In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God. One afternoon about three o’clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. “Cornelius!” the angel said. Cornelius stared at him in terror. “What is it, sir?” he asked the angel. And the angel replied, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have been received by God as an offering! Now send some men to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter.
[Peter & his companions] arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends…Peter told [Cornelius’ family], “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”… Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.”
Acts 10:1-5, 24, 28-29, 34-35 NLT
These passages are taken as excerpts from Acts 10, which recounts a story of a divine connection between Peter and a man named Cornelius. The Bible tells us that Cornelius was a Roman army officer. In fact what the English translation doesn’t share is that Cornelius was a centurion, one of the highest ranks in the Roman army. Remember the centurion who oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion? Think that high of a level. Cornelius is clearly not a Jew or a believer at this point, but it is interesting that the Bible says he was a devout, God fearing man who prayed regularly to God. The angel who came to visit him even said that his prayers and gifts to the poor were received by God. Cornelius was not of the faith up to that point and also was not Jewish, yet he had a form of godliness. I think that this is so important to see and understand when we encounter other people who may not be of faith yet. That does not stop God from receiving their prayers and their gifts to the poor. God loved Cornelius so much that He moved supernaturally and miraculously to send Peter to him. Peter of all people! The man who was the right hand of Jesus! No person is out of God’s reach and God will create divine appointments at the right time for the right people.
The second point of this incredible story is what God did in Peter. While these passages only show the end result of Peter’s heart change, what it doesn’t show is the radical encounter Peter had, almost at the exact time as Cornelius. While praying, Peter had a vision of a white sheet coming down from heaven with animals of all kind and a voice saying, eat and kill them. Peter objected but God instructed Peter to never call something unclean that God calls clean. This is a very interesting encounter, but understand, Peter was raised under the Jewish customs his whole life. All he knew was eating clean & kosher meat. To be told all meat was clean was radical to him. But really what God was doing in this encounter was challenging some of Peter’s root beliefs, not of animals, but of people. Even Peter says at the end that he’s come to learn to not think of anyone as unclean. In that encounter, God was addressing a heart issue in Peter of believing certain people unclean. And it was preventing him from doing what God wanted him to do—to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. God showed Peter that He has no favoritism, something Peter must have believed being of Jewish decent. But God was showing Peter a bigger, less limiting view—that He favors people of all nations, those who “fear him and do what is right.”
My friend, I hope that this encourages you to begin looking at people differently. Even if someone is not a believer, they can be exhibiting a form of godliness that God loves. So let’s be obedient, open and willing to go after people, holding no preconceived beliefs on who is worthy or clean or deserving. Because what God declares as clean is clean.