“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 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. 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.” (Acts 10:1–4, AV)
When we think of memorials, we often think of tombstones. People erect these and they become points of remembrances of a person’s life. On Memorial Day, we remember those who have died in military conflict to preserve our freedom. Yet, memorials are not just about remembering those who have died. We establish memorials to mark significant historical events. The dictionary tells us that a memorial is basically something that keeps remembrance alive or causes one to remember something.
In this passage, God begins to orchestrate a unique connection between two men. One is the apostle Peter and the other is named Cornelius. What makes this unusual is that Cornelius is a Roman soldier. He is not just any soldier, he is a centurion, an officer in charge of a hundred military men. He is also of the Italian band. These were soldiers sent to the remote provinces of the Roman empire. As we will see in the subsequent passages of Chapter 10, Cornelius will be one of the first Gentiles to hear the gospel message. To this end, God orchestrated a divine connection between Peter and Cornelius.
To do this, God causes Cornelius to have a vision of an angel with a message to send men to Joppa and bring Peter to Caesarea, where Cornelius resided. Why did God choose Cornelius? Well, we cannot necessarily answer the reasons, because God is sovereign over the call of people and His ways are higher than ours are. However, we do know that God had done something in the heart of Cornelius even before this experience with the angelic vision that should speak to us also.
The Scripture tells us that Cornelius was a God-fearing man. In Judaism there were Jews, proselytes to Judaism and God-fearers. A God-fearer would be one who attended the Synagogue and attempted to follow the precepts of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, but had not made the full leap to conversion to Judaism, which included a ceremonial bathing, and circumcision. Yet, when we read the passage, we see that Cornelius’ life demonstrated a heart for the living God.
We see that Cornelius was a devout man, who led his household in devotion to God. He demonstrated a heart of mercy for those in need by giving (alms). He also was a man of prayer, praying continually to God. In the vision the angel tells Cornelius his prayers and alms had ascended before God as a memorial. It was this outpouring that spoke of his heart for God and connected with God as worship.
I wonder if the outpouring of our heart ascends as a memorial before God? As we will see, this connection between Cornelius and God is instrumental in the gospel outreach to the gentiles. Perhaps we should take some time to examine our own hearts. How is our heart? Is there true devotion? Is it evident? Are we merciful? Do we pray? Sometimes our hearts do grow cold as the cares of this world encroach and entangle us. We need to often examine our own hearts and repent from these entanglements that our hearts will be a memorial of God’s grace, fully devoted to Him.