So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to 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.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
So Peter opened his mouth. This is a Semitic idiom for beginning to speak in a somewhat formal manner. Scripture uses it to signify that the person prepared to give a weighty or important speech. Peter was not engaged in a casual conversation. This was not a give and take. They did not sit down over coffee and talk about it. This was a formal presentation complete with power point. Okay, no power point. But it was a formal presentation.
Cornelius was a Gentile. Yet God heard his prayers. God showed Cornelius the light of the gospel. God sent an angel to Cornelius. So Peter knew godly lives please God. And God is not a respecter of persons.
Prejudice against Gentiles had filled Peter. He believed God only loved the Jews. God chose the Jews from all other people. Peter did not think God’s grace would come to Gentiles. He was unaware God also desired pure worship and holy life from the uncircumcised.
But God did choose the Jews to be His people in the old covenant. At the same time, He passed over the Gentiles. Why? God chooses for His own reasons. It had nothing to do with Abram. It has nothing to do with us. It is not because we are better, holier, or more righteous than anyone else. Nor is it because we have the ability to become righteous. God’s choosing the Jews had nothing to do with the Jews. Instead of Abram, He could have chosen George or Ralph. But He did not. The reason for His choice had nothing to do with the Abram. The reason had to do with the hidden counsel of God.
God uses common means to dispense His grace. He used the Jews to bring His grace to the Gentiles. God’s plan was not impeded by the Jew’s disobedience. Jesus the Christ came through the Jews. Thus all Gentiles receive grace through the Jews.
Peter went on to say, while God is not partial to any one group, He shows favor to. “anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” This seems to be works based salvation. If our works buy God’s favor how can that be anything else? Some use this to claim we are not justified by faith alone, but by faith plus works. What does Paul tell us in Romans 3:12? “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” This was not new teaching with Paul. It is a quotation from Psalm 14: 1-3.
So while Peter said anyone who does what is right is acceptable to God. But who does right? No one! Our righteousness or goodness is the result of Christ righteousness. God clothes us in Christ’s righteousness.
Here we see the order of salvation. God regenerates then we repent. God changed Cornelius’ heart. He then received and believed God’s word. Then he repented. Faith comes before repentance. Faith is God-given.
In Romans 5:10 Paul tells us all men are God’s enemies until Christ reconciles them. So, God’s accepting us into His favor is free. There are no good works. Everything we do is corrupt and wicked. Our works do not win favor with God. But, Christ’s works do.
We should note and model the testimonies in scripture. Notice what Peter does and what Peter does not do. Peter does not give a personal testimony. He preaches Christ. He does not preach Peter. Often we are taught to give a personal testimony. After all, it is the safest. No one can disagree with how you feel. They cannot argue against your subjective experience.
But we are called to testify about Christ. Christianity is about what has happened outside of us. It is about the depravity of the world and how we are estranged from God. Paul said it stronger. He said “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
Christianity is about how Christ lived a perfect life and then was crucified for us. But he did not stay dead. He rose again from the dead for us. He now sits at the right hand of the Father as an advocate for all who come to Him.
That is what Christianity is about. It is not about living your best life now. It is not about being healthy or having wealth. It is not about how it makes you or anyone else feel. It is not, even, about making you a better person. It is about what Christ has done and is doing.
Peter did not need to present evidence for these objective truths. Cornelius was aware of them. Rather Peter recounted history. Peter’s sermon had two parts. First, he recited history. Second, he expounded on the fruit of the history.
Peter spoke of the Trinitarian work of God. The Father anointed Christ with the Holy Spirit. Christ healed many through the work of the Holy Spirit. Then Christ’s work atoned for our sins.
Peter said Jesus healed all who the devil oppressed. Healing was tied to the cosmic battle present in creation. Christ’s power overcame the devil and his forces. These forces still seek to destroy humanity.
The closest Peter came to a personal testimony was his statement. “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (v39). But this is still a statement of objective fact. Peter did not talk about an internal experience. Peter appealed to objective history.
Peter told Cornelius about the resurrection of Christ. Christ rose and showed Himself to many, but not everyone. Why God did not show his Son to everyone after his resurrection?
Christ could have walked right up to the High Priest and shown him and all the Sanhedrin they were wrong. They had sinned against Him. He could have walked up the steps of Pilate’s place and reminded Pilate that he, Pilate, found no fault in Christ. He could have presented Himself to the Roman soldiers. They had beaten Him, cast lots for His tunic and crucified Him. But He did not any of that. Why?
Seeing the risen Lord is not a guarantee of believing Christ arose. Even after Jesus had shown Himself, Even after He had eaten with them. Even after He spoke with them. Matthew reported many doubted. “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28: 16-17)
God chose to have the resurrection confirmed by testimony. That is the way you and I would have to receive it. We did not see Christ die. We did not see Christ raised. It is an exercise of faith. Christ showed this was His purpose. He rebuked those who did not believe the testimony of His resurrection. “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” Mark (16:14) He did not say, that’s OK I know this is hard to accept. No! He rebuked them.
Christ blesses us who have not seen. He said to Thomas, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (John 20:29)
The Jewish leaders had excellent testimony. They even had the testimony of the soldiers guarding the tomb. Yet they refused to believe. Men are by nature inclined to unbelief. The simple preaching of the gospel has no effect unless the Lord intervenes.
Christ appeared to the Apostles and commanded them to preach and testify who He was. He was the one to judge all mankind, living and dead. The triune God had given Him this right and duty. And all the prophets bore witness to Him.
Then came the good news. “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” Woohoo! Satan reminds us of our sin. But we may cling to the objective reality of what Christ has done. Our subjective feelings are not true.