“Whatever subject I preach, I do not stop until I reach the Savior, the Lord Jesus, for in Him are all things.” ~Charles H Spurgeon
The book is called the Acts of the Apostles, but also includes the acts of “laymen” like Stephen, Philip, and Agabus. The early part of the book deals largely with the ministry of Peter; the latter part, the ministry of Paul. Knowing that in times past he denied Christ, was sometimes rash, like cutting off a man’s ear, and often said the wrong thing at the wrong time, we watch with amazement the revolutionary and powerful ministry of Peter. What made him so different now? The enduement of power through the Holy Spirit.
Peter, as well as Paul, traveled. Probably on foot. Visiting west of Jerusalem, in the coastal region, Peter came to Lydda, where he found a disciple named Aeneas, who for eight years had been bedridden with palsy. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ makes you whole!” (Acts 9:34). Immediately the man was healed and got out of bed. Seeing this sign, people were converted.
At Joppa, the seaport from where Jonah set sail, was a disciple, a seamstress, named Tabitha (Aramaic) or Dorcas (Greek), who was known for her good works and almsdeeds. She died from sickness and was laid out for burial. But when the disciples in Joppa heard that Peter was nearby, in Lydda, they sent for him. Peter came to the viewing, put everyone out, then kneeled down and prayed. Afterward he said, “Tabitha, arise” (9:40). She opened her eyes and sat up, then he, helping her up by the hand, presented her to the mourners. Seeing this sign, again, people were converted.
Because we see so little, if any, miracles of this sort today, people assume these signs were done to get the fledgling Church started, and we no longer need signs and wonders because Christianity is now a known religion with tenets of Faith. Oh, we still need them. Ordinarily, we just don’t have enough of God in us to make them happen; but in seasons of true revival, miracles have still been known to take place.
Peter stayed on in Joppa a little while, with another Simon, a tanner. This was the way it was years ago: believers did not use hotels, they stayed with one another. Go through the lives of Jesus and Paul and notice where they overnighted: often with believing friends. You try staying with people today and see how far you get. It is highly doubtful that one believer would let another believer stay in his home unless he was a personal friend or family, though, admittedly, housing a godly preacher who had just brought a person back to life is safer than housing a stranger.
Now, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23). Providence has a way of getting people where they need to be. And, perhaps, it had taken the death of Dorcas to bring Peter to Joppa. The healing of Aeneas and the resuscitation of Dorcas were wonderful signs that had brought unbelievers to Christ, but they were not the big thing in Peter’s adventure. The big story was what was coming up, and, at this very moment, Heaven’s command and control center had Peter exactly where it wanted him: in Joppa, a seaport.
In Caesarea, the grand seaport (photo top of page), thirty miles or a day’s journey north, was a centurion, Cornelius, of the Italian band. Cornelius was a devout man, who feared God, gave alms, and prayed daily; but he was neither Jew nor Christian. One day, about the ninth hour (3:00 pm), an angel appeared to him in a vision and said, “Cornelius” (Acts 10:3).
“What is it, Lord?” (10:4; cf 9:5).
“Your prayers and your alms are come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter. He lodges with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside. He will tell you what to do” (10:4-6).
Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who waited on him, related everything the angel had said, and sent them to Joppa.
The next day, in Joppa, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour (noon). He was hungry and would have eaten, but the food was still being prepared. While they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened. A vessel descended, as if it had been a great sheet, and in it were all kinds of ugly, wild beasts, creeping things, and fowls. A voice said, “Rise, Peter. Kill and eat” (10:9-13).
“Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean” (10:14).
“What God has cleansed, you don’t call common” (10:15).
This was done three times (cf John 21:15-17). Then the vessel ascended back to heaven. Peter, coming out of his trance, did not understand what this vision meant.
Outside, at that very moment, the men who had come from Cornelius’ house were standing at the gate. While Peter was ruminating on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three man are seeking you. Arise. Go downstairs and go with them, doubting nothing, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19, 20).
