This morning, we’re continuing our journey through prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with God.
I think too often we take prayer for granted and have too low of expectations of how God responds to us when we pray. Prayer is incredibly powerful because when we pray, what we pray literally comes before God. He hears our every prayer.
We’ve already seen how prayer changes ourselves and can even change the very plans of God. We’ve seen how the heavenly realm can be set into action when we pray including angels, demons, and even God, Himself.
Last week, we saw how God shook the place where the early church was praying and filled them all with the Holy Spirit again. He got pretty excited when the church prayed for boldness to share His word and for Him to heal and perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus!
This morning, we’re turning to an account where we see the interaction between Heaven and Earth as we pray. We’ll see the incredible opportunity before us to cooperate with God and be a part of what He’s doing through prayer.
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
Cornelius was not an average person. He was not just a Roman soldier, but a centurion. This means that he oversaw 100 soldiers. He must have been a man of solid character and proven himself to be skilled on the battlefield and with administrative gifts in order to rise into leadership and especially at this location.
Caesarea was the capital city of Rome in Judea and was perhaps the world’s largest sea ports and artificial harbor at the time. The procurator would have also resided here, whom was Pontius Pilate at this time. It’s believed that the Italian Regiment served as the procurator’s body guard recruited from Roman-born individuals in Italy.
Cornelius would have been well known and respected and a public figure within this large city.
2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
Cornelius and his family were Gentiles, which means that they were not Jewish. Romans generally practiced idol worship and believed in many gods and goddesses, who had household gods and even embraced the emperor as a god. Cornelius, however, did not. We don’t know the details, but he learned about God and he and his family chose to devote themselves to Him alone.
Have you ever encountered nonbelievers who live more like believers than church going believers?
There are many who live here in our region who generally believe in God and even pray and are very generous. They even generally live morally upright lifestyles. Yet they are not saved; they’ve never fully given their lives to Jesus and received His salvation. They are so, so close!
This is what Cornelius was like. He believed in God and prayed to God and lived generously. However, he was not saved. He was so, so close to salvation! However, God was about to do something about this!
3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear.
Remember who Cornelius was; a battle-hardened, Roman centurion. We can only imagine the things that he saw and the things that he did to obtain this position. However, when he saw an angel of God, he was afraid.
“What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (11:14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.)
Although Cornelius wasn’t saved, that doesn’t mean that God didn’t hear his prayers and notice the sacrificial way in which he was living to honor Him. God was aware and those offerings created a memorial before God so that Cornelius would not be forgotten.
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
One thing that centurions obviously understood was authority structures and the importance of being quick to obey. We see clear evidence of this with Jesus’ encounter in Luke 7 when He remotely healed a centurion’s servant who was about to die from sickness.
The centurion said, “Say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Cornelius did exactly what the angel said to do. He sent men to Joppa to bring Peter back. Faith revealed through works of obedience.
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
A religious mindset and attitude is a super challenging thing to overcome. A mindset where the ultimate goal of discipleship is conformity. A mindset that demands that everyone submit to the same rules and which values and judges by appearances alone. An attitude that looks down on any who do not conform.
This mindset is so hard to break that even when Jesus told Peter to kill and eat three times, Peter stuck to his religion and arrogantly told Jesus, “NO, NEVER!” That’s the way we’ve always done it before and that’s the way it always will be done.
Jesus was trying to break the neck of this religious mindset not only in Peter, but in the entire church!
Peter was sort of rightly sticking to the word of God. The Old Covenant law did forbid Peter from eating the animals that Jesus showed him and told him to kill and eat. What the Lord was doing was showing the church that the Old Covenant had been fulfilled. There is now a New Covenant purchased by the blood of Jesus. Things have changed.
The law that defined sin and sentenced us to death that we lived by had been fulfilled. Now, we live within a freedom through the Spirit. Righteousness now does not come from obedience to the law, but through faith in the obedience of Jesus. We now have a relationship with God through His Spirit within us.
I love how God often prepares us for what’s next. What’s next is usually uncomfortable for us. It’s usually not in agreement with our current opinion and beliefs. It’s usually not what we naturally will on our own. However, it’s God’s will and plan and it can’t get any better!
We’ll see this unfortunate reality again soon, but God’s people are not always the quickest to embrace change. However, when it is God leading the change, we’d be wise to surrender our own selves and cooperate with what He is doing. We unfortunately tend to trade in our old selves not for freedom by the Spirit, but for religion by the law.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”
They knew that Peter, being Jewish, would refuse to go to a Gentile’s home. The men had to appeal to Peter’s desire to look right before his fellow Jews and their common demanded expectations of one another. This was again a religious mindset that Jesus was trying to free him from.
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Peter at Cornelius’s House
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
I believe that it was at this time, standing before this large crowd of Gentiles that Peter began to understand what the vision that he saw during his trance was all about. He told them that it was against their religious law to even visit a Gentile, but God was showing him something new and different.
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
How did they know that the Gentiles had the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out into their lives? They were speaking in tongues and praising God. This all happened right in the middle of Peter’s sermon; while he was still speaking.
It’s a good thing when the Holy Spirit interrupts us. It’s as if God was like, “Enough talk already, Peter… Let’s get to the good stuff! It’s time for me to do my thing!” 🙂
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
DISCIPLESHIP! It is so important to join together and learn from Jesus and each another!!! It’s not enough for us to just get saved and be water baptized and be Spirit baptized, but we all need each other to grow and learn together. This is why Jesus created this beautiful, messy thing that He calls the church!
Although the church can still be a bit religiousy and slow to embrace change and to obey what Jesus is calling us to do through the Spirit, God is incredibly patient and gracious and merciful. After being offended and judgmental and divided and critical, they thankfully caught up with what Jesus was up to and joyfully embraced it.
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story:
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Prayerfully, we’ll learn from their example and be a church that is quicker to skip over the offended criticism and objections and get right to cooperating with the new thing that Jesus is doing! The church would never be the same from that point forward. Religion died, Gentiles were saved, and praise was given to God.
Prayer is how Cornelius caught God’s attention.
Prayer is how Peter received the revelation that God was saving all people.
Prayer got people out of God’s way so that everyone could be saved.
Prayer brought about a reformation within the church to embrace and accept anyone and everyone who received Jesus’ salvation without heaping heavy religious rules upon them!
In fact, when the church leadership met in Jerusalem to seek God about what to do with Gentiles who were saved, this was the simple letter that was sent out.
28 “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.
This morning, let’s value and expect more from prayer!
Let’s cast off the veil that comes with a religious mindset and enjoy the freedom that the Spirit gives!
There are so many Corneliuses in our community, but salvation is coming to their homes and we’re bringing it! Begin to look for and expect these Cornelius encounters. Don’t be afraid to visit their homes, don’t be afraid of what others might think about you, and don’t be afraid to share the good news about Jesus with them!