Acts 10:4

A lion called Fortitude.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

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 10:4

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The previous verse is where Cornelius saw in a vision an angel of God having come to him. Now, Luke records, “And when he observed him, he was afraid.”

Both verbs are aorist participles. “And having looked intently on him and having become afraid” (BLB). The word translated as “observed,” atenizó, is one that indicates being completely fixed in staring at something. It is giving full attention to what is seen. One can see hints of the word “attention” in it. Cornelius was praying and, all of a sudden, this messenger was there. This caught his full attention and brought him to a state of terror.

With this state over him, it next records, that he “said, ‘What is it, lord?’” The word kurios is used. It can be used in a reference to the Lord, meaning Yehovah. It can be used as a title of respect to one greater than another, as in, “My lord, what can I do?” It can be used as a title of general respect, such as, “Sir, what is it?” And etc.

In this case, Cornelius understands this a divine messenger, “What is it, lord?” This seems to be the case because of the terror just noted. If it was a senior from his military chain of command, he would have simply said, “Yes, sir, I am almost done praying.” With his state of terror, and with his question spoken, Luke next says, “So he said to him.”

This is now the messenger speaking to Cornelius. He has come for a reason, he has been asked about what his coming is for, and so he now gives a reply, saying, “Your prayers and your alms have come up.”

The same word used to describe the alms the beggar asked for in Acts 3:2 and that also described the charitable deeds of Tabitha in Acts 9:36 is used here. These alms are derived from compassion that is directed to the poor and needy. Those, along with his obviously heartfelt prayers, are said to have ascended. The meaning is that they were as an offering burned on an altar that had then become a fragrant aroma. These are then specifically noted, “for a memorial.”

This is the third and last time that the word mnémosunon, or “memorial,” is seen in the Bible. The word signifies a reminder. It is something that is worth remembering such as in Matthew 26:13 and Mark 14:9, both of which speak of the same event –

“Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Matthew 26:13

In this case, the prayers and deeds of Cornelius were something worthy of remembrance, as it says, “before God.” Taken together with the word “ascended,” it is as an offering on an altar that is described in Leviticus. They were a true and complete sacrifice that would otherwise be acceptable to God. They were not enough to save him, however. This is evident based on the rest of the passage.

However, they demonstrate that his heart was set in the right direction. Charles Ellicott states the matter well, as long as it is understood that apart from faith in Jesus (which will come as the chapter continues) his deeds cannot justify him, only his faith can –

“If we ask, in the technical language of a later theology, how they could be accepted when they were offered prior to a clear faith in Christ, and therefore before justification, the answer is that … He was believing in the Light that lighteth every man, though as yet he did not identify that Light with its manifestation in Jesus as the Christ (John 1:9). He had the faith which from the beginning of the world has justified—the belief that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).” Charles Ellicott

The ellipsis in the quote from Ellicott removes something that may lead to a false sense of what is being said.

Ellicott is close in his analysis, but it must be understood that when he says, “he had the faith which…justified,” it must mean a potential justification, not actual at this time. People all over the world have faith, they do good deeds, and they really believe there is a God that we must answer to. The issue isn’t that they believe this. The issue is, first and foremost, that sin must be dealt with. Abraham was surely the same person before and after the note in Genesis 15:6. But he had to have faith in God’s provision first.

Abraham believed in the Lord (YHVH), and He credited it to Him as righteousness. Cornelius believes in God, in a general sense. Now, in Acts 10, he will be introduced to the Lord (Jesus who is YHVH) and he will believe in a specific sense. This is what brings justification. Sincere people can believe in a false gospel or a false messiah and not be saved. Cornelius has faith and it is now going to be directed to the One who can mediate that faith before God in an acceptable way. That will become explicitly clear in verse 10:43.

Life application: We must never waffle in our theology and say that someone has faith that can save apart from Christ. A person can have great faith and misdirect it and not be saved. Only when the faith is directed to Jesus, the Lord God incarnate, can a person then be saved.

Those of the past who knew of the Lord’s promise of Messiah, such as Job, had the appropriate faith because they had faith, and they believed in the right Person to come. Now, all must believe in the right Person who has come. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is not. The resolution to man’s problem, meaning sin, must be dealt with. The only One who can deal with it is Jesus who is the Christ (Messiah).

Jesus is the Lord (YHVH). Any other “messiah” is not the Lord (YHVH) and is thus a false messiah. With more revelation has come more precise responsibility. Only through the name of Jesus can man be saved.

Lord God, help us to not error in our wording and thus lead others astray through misunderstanding. May we carefully think through our presentation of the gospel and then give it in a manner that will convict and then heal the person who hears it. Help us in this, O God, that people will come to a right and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.