God’s Word for You
Acts 10:27-33 In the house of a foreigner
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, March 9, 2020
27 While he talked with him, Peter went inside and found a large number of people gathered. 28 He said to them: “You certainly know that it is against our law for a Jew to approach a foreigner or associate with him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without any objection. But may I ask why you sent for me?”
Peter entered the home of Cornelius and was faced (probably to his surprise) with quite a crowd. Remember that the Centurion had called together “his relatives and close friends” (Acts 10:24). We can well imagine that as Peter’s eyes adjusted from the bright afternoon sunlight to the dim interior, the number of people would have seemed to grow in number as he was able to focus on them, filling the main room and standing in the doorways.
Peter calls these people “foreigners.” The word he uses is allophylos (ἀλλόφυλoς), literally “(from) a nation of others.” It’s a word used to describe Philistines (Judges 10:11; 1 Clement 4:13) or the heathen in general (1 Clement 55:4). Peter’s statement reminds us of the words of the Samaritan woman Jesus met early in his ministry at the Well of Jacob, who thought it was inappropriate for him to speak with her, since “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). If that was true, how much more did Jews refrain from associating with Gentiles! But Peter knew the command he had been given, and he explained himself in clear terms, not only for the Gentile “foreigners” who were there, but for his traveling companions as well. Peter said, “I came without any objection.” He wanted to put Cornelius at ease and be free to ask anything he might. When we tell people who come to Bible class, “You can ask any question you want; it’s a safe room,” we are trying to emulate Peter here. We want people to be unafraid to ask questions and to find out about the gospel. We don’t want them to be afraid of the sound of a windblown leaf (Leviticus 26:36). They should be free to ask and to be answered without being judged.
30 Then Cornelius said, “For four days until this hour I have been fasting. I was praying at three in the afternoon in my house.
This passage is not easy to translate. You may want to compare my rendering here with other translations you have access to. The phrase “I have been fasting” is not found in all manuscripts and versions; it is omitted mainly by versions and copies from Egypt, but also from Georgia (in Russia) and Armenia. It is well-represented among other witnesses and locations, both ancient and widespread.
The prayer at the ninth hour (three in the afternoon) was the time of the evening sacrifice (recall the comments on Acts 10:3). Cornelius mentioned this detail for Peter’s sake and to show that he was aware of Jewish worship practices. By adding, “in my house,” he shows that he was not in the habit of making a show of his prayers, but that he did this privately. He did not even go to the local synagogue, but he prayed all alone.
What were the prayers of the Gentiles like in the days before Christ was known? It was known in Palestine that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), but what did an outsider think? “I am not from Abraham’s seed. I’m an outsider, with no right to ask for help.” What kind of desperate begging did Cornelius’ prayers sound like? No wonder he said his prayers in private.
Suddenly a man stood before me in shining clothes. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you right away, and it was kind of you to do this and to come. Now we are all here before God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
Repeating his story for Peter, Cornelius is happy to describe the appearance and message of the angel. He can say with complete honesty that he obeyed the angel right away, and he tells Peter, “It was kind of you… to come” (verse 33).
For this allophylos, this Gentile, an answer had come from God. All he needed to do now was sit back and listen to whatever Peter told him. He had his family ready and waiting with him, and his circle of closest friends. They all directed their attention now to Peter. The room was like the best soil awaiting good seed.
This is what we should be like on Sunday morning. Aware of our sins and ready to confess them, we should anticipate the marvelous news of the absolution. We should look forward to the pastor’s sermon as he reveals the gospel to us in the text. We should be ready to fill our lungs and sing the hymns with energy and conviction. We should come ready to add our prayers to the petitions and requests of the day. We should (as my wife taught me) get our offering envelope ready the night before, so that there is no need to scramble for it in the morning and no chance of forgetting it. We might even want to invite our family and our closest friends the way that Cornelius did, to hear the word of God and to be ready to apply it directly to our lives.
Pastor Timothy Smith