CORNELIUS THE ROMAN CENTURION: THE MILITARY CHRISTIAN Acts 10
Ted Schroder, October 11, 2015 On Governor’s Island in New York there is an Episcopal Chapel named after Cornelius, the Roman Centurion evangelized by Peter. On the reredos behind the altar are paintings of three military men: St. Martin of Tours, St. George of England, and St. Cornelius. They remind us that the Gospel is available to all men whatever their ethnicity or occupation.
Cornelius was a Roman – a member of the occupying force deployed to keep the peace in a foreign land. A task that is needed even today. He was a military leader of 100 hardened and highly trained soldiers of the Italian Regiment. He was an alpha male. He was a successful career soldier who had to have earned his position in order to keep it. There was nothing weak about this man. He needed to be used to command, to make decisions, and to be courageous enough to carry out his orders. He knew his responsibilities in the chain of command. He was a humble seeker who is described as devout, God-fearing, a man of prayer, and generous to those in need. Jesus said of such seekers: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). Such men are not normally visited by an angel in a vision at three in the afternoon, but he was. This emissary from his commander-in-chief, the Supreme Lord of Heaven and Earth gave him explicit orders to find Peter and bring him back to his house. This he did, sending three of his men to Joppa where Peter was staying.
In the meantime Peter is experiencing another vision in which all the dietary rules he had been taught all his life as distinctive of his identity as an Israelite were swept away. This signified that the barrier between Jew and Gentile was abolished through the Cross of Christ. The people of God were to be multi-racial and international. Then the Spirit commanded him to go with the three men who had come for him.
Entering the house of Cornelius Peter found a large gathering of relatives and close friends. The Roman Centurion fell at his feet in reverence. Peter the fisherman, not used to such honor from a Roman military official, made him get up. Then he told them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. The story of Jesus is summarized: how God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power; how he was killed but God raised him from the dead and he was seen alive by witnesses; how he commanded them to preach to people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed judge of the living and the dead; and how all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Then a remarkable thing happened. The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. What had happened in Jerusalem at Pentecost, and in Samaria, now repeated itself in Caesarea in a military commander’s house. As Peter explained later to those who criticized him in Jerusalem: “If God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God.” So he baptized them with water as they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Peter established a church in that military household.
Cornelius by all accounts was a good man, a religious man, a man given to good works, a successful man in his chosen military career; yet he was incomplete. He was still seeking. He needed to hear the Gospel of peace through Jesus Christ. He needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He needed to be baptized and join the church.
There are plenty of people like Cornelius around us today: good people, religious people, successful people in their careers, yet they are incomplete. They need to hear the Gospel of peace through Jesus Christ. They need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They need to be baptized and join the church – the fellowship of Christ.
Cornelius knew all about war and keeping the peace. What he didn’t know and needed to know was that all the conflict in the world, and within each person, needed to be defeated, not by military arms, for that is temporary, but by the Prince of Peace. “Christ himself is our peace, making peace through the Cross. He came and preached peace to those who were far away and to those who are near” (Ephesians 2:14-17). He and the armies of heaven wages war on all who oppose his rule. Those who follow him and allow him to rule their hearts will know that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
When we come in faith, trusting in the Gospel, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Do you have peace? Does the peace of God guard your hearts and minds? I see so many Christians who are worried, who have conflicts within themselves and with others. I see so many who suffer from insecurity and fear for their wellbeing. So many fear that they are going to die. They have no peace about the future. Why is that? Why can we not wholeheartedly embrace the gift of eternal life give us in the resurrection of Christ? Why are we cowards in the face of illness, aging and the inevitability of death? Why is the prolongation of this life our highest value? Why are our expectations about the length of our lives so unrealistic? A military man has to face the prospect of death in every assignment. Are we not all called to be soldiers of Christ? Do we not face danger every day? Are we not part of the armies of heaven waging war under Jesus Christ who is Lord of all, ruler of the kings of the earth? Jesus places his hand upon us and says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18). Do you believe that?
Pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you to assure you of the good news of peace through Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. “And this is the testimony, God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13). Jesus says to you, as he said to Cornelius the soldier: “Peace be with you!”