Peter and Cornelius
Cornelius’ Vision (Acts 10:1-8)
This monumental event begins by God working within Cornelius. We don’t know just how he ended up being assigned to the job of occupying and managing this small province of the vast Roman Empire. Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea, which the Google Maps “Quick Facts” describes as follows.
Caesarea is a town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. It’s known for Caesarea National Park, which includes a large Roman amphitheater and the historic port. On the site is an archaeological park with pillars and sculptures, and the remains of a hippodrome, with frescoes and stone seating. The ruins of the seafront Promontory Palace include the remains of a mosaic floor.
10 At Caesare′a there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.
These two introductory verses describe a pagan man who has come into contact with the ancient culture of Israel, and, finding there something far deeper and truer than anything he had previously experienced. We know now that what he experienced was the eternal God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — through engagement with the Jewish faith as revealed in their Holy Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament.
Thus, though this devout man was serving as an occupier for the Empire, he yet found within this subjugated nation that which his heart had been yearning for but was previously unable to find. He may not have even been aware of Jesus Christ. But Jesus Christ knew him, and, had saved him from within the mystery of eternal grace to which all Christians give thanks.
3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.”
God now takes the initiative again to bring Cornelius into knowledge of Christ’s unmerited saving act upon his behalf. Cornelius’ response of respect and generosity to his Jewish neighbors has been a precursor to a fuller understanding of the true source for his blessed newfound faith.
Cornelius’ initial response of terror is not uncommon in the annals of interaction with God’s messengers. Being a battle-hardened Centurion, there was likely little in the realm of flesh and blood that could elicit such a response. But, proximity of frail flesh and blood to that which conveys God’s eternal holiness is another matter entirely.
The angel now introduces Cornelius to this seemingly insignificant Jewish man, “Simon who is called Peter,” who is to be invited into his Gentile home.
7 When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those that waited on him, 8 and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Cornelius obeys without hesitation or qualm. Note that we are here told that Cornelius’ faith had spread beyond himself, with this “devout soldier” as the first of his household mentioned.