There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,…
1. Caesarea was situated on the Mediterranean, about thirty miles north of Joppa. It was built by Herod the Great, B.C. 22, and named after his imperial patron. It was a civil and military capital, the residence of the Roman procurator. It was garrisoned mostly by native soldiers, bat there was one cohort composed of volunteers from Italy, and over a division of that there was the centurion Cornelius. He belonged to an illustrious clan which had given to the state some of its most distinguished men; but greater than the glory of Sulla and the Scipios, who had made the Cornelian family everywhere renowned, is that which is conferred on this centurion in ver. 2.
2. Cornelius was not a proselyte, for had he been Peter would have had no difficulty, and Acts 15:14 is decisive against it. He belonged to that large class of thoughtful men who had become weary of the worthlessness of paganism. He had outgrown idolatry, and perhaps made himself familiar with the Septuagint, and certainly was convinced that God was the hearer of prayer. He might have become a proselyte, and possibly was contemplating that step when he heard of Jesus, and being a genuine truth seeker he determined to wait for light. This will enable us to understand the object of his fasting and prayer. There had come to him the inevitable question, "What wilt thou do with Jesus, that is called Christ?" and in his anxiety as to the answer he cried to God for light. And not in vain (vers. 3-6).
3. In response to the Divine direction he dispatched two of his servants and a soldier to Peter; but God had gone before them, and was even now preparing His servant for their appearance (vers. 9-16), who received a symbolic revelation of the fact that the restrictions of the Mosaic law were removed, and that the distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished. It indicated that creation itself had been purified, and rendered clean for our use by the satisfaction of Christ. But Peter did not understand it so, but was helped by the message of the servants of Cornelius, and putting the two together he determined to go to Caesarea. As a precaution he took six brethren with him. Convinced that some important event in the history of the Church was going to happen he desired to have Jewish witnesses: an action which shows that, in spite of his impulsiveness, he was not destitute of prudence.
4. On arriving Peter found a considerable assembly, and after a preliminary discussion and explanation delivered a sermon as remarkable as any recorded in the history. While he was speaking the Holy Ghost descended, which —
(1) Certified the truth of Peter's words.
(2) Proved to Peter and his companions the genuineness of the faith of these Gentile converts.
(3) Indicated that those who received Him should be then and there admitted to the Church (Acts 11:17).
5. This was the Pentecost of the Gentiles, and so Peter opened the door for their admission as the Lord had promised him. Thus the infant Church took a new departure, and entered on that worldwide mission in which it is still engaged. Learn then —
I. THAT THE WAY TO GET LIGHT IS TO ACT UP TO WHAT WE HAVE AND PRAY FOR MORE. Cornelius had not found Christ (Acts 11:14), but he had found something, and "whereto he had attained he walked by that rule." This is a uniform method of God's procedure (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 112:4; Matthew 25:29; John 7:17; James 1:5, 6). F.W. Robertson stayed himself up with this principle during that dark wrestle with doubt in the Tyrol. Everything else went from him, but he could hold by this: "It is always right to do right"; and in the acting out of that he regained his hold of Christ.
II. THAT IN ALL SPIRITUAL MATTERS WE SHOULD BE PROMPT.
1. Cornelius lost no time in sending for Peter; nay, after Peter came he took in all he said while he was speaking, and so received the Holy Ghost. Do, therefore, at once what is needed to secure your soul's welfare. When Pharaoh was asked by Moses when he should entreat the Lord, he said, "Tomorrow!" and you marvel at his folly. You would have said, "The sooner the better"; but beware lest you condemn yourself. "Today, if ye will hear His voice," etc. You need not send to Joppa, "The word is nigh thee" (Romans 10:8, 9).
2. But the promptitude of Peter is quite as noteworthy (ver. 29), and we who have to deal with men about their souls should take a lesson. I once preached to an enormous audience in a circus. When I had finished I was quite prostrated, and while in that condition a man wished to speak with me about the way of life. I made an appointment for the next morning. But he never came. And I have written down that as one of the lost opportunities of my life, and its memory has been a spur to me ever since. "The King's business requires haste." Now — alike for preacher and hearer — is the accepted time.
III. THAT PREACHERS AND HEARERS ARE PREPARED FOR EACH OTHER BY GOD. Cornelius is led in a peculiar manner to send, and Peter to go: when they come together the result is blessing. It is the same now. The preacher is led through a special spiritual history; he is guided to the choice of a particular subject, to treat it in a peculiar way, to preach it at some distant place. The hearer is brought through circumstances of trial perhaps; he is led on a certain day to a certain place of worship, how he knows not, but there he hears the message God sends for him. It seems as he listens that the preacher must know his past life, and so speaking to his circumstances he is blessed in his conversion. This is no uncommon history.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,