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This passage marks the taking of the gospel to the Gentiles in a very intentional way. Peter is making a tour through the seaside cities where churches have already been planted. Joppa was one of them, the place where Jonah fled God when he was called to take his mission to the Gentiles. One thing this shows us is that God’s plan was not ever only intended for one people. God has always planned to take his gospel to the ends of the earth, to both Jews and Gentiles. In this passage, God is renewing his mission to the Gentiles. Through Peter and Cornelius, he shows us that the gospel of Jesus is to be mediated through us to other people, especially other ethnicities, demonstrating the power of his gospel to break down all walls and reconcile people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

 

Early in my ministry I was asked to preach at an event for Reformed University Fellowship in Nashville at Vanderbilt. It was on a Sunday, so I would have enough time to preach that morning at my church and then fly to Nashville and preach there in the evening. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, and I had some lectures to put together, so I found a quiet place in the busy airport to do some work. Eventually, I noticed that I was the only one left at the gate, so I got up and asked the desk attendant when the flight would board. She proceeded to tell me that it had boarded 20 minutes earlier! In a panic, I asked when the next flight would be. As it turned out, there would be another flight shortly, and I would still have plenty of time to make it to my preaching engagement that evening. So, relieved, I sat down and continued working on my lectures. I became so focused on preparing these lectures that the exact same thing happened again!

 

There was one more flight to Nashville (a little later this time), and the organizers were able to rearrange the service a bit so that I would be able to make it. As I was making arrangements for this third and final flight, the desk attendant gave me a word of advice. She said, “Mr. Robertson, I would suggest that you put yourself in a place where you can hear me when I call to board the next flight. That way, you will not miss it.”

 

As Christians, we must do the same in our relationship with God. We must put ourselves in a position to hear and respond to God’s call through the means of grace he provides. They are conduits of grace into which we can “plug ourselves.” When we plug ourselves into them, we can hear God’s direction. We will be able to hear things even as radical as Peter and Cornelius heard. That is, the coming together of Christian across racial and ethnic lines.  

I. We Must Tune Our Senses to Understand by the Means of Grace. (Acts 10:1-4, 9)

Though different in their backgrounds, personalities, vocations, and stations in life, both men were equally ready to discern God’s call. How? First, because they were in a position to hear it. Their senses had been made keen to hear God’s directions because they were accessing him through the means of grace. We have no ability by ourselves to keep God’s commandments. But God gives us aids, conduits, or means which we can lay hold of. Through these he pours enabling grace into our lives. It is by making use of these external aids that God speaks clearly to us.

A. Word

Though not mentioned explicitly, we know that both Cornelius and Peter were well instructed in the Word of God. Cornelius is called a “God-fearer.” That means that he worshiped regularly at synagogue. There he would have heard the Old Testament Scriptures read and commented upon. As a result he kept the dietary laws, observed the Sabbath, prayed at set times daily, and gave money to relieve the poor. All this he did because he was instructed to do so by the Scriptures. He was called a “God-fearer” as opposed to a “proselyte” because he was not circumcised and did not offer sacrifices; therefore, he was not a full member of the Jewish community. Most importantly, he understood from the Scriptures that a Messiah was coming and he eagerly anticipated his arrival.

 

Of course we know that Peter was in the Word. We know it from his sermon at Pentecost in which he skillfully explained the prophecies of Scripture concerning Christ. We hear it in his defense before the Sanhedrin and his subsequent prayer in which he demonstrated that he lived the Bible from the inside out (chapter 4).  

 

Though at very different stages in their spiritual journeys Peter and Cornelius were men who not only knew the Scriptures, they pondered them and asked how they applied to their lives. And because they did, their minds were ready to hear God’s instructions. Their minds were disciplined by biblical principles which enabled them to make godly decisions. There is no other way to say it: you will not make decisions pleasing to God and you will not consistently walk in his will if the Word of God is not shaping your mind. If God’s Word is not shaping your mind, somebody else’s word will and that will be the law by which you make your decisions. If you want to live a life pleasing to the Lord and make decisions which are of eternal significance then you must be regularly under the Bible’s instruction, privately and corporately.

B. Prayer

The most obvious aid in Cornelius’ and Peter’s lives was prayer. Cornelius’ prayer life is mentioned three times in this passage. Luke tells us he “prayed to God regularly” (2) and those prayers had reached God (4). One of those regular times of prayer was three in the afternoon (3, cm. 3:1). It was during the course of prayer that Cornelius received a vision of an angel who directed him to call on Peter who would lead him to the Messiah.

 

Peter was also at a regular time of prayer when he saw his vision which would lead him to Cornelius. It may have been that he was fasting as well since Luke mentions his intense hunger (10).

 

These men understood what God wanted them to do because they were in regular conversation with him. God is a Father and wants to relate to his children as such. That means he calls us to build a relationship with him. To build any kind of relationship requires time and conversation. That is one of the major purposes of prayer. It is not merely asking for things. It is expressing your love to him and waiting to hear it expressed back to you. God could direct us without a prayer relationship but it would be a cold, military-like relationship. He wants us to express our hearts to him that he might shape and lead them.

C. Obedience

Both Peter and Cornelius were demonstrating obedience when they received God’s call in this passage. Peter was in the process of obedience in prayer. Cornelius was a man of some means and had been giving generously to the poor. When you are walking in obedience, you are walking closely with Christ. In fact, when you go to places of obedience, Christ is already there. Jesus will always be with you when you are obeying. Therefore, when you obey, you draw near to God and put yourself in a place to hear his call on your life.

 

Gerry Peak recently taught our children the importance of finding quiet time to be still and alone with God so that we can spend time with him. He also reminded them to first tell their parents where they are going. This brought back a memory from when I was around fourteen-years-old. My family loved close to the Tennessee river, and I had just gotten a new canoe, which I had rigged up with stabilizers and a trolling motor. My friend, Andrew, and I loved to go out to the river. One day, my father told us that we must stay in the slough of the river and not out in the middle where the barges and the tugboats were. We were to stay there, and when he came back from work, he would blow his horn to signal for us to come back, load up in the truck, and go home for dinner.

 

Well, Andrew and I loved to go to a certain cave and we usually went there on our motorcycles, but we decided this time we would go by water, which meant disobeying my father and going out into the middle of the river. So there we were in the middle of the river with barges and tug boats and our little 15-foot canoe. Well, we eventually made it to the cave. After we had been there for a little while, I thought I heard my father’s voice and the sound of my motorcycle. I was right! My father was furious. We had taken ourselves out of earshot of his horn and had put ourselves in great danger where we wouldn’t be able to hear him. His anger, however, was out of love.

 

If you feel guilt and shame because perhaps you have not made use of these means of grace, do not pull away from God and remain in your guilt. He convicts you and makes you uncomfortable because he wants life to go well with you. Like a loving father who cares for your safety and wants to be near you, he calls you back to these means of grace so that you might be able to discern his call and know his love made known in the gospel. He wants you to know his love so much that he sent his son to pursue you and his Spirit to convict you. Draw near to this loving father through the means of grace!