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THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS (1)
Victor M. Eskew
A. It had always been in the mind of God.
1. The prophets, especially Isaiah, looked toward this day.
2. The Jews would be astounded by it.
3. An apostle of Jesus Christ would have to thoroughly convinced of it.
4. Yes, the conversion of the Gentiles was God-ordained.
5. And, it was a difficult situation for the early church.
B. The man who was the first Gentile convert was named Cornelius.
1. His conversion is told to us in Acts 10.
2. The conversion is rehearsed in Acts 11.
3. His conversion if the subject of the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15.
C. His conversion was controversial then, and Cornelius is still controversial today.
1. The fact that he was a Gentile is what caused controversy then.
2. Today, the main controversies are two-fold:
a. Did God hear Cornelius’ prayer?
b. Was Cornelius baptized with the Holy Spirit?
D. Let’s look at the man Cornelius. There are many qualities that stand out about him in Acts 10 and Acts 11.
I. A REAL MAN (Acts 10:1)
There was a certain man in Cesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band.
A. Facts Luke reveals to us.
1. From the port city of Cesarea.
a. A town built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus.
b. “It was the residence of the Roman procurators, and the majority of the inhabitants were Greeks” (Thayer).
2. His parents named him Cornelius.
a. His name means: “of a horn.”
b. This is a Latin name.
3. At a young age he joined the Roman army and rose to the rank of a centurion.
a. He was in command of one hundred men.
b. His band was from Italy, and was known to Roman writers such as Tacitus.
4. In Acts 10:24, we learn that Cornelius had family and friends.
B. We have a tendency to think of the Bible as a book of mere stories.
1. Remember, the characters were real.
2. Characters like Cornelius had families, lives, struggles, passions, failures, and successes like we do.
3. These individuals are often a picture of ourselves.
II. A RELIGIOUS MAN (Acts 10:2)
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
A. In Acts 10:22, additional descriptions are given.
…a just man… and of good report among the nation of the Jews.
B. Cornelius was what most would call “a good man.”
1. He believed in God.
2. His belief manifested itself in the practice of religion on a daily basis.
C. Most in the religious world would see Cornelius, and say: “Let him alone.”
1. The thoughts:
a. If a person is religious then he is right with God.
b. Individuals have the belief that if one has a sincere heart and practices his religion then that person is acceptable to God.
2. They are sadly mistaken (Prov. 14:12).
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
a. Cornelius was religious, devout, earnest, and sincere, but he was lost.
b. How can we make this positive affirmation? Acts 11:14
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
1) If Cornelius needed to be saved, then he was lost.
2) Cornelius teaches us that just the practice of a religion does not necessarily save us.
3. Salvation is found only “in Christ” (II Tim. 2:1).
a. It is obtained when one hears the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) and obeys its teachings (Heb. 5:8-9). That initial obedience culminates when one is baptized into Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-27).
b. NOTE: One must be part of the religion that Jesus came to establish.
c. Cornelius was religious but lost. Many are in that same condition today.
III. A REASONABLE MAN (Acts 10:3-8)
A. Cornelius experienced a miraculous event when the angel of God appeared unto him about the ninth hour of the day (Acts 10:3).
B. The angel told Cornelius two things:
1. Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God (Acts 10:4)
a. God saw Cornelius seeking to serve Him as diligently as he could under a system of religion, Patriarchy, that was no longer in effect.
b. With the Christian age in full force, He was reminded of His promises of the past.
1) Abraham (Gen. 28:14).
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed.
2) Isaiah (11:10)
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
c. At this time, God was about to fulfill His promises of the past.
2. Cornelius was told to send Peter in Joppa (Acts 10:5-6).
a. He was told the exact location, the house of Simon a tanner who lived by the sea side (Acts 10:6).
b. He also excited Cornelius’ senses, saying: Peter “shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.”
C. Although frightened and overwhelmed, Cornelius remained a reasonable man.
1. It could not hurt to follow the angel’s instructions.
2. He could at least hear what Peter had to say.
3. He complied with the angel’s instructions (Acts 10:7-8).
And when the angel which spake with Cornelius departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; and when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.
D. Sadly, many are not like Cornelius today.
1. They have not received a visit from an angel, but they have the divinely revealed will of God.
2. They refuse to investigate it, however. They are comfortable in their error. Question: What if Cornelius had taken that position?
3. When it comes to spiritual truths, all of us need to be reasonable. We need to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
4. God wants to reason with us (Isa. 1:18). The least we can do is be reasonable.
IV. A REGARDED MAN (Acts 10:9-24)
A. We have already seen that the prayers and alms of Cornelius were regarded by God. In Acts 10:9-24, we see how deeply regarded by God he was. God would take huge measure to convince His servant Peter to go to the house of Cornelius.
B. First, Peter was given a vision that confronted his deeply held beliefs and practices (Acts 10:11-13).
1. Peter saw a sheet filled with animals, and a command: “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”
2. The problem was that the sheet contained unclean animals (Acts 10:14).
But Pete said, Not so Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.
a. Peter held tenaciously to some points of the Old Law.
b. Not only had he not eaten unclean animals, he had not taken the gospel to “unclean” people.
3. The vision was intended to convince Peter to go to the house of Cornelius.
a. Acts 10:15
What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common.
b. This same vision appeared to Peter three times.
C. Second, Peter was specifically told by the Holy Spirit to go with the three men sent by Cornelius.
1. Acts 10:19-20
Behold, three men seek thee: arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.
2. God had a deep regard for Cornelius. He was ready to open the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles.
3. His tactics were successful.
a. The men came to Peter’s residence (Acts 10:17-23a).
b. Acts 10:23b
And on the morrow Peter went with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the morrow after they entered Cesarea.
D. The facts that God had a special regard for Cornelius does not diminish the fact that He has a regard for all.
1. I Timothy 2:3-4
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
2. He has also commissioned the faithful to take the gospel to the lost in all nations (Matt. 28:19-20).
3. Jesus is concerned for all, and invites, saying: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
A. Even though we have looked at Cornelius, we have also seen many things revealed to us about God.
1. God is faithful to His promises.
2. God is concerned for all of the lost and deeply desires the salvation of all.
B. If you will obey the gospel, God will be faithful to His promises and save you (Mark 16:16). Remember, He is concerned for you and deeply desires your salvation.