Chapter 1. Religious but Lost

Acts 10:1-23

Acts chapter ten is a crucial, pivotal chapter in the Bible. It is very special to us because it records the presentation of the Gospel to the Gentiles and their salvation. The events are also recorded in Acts 11 and 15.

Up to this time, the Gospel has been given to the Jews (ch.2). Then it was given in chapter eight to the Samaritans (½ Jew & ½ Gentile). Now in the tenth chapter of Acts, the door of faith is opened to Gentiles (non-Jews).

This event takes place almost ten years after Pentecost. The transition from ministering to the Jews to the Gentiles was gradual. In this chapter we find a classic example of a man who was religious, but he was also lost in his sins. Notice verse one.

I. A Man of Devotion 10:1-2

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.

As the curtain opens in chapter ten, we are introduced to a man named Cornelius. The Bible says that he lived in Caesarea. This was 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem. It was a Roman capitol in Judea. In fact, it was built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar. It was a very important city to Rome.

Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian band. What does that mean? In the Roman army, a full Roman legion was 6000 soldiers. These 6000 men were divided up into cohorts, regiments, or bands of men with six hundred in each regiment or band. Cornelius belonged to the Italian Regiment. He was a centurion which means he was a leader of one hundred men. In a legion (6000) there would be sixty centurions. It was a very important position. Centurions were strong, responsible, and reliable men.

We are told that Cornelius was a devout man, God-fearing man. He was generous in giving to others and had a consistent, regular prayer life. This was very unusual for a Roman soldier because many of the soldiers stole from the people.

Cornelius was as close to Judaism as he could get without being a proselyte. A proselyte was a person who converted from one religion to another. The Jews would refer to someone like Cornelius as a “God-fearer”. He believed in God. He had responded to the light of truth that he had been given. He truly sought out the Lord.

Understand that light has been given to the world about the existence of God through His creation. If you declare yourself to be an atheist, it means you have willingly chosen to be ignorant about reality and have closed your eyes to truth, logic, and reason about God. If you die without the Lord and go to Hell, you cannot claim that you did not know about God.

Romans 1:19-20 — Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1 — The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

Cornelius was a religious man, but he was also a lost or unsaved man. He was an extremely good man, but he needed Jesus Christ. Understand that being good is not good enough to get you to Heaven.

Isaiah 64:6 — But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

Romans 3:10 — As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.

One method of hiding our faults from public view is to change the standards to make it appear we've done nothing amiss. For example, an army sharpshooter visited a small town and was amazed to find on the trees, walls, fences, and barns many bull's-eyes with the bullet holes in the exact centers.

Inquiring about this, he was introduced to the remarkable marksman."I've never seen anything like it," said the army man. "It's incredible! How do you do it?" "Easy as pie," replied the local rifleman. "I shoot first and draw the circles afterward."

Beloved, the only standard that counts is God's standards. Our world is always busy moving the moral targets around to accommodate their wickedness. In our modern day many people are honored and praised for their perversity, when just two decades ago they would have been thrown out on their ears, but God standards of morality have not changed. His Word is settled in Heaven. His Son is the same yesterday, today and forever!

As religious as Cornelius was, he knew he was lost in sin and was praying for salvation. He wanted to know the truth. God made sure that he would know the truth of the Gospel. Steps were taken to get the Gospel to this man.

Let's stop here for a moment. Are you religious, but lost? Religious works, rituals, memberships, baptisms, being nice to people do not earn eternal life for you. If you are depending on these things, you may be good and religious, but you are also lost in sin.

Titus 3:5 — Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.

II. The Message 10:3-4

He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

The ninth hour of the day was around 3 P.M. It was an important time of public prayer in the Jewish temple. Cornelius had a vision. An angel of God told him that his prayers and his giving were like a memorial or burnt offering to the Lord. God took notice of his devotion to prayer and his generosity. The Lord takes note of what you do, too.

Never underestimate the importance of your prayer life. When the Christian taps into the throne room of Heaven, he or she unleashes power that can move mountains, transform a person's hardened heart, or accomplish what seems to be impossible by the most unusual means.

For example, Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about to her students. Traveling alone in a truck with a camper in tow, she launched out on her adventure.

One afternoon rounding a curve on Interstate 5 near Sacramento, California in rush-hour traffic, a water pump blew on her truck. She was tired, exasperated, scared, and all alone. In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping her.

Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, “Please God, send me an angel... preferably one with mechanical experience.” Within four minutes, a huge Harley motorcycle drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long black hair, a beard, and massive tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck.

Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway. He took it to a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.

The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: "Hell's Angels — California." She got an angel alright, but not the kind she expected.

As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, "Thank you so much," and carried on a brief conversation. He smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a friendly wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared."

God had answered Dodie's prayer and took care of her. Thank God for His promises.

Isaiah 65:24 — And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.

