Why We Need the Resurrection!
Up to this point we have seen people from other nations saved who were either Jews or Jewish proselytes, but we are now seeing an account of the radiating of the gospel from Jerusalem into the whole world, beginning with a God-fearing Gentile man named Cornelius.
Many people have difficulty with the idea of the atonement being limited to those whom God has chosen in eternity, but the real difficulty is found in believing that God would save anybody but people like themselves. The question is not why would God not save everyone? But—why would God save anyone? We learn very clearly a lesson that is not only for Peter, but a lesson that teaches us all that God is not the God of the Jews only, but of the whole human race, who are called to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. We are saved by grace through faith, whoever we are, wherever we are in this world.
This is not only difficult for Peter to accept in regards to bringing the message, but it is difficult for Cornelius to accept as a sinner. Nevertheless, the difficulty of understanding that the message of the gospel is not isolated to save God-fearing people in the Jewish nation, but is intended to save God-fearing people in every nation is solved by the doctrine of Jesus raised from the dead to save God-fearers in every nation. We need the resurrection of Jesus Christ to comprehend that God saves God-fearing people in every nation—not just us. We need the doctrine that Jesus was raised to save God-fearing people in every nation to relieve our guilt and theirs.
Thus, when we are inclined to shrink the intent of salvation to the nations down to our community and our nation, it is likely we are missing the doctrine of Jesus raised from the dead to judge the world and save the church everywhere.
I. The Difficulty of Comprehending the Global Intent of the Gospel
Cornelius is said to be “a centurion” which was a military leader over 100 men. He is specifically part of what was known as the “Italian Cohort” (v.1). This obviously is related to Rome, and a “cohort” means 600 men here. So, he is apparently of great standing in the military.
He is also described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (v.2). Looking forward to chapter 11, we see that this did not mean he was saved. He lay in need of a saving message from Peter (11:14). Thus, from the very beginning of this text we not only see there is difficulty for Cornelius, and Peter, but also for us. We see this because we are often taught that God only hears the prayers of his saints. But here there is a man whose prayers are heard by God to the extent that a special and terrifying messenger from heaven is sent to him (vv.3–4). Moreover, it clearly says that his “prayers and …alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (v.4). This language is that of acceptable sacrifice. The Psalmist in 141 says,
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:2 ESV)
In Revelation 5:8, John writes:
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (cf. 8:4)
What is more, the coming of this terrifying angel to Cornelius is reminiscent of Daniel who was greatly loved of God as recorded in Daniel 10:8–21; a similar scene is there.
Besides this man being powerful, is the difficulty that this man is wealthy in giving his alms, and these being accepted by God to the extent that he is receiving special treatment from heaven. It would be safe to say that if isolating this text from the rest, saying it wasn’t Scripture, and assessing the case in a case-book type study without seeing what God did here, we may be prone to pronounce condemnation upon the man. But that is not the way God is treating this man. This man is chosen by grace, yet to be saved, but chosen for salvation. His prayers are heard, and he is instructed with specificity to go to Peter (called Simon here) to the exact place he is staying; a place which would have been unlawful for Peter to stay in as a Jew (vv.5–8).
II. The Reason We Do Not Comprehend the Global Intent of the Gospel
There is a cause to every disease, and in this case, we see the cause is in Peter is that he has never seen the matter before this way (v.14). This is similar to speaking of a view of history that operates from Old to New Testaments the same way. The New Covenant is in operation now. It was right Peter that you operated along the lines of the Old Covenant when you did, but now the New Covenant is in force, things are different now. The ceremonial law is not in effect. This is what God shows Peter through the angel in 10:9–16, just in time for him to be faced with applying the matter with a man brought his way named Cornelius! (vv.17–23); he had sent men of course to find Peter.
