Chapter 3: When God is at work: preaching and the Holy Spirit
24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.’
27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?’
30 So Cornelius said, ‘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, 31 and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.” 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.’
34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—37 that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
39 ‘And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. 40 Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.’
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, 47 ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.
Peter and Cornelius meet: correction, explanation and encouragement
At Caesarea, Cornelius and his circle of relatives and close friends greet the return of his three envoys, accompanied by their specially invited guest, Peter. Although Cornelius’s heart is open to God, he does not know Him personally yet. Neither does he understand the gospel. In ignorance, he falls down before Peter to worship him. Peter quickly puts him right! He lifts him up and reminds him that he, Peter, is ‘also a man’. It is wrong and dangerous to make any member of sinful humanity an object of worship. Others have wrongly worshipped or allowed the wrong worship of someone other than God. Included in their ranks are the wicked King Herod, Paul and Barnabas’s hearers at Lystra and some people in Malta who saw Paul survive a snake bite. Even the godly apostle John got it wrong twice.1 Jesus rightly always accepted worship with quiet dignity, because He is both God and man.2 The very fact that Jesus accepted worship at every stage of His humanity underlined that He was both sinless and God.
Now the Jewish apostle and the seeking Gentile soldier talk together. Peter explains that God has shown him that, despite being Jewish, he must regard no-one as ‘common or unclean’. That is why he responded immediately to Cornelius’s request and God’s command to visit Cornelius. Christians today need to remember that every sinner, from every background, needs to hear about Christ. One song says, ‘Every person in every nation in each succeeding generation has the right to hear the news that Christ can save.’3
When Peter asks why he has been summoned, Cornelius explains how a man in bright clothing, an angel,4 appeared to him while he was praying and fasting. The angel told him that God had heard his prayer and seen and remembered his generosity to the poor. Obediently, he immediately sent for Peter to speak to him, and gathered his relatives and friends so they too can hear God’s word to them through the apostle. Cornelius’s hunger for God is so great that he already wants God to bless others as well as himself. His example challenges many of us who know Jesus as our Saviour. Cornelius also gratefully encourages Peter by telling him: ‘you have done well to come’.
Listen to this!
Peter needs no second invitation to speak! He now sees that God will accept anyone from any background who ‘fears Him and works righteousness’. The word ‘fears’ means ‘reverentially loves’. It relates to both God’s awesome holiness and also His tender mercy toward those who repent from sin and trust Him alone for forgiveness. By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, ‘righteousness’ begins to grow in the life of any individual who repents and trusts in Jesus. As a real Christian I believe that Christ has died in my place for my sins. I have received Him as my risen Lord by believing in Him from my heart.5 So I begin a new life of ‘righteousness’. This ‘righteousness’ shows itself through righteous acts, righteous words which include confessing Christ as Lord, and especially through a righteous attitude of continually and practically seeking to make sure that Jesus Christ is the Lord of everything in my life.6
The gospel message which produces righteousness also brings now, as under Peter’s preaching, ‘peace through Jesus Christ’ to those trusting Him. Here ‘peace’ embraces both ‘peace with God’7 and also the ‘peace of God’.8 Our sins have made us God’s enemies9 but as believers we are now pardoned by the God we have offended, because Jesus bore those sins and the punishment we deserve for them on the cross for us.10 This gives us ‘peace with God’. The Holy Spirit comes to live and rule in every believer’s heart, thus enabling us to experience the ‘peace of God’. Better still, the ‘God of peace’11 becomes our constant companion, guiding and directing Lord, strong Helper and Comforter, and our faithful Friend.
Peter tells his hearers that this message about Christ has already been shared widely since John the Baptist’s preaching, and that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is well known as having the Holy Spirit and power, and for doing good and healing those oppressed by Satan. Peter tells them why: ‘God was with Him!’ That is not surprising! Jesus is also called ‘Emmanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.12 He is God the Son. Along with God the Holy Spirit and God the Father, He is one Person in the Three-in-Oneness of God the Trinity.
