As we are getting our house ready to sell, extra cleaning is being done. In fact, we have cleaned things that have never been cleaned before. Like, under the dishwasher. I don't know why we cleaned under the dishwasher. I guess we thought somebody might look under there. Last week, as we were cleaning under this dishwasher, this ring was found there. It's a ladies ring. It appears to be 14K gold with a pearl and two diamonds. I don't know if the pearl is real but I suspect that the diamonds are----because they are so small. What is it worth? I have know idea. It could have come from Cracker-Jacks or come from Zales, I don't know. But I do know that this diamond pearl gold ring it has been unseen for a number of years, lying in the dirt. It has been a treasure that has been unused and unnoticed and in an unlikely place.
This is what Peter found as well. Look at Acts 10 as we continue our series on Acts called Fanning the Flame. And throughout the sermon today, just leave your Bibles open to Act 10. We're not going anywhere else, so we'll be staying right here.
Remember that last week Elder Gettys shared with us about Dorcas and how Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon after that. Well, Peter is still there in Joppa, but now we go to Caesarea. Acts 10:1,2. At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
It's amazing what one can learn about a person from only two sentences. First, we can tell from the name, Cornelius, that he was Italian. We also know that he was a Centurion stationed in Caesarea. Caesarea was a costal city and was the capital of Palestine, the seat of the Roman power in the area. It was the usual residence of the Roman procurator of Judea. You may remember Paul being sent there. Caesarea was the first place that archaeologists found Pontius Pilate's inscription establishing him as a true historical figure. The person that succeeded Pilate was Marcellus. This was who Cornelius answered to. Since Cornelius was a Roman soldier, we know that he was at least 5 feet 8 inches tall. A Centurion was a mid-ranking officer in the Roman army. They have been called the "backbone" or the Roman Empire. We also know that Cornelius was over 30 years old because it took 12 to 16 years of military service to be eligible for the rank of centurion. He would also have to be literate and proven in battle and administration.
Now, most believe that a Centurion was a commander of one hundred men as the name implies. But, depending upon the region and the needs, it might be anywhere from 30 to 200 men. Most Centurions commanded around 80 soldiers. Some have said that there are 60 levels within the rank of Centurion. A Centurion could be in charge of other Centurions of lower rank. So he could be in charge of as many as 480 soldiers and have a large administrative staff.
I believe that Cornelius was a high ranking Centurion because of two things. He had the authority, as we will see later, to send a soldier on a personal errand. A regular Centurion would not have that privilege. He also had his family with him. Only a high ranking Centurion with the favor of Rome could bring his family along. Combining these things with the fact that his regiment was made up of Italians, it would be easy to surmise that Cornelius was there in Caesarea with his men to guard Marcellus. These were all just some of the things that the early readers of Acts would have automatically surmised from verse one. Understanding his position in the community helps us to understand the magnitude of what was about to take place.
Verse one tells us his position. Verse two tells us how he differed from others in similar positions. He was "God-fearing." This is not talking about the multitude of Roman gods that they worshiped and carried into battle by soldiers of the Roman Empire. This is speaking of the one true God, Jehovah:
Acts 10:3,4. 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!" God knows your name.
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.
Could our angels say that about us? That our prayers and gifts to the poor, our generosity has come up as an offering before God? The Greek word for memorial offering is the same used in the Septuagint for the part of the Meal Offering that was burned on the alter and represented the prayers of Israel. I believe that what the angel is implying here is that there was substance in the prayers of Cornelius. He didn't just pray for the poor, he did something about it.
It's like the little girl who heard her father praying at the meal one day. And he prayed for the hungry people of the community. When he said "amen," she said, "Dad, I wish I had your fields of grain." "What on earth would you do with my fields of grain?" he asked in surprise. "I would answer your prayer."
What a chance we have now to put some legs on our prayers and be generous with the dear people on the Gulf Coast. I think many of us know people that are there that we haven't heard from. I know I know people there. They haven't been found. We don't know where they are. How can we be generous toward them? God uses people to do His will. Have you noticed that? God can do everything He wanted to, but He chooses to use you and me to do His will for others.
Look at Acts 12:5,6. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea."
