(Act 10:19-22 ESV) 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”
God was making the meaning of the vision abudantly clear. God approves the unclean — and the first approved unclean person is Cornelius — a Roman centurion.
(Act 10:23-26 ESV) 23 So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”
No proper Jew would have invited a Gentile, much less a Roman soldier, into his home, and so we see that Peter is beginning to understand the gospel.
Cornelius evidently knew the day Peter would come, and so prepared by gathering an audience of Gentiles to hear the Jewish apostle.
The offering of worship to Peter is a sign of Cornelius’ lack of understanding. Caesar would have gladly accepted such worship, but Peter refuses it.
(Act 10:27-29 ESV) 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
Remarkably, Peter responds to the worship with an apology — because until the preceding day, Peter admits he would not have gone to Cornelius’ house but for the vision from God.
The Law of Moses does not forbid such associations, but the Jew may well incur uncleanness — not a crime but an significant inconvenience. The practice of refusing to associate with Gentiles was seen by the Gentiles as arrogant and anti-social. It greatly harmed their reputations.
Of course, the same is true today. When Christians refuse to associate with non-Christians and when congregations refuse to associate with other churches, the reaction will inevitably be negative. We come across as arrogant and insulting when we withdraw into our own cocoons of piety.
(Act 10:30-33 ESV) 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
Cornelius reveals that this meeting has been orchestrated by God.
(Act 10:34-43 ESV) 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Notice Peter’s sermon. The conclusion isn’t, “Come forward to be baptized for forgiveness of your sins,” but Jesus “is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” and “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” It’s centered entirely on faith in Jesus as Messiah.
Peter chooses to emphasize Jesus’ place as judge of the living and the dead. To a Jew, this surely put him in God’s place. To a Roman centurion, this places Jesus above Caesar, who was the highest judge in Rome. Remember: Paul appealed to Caesar. There was no separation of powers in the ancient world. The highest judge was also the highest king.
Thus, to preach Jesus as judge was to preach Jesus as king, the highest power in the universe, before whom all must bow, even the Roman army.
Before Peter preached forgiveness, he preached Jesus as Messiah. He didn’t even mention baptism, but rather, taught the Great Confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
(Act 10:44-46a ESV) 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
We’ll never know what else Peter might have preached. When he got to faith, God ended the sermon by giving his Spirit to those who believed.
Notice two verbs used by Luke regarding the Spirit.
* “Fell” is the same work used in Acts 8:16 of the Spirit being received by the Samaritans. Some want to argue that this event — the baptism of the Spirit — was only received at Pentecost and by Cornelius — but the Samaritans received the same gift.
* “Poured out” is a verb used of the Spirit by the prophets (such as Joel, as quoted in Acts 2:17-18). Paul uses the same verb for the Spirit all Christians receive in Titus 3:6.
And notice Luke’s use of “gift of the Holy Spirit” — borrowed straight from Acts 2:38, where it refers to the gift received by all Christians.
Luke is making the point that (a) the outpouring and falling of the Spirit is the same thing that happened at Pentecost and (b) it’s the same Spirit received by all Christians when they are baptized. It’s the gift described in Acts 2:38.
Those who speak of different “measures” of the Spirit are imposing a 20th Century human construct on the text. That teaching is just not in the Bible.
That leaves the obvious question, which is: why don’t we all speak in tongues and prophesy when we are saved? and the answer is: God didn’t always evidence receipt of the Spirit that way in the First Century. The Spirit blows where he wills and gives what gifts he wishes when he wishes.
We want to turn the Spirit into a formula or a magic spell: If we do X and say Y, God will be compelled to give us Z. But God is not magic, and the Spirit’s gifts aren’t in our control.
(Act 10:46b-48 ESV) Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
Notice Peter’s logic. We think we control God and that God can’t save anyone unless we baptize them in water. But Peter sees God in control. Therefore, when he sees the gift of the Spirit given, he can hardly refuse to baptize with water!
The order and process of conversion is not to be taken as normative, but neither should it be taken as unrepeatable. That’s not our call. Rather, the clear lesson is that, should we find a believer in Christ who plainly has already received the Spirit, we should baptize him with water — not so that he’ll receive the Spirit or be approved by God, but because that’s what God wants us to do. (We’ll consider this further when we get to the end of Gal 3.)