Audience: Cornelius and his household. These were God-fearing Gentiles.
Occasion: God worked extensively on both Cornelius and Peter to bring the two together. The meeting took place in Caesarea, about 75 miles NW of Jerusalem.
Result: Cornelius and his entire household received the Spirit and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
This series of posts is exploring the good news told in Acts to help us clarify the gospel so that we will speak it more and more faithfully. These examples of how the good news was told to non-Christians are extremely valuable for helping us clarify what we need to say to non-Christians when we have the opportunity. Though the gospel is often mentioned or summarized in the New Testament letters to Christians, these sermons in Acts are our only examples in the Bible of how the good news was actually told to non-Christians. They are vital training for evangelism.
As in all the major messages that tell the good news in Acts, God worked to create the opportunity for his people to speak. In this case God worked multiple times to bring Peter and Cornelius together (Acts 10:1-33). It appears that the extensive and dramatic work God did is explained by the momentous occasion of the good news crossing the ethnic barrier between Jew and Gentile (see especially 10:14-15, 28, 34-35, 45; 11:1-3, 8-10, 18; 15:7-8). I urge you to take the time to read these verses because we cannot understand this event in its historical and literary context without seeing how prominent the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles is to it. Peter referred to this obvious aspect of the occasion in his opening comments (vv. 34-35).
Peter then began the message proper with a deductive summation of the message God had sent his people. It is a message that announces the good news (euangelizo) that we can have peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. Notice that he summarized the gospel in terms of peace and Jesus being Christ and Lord. The Greek word for peace here has the sense of the profound Hebrew word shalom and indicates more than just the absence of strife or conflict. It includes these but also includes a positive sense of wholeness and wellbeing. Like the word salvation itself, “peace” tells us that the gospel is forgiveness but more—God wants us to be whole. We can have peace with him, peace within ourselves, and peace with others.
We receive this peace through Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. We saw both of these titles for Jesus in Peter’s Pentecost message (Acts 2:36; cf. Luke 2:11; Acts 28:31; Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:11; Colossians 2:6; 1 Peter 3:15). It is because of Jesus’ identity as Lord and Christ (Messiah, King) that he can give us peace and wholeness. That is a summary of the message.
Peter again set forth the message as something that “has happened” (v. 37). The gospel is a story. It is something that has taken place. It is news. It is a work of God. God’s activity in what happened is specifically stated (vv. 38, 40, 41, 42, and indirectly in v. 43).
The particular parts of the story Peter mentioned are Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and appearances. He also told the people Jesus’ identity, how they should respond to God’s work in him and the blessings they would receive. Peter also again bolsters his message with the evidence of witnesses and Scripture. Let’s briefly explore each of these aspects of his message.
Peter described Jesus’ ministry in terms of God anointing him with the Holy Spirit and power and being with him (v. 38). The word “anointed” (chrio, to anoint, v. 38) is the verb for the word Christ (christos, anointed one). This divine anointing with power and the Spirit not only indicates Jesus’ identity as the Christ but also enabled him to do good and heal people who were under Satan’s control. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil” (1 John 3:8). Here, as in Acts 2:22, Jesus’ ministry is mentioned, not for historical interest, but as a matter of God’s working. Through Jesus, God was confronting Satan, limiting his power and establishing his own kingdom. This is in keeping with Jesus’ own statement that, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Here and in Acts 2 the starting point for telling the good news is God’s work in Jesus’ ministry by which he demonstrated Jesus’ identity and the power and presence of his kingdom. I like to start with Jesus’ ministry when I tell the good news because it sets forth the basic issue and claim, that Jesus is the Anointed One of God.
They killed him, however, by hanging him on a cross (v. 39). That is all that is recorded about what Peter said concerning the death of Christ here. That the Jewish leaders killed him forms something of a contrast to the preceding verse about his ministry, which indicated he was someone special, anointed by God to confront Satan. The Jewish leaders didn’t recognize or acknowledge who he is but instead killed him. Though his miracles were impressive, it would have been difficult to think Jesus was God’s anointed King on the day of his execution, as the dejection of the disciples shows (Luke 24:17b, 21). Notice that Peter said “they” killed him (Acts 10:39). The statement that “you” killed him is reserved for those in Jerusalem who actually called for his death and calls into question the rhetoric sometimes used today that “you” put Jesus on the cross.