Jeremiah 33:3 — Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

III. The Mission 10:5-8

And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: 6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. 7 And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; 8 And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa.

The angel that spoke to Cornelius instructed him to send men to Joppa. That was about a thirty-mile trip. They were to seek out Peter who would tell Cornelius what to do. Cornelius was still in the dark. He was religious, but lost.

The Lord wanted to work in Cornelius' life, but He also wanted to work in Peter's life, too. He could have used Philip who was already living in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). God sent for Peter for another reason. The Lord has given the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel to men, not angels. The angel could have told Cornelius the Gospel here, but he didn't. Angels have never been saved like people who have trusted in Christ for salvation.

After the angel departed, Cornelius obeyed immediately. He declared or carefully explained to his servants and a devout soldier under his command what they needed to do. The soldier is unnamed here, but he was a blessing and encouragement to Cornelius. He served him as well as with him in battle. That is the kind of blessing God wants us to be with other people.

True servanthood does not have hidden aspirations to be great in the eyes of men. When we think of our relationship to Christ, can it be said of us that we want only to serve Him?

One day as G. Campbell Morgan prayed, the Lord seemed to say to him, "Which do you want to be, a servant of mine or a great preacher?" Morgan replied, "May I not be both, Lord?" A spiritual struggle ensued as he thought, God may want me to be an unknown minister in an obscure place. Then Morgan submissively prayed, "O Lord, my greatest wish is to be a servant of Thine!" The Lord responded by making him one of the greatest preachers of his time.

Although his religious philosophy and beliefs were very questionable, Albert Schweitzer was a man willing to abandon a great career in order to serve his fellow man. In 1913, he sailed for Africa, having turned his back on fame, money and prestige. His first hospital was an old abandoned hen house and his first operating table an old camp-board.

On a trip to the United States, a reporter asked, "Dr. Schweitzer, have you found happiness in Africa?" He replied, "I have found a place of service, and that is enough for anyone." Let me ask, “Are you serving Jesus Christ or are you distracted by the counterfeit thrills of this world?”

This week I was with my son in Arizona. We were on I-10 west of Chandler. As we were riding, I noticed in a field about 100 yards from the interstate a silver object that looked like part of a space capsule or satellite. I asked my son Joshua, “Look at that! What is that?” It looks like part of a space ship.

Joshua laughed and said, “Yea, a couple of years ago, a man painted that thing overnight and attached a giant parachute on it. The next day, people went crazy. They started phoning the t.v. stations and radio stations. There were television crews and reporters everywhere out here reporting on the mystery of this object and from where it came. It turned out to be a rusty old mixer off of a concrete truck that had been sitting right there in the field for years. No one paid attention to it until it was painted and parachuted. It was just an old piece of junk.”

Beloved, don't be distracted by the junk of this world, no matter how shiny it may be. Serve the Lord.

IV. Moments with the Lord 10:9

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour.

As Peter went on his journey, he stopped to take time to pray. The top of the house would be a quieter place than the hustle of the streets. The sixth hour of the day was noon. What a wonderful reminder for us to take time to pray on our lunch break. Don't neglect your time with the Lord. If you can, find a quiet place to talk to the Lord and read His Word.

V. The Munchies 10:10-16

And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

There are many things that can distract a person from praying. One big distraction is hunger. Peter was extremely hungry, craving food, but he went ahead and prayed while a meal was being prepared. While he was praying, he fell into a trance.

What is a trance? It comes from the word ekstasis {ek'-stas-is} which means “the throwing of the mind out of its normal state; to be thrown into a state of blended fear and wonderment; a state of bewilderment, ecstacy, or being dazed.”

In this dazed condition, Peter had a vision of a sheet coming down from the sky to the earth. It was full of animals that were clean animals as well as unclean animals as described in the book of Leviticus. The voice in this vision told Peter to kill an animal and eat it.

When a teacher of a children's Bible club taught this story to her students, she asked them questions afterwards. She asked them, “What did Peter see when he went up on the housetop to pray?” One little boy waved his hand and yelled, “Pigs in a blanket!” Haha! That is very possible.

Peter believed he heard the voice of the Lord (vs. 14) and told the Lord, “Not so Lord.” The words “not so” mean “absolutely not” or “no way”. He would not eat the unclean animals.

The phrase “Not so Lord” is a contradiction of words. If Jesus is your Lord, then you cannot honestly tell Him, “No way Lord. I will not do that.” If you are telling the Lord what you will not do, if you will not obey Him, then in reality He is not your Lord or master. You are your own master. You cannot serve Him and yourself (Matthew 6:24).

There are many Christians today who claim Jesus is their Lord when He is not their master at all. Some professing Christians tell the Lord, “No, I won't” because they are religious, but they are either lost or severely backslidden.

Zechariah 7:11 — But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.