So Peter went down to the men sent from Cornelius. “I am the man you seek. Why have you come?” (10:21).
“Cornelius, the centurion, a just man, one who fears God, and a man of good report among all Jews, was warned from God, by a holy angel, to send for you at this address and to hear your words” (10:22).
Peter took them in and lodged them overnight. Then, the next day, Peter, accompanied by six fellow believers (11:12), went with them to Caesarea, where Cornelius had called in friends and family to hear the apostle. As Peter was coming, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and worshiped him, homage that Peter respectfully refused. “Stand up. I myself also am a man” (10:26).
Peter may have been surprised to find a congregation gathered. He told them, “You know how it is unlawful for a Jew to keep company with or to come to one of another nation, but God has showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So I came to you, without question, as soon as I was sent for. Why have you sent for me?” (10:28, 29).
Cornelius answered, “Four days ago I was fasting till this hour; and at the ninth hour I was praying in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer is heard and your alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call here Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the seaside. When he comes, he shall speak to you.’ Immediately I sent for you; and you have done well in coming. Now we are all here present before God to hear what you have to say” (10:30-33).
Peter opened his mouth and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. In every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted of Him. The Word that God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), that Word I speak and you know, because it was published throughout all Judea and began from Galilee after the baptism John preached. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him.
“We are witnesses of all things that He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is He who was ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and the dead. To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name whoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins” (10:34-43).
While Peter was still preaching, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the Word. And they of the circumcision who believed (the Messianic Jews) were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. They heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then answered Peter, “Can any man forbid that these, who have received the Holy Spirit the same as us, should not be baptized in water?” (10:47). And he commanded them to be baptized. Afterward the congregation in the house of Cornelius begged Peter to stay a few days. Only those who have known true oneness with the body of Christ can appreciate the fellowship these newfound friends enjoyed with one another.
But eventually Peter had to answer to Jerusalem. Good Jews, Messianic Jews, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, were saying to Peter, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them?” (11:3).
Peter rehearsed everything that had happened. He related his vision and the timing of the visit of the three men from Cornelius. “The Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting” (11:12). He related how God had dealt with Cornelius, how he himself had delivered a sermon that had set the house on fire, and how the Spirit had fallen while he was still preaching. “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ … Who was I to withstand God?” (11:16, 17).
When his fellow leaders heard these words, they held their peace. Quite a narrative! Then they also glorified God, saying, “Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance to life” (11:18).
This was the opening of the door to the Gentiles, as had been prophesied (cf Isaiah 42:6; 49:22; 60:3; Luke 2:32). God’s dealing with Cornelius does not mean that “good people” will go to heaven even if they don’t accept Jesus as Savior—if that were true, there would have been no need for further evangelism. Rather, the ongoing mission outreach of the Early Church shows that what the sermon at the house of Cornelius does mean is that God, knowing a person’s heart, will find a way to bring the gospel to him. Peter still had to preach Jesus, and Cornelius and his congregation still had to hear and believe. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
A Pentecostal missionary in Africa one day looked up and saw a native coming toward him. The native asked, “Are you God?”
“No. What made you ask such a thing?”
“An angel came to me and said that if I came this way, I would meet God.”
“Well, I can introduce you to Him.”
Today we hear stories of Muslims experiencing God in dreams and visions; and, as a result, they are turning to God and believing on Jesus Christ as Savior. This is the activity of the Holy Spirit, who cares about all men everywhere and is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God will have His Church. Neither you nor I can deny Him that Church. Providence will find a way for devout people to come to Him.
“Universalism, fashionable as it is today, is incompatible with the teaching of Christ and His apostles, and is a deadly enemy of evangelism. The true universalism of the Bible is the call to universal evangelism in obedience to Christ’s universal commission. It is the conviction that not all men will be saved in the end, but that all men must hear the gospel of salvation before the end.” ~John Stott
Copyright © 2013 Alexandra Lee