Peter reveals that the Divine truth he has shared at Caesarea is based on solid, well-witnessed historical fact. What Jesus did was seen by reliable first-hand witnesses. His death on the cross and His resurrection were witnessed by many. He was one of the witnesses who even ‘ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead’. Jesus commanded them to preach and testify to the people. They were told to include the fact that Jesus will judge all people, whether alive or dead. They must also remind their hearers that, as all the prophets in the Old Testament testify, ‘whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins’. Their theme is ‘Judgment or Christ.’ While Peter emphasises that God can forgive and cleanse sinners from their sins through Jesus, ‘the Holy Spirit falls upon all those who’ hear ‘His word’. God is now visibly owning and honouring the truth of this amazing message of good news that guilty sinners, Jews or Gentiles, can be saved through Christ.
God at work and Gentiles saved
God interrupts Peter at this very point. The blessing to come is His: it was not orchestrated or organised by man. ‘While Peter was speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word’. The referee blows the whistle! The match is over. The ‘Holy Spirit [falls] upon those who heard the word’. As in Acts 2:2–4 at Pentecost in the Jewish capital, Jerusalem, and as in Acts 8:17 in mixed-race Samaria, so here in Acts 10:44 at Caesarea, a Roman city situated on the Judean coast, the Holy Spirit falls on those who believe in the Lord after hearing the word of God being preached by the apostles. God appears to mark each significant entry into new territory for the gospel by sending His Spirit in a demonstrable way.13 Here we note again the astonishment of believing Jews that God is saving Gentiles, too, as God pours out His Spirit upon them.
As at Pentecost, they ‘speak with tongues’ (that is, other languages) without learning them. Men offended God by sinning in pride against Him and building the Tower of Babel. God judged them by confounding their language.14 Now God reverses the position. He enables men and women from other countries to hear the good news in their own languages from newly born-again Christians. That good news will save the hearers who repent and believe in Christ. This is another historic intervention of God’s grace. Like others, including Peter, who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, the new converts are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Peter takes the initiative to baptise, in the name of the Lord, those who have believed in Christ and who therefore have received His Spirit within. Baptism is an outward sign of what has happened to them spiritually. Through it they also witness to their faith in Christ before a watching world. They will now seek to live lives in which they die daily to their sins and selfish preferences. They now desire that Jesus Christ will live His life in and through them as their Lord by the Holy Spirit. They will also continue to share with as many people as they can how their Saviour can save their hearers too.15
Questions on Chapter 3
Acts 10:24–48 When God is at work: Preaching and the Holy Spirit
A. If you were Peter going into the meeting with Cornelius, what would you want to know and why? If you were Cornelius, what would you want to know and why? What do they share with each other before Peter begins to preach?
B. What are the main points in Peter’s message?
Acts 10:34–43, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 2:11–13
C. Discuss the work of the Holy Spirit and the role of Peter in verses 44 to 48.
Acts 10:44–48, Acts 1:8, Acts 2:4, Acts 11:15–19, Acts 15:8
- Acts 12:21–23, Acts 14:11–18, Acts 28:1–6, Revelation 19:9–10, Revelation 22:8–9 ↩
- John 20:28, Matthew 8:2, Matthew 28:17 ↩
- Youth Praise, 128 ↩
- This man is the ‘angel’ referred to in Acts 10:3 and 10:22 ↩
- Romans 10:9–10 ↩
- 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 14:9 ↩
- Romans 5:1 ↩
- Philippians 4:6–7, Colossians 3:15, Philippians 4:9 ↩
- Romans 8:7, Ephesians 2:11–18 ↩
- 1 Peter 2:24, Ephesians 2:13 ↩
- Philippians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Hebrews 13:20 ↩
- Matthew 1:23 ↩
- See Acts 19:6 where new ground is broken theologically, as the hearers who receive the Spirit had only heard about the baptism by John the Baptist. New ground is also broken at Ephesus, which is in Asia Minor (Turkey). As at Jerusalem and at Caesarea those saved and blessed through God’s Spirit speak in other languages. (We are not told if that was so in Samaria). ↩
- For the account of the Tower of Babel, see Genesis 11:1–9 ↩
- Romans 6:1–14, Romans 10:12–17 ↩