- Acts 9:32-12:25
To this point, the message of salvation offered by Jesus’ shed blood had been preached only to the Jews. In today’s reading, we find out how GOD begins extending the good news to people from other nations. It begins with a Roman centurion named Cornelius.
Cornelius lived in the city of Caesarea. He and his family were devout, GOD-fearing people who gave generously to the needy and prayed to GOD regularly. GOD loves such people, regardless of their nationality, and He demonstrated that love with Cornelius and his family. One day, about 3:00 in the afternoon, Cornelius was praying in his home when an angel appeared. The angel looked like a man but he had shining clothes. The angel told him that GOD had heard Cornelius’ prayers and his gifts to the poor had been a memorial before GOD. The angel told Cornelius to send men to the town of Joppa and ask for Peter at the home of Simon the tanner.
Cornelius did as he was told. Meanwhile, at noon the following day, Peter went up on the roof of Simon’s house to pray. He was hungry and fell into a trance. GOD showed Peter a vision where a sheet containing all kinds of animals was lowered in front of Peter. Then a voice from heaven told Peter to get up, kill an animal and eat. Peter refused because the Law of Moses commanded that the Jews were not to eat certain kinds of animals. Those animals were called “unclean.” The voice replied to Peter that Peter mustn’t call anything unclean which GOD had made clean. This happened a total of three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
While Peter was wondering about the vision, the men Cornelius had sent arrived and called out to find out if Peter was there. The Holy Spirit spoke to Peter and told him that three men were looking for him, to go downstairs and go with them without hesitation, because He had sent them. Peter obeyed.
When Peter greeted the men, they told him that they had come from Cornelius and that an angel told Cornelius to send them to get Peter so that Peter could speak to them. Peter took them in and they stayed the night. The next day, Peter started out, accompanied by some Christians from Joppa. He arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends to hear the message Peter was bringing. When Peter arrived, Cornelius fell down at Peter’s feet, but Peter told him to get up because he was only a man.
Peter explained that, although it was the Jewish law for Jews not to associate or visit with Gentiles, GOD had shown him that he should not call any man impure or unclean. Peter then asked why Cornelius had sent for him. Cornelius told how the angel had appeared and told him to send for Peter. Peter said he now realized that GOD doesn’t show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what’s right. He then preached Jesus to Cornelius.
When Peter was concluding his message about Jesus, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his guests. Peter and the Christians from Joppa heard them speak in tongues and praise GOD. At this, Peter then baptized them in the name of Jesus, and Peter stayed there a few days.
This is a most beautiful account of GOD extending His grace to people of all nations. This was only the beginning, and today that grace reaches you and me and all men. Cornelius was just the start. Soon afterward, Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene went to the city of Antioch and preached Jesus to the Greeks there, and a great many believed and became Christians. When the church at Jerusalem heard this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to see firsthand what GOD was doing and to encourage these new brethren.
Barnabas went to Tarsus and got Saul and together they worked in Antioch for an entire year. A great number of people became Christians. It was during this time, in the city of Antioch that the disciples of Jesus were first referred to as Christians.