EVERYBODY NEEDS JESUS
PRINCETON CHRISTIAN CHURCH
ACTS 10 15 OCTOBER 2023
We can probably all agree that some folks – Christians – live a life that is closer to God’s plan for us than other Christians do. How many times have you heard someone say about another person: “He or she is a ‘good Christian man or woman’”? Or that person is so Christlike. In saying that, we seem to be also saying that some Christians are not so Christlike.
Well, we are going to get to know a man like that today. The man is Cornelius. In the book of Acts, Chapter 10 is where we come into contact with Cornelius.
READ: Acts 10
Now, with this reading, we must understand this: Up to this time, the Gospel had only been preached to the Jews, the Jewish proselytes, and the Samaritans. These groups are those who had observed the Law and lived by the Law of Moses.
The Apostles knew that Jesus had told them to “go to all the nations and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” as we read in Matthew 28:19.
But they had not been told specifically that the Gentiles were to be received as Gentiles. What I mean by that is they assumed that anyone who responded to the Gospel would have to convert to Judaism and renounce their Gentile status.
They seemed to have thought that Gentiles must be circumcised to become Jewish proselytes (that is, converting to Jewish law) before they could be accepted as Christians.
All that said let’s look closer at Cornelius.
Cornelius was not a faithful Jew. Why not? And here, I don’t mean that Cornelius was an Unfaithful Jew either. But the reality is that he was not a faithful Jew because he was not a Jew at all.
Cornelius was a Roman citizen. And as a Roman citizen, he was not a Jew. He was a Gentile. And up to this time, the Gospel – the teaching of Jesus Christ - had not come to the Romans – who, of course, were Gentiles. So, it is safe to say that Cornelius was possibly the first Gentile Christian, the first person among the Gentiles, to be converted to Christianity.
Now, why is that important?
Jews were scattered among all the nations at that time, much as they are today. The Apostles may have understood that their mission was to the Jews only. For a while, they preached only to the Jews.
We see evidence of that stated in Acts 11:17-19, where we read: “Therefore if God gave to them (Gentiles) the same gift as He gave to us (who were Jews) also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way? When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well, then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
(19-20) “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
But then, the areas of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee had experienced the preaching of the Gospel – they had been evangelized. The time had come for the Gospel to come to the Gentiles.
Peter, in his preaching, opened the door to the Gospel to the Gentiles by going to the house of Cornelius and preaching the Gospel and explaining salvation through Jesus Christ to those in the household of Cornelius.
Cornelius was not only a Gentile, but he was also a centurion, which means he commanded a unit of 100 Roman soldiers in the Roman army.
In verse 2, we are told that Cornelius was a devout man; he feared God; everyone in his household did, too; he gave generously to people who were in need, and he always prayed to God. So, we could rightly say that Cornelius was a “religious” person. He recognized that he was dependent upon God.
Remember here, though, that even an unbeliever can have devotion and conviction to a god or god - little “g” gods.
But we are told that Cornelius feared God (big G) and that he prayed to God (big G). So, Cornelius apparently wasn’t the typical pagan god worshipper in his Roman Gentile world.
He could be referred to as a proselyte. A proselyte is a stranger and usually refers to someone who converts to Judaism or any foreign converts to the Jewish religion.
Today, we might describe Cornelius like this, like someone who might live in our neighborhood today: he lived in the neighborhood of the church; he attended church occasionally (maybe out of curiosity); he was friendly toward the church, but he was not a Christian.
He was very generous, giving many alms to the people – gifts of charity to the Jewish people.
He depended upon God for his existence. He desired the light that he knew came from God.
He feared the God of Israel. He observed Jewish activities. He fasted as Jews were commanded to do; He prayed to God at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the standard Jewish time of prayer; he provided gifts to the poor, which was a mark of Jewish piety.
He taught his household about God. Among the Jews, he was accepted, although he was a Roman – a Gentile. Most Romans were hated by the Jews.
As an officer of the Roman army, Cornelius was a man who was influential in his surroundings. He was a strong influence in his own household as well.
In some circles today, Cornelius would be considered a “good man.” Many would even go so far as to say he could pass as a Christian.
But the truth is that Cornelius was not a Christian before he met Peter. What? He wasn’t a Christian! How could he not be a Christian? Why could he not have been a Christian? The answer to that question is a simple one. But it is one that so many people miss. But it is very simple when you know what the first requirement toward becoming a Christian is. Here it is:
Cornelius was not, and could not, be a Christian at that time because he had never heard the Gospel.
Earlier, I mentioned that he desired the light that he knew came from God. He is a man who lived up to the light that he had. Millions of people, over thousands of years, have done the same. They live up to the light that they have. But that light is not THE LIGHT.
John 1:9 talks about John the Baptist coming. He was sent by God. He came to testify about the Light, but he himself was not the Light. He only came to testify about the Light – who is, of course, Jesus Christ.
There are multitudes of Cornelius’s in the world today. They are good men and women. They share what they have with others who are down and out. They may even pray to God. But there is something missing.
These are those who are known among the masses as the “good man or the good woman.” And, in their thinking, a good man or woman ought to be fit for heaven.
Many people have depended upon the theory that any good person is surely going to be in heaven. There is no way God would bar a good person from spending eternity with Him in heaven.
You have heard the saying, “The road to heaven is paved with good intentions.” The Word says differently. However, we could say with confidence that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions but bad choices and practices.
The road to heaven being paved with good intentions might be true if that is what God said. But He didn’t say it. It might be true if God had not provided the sacrifice of the Lamb – His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the way to salvation. But He did provide the sacrifice that leads us to salvation.
In my study for this sermon, I came across this bold statement:
There are a lot of things we can go to Heaven without. A man may go to heaven…….without wealth, without health, without fame, without a great name, without learning, without culture, without beauty, without friends, without ten thousand other things……..but he can never go to heaven without Christ.
Without Jesus Christ, all of mankind is lost. Without His life living on this earth among sinners, there would be no salvation. Without his sacrifice on the cross, there would be no redemption, no manner of forgiveness, and no hope of eternal life for us in heaven. Without His resurrection, there would be no possibility of a new life for mankind.
We have available to us these things: salvation through the blood of Christ; we have one who has paid the price for our sins. He has redeemed us. He has the power to forgive us of our sins when we are repentant. And, finally, we have the hope of eternal life in Heaven with our Lord. And that life will never end. That is eternal life.
I leave you with this – author unknown:
Look backward – see Christ dying for you.
Look upward – see Christ pleading for you.
Look inward – see Christ living in you.
Look forward – see Christ coming for you.
Christ died for each of us. He waits in Heaven, pleading for the lost to come to know Him as Lord.
For those of us who, having heard His Word, have answered His pleading, obeyed His command to repent of our sins, and have been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, we know Christ lives in us as we faithfully look forward to His coming again to take His own home with Him.