I love this verse. It shows a lot about the character of God. God could have just shared the Gospel with Cornelius and been done with it. After all, He's already sent an angel thousands of light years across the universe to be in Cornelius's house. "While you're there, why don't you tell him about Jesus?" But God didn't chose to do it that way. God know better. He knows that the best way to hear the Gospel is from someone who once was lost and now is found. No angel has that experience. He also knew that Peter needed to learn a lesson through spreading of the Gospel, the flame.
Notice how much God knows. He knows where Peter can be found. Not just today, but tomorrow as well. "By the time you get there, this is where Peter's going to be." He knows where you're going to be tomorrow. He knew where Peter would be the next day He knows the name of the man who Peter is staying with and he knows this man's occupation. God knows everything, and He cares. God knows who is living and who is not in the hurricane aftermath. He knows who is still waiting to be rescued and when it will happen, and who is hungry and when they will be fed and who will feed them. He knows who is still looking for their loved ones and when they will be found. He not only knows, He cares.
Look at Acts 10:7,8. 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. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. Cornelius was not embarrassed or ashamed of the Gospel. He didn't even know the Gospel yet. But He knew that something was happening that was about to instruct him. He wasn't one who says, "Hey I know everything." No, he said, "There's a man who is going to teach me something. Go and find him and bring him here. I saw an angel." You'd think if a Roman centurion saw an angel he'd keep it sort of hush hush because he has to have the respect of all of his men. But, no! Cornelius is not that way, he's a very humble man, and admits that he has seen the supernatural that has an effect on his life, and that he needs to know more.
God may ask any of us to do something that seems crazy. Believe us, we know. But it has been my experience that these times can be the most life changing things that can happen if we say, "Yes."
Meanwhile, back at the beach villa, Peter does not know that there is a new adventure being planned for him. You and I do not know what God already has in the works for us. Things may be in motion today for something great to happen to us tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next year, or, well, just be ready and willing for when it happens. For God is working on a plan for each of us. And something to do with that plan is happening to us today. We may not know what it is. We may round the corner some day and meet with destiny. God has a plan.
Acts 10:9,10. About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
Notice how God used Peter's hunger pains to lead into what people are really hungry for. Acts 10:11-14. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat."
"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
Peter is giving the right answer but it is to the wrong question.
Acts 10:15. The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Now, I've heard this verse used many times to say that it's okay to eat anything. Right? "It's okay for me to go out, pick up a road kill and eat an opossum sandwich because God says everything is clean." I think you're missing the point, and I don't care how fresh it is. And getting a belly-ache at the same time. God's not talking about opossums.
Our youth department is pretty fine. But, every once in a while, I've noticed with most teenagers, they're a little bit nuts. That's why I like hanging out with them. Several years ago, we had what was called a video scavenger hunt. Have you ever heard of those? We've had several in the past years, but I'm thinking of the very first one we ever did. The youth had to get together on Saturday night, divide into teams with an adult driving the car. For some reason they chose me to drive one of them. Wow! What a fun that was. If you ever get asked drive a car for a video scavenger hunt, don't say, "No." Because it will be more fun than you've had.
The kids had a list of things they had to find and do and say and be. And, it all had to be caught on video tape to be brought back and shown later. Oh, they had to do things like, be seen taking an order at a drive-through restaurant. Or, be found in the back of a squad car. Or, tempting a policeman with doughnuts. You know, all these fun things. But one of the first things on the list that we had to get them video-taped doing was kissing road-kill. Yuck! That's what I thought. And I didn't make up that list. Don't blame me.
The kids left the parking lot here and hung around and got down to the corner. You don't have to go very far to find opossums. And there we found a flat opossum. One of the boys had been elected by the girls, "You do it." I got the video tape running and they were going, "Ooey! Nasty!" And the boy that was usually the type that was into stuff was very hesitant, and one of the girls handed him some napkins that were in the back of the car. And he reached down and picked up the opossum by the tail. And he lifted it up. And he drew it closer and closer and the girls were, "NO-o-o-o! And he didn't. I was glad.
In fact, from the videos we watched that night nobody kissed road-kill. But he came the clsoest of any one.
