“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.” Acts 10.1-8
Cornelius was a Roman centurion. He wasn’t just a common, ordinary soldier. He commanded up to 100 soldiers, maybe more. Some centurions were of lower rank and some of higher rank. Cornelius was also a follower of the Lord as a Jew. He had become indoctrinated into the Jewish faith and was known for his generous and faithful spirit. They were considered devout.
In Mark 12.34, Jesus has a conversation with a Jewish scribe who when the scribe recites loving God and loving others above all things, Jesus says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Cornelius was not far from the Kingdom either. He was devout, faithful and as I mentioned generous. But he was a Roman citizen/a gentile, a non-ethic Jew and not yet a believer in Jesus.
So God sends an angel to Cornelius saying, “Cornelius! Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.” Think about this, even though Cornelius wasn’t believer, he was still heard by the Lord. His prayers were heard and received as a “memorial offering.” (This blows the lid off anyone who only thinks God hears believers.)
The significance of this divine encounter with the angel of the Lord, and later Simon Peter, is that this was the first non-Jew to be evangelized to for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus via His Father, wanted all people to find faith in him. God’s Chosen people were now every citizen on earth. It was not longer a select group who could receive the blessings and salvation of God, now it was everyone. Paul carries this theme in Galatians 3.28 when he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
As we will see, Cornelius meets the Lord and paves the way for all people to find faith in Jesus, be they Jew or Greek. What great news for us!
“O Lord God, what an amazing God you are. That you would reach out to someone like Cornelius, not even a believer! This gives me hope that you can and will reach out to others who are lost but seeking your face. Thank you Jesus for rescuing all sinners. I am among the chief of sinners! But through you, I am being made whole. Continue to save me, dear Lord, and draw me to your throne. I love you Lord and praise you. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen