As we continue our study of the missionary preaching of the Apostles we wish to concentrate on the preaching of the Apostle Peter to Cornelius and his household. The familiar narrative is found in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts. Cornelius, a devout man who “prayed to God alway,” was an officer in the Roman army who resided in Caesarea. One afternoon an angel of God came to him in a vision telling him that his prayers and alms were answered, and instructing him to send men to Joppa to call for Simon Peter (Acts 10:1-5). Peter, the angel said, “shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do” (Acts 10:6). This Cornelius did. On the next day, as the men of Cornelius were approaching Joppa, Peter went to the housetop to pray. In a vision from God, the Apostle saw heaven opened and a great sheet let down in which were all kinds of wild animals. A voice said to him, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (Acts 10:13). Peter’s characteristic response was, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14). This happened three times. While Peter doubted concerning the meaning of the vision the men of Cornelius came to the house calling for him. At the same time the Holy Spirit instructed Peter to go with these three men, “doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). Peter accompanied the men back to Caesarea where he met Cornelius and a good number of his relatives and close friends. Peter explained to Cornelius that “God hath shewed 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?” Cornelius responded by relating his vision to Peter, concluding, “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (Acts 10:33). Peter then preached to them exclaiming, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; But in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34, 35).
Concerning this incident and the sermon of Peter (Acts 10:36-43) there are several points which we ought to note. This is the first time the Word went strictly to the Gentiles. It is true that Philip had preached to the Samaritans, many of whom believed and received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John had come; but there was some Jewish blood in them (Acts 8). Cornelius and those “many” who were with him were Gentiles. Hence this is the beginning of the spread of the Gospel beyond the borders of Israel to the nations of the world. Centuries earlier the prophets had spoken of the “Day of the Lord” when all nations would “flow into Jerusalem.” The beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy takes place with Peter’s being sent to and preaching to Cornelius and his relatives and friends. This is a highly significant step in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ. Evidence of this significance may be found also in Acts fifteen, where the Apostles and Church leaders gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the question of the circumcision of the Gentile converts. There Peter related the entire incident and that became one of the deciding factors in the final determination of the “Gentile-circumcision question” by the conference. There too the Church finally realized that “God is no respecter of persons.”
It is to be noted as well that Cornelius was not a pagan Gentile. He was not an idolater who had no knowledge of God. In fact the passage describes him as “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2). But it is also true that Cornelius knew nothing of Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. One receives the impression that he had never even heard of Jesus of Nazareth. It is precisely for this reason that God brings the Apostle Peter to him and prepares Cornelius to receive Peter and the Gospel which he preaches. Thus the incident serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, Cornelius and his relatives and friends must be brought to the consciousness of faith in Jesus Christ and gathered into the Church through baptism and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, Peter and the Church must understand that the time has come when Christ will gather His Church out of the nations in obedience to the will of God Who is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34, 35).
Concerning the content of the message Peter preached, it follows exactly the pattern we observed in Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the sermon he preached in Jerusalem upon the occasion of the healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful. The sermon is completely Theocentric. All of the emphasis is upon God, the Sovereign God Who is revealed in Jesus Christ Who is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The Apostle begins by affirming, “God is no respecter of persons.” Those who fear God and work righteousness in every nation are accepted with God (Acts 10:34, 35). God is the One Who sent the Word by Jesus Christ. “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:) That word I say ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached” (Acts 10:36, 37). It was God Who annointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit unto His ministry and saving work. “God annointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: Who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; Whom they slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 10:38, 39). This Jesus, Peter proclaimed, “God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly” (Acts 10:40). The risen Christ was not shown to all the people, “but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41). It was God Who commanded the apostles to preach to the people. In that preaching they were to testify that it was Christ Who was ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). To this Christ all the prophets gave witness, “that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
It is perfectly obvious from Peter’s preaching that God is absolutely sovereign in the whole program of redemption. Man neither conceives of it nor does he execute that program of redemption. What does Peter preach concerning man? Nothing except that it was man who crucified Jesus and man is a sinner who can be saved only through faith in the name of Jesus. It’s all God. At the risk of being redundant it must be emphasized again, this theme, God, must be dominant in all mission preaching. This theme must dominate all preaching in the pulpit of the established church as well. Only this Gospel which is strictly according to the Holy Scriptures is the Good News. The missionary must not hesitate to proclaim the absolutely sovereign God in all his preaching and in all his teaching. To the degree that he fails to do this he robs the Gospel of its power, its efficacy. Indeed, to that extent he preaches a false gospel, the very antithesis to the true Gospel.
Because the Apostle proclaimed God he preached Christ, for God is revealed in Christ and Christ is of God. Peter proclaimed the good that Christ did, especially as that was revealed in Jesus’ healing ministry in Galilee and Judea. The Apostle preached the cross of Christ. The heart of the message was that God Who ordained Jesus to be the Judge of the living and the dead raised Christ from the dead. Peter preached forgiveness of sins through faith in the name of Jesus. These elements must characterize the church’s preaching both at home and to the nations. Notice how everything the Apostle preached fits together. Take away any one element and the gospel is lost! There can be no gospel without God, without Christ, without the cross, or without the resurrection. Without sin the cross is meaningless. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). This unlearned former fisherman preached the blessed Gospel of God in all its harmony and beauty and power. There was no undue emphasis on one element or point to the neglect of the others. Peter proclaimed the entire gospel. It was not a watered down, simplified gospel which becomes no gospel at all which Peter preached. It was doctrinal! It was meaty! It was the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Because it was all of that it was eminently practical. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, the Jew first, but also the Greek (Romans 1:16). What could be more practical than that?
While Peter was still preaching (Acts 10:44) the fruit came a hundredfold. The Holy Spirit fell upon them and they began to speak in tongues. Through that sign God showed the Jewish Christians that indeed He “also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Seeing this, Peter said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…” (Acts 10:47, 48). What a wonder! What the church must understand is that God still performs those wonders through the proper preaching of His inspired, infallible Word.