But God raised Jesus from the dead and caused him to be seen! This is in contrast to the Jewish leaders killing him, a contrast we’ve noted previously (2:22-23; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30). Though humans regarded Jesus as worthy of death, God regarded him as worthy of life. The sentence on him was reversed by God. The resurrection of Jesus points to his identity (Romans 1:4), something that Peter will state directly in Acts 10:42. The appearances of Jesus (“caused him to be seen”) show that Jesus really was alive again (cf. 13:31; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
The special identity of Jesus that Peter stated here is that God appointed him to be the judge of all (v. 42). If we say anything about judgment in our presentations of the gospel today, it is usually that we stand to be condemned at the judgment because of our sin. That is not quite the logic here. Peter’s reference to judgment is not the backdrop for understanding the necessity of the death of Jesus. Rather, the death and resurrection of Jesus show that Jesus is the one God appointed as judge. This is a statement of the all-inclusive authority and identity of Jesus. We’ll later see Paul do something similar in a gospel presentation (Acts 17:30). It is true that there will be a judgment, and we do need to be delivered from condemnation. The next verse implies as much (10:43). But the focus of Peter’s statement in v. 42 is on who Jesus, namely, the judge of the whole earth. Notice, too, the wording of 10:42: God “commanded us to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge.” Is that a command you have obeyed? It’s certainly counter-cultural, isn’t it?
The specific response Peter mentioned initially is to believe in this Jesus. Believing in Jesus means more than believing he existed. It also includes believing that he is the Christ (John 8:24; 20:31; Acts 11:17; Romans 3:22) and trusting in him. The first blessing Peter mentioned is receiving forgiveness of sins, a blessing mentioned previously (Acts 2:38). We desperately need this, and it is the aspect of the good news we seem to most easily recognize.
The two kinds of evidence Peter offered for his message were two that we have seen before: eyewitness testimony (vv. 39, 41; cf. 2:32; 3:15; 5:32) and the Scriptures (v. 43; cf. 2:24-28, 34-35; 3:18; 4:11). His description of the witnesses God chose as “us who ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead” (v. 41) reflects the distinction we’ve made between eyewitness testimony and the general witness every believer can offer. Notice that Peter said the testimony of the Scriptures is first and foremost about Jesus. The testimony includes forgiveness, but the testimony is “about him,” is for everyone who believes “in him,” and the forgiveness is in “his name” (v. 43). This is in keeping with his emphasis on the identity of Jesus throughout these messages. We often claim to preach Christ but then in practice focus more on the benefits Christ provides than on Christ himself. We must not be gold-diggers with God! It is because Jesus is the Christ that he can and does provide such blessings and we need to reflect this priority.
Peter’s message was interrupted by God sending the Holy Spirit on all who were listening (10:44). It was unusual that people received the Spirit before responding to the message. I believe this is due to the gospel crossing an enormous ethnic barrier to reach the Gentiles. Later, during the conference about what should be required of Gentiles who were coming to the faith, Peter gives us insight about this. Referring to the occasion in Acts 10 he said God chose him to tell the Gentiles the word of the gospel and believe. “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us” (Acts 15:7-8). Apparently the reason God gave these Gentiles the Holy Spirit even before they expressed faith in Christ is that they did in fact believe (15:7), God knew their hearts (15:8), and he wanted to show that they were accepted (15:8; cf. the astonishment of the Jewish believers that the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles, 10:45). Some have said that this event describes not only the conversion of these Gentiles but also a “conversion” of sorts for Peter and the Jewish Christians present. The additional description of this event in Acts 11:1-18 supports the idea that this was a unique occurrence and also a really important event in the early days of the church. Practically speaking, it reminds us that the good news is for everyone, not just people “like us.”
Peter immediately ordered that the Gentiles who had received the Spirit be baptized in water (10:47-48), another response seen previously (2:38, 41). Notice they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism is not merely a deed that needs to be done legalistically. It is something that is done, or more properly done to us, in the name of Jesus Christ. The association with him is essential (Romans 6:1-11).
All told, Peter called for two responses to the good news on this occasion—believing in Jesus and being baptized in his name. And he stated two blessings—forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. Not until we better understand and learn to “walk by the Spirit” will we appreciate this gift as much as we do forgiveness (see here for the beginning of a three post series on living by the Spirit).
The summation of the good news told in Acts 10 is peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. The specifics include that he went around doing good and healing people oppressed by the devil, but the Jewish leaders killed him. But then God raised him from the dead! God commanded his chosen witnesses who ate and drank with him after his resurrection to tell others that Jesus is the one he appointed as judge of all and that those who believe in him and are baptized in his name will receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. How does the good news you (would) tell non-Christians compare to what Peter told here?