It is a wonderful tribute to Cornelius' character and influence that all his family worshipped God with true devotion. My paternal grandparents were both devout Christians - especially my deaf old grandfather. His four children were believers and so, too, are most of his grandchildren. I can still remember the occasional letter I received from my grandfather. His letters always contained a little advice along the lines of: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Do all Christian parents have as their first priority the salvation of their children?

    (5) He was an open man. v7: Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
    Cornelius put the three men who were sent to find Peter fully in the picture. He was not secretive. Everything was open and above board.

    Secretiveness is one of my pet hates. I loathe it when people are whispering away and stop as I approach. Secretive individuals lack trust. Cornelius trusted his servants.

    We are more likely to make mistakes when we lack information. I was due to take the funeral service of a neighbour some years ago and had intended to make a passing humorous reference to his liking for the odd glass. One thing puzzled me about this neighbour; he had left his wife and gone into a care home while he was apparently able-bodied. So, while I was discussing the funeral with his son, I took the opportunity to ask why this was. The son hesitated and then said, "My father was a chronic alcoholic and his behaviour was getting too much for my mother..." I was able to adjust my funeral eulogy and avoid giving offence to my neighbour's widow.

    If people are upset or offended how can we do anything about it if we never learn the cause? If people are anxious, afraid or frustrated how can we act if never asked for help? If people are confused and puzzled how can they be taught if they never admit their ignorance?

    (6) He was much loved and respected. v24: Cornelius .... called together his relatives and close friends. v27 ... Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.
    Only a man greatly loved and admired can collect a crowd to listen to a visiting Christian speaker. How the church needs men and women like Cornelius - popular, honoured, revered and influential. Cornelius' friends did not wish to disappoint him.

    People who can get others to do things are of great value to any organisation. My brother Philip and I are both valued and respected members of Brockley Cricket Club but neither of us could get people to contribute to club funds like Dodger Plume. People don't like saying, "No," to Dodger. He is affable, amiable, good humoured and loveable - all things my brother and I are not - and everyone who knows him would rather say, "Yes" than, "No."

    The Grace Baptist Church at Greenwich had an elderly congregation and had not grown for several years until a young Malay Christian student began to attend. She was not put off by the lack of young people in the fellowship but invited other students to the services. The winsome Malay, with God's help, introduced more and more of her friends and acquaintances to the church. How we need more Christians like that Malay girl. She and Cornelius both had a rare gift - one that I do not share.

    (7) He was eager to hear God's word. Cornelius says to Peter: "So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us." v33.
    What a marvellous congregation Peter had to preach to! Cornelius and his friends were keen to hear the gospel. They gathered with enthusiasm to feast upon the living word.

    This still happens in many parts of the world but not in Britain. No, not in Britain, where the vast majority of the population have an antipathy to preaching of any sort. They will not be told!

    (8) He was quick to respond to the gospel. v44: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
    Peter did not have to plead with Cornelius and his friends to believe. They believed and were saved before the sermon was over! That is how it should be!

    I listened to an old sailor recalling a terrifying experience in the last World War on Songs of Praise yesterday. He had to abandon his boat off the east coast of America. The water was cold but he began swimming as fast as he could. Eventually he came alongside a rescue vessel. He was thrown a rope with a bucket on the end to stabilise it. The sailor in the water, close as he was to drowning, did not ignore the rope. He did not question the method of rescue. He did not play with the rope or put a tentative hand upon it. The sailor held on to the rope with all the strength remaining to him until he was saved.

    Men and women have one opportunity to cheat death and that is through belief in Jesus Christ. Only he has the authority to give eternal life. Jesus is the Saviour of mankind and the resurrection and the life to all who believe.

(D) God valued Cornelius as he was but still wanted him to know about Jesus.

Cornelius was not lost in the sense that following the judgment he would be destroyed like so much rubbish. God was pleased with Cornelius. He belonged in the same category as Abraham of whom it is written: Abraham believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness. Gen15v6. The death of Jesus has secured the forgiveness of the Old Testament heroes of faith. Even though Abraham did not know Jesus personally, Christ's sacrifice is the means whereby his faith is credited to him as righteousness.

Cornelius was not under sentence of eternal destruction but nevertheless God wanted him to know about Jesus. Some might ask: Why? There are at least four reasons:

    (1) The gospel is good news for sinners. Cornelius albeit a good man, was, in common with the best of men, flawed. Peter was able to assure Cornelius and his friends that Everyone who believes in him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through his name. v43.

    (2) The New Covenant is immeasurably better than the Old. Jesus made a superior sacrifice and is the Great High Priest at God's right hand. Christians have a sure hope of resurrection to eternal life.

    (3) Cornelius longed for something better. He desired to know more of God. He yearned for a closer relationship with the LORD. An assurance of sins forgiven and life after death would be an answer to his many prayers.

    (4) Cornelius was ready to embrace Christ. Think of the gifts that he received after believing. He knew beyond doubt that God loved him. He was baptised with the Holy Spirit and experienced a taste of heaven. One of Peter's companions baptised him into the church so that he could enjoy Christian fellowship. He became a bone fide member of the family of God.

The gospel is not preached to save devout men from going to hell. The gospel is preached because it is good news. Christ must be preached because of who he was and what he said and how he lived and why he died and why he rose and where he is. Everyone needs to hear the glorious, life-enhancing facts about Jesus.