Unexpected Faith

Unexpected Faith October 19, 2022

Scripture:        Job, chapter 5; Psalm 108; Acts, chapters 10-11

Acts 10:1-8 (NASB) – Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and made many charitable contributions to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!”

And he looked at him intently and became terrified and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and charitable gifts have ascended as a memorial offering before God. Now send some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.”

When the angel who spoke to him left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier from his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.



This is one of those familiar passages that I usually try to avoid when I’m reflecting.  I’ve taught lessons on this passage. I’ve preached from this passage. Everyone has heard sermons on this passage.  It’s an important story; it helps us to understand how Christianity became a global movement. We’re all familiar with Peter’s vision of the animals descending on a sheet, and the voice from heaven which said, “What God has cleansed, no long consider unholy” (10:15). Peter interpreted this vision as God telling him that Gentiles were welcome in His kingdom. That changed everything!

But what caught my attention this morning was the story of Cornelius’ vision. Luke begins by making sure that we all understand that Cornelius is a Gentile. First, he tells us that Cornelius was a centurion, or an officer of the Roman army.  Next, he was part of what was called the Italian cohort, which means that Cornelius was not a native-born Jew.  Third, he was a devout man and one who feared God – the term “God-fearer” was used to describe a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel but had not formally converted to Judaism (a convert was known as a “proselyte”). Fourth, he made many charitable contributions to the Jewish people; if he was Jewish, Luke probably would have simply said that he was “charitable.”

Okay, so Cornelius was a Gentile. Well, that makes it pretty remarkable that an angel of God appeared to him while he was praying.  The Old Testament has plenty of stories about an angel of the Lord appearing to Jewish people.  (Although they were almost universally terrified when it happened.) But for an angel of God to appear to Cornelius would seem to require that Cornelius had particular faith in God of a similar quality of that which was common among the Jews.

Unexpected faith:

But what really caught my attention was Cornelius’ response to what the angel told him.  The angel told him to send some men to Joppa to get Simon Peter and bring him back.  The angel doesn’t tell him whyNow dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea. So Cornelius did. He

  •  Summoned two of this servants and a devout soldier from his personal attendants
  • Explained everything to them
  • Sent them to Joppa

Although Luke doesn’t say this explicitly, Cornelius evidently sent them immediately, because the next day they were approaching Joppa around noon. It was about 30 miles from Joppa to Caesarea, so the journey probably would have taken about 12 hours.  To approach Joppa at noon the next day, they either had to leave at midnight or they had to make part of the journey that day. (It was dangerous to travel at night.)  The point is that when the angel told Cornelius to send men to get Peter, he did it right then.

Think of the faith that Cornelius had! He was faithful to God, even though he had not formally converted to Judaism. He responded immediately and completely to the instructions that God had given him through the angel. When Peter arrived at his house, Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends to hear what Peter had to say – even though he didn’t know what Peter would say! And when Peter began to speak, Cornelius responded.

He had obviously had an influence on his relatives and friends, because “the Holy Spirit fell upon those who were listening to the message” (10:44).  They were all ready to respond in faith – and with their conversion, the message began to spread among the Gentiles.  We’re all “children of Abraham” in our faith, but we are also indebted to Cornelius for his faithfulness and obedient response to God.


It would have been easy for Peter to shrug off the vision and stick to the way things had always been. When he arrived at Cornelius’ house, he said, “You yourselves know that it is forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner” – and he could have rested on that.  But he didn’t!  “Yet God has shown me that I am not to call any person unholy or unclean” (10:28).

One other thing stood out to me from Peter’s response. “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (10:34-35). God had demonstrated that by his willingness to send an angel to appear to Cornelius; now He demonstrates it through Peter’s response.  And God confirmed it by sending the Holy Spirit upon all who were gathered at Cornelius’ house!

So we need to be careful not to prejudge to whom God is speaking, and how He might be at work. It would have been easy for Peter to brush off the vision, because thousands of years of Jewish law and tradition had ingrained in him not to eat unclean food.  But he didn’t; he recognized that God was at work in a new way. Peter was able to recognize that because he spent time each day in prayer. He learned to recognize God’s voice and God’s heart – and that’s what God wants for us!

Prayer:   Father, thank you for reminding us that your heart is to reach people – all people. Forgive us for the times that we have thought that someone was “too far gone” for you to reach them. The book of Acts shows us how broad your love is: you reached out to Paul, who was actively persecuting and killing Christians; you reached out to Cornelius, a Gentile who was excluded from the Temple and formal opportunities to worship because of his ethnicity.  The Gospel was proclaimed to slaves and soldiers, governors and prostitutes, rich and poor, “religious” and sinners.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound – that Your grace reaches out to us all!  Help us to respond in faith and obedience to your leading today.  Amen.

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