Devotion Two—Centurion at Caesarea (Acts 10:1-2,22,44-48)
In our previous devotion we learned that a centurion was a captain over one hundred men. He gained this position either by purchasing it (rarely done), or by an appointment from a Roman official. The majority were promoted by the tribunes over them after fifteen to twenty years of meritorious service in the Legionnaires.
We also learned that the duties of a centurion fall into two basic areas. In combat, the centurion was responsible for implementing military strategy. Like king David in the Old Testament, he would always be on point, leading the charge into battle. Away from the battlefield the centurion administered discipline in the ranks, mediated interpersonal conflicts among his men, provided security and protection, supervised police actions in occupied territories, maintained order among the populace, put down threats of insurrection, and oversaw executions. As a general rule, these executions were done by sword of Roman citizens (Romans 13) and by crucifixion for non-Romans. (Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Centurion at Caesarea
This brings us to our second centurion mentioned in the book of Acts.
“Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian regiment.” (Acts 10:1)
Acts chapter ten is a pivotal point in the history of the church. We see Peter using the “keys of the kingdom” for the third and last time. He had opened the door of faith for the Jews (Acts) and also for the Samaritans (Acts 8), and now he would be used of God to open the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Caesarea is located sixty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem and thirty miles north of Joppa (Jaffa). In that city lived Cornelius, the Roman centurion, whose heart had tired of pagan myths and empty religious rituals. He had turned to Judaism in hopes of finding salvation.
At no time in the New Testament does Jesus rebuke a military person for being in the military. God wants Christians to reach others in many walks of life, including those in military service. It was during my tenure in the U.S. Navy that I came to know Jesus Christ as Savior. I thank God for the Navigators organization that was reaching out to servicemen with the gospel. I firmly believe that God needs and uses Christian teachers in the public school system to live and promote moral values to the children of our nation.
There are four commendable traits that we see in the life of Cornelius:
First, we are told that he was a devout man. (v2a) Webster defines the word “devout” as pious, earnest, serious, reverent, goodly, religious, and worshipful. Cornelius displayed all of these virtues.
Second, he is described as “one who feared God with all his household” (v2b). The term God-fearing is a technical term for a Gentile who attended the synagogue and followed the Jewish laws but had not been circumcised. This is different from a “proselyte,” who was more thoroughly committed to Judaism and, thus, often harder to reach for Christ.
It is interesting to see how religious a person can be and still not be saved. The difference between Cornelius and many religious people today is this: he knew that his religious devotion was not sufficient to save him.
Third, “he gave generously to those in need” (v. 2c). Cornelius was well off financially and shared his wealth with the poor. His acts of generosity were an active outreach of his God-fearing mindset. He put what faith he had into motion.
Fourth, he was a man of prayer. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon which was the normal time for prayer in the Temple. The record seems to indicate that Cornelius had used this time for prayer on a regular basis. He knew that his prayers had been heard because “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in the saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him, he was afraid and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:3-4).
What life lesson can be learn from the experience of Cornelius?
1, Cornelius believed in one God—not gods. He was a monotheist. Even before he heard the gospel message from Peter, Cornelius had turned from idols to reverence a living God. (Acts 14:15; 1 Th. 1:9)
2. He believed that God was an observer of human activity.
3. He showed his love for family by bringing his whole household together to hear the message of the gospel.
4. Cornelius wasn’t saved by being a God-fearing man or giving of alms; he was saved by hearing and believing the gospel message as given by Peter.
5. The angels bring message to people, but they don’t preach the gospel—we do. It is our duty and responsibility to present the “word of reconciliation” as we are ambassadors for Christ. (2 Cor. 5:19-20)