Matthew 15:8 — This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

Peter said, “I have not eaten common or unclean food.” Food was a major distinction between Gentiles and Jews. Leviticus chapter eleven provided a list of foods that the Jews were not to eat. God was breaking down this barrier. The voice spoke a second and third time, “What God has cleansed, don't call common or unclean.”

The message of this vision was Gentiles did not have to become Jews first in order to be saved. God could save them just as they were by coming to Jesus Christ alone. There was no longer to be any distinctions between Jew and Gentile. They would be one in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:28-29 — There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

VI. The Men Arrive 10:17-23

Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, 18 And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. 19 While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20 Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. 21 Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? 22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. 23 Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

This is a classic example of God's timing. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Here we find a divine appointment. God prepared Peter's heart and three men showed up at the right time after the vision. This is a reminder that we should trust God's timing in our lives and not get impatient.

Psalm 27:14 — Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Psalm 62:5 — My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.

James 1:4 — But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Peter was not sure what the vision meant at this point. He doubted or was at a loss of its meaning. While he pondered, the servants of Cornelius showed up at the gate of the house, asking for Peter. The Holy Spirit told Peter that three men were looking for him and he was to go with these strangers without any hesitation because the Lord sent these men.

Peter greeted the men and identified himself. He wanted to know the reason for their visit. They told Peter about Cornelius' vision of the angel and their instructions to him to seek out Peter. Peter invited them into his home and showed hospitality to them (vs. 23). This revealed that Peter was learning the lesson of the vision he saw. Why?

The answer was no self-respecting Jew would lodge a Gentile, especially a hated Roman soldier of the occupation army. You need to understand the disdain the Jews had toward Gentiles in that day. Dr. Barclay provided a pretty accurate summary.

Peter's response showed that the walls between Jew and Gentile were coming down. On the next day, Peter departed with them to go to the home of Cornelius.

Peter was not perfect, but he was growing in the Lord, just like you and I are to be growing spiritually. Peter addressed this matter in his second epistle.

2 Peter 1:5-9 — And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

Peter provided a symphony of virtues that will help us from becoming ineffective and unproductive in our desire and pursuit of knowing the Lord and having a closer walk with Him. Growth in these traits will help us to be effective servants of Christ and grow in our knowledge of the Lord.

  1. Virtue = goodness, purity, or excellence.
  2. Knowledge = The word "knowledge" is from the Greek word gnosis {gno'-sis} which refers to the spiritual knowledge which comes through the Holy Spirit and is focused on Jesus Christ and His Word. It is a practical knowledge.
  3. Temperance = This word is from the Greek word egkrateia {eng-krat'-i-ah} which means "one who masters his desires and passions or one who has self control." Paul stressed the importance of having self control in order to avoid spiritual defeat.
  4. Patience = This word "patience" is from the word hupomone {hoop-om-on-ay'} which means "steadfastness, endurance, or perseverance under adversity without giving up."
  5. Godliness = This word "godliness" is from the word eusebeia {yoo-seb'-i-ah} which means "a reverence and respect for God and also other people."
  6. Brotherly Kindness = Brotherly kindness is the highest kind of love for the brethren. It is a fervent, practical care for others. This kindness is a willingness to bear their burdens. T. E. McCully was the father of Ed McCully, one of five young missionaries slain by Auca Indians in Ecuador.

He said, "One night as we were on our knees together, I prayed, 'Lord, let me live long enough to see those fellows saved who killed our boys, that I may throw my arms around them and tell them I love them because they love my Christ.'" That is brotherly kindness when you can pray and love those who killed your son.

7. Charity = The word "charity" is from the word agape which means "love, good will, or benevolence." If we are to know the Lord and be used by Him, then it's vital we love people, whether they are saved or lost in sin.

I recently shared with you the story of Gladys Aylward, a missionary in China that saved one hundred orphans from the Japanese in WW2 and faithfully shared the Gospel until she died. After Gladys died, Ingrid Bergman, the actress that played the part of Gladys in the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, came to the home of Miss Aylward right before Gladys died. She was given a tour of the house by Kathleen Smith, the successor of Gladys.

When Ingrid came to the bedroom, she reverently touched some of Miss Aylward's things. Ingrid began to weep and said she was unworthy to play the part of such a devoted woman of God. She knelt by her bed and Kathleen was able to share the Gospel with her. Ingrid poured out her heart to the Lord, confessing her sin, and put her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A memorial service was held by Chinese Christians in London. One thousand guests were present including the Queen Mother, the wife of the British Prime Minister, and Ingrid Bergman. Ingrid spoke of her role in the movie.

She quoted some lines which Gladys had spoken, "Oh God, here's my Bible. Here's my money. Here's me. Use me, God." Then Ingrid Bergman turned to the vast audience and said, “Now I wish to speak for myself. Here's my Bible. Here am I. Use me, God.”

Beloved, this should be our attitude, too. God help us all to live for Him. May we not make the mistake of being religious, but lost.

And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself a man... (Acts 10: 25, 26)