A Mystery Revealed
This is a big text, with a simple point. There is certainly a lot that occurs within this narrative, but there is one clear purpose to it, and we want to discern that purpose. That is my way of saying that we are obviously not going to uncover every facet of what is written, and we do not need to in order to understand its meaning. Are greatest concern is discovering the Spirit’s intent for including this narrative through the hand of Luke. As this is being accomplished, we will begin to grasp how great and significant such a portion of Scripture is.
A great mystery is realized here. By mystery, I am not talk about something that is impossible to understand, but rather something that had been previously alluded to in the Old Testament Scripture, but not fully comprehended.
It is true that there are some things in the Scripture that are a mystery to us in the sense that we cannot completely comprehend them, such as the love of God for His people which is well beyond reason. We can only comprehend His love to a certain degree.
There are also mysteries in the Scripture that we are able to acknowledge as true, but we are not able to logically comprehend them, such as God being a triune being that is one in essence and three in person, or the dual natures of Jesus due to the hypostatic union. The fact that Jesus possesses two whole, perfect, and distinct natures is a thing that we can accept as true on the basis of its being revealed in the Scripture, but we are incapable of comprehending it. It is a mystery.
The mystery before us in this portion of Scripture, however, is able to be understood. What was previously obscure to people in the Old Covenant is now able to be grasped in the New. Truly, the truth realized in this segment of Scripture is the greatest news for every person who looks to Christ in order to find an anchor for their soul in His bloody sacrifice for their sin and His triumphant resurrection from the grave on the third day for their justification. The realization of this mystery should radically shape the way we all think and live.
The Impartiality of God
Let it be known that this text is ultimately neither about a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, nor is it about a man named Simon, who is also called Peter. These men certainly play their part in the account, but they are here purely to draw our attention to the character, nature, and will of an even greater Being, God! This text is entirely about Him. The purpose of this portion of Scripture serves to prove to us what is realized about Him in verses 34 and 35, which is that He is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.
What this means is that God is not a respecter of persons. In regard to who is welcome to Him, He does not discriminate. Whoever turns to Him, He will not cast aside. All who call upon Him will be saved. God does not give preference to certain ethnicities. He does not show favor to one gender over another. One’s age is irrelevant to Him. Social status is inconsequential. A person’s physical ability means nothing, and their temporal wealth is of no worth. He is not one to show partiality. Whoever fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. The word “welcome” here means acceptable. All who revere Him and do what is right by leaning upon Him for mercy and forgiveness will be accepted by Him. As Galatians 3:28-29 says:
“28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
The entirety of this portion of Scripture revolves around this truth. The first half points to it, and the second half proves it. The proof of God’s impartiality reveals to us a mystery that was not previously understood. Paul spoke of this mystery in his letter to the church at Ephesus saying to them in Ephesians 3:1-6:
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
As Paul says in Romans 9:6-8
“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.”
In other words, ethnicity does not make a person a true Israelite, faith in Jesus Christ does. According to the Scripture, genuine believers are the true Israel of God. The one people of God are made up of every tongue, tribe, and nation. In Christ, both Jew and Gentile are on equal footing before God because they are both children according to the promise and not the flesh.
A Centurion Named Cornelius
The first half points to a man at Caesarea named Cornelius. Yes, he was a centurion. A centurion was a commander within the Roman army who held authority over 100 men. Caesarea was a city located along the coast about thirty miles to the north of Joppa. It was the capital of the Roman province of Judea, and therefore a very important city for it housed the Roman procurator of the region. Obviously, with a governor’s presence there, so came the presence of Rome’s military which explains Cornelius’ presence in Caesarea.
Not only was Cornelius a centurion, but Luke, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes him in verse 2 as a devout man and one who feared God with all his household. Such devotion and reverence for the living God was evidenced by the fact that Cornelius’ household gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.
This is the most important thing we need to understand about Cornelius; he was a righteous and God-fearing man. In other words, he was an Old Covenant Gentile believer. He was one who had come to understand Israel’s God to be the living God and was striving to worship Him.
His being a Gentile, however, meant that he was viewed by the Jewish community as someone who was inferior, unclean, and incapable of ever having the same status as them a Jew the kingdom of God. This is not because God’s law had declared gentiles to be either inferior to the Jews, or unclean, but because of the Jews corrupted oral traditions which had been passed. Man’s laws, and not God’s law, are what Peter is referring to in verse 28 when he says:
“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.”
God did not command this. Man, who possesses a propensity to partiality did.
Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise. There was a court within the temple for gentiles to gather in and worship at from a distance. A wall of partition was erected to mark the divide between Jew and Gentile, and to indicate to gentiles that they could only go so far in their relation to God. It is through Cornelius that God proves the error in this thinking.
- In Verses 3-8, Luke records for us how God, wanting to demonstrate His impartiality, appears to Cornelius and commissions him to dispatch some men to Joppa to find a man whose mind has been thoroughly permeated with partial thinking for all of his life. A man named Simon, who is also called Peter.
- In verses 9-16, we see that God prepares Peter for these men by sending him into a trance and giving him a perplexing vision three times of clean and unclean animals, which He commands him to kill and eat because he should not consider unholy that which God has cleansed.
- In verses 17-23, we read that while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision meant and reflecting on it, that Cornelius’ men arrive. God then instructs Peter to accompany them assuring him that they were sent by Him.
- In verses 24-28, we see that Peter finally grasps the meaning of the vision. He says in verse 28:
“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”
- In verses 29-33, Cornelius recounts his experience with God’s messenger.
- In verse 34-35, upon hearing Cornelius’ account, Peter says:
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.’”
- In verses 36-43, Peter preaches the gospel.
- In verse 44-48, we have the proof of God’s impartiality and the mystery realized:
“44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
How Should we Live?
How should we live in light of this truth about God?
- We should turn to Him knowing that He is not partial to any and will accept all who fear Him and do what is right, which is to repent of your sins and believe in the gospel of Christ.
- On a very basic level, we ourselves are not to be partial. The Scripture is clear that “if you show partiality, you are committing sin.” Why? Because you are doing something that is contrary to the character, nature, and will of God. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves regardless of their age, disability, social status, age, or gender. We are not to be partial to people because the Living God we serve is not one to show partiality.
- We should praise Him. May we recall the words of Jesus in John 10:16 when He said to His disciples:
“16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
Do we understand that He is talking about us here? We are the other sheep of a different fold, and He has called us to Himself.
I would be remiss if we did not end by reading Ephesians 2:11-22 which says:
“11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
 Galatians 6:16
 James 2:9