This is a good point to pause and reflect on Cornelius’s life. He was a gentile, and thus would under the Old Covenant never be allowed past the court of the Gentiles in the Temple, if that. He was a man who obviously desired to go further in, but was prevented under the Old Covenant. Whether it was the requirements of the religious leaders, or otherwise. He was never allowed but so far. He would not be allowed to come to someone like Peter. His very presence threatened uncleanness and a lack of acceptance. So, here is a man who is prevented from intimacy with God in worship that in the New Covenant is clearly invited in! Now, enters the Spirit’s voice in v.19 clearing up Peter’s perplexity (v.17). And note that just as Saul would struggle throughout his ministry with wanting to go to the Jews to the end (Ch. 28), Peter would struggle with this matter of Gentiles in the church, and need to be corrected at times (cf. Galatians). Peter is just as much growing here as a Christian as is Cornelius being saved. Both are facing difficulties that are caused by a lack of seeing the times they live in are quite different than they were before; not by bare circumstances, but by historical action on the part of God to fulfill his promises.
Cornelius would have to first see who Peter was rightly, just a man in the same need of the Lord as he was (v.20); and Peter would have to come to see that Cornelius was just as much an object to God’s grace as he was, which he did (v.34)!
People do not easily comprehend the global intent of the gospel, because they can only think in terms of physical temples, levitical requirements, clean and unclean, but not in terms of a new covenant that if fulfillment of types and shadows of the Old Testament. In large part, people still today find it difficult to see and enjoy the glory of God in Christ intimately in church not only because they feel they cannot go further in (like Cornelius), but because they haven’t ever tasted of anything other than physical symbols to show them what is acceptable or not before God. God has led these two together to see the same thing, because the cure for both of them is the same gospel.
III. The Cure to a Limited Gospel Vision is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
This all culminates into a solution as Peter describes his new understanding of the gospel in vv.34–43. He is preaching here to the circumcised Jews, but the God-fearing Gentiles are present, receive the Spirit of God, show evidence of real change and are baptized as members of the church.
Well, what is it that makes the difference. I would set forth this simple thing: Jesus rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (vv.42–43).
What is this saying? This says that Jesus rose from the grave not merely to judge at the end of time, but to save sinners in time from every nation! That is the emphasis. That is the cure for that which perplexes the religious, whether it be because you feel you can’t go further in, or because you feel you cannot go further out with this gospel, the resurrection is the answer, if that resurrection means that he rose for the justification of sinners who fear him. Then, and only then can Peter say with confidence that the message he had would be the means to save Cornelius (11:14); and then and only then could Gentiles like Cornelius who feared God be given repentance that leads to life (11:18). The resurrection for the justification of all sinners who fear the Lord, chosen in eternity, is sure. As one has said, the mission is great, but our success is sure.
If you are then a God-fearer today and you think, “Is there any way I can get closer to God? Is there any way he will accept me? Is there any way I can be in close fellowship with God’s people and worship without guilt?” The answer because of the resurrection of Jesus is—Yes!
If you are a Christian believer, even a leader of others, and you struggle to see any hope for the nations beyond the confines of the church as you know it—then wonder not, because Jesus has rose from the grave and has saved military leaders who simply feared God, who otherwise had no hope of intimacy of God. And you know what? Cornelius wasn’t told to go and become a priest, he, for all we know went on as a military leader being a Christian soldier.
The temple now is not a place in Jerusalem that is confined with boundaries, but is a people on earth made up of God-fearers from every nation who have come the same way, by grace through faith. The resurrection made this possible; and not merely possible, but certain.
So when you think about the resurrection going forward. Think of a tonic to heal the soul that can’t make it to worship. Think of a religious leader who can’t think outside of physical boundaries and old ways. Think of the fact that both have the same disease of flat-lined history not taking into account the cure—the cure being Jesus raised from the grave to save people who fear the Lord in every nation. Think of the resurrection in terms of its saving intent, and globally, to bring the outsider in, and the insider out. The resurrection accomplishes this. We need the resurrection of Jesus Christ to cure both kinds of people, but especially those of us who think the gospel is only for those outside. The fact is, without the resurrection Peter could not grow, and without the resurrection Cornelius couldn’t come.
God is building a temple now that is without walls, because his resurrection guaranteed every stone would be torn down in Jerusalem, and a new temple of people would be built to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. God is not fully magnified by a temple in one place physically, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, so Christ had to rise, and the Holy Spirit be sent.
In sum, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is saying, all of the world is His!