Cornelius Calls for Peter
10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
Observations and Reflections
From where Pater was currently staying in Joppa, Ceasarea was a long single day walk, or two short days of walking. The journey appears to have been split up into two days this time around.
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. (acts 10:23-24)
One of the interesting things about Luke’s story telling in acts is that sometimes he will provide what seems to be too much unnecessary information, while at other times not enough information. In chapter 10 he recounts the story of Peter and Cornelius in great detail. For example, Cornelius’ was listed as “about three in the afternoon”. This detail is not really adding anything important to the story but it does help the reader build a mental picture. Luke also provides details about Cornelius’ character. He is described as being God-fearing and giving generously to the poor. The description of Cornelius follows a biblical theme that should be recognized by readers.
The combination of God-fearing and generosity towards the poor is repeated throughout the scriptures. Job’s story emphasizes the need to take care of the poor as he recognizes this command as part of what it means to be righteous. When he appeals to the Lord due to his afflictions and makes a defense for himself, he repeated appeals to his godly behavior of taking care of the poor.
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. (Job 1:1)
16 “If I have denied the desires of the poor
or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,
17 if I have kept my bread to myself,
not sharing it with the fatherless—
18 but from my youth I reared them as a father would,
and from my birth I guided the widow—
19 if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,
or the needy without garments,
20 and their hearts did not bless me
for warming them with the fleece from my sheep,
21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
knowing that I had influence in court,
22 then let my arm fall from the shoulder,
let it be broken off at the joint.
23 For I dreaded destruction from God,
and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.
One of the reasons this theme exists is because God states emphatically that in His kingdom, the needy will be taken care of. His laws given to Israel reflects this, as does His repeated warning to Israel.
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. (Exodus 23:6)
For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it (Exodus 23:10-11)
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. (Leviticus 23:22)
If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. (Leviticus 25:35)
If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford. (Leviticus 27:28)
However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deuteronomy 15:7)
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
He that has pity on the poor lends to the LORD; and that which he has given will he pay him again. (Proverbs 19:17)
who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken. (Psalm 15:5)
In the writings of the prophets God shows his anger towards Israel for not taking care of the poor and needy.
3 The Lord takes his place in court;
he rises to judge the people.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
against the elders and leaders of his people:
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful
28 and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.
29 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)
He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor and takes no interest or profit from them. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. (Ezekiel 18:17)
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
2 The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks…
You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zechariah 7:10)
With this OT theme in mind, it should be of no surprise that the NT echoes this sentiment.
But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. (Luke 11:14)
Sell that you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts. (Luke 12:33)
‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame. (Parable of the Banquet, Luke 14:21)
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Corinthians 9:8-10)
The importance of giving to the poor (alms) as part of a godly life is repeated in the traditions and writing of the Jewish people.
On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the service and on acts of loving-kindness. (Pirkē Aboth 1.2)
Your house should be open wide, and you should make the poor members of your household. (Pirkē Aboth 1:5)
For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life (Tobit 12:9)
“alms-giving is equal in value to all other commandments” (Rab Assi)
When the poor stand at your door, remember that their Maker stands at their right hand (Ps. 109), and consider it a high privilege for you to help them. (Leviticus Rabba 34)
Better is he who goes and works and gives charity of that which is his own. (Bar Mitsveta)
Having taken into account the above passages, one should consider whether or not Christianity, as it is today, is fulfilling the wishes of the Lord in treatment towards the poor. In the modern Christian some of the most famous pastors are flying around in million dollar jets and living in giant mansions, while the people around them are wallowing in poverty. This seems to be in stark contrast to what the Bible would consider righteous behavior.
Nevertheless, the emphasis that Luke provides in the book of Acts when describing Cornelius as being God-fearing and generous to the poor, should not be taken as a matter of passing. Cornelius was a faithful Jewish man who was truly seeking the Lord, as evidenced by his duty to those who could not return any value back to his life. In fact, according the Luke, the life of Cornelius evoked a message from the Lord.
Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God (Acts 10:4)
As we will see in Cornelius’ story, he will be the first of the Gentiles to be baptized into the kingdom. Time after time in the scriptures, we see that those who fear and obey the Lord will be saved, regardless of social status or national affiliation.
Featured image is in the public domain.
Vision of Cornelius the Centurion, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout