Peter was not put off because Cornelius made an uninformed mistake when he bowed down to the apostle. Nor was he put off when he found himself in front of a strange crowd composed of Gentiles. Both these situations would have had an adverse effect on Peter previously. But since Jesus had been working on him, he was no longer disturbed by such responses and situations. I don’t Jesus will search for sinners through a person who is easily put off.
After Cornelius confirmed what had taken place when the angel visited him, Peter is used by Jesus to find a seeking sinner. How does Jesus do it? First, Peter encourages Cornelius by acknowledging that God accepts everyone who fears him no matter one’s racial or cultural origins. Verse 35, which says that ‘God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,’ has been misinterpreted to mean that God accepts devout pagans. Instead it means that God now has a universal people, that in every country there will be those who will believe the gospel and become part of his church. Jesus seeks for Cornelius through a man who has learned that Cornelius, despite his racial and cultural background, is welcome to join the family of God.
Second, Peter speaks about Jesus. In verses 36-43, he surveys the work of Christ from his baptism by John. There are many things that can be said about Peter’s approach, but here are a few of them. Notice that he begins with what his listeners already knew (v. 37). How did Peter know that they knew these details? I can only assume that he asked the representatives that Cornelius sent to Joppa. He had made good use of the journey and discovered how much they knew and then connected his sermon to that knowledge. The fact that they knew some spiritual truth was evidence that Jesus was working in their hearts.
Peter then summarises the public ministry of Jesus that lasted until his death. He explains his particular calling as an apostle, which was to bear witness to all that Jesus said and did, and also to explain the significance and meaning of things that had happened to Jesus, both before and after his resurrection. All of the apostles were to preach about Christ, and that is a very important lesson. I have heard sermons in which Jesus was hardly mentioned. But Peter’s sermon is all about Jesus, which is what one would expect when Jesus is seeking for one of his people.
We will think more tomorrow about this message about Jesus that was delivered by Peter to Cornelius.