A Picture Perfect Conversion
When Kathi and I were engaged to be married, we hired a photographer to take our picture so that we could put an announcement in the local paper. This photographer was a perfectionist. It must be a frustrating thing to demand and expect perfection when you are dealing with imperfect people. I had a history of neck spasms, and that caused me to stand with my head slightly cocked. It took some time for the photographer to get me to pose in the right position. His goal was a picture-perfect photograph. The phrase picture perfect means a faultless image, and has its origin in the idealized setting and composition of wedding photographs. In our text this morning we have two key players, Cornelius and Peter, who receive a vision from the Lord. At the time of the revelation, neither man fully understood what they were seeing, but the result was a picture perfect conversion. God was giving each man a piece of the puzzle; neither knew what the final picture would be. I want to preach a message on this passage this morning that I have titled, “A Picture Perfect Conversion.”
1. The first picture is for the preparation of Cornelius. We are given much information about Cornelius in this chapter. He lived in Caesarea, and he was a centurion. A centurion had command over 100 soldiers in the Roman Army. So he was a military leader of sorts, not the most powerful, but a man of influence no less. He was a devout man—sincere and devoted. We are going to find out that he was devoted to God and religious exercise. He feared God with all his house, and we know that is a step in the right direction.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. This proper fear of God caused him to be serious minded about two things: giving alms, and praying. He had concern for the poor which is a godly characteristic.
Psalms 41:1Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. Prayer is also a sign of one that is God-conscious. For whatever reason, Cornelius had a desire to get God’s attention. It may have been nothing more than an exercise in piety, he may have witnessed the Jews that would stand in the street and offer up their vain repetitions, he may have been one that asked God to meet his daily needs, whatever the case, Cornelius was trying to be a good man, the only problem being that he was a dead man.
Ephesians 2:1-2 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: His spiritually dead condition and his sincere devotion lead up to the heavenly vision. You see Cornelius was a confused religious man. The angel told him in a vision that his prayers and alms were a memorial before God, in other words, God knew that Cornelius was trying to get through to the throne, but there was something else needed. We see this play out in verse 25, as Cornelius bows down to Peter when they first meet. Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa, and he will explain what you need to do. This is a vivid picture of biblical truth that we must not discount—God prepares the heart for salvation.
Proverbs 16:1 The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. What Cornelius needed to do was make a decision, and ultimately the decision would be this: Do you choose heaven or hell?
2. The second picture is for the preparation of Peter. Peter was a Jewish fisherman, and he was among the first to be called personally by Jesus to be a disciple. He was very Jewish. He was one that held the belief that Gentiles were dogs. They were a few steps below God’s chosen people, and considered to be the dregs of society. So we are presented with a real problem. Cornelius is in need of hearing the Word, and the prejudiced Peter needs to go, so God is going to intervene in His preacher’s life. Around lunchtime, Peter goes up to roof to pray. He was getting hungry, and the Lord caused him to go into a trance, so his mind could only be on what the Lord wanted him to learn. A sheet is lowered from heaven and it is full of all kinds of animals. Rise, Peter, kill and eat. In Peter’s thinking and conditioning, he is not going to violate the Jewish dietary laws, and he tells God no. Not so or Lord. That is a good point to mention, Don’t say no to God—for any reason. Don’t call common that which God has cleansed. Why didn’t God allow the angel to declare His message to Cornelius? Because an angel could only explain the Gospel out of knowledge, not experience. Angels cannot receive the grace of God. One preacher said, “Soul winning is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
Peter had to be reprogrammed to be used completely by God. He was willing to preach on Pentecost, and at the Temple, but to take the precious Gospel to the Gentiles? I want you to see the confession of Peter in Cornelius’ house (25-34). God is no respecter of persons. We can say here that Peter has come a long way.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
3. The pieces come together. The two pieces of the puzzle were now put together and the picture made perfect sense to both Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius needed to be saved, and Peter had the message to unlock the mystery of the Gospel. I want you to see that there are two factors in the conversion of Cornelius that must be a part of everyone’s salvation. First Peter preached the Word. This is not Peter’s opinion, but the truth.
John 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. The Word of God is essential for salvation.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
But the Word by itself is not the only ingredient that is needed. The Holy Spirit plays a vital role. First there is conviction. I can tell you that you are a sinner until I’m blue in the face, but if there is no conviction, they are only words. Then illumination, and finally preservation.
What a beautiful picture when all of the pieces come together.
Psalms 19:7-10 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
There is not a better picture of completion than when God brings things together.
Maybe the Lord has been preparing a heart to receive Christ this morning. Maybe the Lord has been working on you to be obedient to His will. Whatever the case, won’t you come and make yourself an altar and do business with God.