Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

While Peter was STILL SPEAKING these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were ASTONISHED, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out ON THE GENTILES ALSO.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”

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Voices of Christmas: The Place

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2.

Oh, there is so much here!  Thousands and thousands of words would be needed to even begin to touch the hem of the garment on this verse.  As it turns out, we’ll only have 716.

The place where our Lord chose to be born – yes, He did! – was not a large city, not Jerusalem, not Rome or some other notable city.  He chose to be born in a tiny, obscure village, in a relatively small nation, among a people who were, and are, hated and despised:  the Jews.   This speaks to what Paul wrote years later in Philippians 2:7, He made Himself of no reputation. 

Israel has never shaped the affairs of this world in the way other nations have.  We read of no “Jewish Empire” that spanned the globe, like the Roman Empire or the British Empire.  Israel has never been a militaristic nation, never been intent on acquiring land other than that promised to her.  Yet she has shaped the affairs of this world, and will shape them, more than all the nations put together – because of this One born in her midst.

Who was He?  What did He do?  What will He do?

Does it matter?

One way or another, all these questions are answered in Micah 5:2.

He was one whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.  In the words of John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This was to be no mere human child, conceived out of wedlock and a nice story invented to make the best out of a bad situation.  This One was God incarnate, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, yet to come into humanity a helpless Babe. Though He was conceived in the virgin womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, He was dependent entirely on the care and protection of Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His foster-father.  Who can understand such things?

Yet out of you shall come forth to Me….  This phrase covers all of our Lord’s earthly life, from His birth to His Ascension.  Micah doesn’t tell us in this verse what all was involved in that life, but he does in v. 1, They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.  This is a prophecy of the abuse our Lord was to suffer before His crucifixion.  But He didn’t just die and His body left to molder in some unmarked grave like a common criminal.  He was to come forth to God, which He did at His Ascension.

Yes, but is He going to do anything?  Or is He done?

Micah answers that as well, the One to be ruler in Israel….

I know there is a lot of discussion about what this phrase “ruler in Israel” and verses which talk about “the Kingdom” really mean.  After reading the entire Bible more than 50 times, and the New Testament an additional 25 or more times, (I’ve quit counting.  The numbers are meaningless,) I can say that I’m simple enough to believe what it says in prophets, like Micah:  that there is coming a time when there will be an actual, literal, earthly kingdom of God centered in Jerusalem.  I know these adjectives call forth a lot of scorn and derision on the part of those who believe it’s all going to be fulfilled in some kind of “spiritual” kingdom.  I can’t help that. If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He means?   Our Lord will yet be Ruler in Israel.

Our Lord will yet be glorified in that very place where He was vilified and crucified.  And I tell you, a thousand years, Revelation 19 and 20, isn’t nearly long enough to make up for the murder of the incarnate God.  God, of course, cannot die Himself.  That’s why the Word had to become flesh, John 1:14.

To live.

To die.

To rise again.

To return to this earth, to take His rightful place, not as a babe for whom there was, and is, “no room,” but as its Lord and God. 

Yes, it matters!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!