Firm Foundation #12

    THE FIRST GENTILE CONVERTS

    In the tenth chapter of Acts we learn of the first Gentile converts to Christianity. The story is very interesting, containing information that is necessary to all who desire an accurate understanding of the fundamental requirements of church membership.

    Cornelius was a man who lived in the city of Caesarea. He was a centurion (a high-ranking Roman army officer). Cornelius was a man of authority, well respected in the community and possessing some wealth. He is described in the scripture as a devout man who feared God, gave much alms to the people and prayed to God always. One day Cornelius had a vision in which he saw an angel of God. This frightened him, and he said, “What is it, Lord?” the angelic presence answered, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner whose house is by the seaside: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:4-6).

    When the angel was gone, Cornelius sent some of his servants with a soldier to the city of Joppa to invite Peter to return with them and teach Cornelius. As they were on their way, Peter went up on the housetop to pray. While he was there, he saw the heaven opened and a certain vessel descending as if it were a great sheet held by the four corners and let down to the earth, “wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven” (Acts 10:12-16). Peter was disturbed by this vision, not understanding the meaning of what he had seen and heard. While he wondered about the matter, the men who had been sent from Cornelius arrived at the house where Peter was staying. Peter came down to the men at the instruction of the Spirit and said, “Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee” (Acts 10:21,22).

    On the following day, Peter and these messengers, with six brethren from Joppa, went to the city of Caesarea to find Cornelius. He was waiting for them, having assembled some of his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house he met Cornelius, who fell down at his feet and worshiped him. “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up: I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). They went into the room where the people were assembled and Peter said to them, “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?” (Acts10:28,29). Cornelius answered Peter’s question by saying, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour: and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the seaside; who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:30-33).

    Then Peter began to preach to the people. He delivered the same message that he had preached on the day of Pentecost and on the occasion of the healing of the lame man. He told the people of the life of Christ; of how the Jews had crucified him without a cause; of his burial and resurrection on the third day. Then Peter said, “And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:42,43). While Peter was speaking to the people, the Holy Ghost fell on them. This astonished the men from Joppa because they could not conceive that God would pour out on the Gentiles the gift of the Holy Ghost. Peter, however, recognized this demonstration as God’s approval and acceptance of Gentile people, and commanded that Cornelius and his friends should be baptized.

    In order to fully appreciate the import of these things, it is necessary to keep in mind that throughout the Mosaic dispensation the Gentile people had no covenant with God, while the nation of Israel was bound to Jehovah by the statutes and commandments of the Mosaic law. The Jews were constantly reminded of the existence of God and of their obligation to him by various feasts, fasts, ordinances and ceremonies. Because of this the Jews came to think of themselves as the elect while they held only disgust, that at times seemed to turn to hatred, for the Gentile nations. All the people converted on the day of Pentecost were Jews. Now, for the very first time, Gentiles were to be received in to the kingdom of God. It was, therefore, absolutely necessary that some unusual sign be given from heaven in order to confirm the fact that Gentiles could be received into the church and in order to remove Jewish prejudice. That this was the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit on this occasion cannot be denied in the light of the following event.

    When Peter returned to Jerusalem, he found that the other apostles and the brethren in Judea were disturbed because he had gone into the house of a Gentile to preach the word. Peter explained to them what had happened, telling them that he had been directed by a vision, by a voice, and by the Spirit to go to Caesarea and to preach. He went on to tell how he entered into the man’s house and how Cornelius had told him of the visitation of the angel who had commanded him to “send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; who shall tell thee words; whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:13,14). Then Peter said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:15-18).

    Peter appealed to this outpouring of the Holy Ghost to justify himself for having associated with Gentiles and for having baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. Inasmuch as Peter spoke by inspiration, we can positively conclude that the purpose of the gift of the Holy Ghost on this occasion was to remove all doubt from the minds of Jewish brethren as to the acceptability of Gentile people. Therefore, the gift of the Holy Ghost in this manner on this occasion was peculiar to these people – a special dispensation for a special reason.

    Once again we call attention to the fact that the commandments given by inspired men to those desiring to become members of the Lord’s body, or the church, are the same everywhere in the New Testament. In fact, it would seem strange indeed if God’s law should provide one set of commandments for one group of people under a given situation and a different set of commandments for a different group of people under the same situation. Truth, in order to be truth, must agree with itself. It is eternally true that “things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” God’s law, because it is infallible truth, must always agree with itself. Whatever one person is commanded to do in order to become a Christian, every other person must be commanded to do in order to accomplish the same purpose. Notice, therefore, that these people first heard the word. Keep in mind that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). To give honest attention to the word and to weigh carefully the evidence the word gives is to be compelled to believe. Because Cornelius and those who were with him were conscientious and honest, and because they heard the words of Peter candidly and weighed them fairly, they came to believe. They too repented. In Acts 11:18 it is said that when the apostles heard these things they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Lastly, they were commanded to be baptized (Acts 10:48). One cannot ignore the commandments of God with impunity. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” Inasmuch as keeping the commandments of Jesus is essential to loving Jesus, and inasmuch as loving Jesus is obviously essential to salvation, then baptism is also essential to one’s salvation. It is God’s prerogative to command; it is man’s place to obey.

    Section 1-Fill in the blanks

    Question 1
    Cornelius lived in the city of __________.

    Question 2
    Cornelius was a man of __________, __________ in the community and possessing some __________.

    Question 3
    In a vision Cornelius saw an __________ of __________.

    Question 4
    Cornelius sent some of his __________ with a __________ to the city of __________ to invite __________ to return with them and teach Cornelius.

    Question 5
    Peter saw a certain __________ descending to the earth wherein were all manner of __________ of the earth and __________ __________ and __________ __________ and __________ of the __________.

    Section 2-Yes or No
    Question 1
    The voice told Peter not to go with the men from Caesarea.
    YesNo

    Question 2
    Cornelius was described as a just man who feared God.
    YesNo

    Question 3
    Peter said that God had shown him that it was all right to call a man common or unclean.
    YesNo

    Question 4
    Peter refused to preach to the people because they were Gentiles.
    YesNo

    Question 5
    Peter commanded that Cornelius and his friends be baptized.
    YesNo

    Question 6
    The Holy Ghost fell on the Gentiles who heard the words of Peter.
    YesNo

    Question 7
    Truth in order to be truth must never agree with itself.
    YesNo

    Question 8
    Peter was accompanied to Caesarea by the brethren and other apostles from Jerusalem.
    YesNo

    Question 9
    It is God’s prerogative to command; it is man’s place to obey.
    YesNo

    Question 10
    The apostles at Jerusalem decided not to accept the new Gentile converts.
    YesNo

    Section 3-Complete the Scriptures

    Question 1
    “And other sheep I have, which are not of this __________: them also I must bring, and they shall __________ my voice; and there shall be __________ fold, and __________ shepherd” (John 10:16).

    Question 2
    “And as __________ was coming in, Cornelius met him, and __________ down at his feet, and __________ him. But Peter took him up, saying, __________ up: I myself also am a __________” (Acts 10:25,26).

    Question 3
    “Who shall tell thee __________, whereby __________ and all thy house shall be __________” (Acts 11:14).

    Question 4
    “When they heard these things, they __________ their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the __________ granted __________ unto life” (Acts 11:18).

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