Did you ever wonder how the Jews felt about the gentiles? Just like you felt about the road-kill right then. They were nothing more than that. Dirty, filthy, rotten, but God is not talking about food here, He's talking about people, people that the Jews treated like road-kill, unclean food. They avoided the gentiles. They did not want to associate with them. They did not worship with them. They were untouchable and unclean and the feeling was mutual. But Jesus proved by His own ministry that He did not feel this way. And, Peter should have remembered this. But we must remember that in the book of Acts we are not just reading the history of the early Christian church, we are reading of it's growth. Not just in numbers, but spiritually and with ideas. The early Christians had a lot of growing to do, and so do we. When we think we have arrived, we may actually be far behind where the Holy Spirit wants us to be.
Acts 10:16-21. >b> This the vision happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them."
Peter went down and said to the men, "I'm the one you're looking for. Why have you come?"
You know, Peter had been told what would happen, but he had not been told why. God does not always, or even often, tell us why. This is where trust comes in.
Acts 10:22,23. The men replied, "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Peter learned faster than he used to. He has lost that stubborn, know-it-all edge to his life. He no longer suffers from athletes tongue you know, from sticking his foot in his mouth too often. He actually begins associating with Gentiles immediately upon understanding God's vision. Maybe reluctantly, but immediately he is obeying God.
Acts 10:23-26. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."
Wow! A Roman Centurion of high standing bowing down to a conquered Jew! Yet, a Jew sent by God to show him truth. The answers to the prayers of Cornelius.
Now we see that Peter has lost his pride as well. He not only does not accept the worship from this Gentile, he calls him an equal. "I am only a man myself."
Acts 10:27-29. Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. Well, that sound pretty abrasive when you walk into a house. But what he's doing here is putting the people at ease. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"
Cornelius then explains the vision and that he and his household are now in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded Peter to tell them. Skip down to Acts 10:34,35. Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
You see, Peter needed to learn something too. He has known Jesus personally. He has walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, slept with Jesus, eaten what Jesus has eaten. He has been with Jesus, as close as you can get. But he still has something he can learn, doesn't he. We should never reach the point where we have arrived. Fortunately, Peter was no longer too proud to learn it. So he is able to share Jesus with a stranger and his household. Yes, some Gentiles had heard about Jesus and believed. But Cornelius was the first true convert from an effort to reach out to the Gentiles. Just as the stoning of Stephen had forced the Gospel to leave Jerusalem and to gop out from there, the conversion of Cornelius opened the way for the flame to spread to the world of the Gentiles.
A member of our church called me this week with excitement in his voice. "Guess what! Something happened to me today that has never happened before!" What's that?" "Someone actually asked me to give them Bible studies!" "What did you tell them?" I asked. "How could I say no? God led them to me!" That's exciting! I have the feeling that both the receiver and the giver of these Bible studies are in for a blessed learning experience. Ellen White states in The Acts of the Apostles, "In His wisdom the Lord brings those who are seeking for truth into touch with fellow beings who know the truth. It is the plan of Heaven that those who have received light shall impart it to those in darkness." Well, what happened when Peter spread the flame to the Gentiles?
Look at Acts 10:44-48. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
People don't usually like change. When word got out that Peter had not only shared the Gospel with Gentiles but had even gone into their house and eaten with them, and stayed with them, they were fit to be tied. The Jewish believers couldn't believe this had happened. Chapter 11 tells the story of their criticism. But, fortunately for them, they were willing to listen to the explanation and then to accept it. They not only accepted it, they rejoiced in the Lord!
Another quote from Acts of the Apostles, by Ellen White: "There are in our world many who are nearer the kingdom of God than we suppose. In this dark world of sin the Lord has many precious jewels, to whom He will guide His messengers."
Peter found a hidden treasure in a Gentile named Cornelius. Maybe Peter was reminded by this experience just how hidden and dirty a treasure he had been when Jesus called him to be a "Fisher of Men." Jesus calls us today to not show favoritism. A person's race, education, economic status, looks, religion or lack of it, hygiene awareness, personality type, past history or present disbelief; it doesn't matter. Nothing should stop us from spreading the Gospel flame of to anyone. The news about Jesus is for everyone. Who knows, maybe you will find a hidden treasure in them and maybe God will find one in you.
Exploring Acts, by John Phillips.
The Acts of the Apostles, by Ellen White.
Cornelius: The God-Fearing Gentile, by Scott Coltrain.
From on SermonCentral.com
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6.
Hymn of Praise: #6, O Worship the Lord Scripture: Acts 10:34-45 Hymn of Response: #547, Be Thou My Vision
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last updated 3/9/05 by Bob Beckett.