And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. — Acts 10:30-31
In the early 1920s, Walter Frymire found out that a prayer meeting can have life-changing effects. He and his family were worshipping in an organization that taught the experiences of salvation and sanctification but felt that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was fanaticism. News of the Latter Rain Gospel was spreading, and traveling ministers were holding meetings and preaching about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Some people from the Frymires’ church attended, and then studied their Bibles. They felt the baptism was of God and thought the Lord would not allow them to receive something false if they sought in their home church. One Sunday afternoon, in that church, six people received the baptism of the Holy Ghost!
Walter was one in that church who received the experience about that time. The leaders of the organization decided that it might be all right to have the baptism, but no one was to speak about it or witness to it during services. Therefore, those who had received the infilling of the Holy Spirit eventually felt they needed to withdraw from that organization.
The Frymires had received literature from the Apostolic Faith Church, and one daughter had been healed after they sent a prayer request to the headquarters in Portland. In time, God led them to move to where they could be a part of this church. The prayer meeting in the early 1920s was life-changing, and the blessings from it and subsequent decisions benefitted the succeeding generations. The Frymires had two sons and three sons-in-law who were ministers, and today grandchildren and great-grandchildren are helping spread the Gospel.
In today’s text, Cornelius had a prayer meeting in which he saw an angel. He obeyed the instruction he was given, and his life was changed when Peter preached in his home. In addition to Cornelius and the people within his sphere of influence, the whole Early Church was impacted. However, that notable prayer meeting was preceded by many not-so-eventful times when Cornelius communed with the Lord. The angel said those day-to-day prayers and good deeds were a memorial before God.
The lesson for us is obvious — we need to keep praying. There will be many days when it may seem to us that our prayers are not monumental. There will be many prayer meetings that do not appear to be life-changing. However, that does not mean those times are unimportant! Rather, those daily prayers are vital. God sees and hears our petitions. He will answer by giving guidance and strength and by fulfilling His promises in our lives.
Today’s text records a vital lesson for the Early Church. The events in this chapter caused the Apostles to realize that the Gospel was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. They had been preaching to the Jews, who were direct descendants of Abraham; the Samaritans, who were of Jewish and Assyrian descent; and proselytes — individuals who had converted to Judaism and observed the whole Law of Moses. God used two men in two cities and a series of precisely timed events to reveal that all people are called to serve Him.
The chapter begins with Cornelius in Caesarea. Herod the Great had built Caesarea to be the primary seaport and also the Roman capital in Judea. The city was magnificent with palaces, temples, a long rectangular hippodrome for chariot races, a Roman theater, and white stone warehouses. The harbor was particularly outstanding, with a breakwater about two hundred feet wide giving protection.
Cornelius was a centurion, which means he was an officer over one hundred men in the Roman army. “The Italian band” referred to a cohort, which was usually about six hundred men. Because they were from Italy (the geographical term for the country of which Rome was the capital), they may have been especially distinguished or honored. Most members of the Roman army at Caesarea were Syrian, so likely the Italian cohort identified here was primarily made up of Italians, who were probably volunteers. In a turbulent province like Judaea, it would have been important in terms of national security to have at least one cohort of Italian soldiers at the seat of government.
Verse 2 gives five characteristics of Cornelius. He was “devout” which means godly. That he “feared God” tells us he was among a group of people (sometimes called “God-fearers”) who were familiar with the Jewish religion, attended synagogue, and observed the Sabbath and part of the ceremonial law. They believed in only one God (not a multitude of gods), but they were not actual converts to Judaism. “With all his house” indicates that Cornelius had led his family to serve God. That “he gave much alms to the people” shows he was charitable, and “prayed to God alway” reinforces that he regularly worshipped God.
When Cornelius was praying at 3:00 p.m. (the ninth hour) an angel appeared to him with a commendation and instructions. Simon was a common Jewish name, so “whose surname is Peter” clarified, as did “Simon a tanner.” Cornelius immediately dispatched three men who had been affected by his godliness and could be trusted. They were to go to Joppa, which was about thirty miles south of Caesarea, and get Peter.
At noon, when the messengers were nearly to Joppa (verse 9), Peter was praying. The rooftops of houses of those times were quiet places that were ideal for prayer. Peter became hungry, and while lunch was being prepared, he saw in a vision a big sheet full of animals that Jewish people were prohibited from eating, and he was commanded to kill and eat them. When he protested, he was told, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (verse 15). It would later be explained that this meant Peter was not to regard the Gentiles as inferior people whom God would not redeem. Peter was given this object lesson three times. As he considered it, the men from Cornelius arrived, and the Spirit gave Peter specific instructions, which he followed.
God had the details worked out precisely. Here is a possible timeline:
Cornelius knew when they should be coming and had called together his family and close friends who believed as he did. When Peter arrived, he told them God had showed him that he “should not call any man common or unclean” (verse 28). Peter had undergone a drastic change in thinking. He had housed the Gentile messengers in Joppa and had eaten with them. He had traveled with them and now was in a Gentile home. However, God had more yet to teach Peter and those accompanying him.
Peter began to preach (verses 34-43), giving a message that summarized the Gospel. Before he was done, the Holy Ghost fell, with the evidence of the people speaking in languages not known to them. Convinced that God had included the Gentiles in His plan of salvation through Christ, Peter and the other brethren arranged for these believers to be baptized in water that day.
It was a landmark day for the Early Church. The subject of Gentile believers would have to be explained (see Acts 11) and God’s guidance requested as the Early Church continued to grow (Acts 15). However, God had made it clear that the Gentiles were invited to participate fully in the Gospel.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. The witness in Judea and Samaria
C. The witness of Peter
2. His witness at Joppa
b. The preparation for further ministry (10:1-22)
(1) The angelic message to Cornelius (10:1-8)
(2) Vision of Peter (10:9-16)
(3) The Spirit’s message to Peter (10:17-22)
3. His witness at Caesarea (10:23-48)
a. Peter’s meeting with Cornelius and his household (10:23-33)
b. Peter’s message before Cornelius and his household (10:34-43)
c. The result (10:44-48)
The events at Cornelius’ house teach us that we must keep praying! The result will be eternal benefits.