As we move through the book of Acts, we read about another Centurion. The last Centurion we met amazed Jesus (Matthew 8:5-13) – and that’s a big deal considering Jesus was only amazed two times. So let’s learn about the conversion story of this gentile, the Centurion, and why Cornelius is Baptized.
The Backstory Of Cornelius
Cornelius, an Italian man, who isn’t a Christian, still has some respect for the Jewish people. The Bible records that he prays to God, gives to the poor, and is very devout. But as we will soon see, it turns out that being a good religious person still isn’t enough to earn salvation. And one of these times, he is praying, and an angel appears to him and even recognizes his devotion.
Acts 10: 1-8
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.
After receiving instructions from the Angel, Cornelius acted out of faith and dispatched two servants and a soldier to go and track down this man, Peter. Something exciting to note here is that an angel greeted Cornelius! An Angel!! Someone that has probably stood side by side with God the Father and Jesus. If there is anyone qualified to preach the good news, it’s the Angel. But that wasn’t the Angel’s job; that is our job (Romans 10:14-15).
Peter Argues With God, Again
We will skip over Acts 10:9-33 due to the length of this conversion experience. However, it would be best if you read it. To recap, as the men Cornelius sent are on their journey, Peter is praying to eat a meal. During prayer, he has a vision, and in this vision, he begins arguing with God (Acts 10:14) about eating unclean things.
Peter was devout. He was not breaking the commands of the Jews even up till now. Keep in mind about ten years have passed since the day of Pentecost, and Peter has only been preaching to the Jews. Not once has it been recorded that he (or any) gentle has heard the word of God regarding Jesus.
Cornelius, Meet Peter. Peter, Meet Cornelius
As Peter has the vision, he is interrupted by the group Cornelius sent. He invited them in, heard their story, and decided to travel with them the next day (Acts 10:23). When he arrived to meet Cornelius, a large crowd had gathered, and Peter asked Cornelius to confirm why he was sent. Cornelius then recaps his visit with the Angel, and below is Peters’ response.
Something to note about Peter’s sermonette below is that Peter spoke of Jesus’ resurrection even though the gentiles wouldn’t have understood that – it wasn’t a popular idea for the greeks. Second, Peter doesn’t discuss history or go into the Old Testament. Again, his audience wouldn’t have known that as well. Peter uses material that is familiar to his audience. The third interesting thing about this message is that Peter speaks of Jesus as the Lord of all things and who will Judge all things – he doesn’t talk about Jesus as the Messiah.
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Peter Is Interpreted
As Peter was talking and explaining all the things about Jesus, God decided that what he said was enough. So the Holy Spirit comes and interrupts Peter. Not sure if that would be a good thing or a bad thing. Would you want the Holy Spirit to interrupt you if you were talking too much?
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 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.
So here is what we want to know. Do you need to be baptized to be saved? That’s the question all want to know, right? In Acts 10:46, we see that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on these Gentiles, and they began speaking in Tongues. Why is this important? I believe tounges here (and the point of tounges many times in the New Testament) is to show us that God approves of these Gentiles. Tongues have never really been about miracles; it’s been about spreading the Gospel to those who don’t believe (Acts 2:4, Acts 19:6). Who doesn’t believe here? Peter.
Peter is the doubter here. Perhaps tongues aren’t about who or who can’t speak it – maybe it’s about who can be baptized in this instance? Peter is shocked. In Acts 10:47, Peter basically throws his hands up in the air and says, “Goodness, who can stand in the way now of receiving salvation?” And let’s ask the question: if they were already forgiven of their sin (Acts 2:38) by speaking in Tongues, why do they need to be baptized? Why the urgency? The people were ordered! Do it! NOW!
Peter Is Criticised For Baptizing Cornelius
Now, this sounds more like it. Here is relatable—angels, visions, Holy Spirit, etc., all that is pretty exciting. But now, I can relate. Once other believers heard about what Peter did… or, another way you could put it: Once all the Christian people heard that Peter did something they didn’t understand, they criticized him and made him defend himself.
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:
And Peter does. He tells them everything that has happened through Acts 11:5-14. And he finishes his story by paralleling what happened to them at the very beginning. That the Holy Spirit came down like tongues of fire. It wasn’t his fault. God loved them, too, as he loved us.
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Hard to argue with that. Turn out, Jesus did love everyone (John 3:16).