(1) Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?
(2) For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.
Acts chapter 10 records for us the wonderful conversion of Cornelius. Scripture tells us that this man was a Roman centurion. It is possible he might have been the centurion Luke mentions in chapter 7 of his gospel (Luke 7:1-9). Whether he was or was not is not the point. What we need to learn from Cornelius is how this Roman centurion, clearly a Gentile, and most likely brought up in idolatry, got hold of the God of heaven? While that level of communion with God is rare, it is not mysterious. We can see it clearly played out in Cornelius’ life:
He was a devout man.
In Acts, this almost always refers to those who seek to worship the true God (with one notable exception: Acts 13:50). God will accept true worship from anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from, and we can see from this passage that God always honors true worship.
He trusted everything he knew about God.
The Bible tells us he “feared God.” What does Scripture tell us about having a reverential fear of God?
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
At this point in his life Cornelius does not know about Messiah, but he is clearly responding to everything he does know about God. This is the heart of true worship. No one knows everything there is to know about God, but we are expected to respond in worship to what we do know. Cornelius feared God with all his house. In other words, his love of God overflowed into the lives of those around him. In return, God fulfilled the other half of Proverbs 9:10 in Cornelius’ life: He gave this devout centurion greater understanding. This is one of the things that is meant by John 1:16 when it says God gives “grace for grace.” A right response to God always leads to greater knowledge of Him and that leads to even greater worship!
He had an active love for God.
Love is known by its actions. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16a). A believer who loves God back, will also be known by his actions (James 2:18), and he’ll be known of God by his motives (Luke 18:10-14; Matthew 6:1-5f).
Cornelius did great things for the Jews, God’s people. To see this from a Roman centurion was unusual. There was no love lost between Rome and the nation of Israel. Most Romans soldiers hated to be assigned to the Jewish provinces because they knew the hostile treatment they could receive there. But Cornelius came to seek God and that apparently overflowed into a love for God’s people (even the unlovable ones). The Bible says he “gave much alms to the people.” That is was an outgrowth of his love for God and not for outward show, is clear from God’s response to Cornelius’ prayers.
Above all, Cornelius was a man of prayer.
Real prayer, the kind that moves God, is an outgrowth of worship and a natural fruit of constant fellowship with Him. It was this kind of fellowship that God had intended for man since the Garden of Eden. Cornelius had carved out a little slice of Eden for himself through his prayerful fellowship with the Lord. Like the man in Isaiah 66:2, Cornelius was:
Poor: Lowly, humble, needy, poor
This same concept is repeated by the Lord in His Sermon on the Mount when He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3. And this does not mean poor in terms of money. Poverty does not bring virtue. What brings virtue is recognizing our own spiritual poverty. If I am too proud to recognize my daily need of God, I will not pray. If I recognize that all that I have comes from the hand of a loving God, even my daily bread, I will always be praying. (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Contrite: Smitten, maimed, dejected
We can be pretty impressed with ourselves – until God brings us low with a virus or an injury to remind us of our place. When Jacob wrestled God, the Lord put his hip out of joint as a constant reminder to Jacob of where his blessings came from (Genesis 32:25-32).
We have to remember that God made us and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3) – and more importantly that He made us out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). We don’t have a whole lot to be proud of. But at the same time we are not insignificant. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and God is pleased to take special concern over us (Psalm 8:4-6). What we have to keep in mind is where our significance comes from. If I think all that I am and have I did for myself, I will not be a praying man. If I remember that my significance comes from God and not from me, I will be a praying man. (See Daniel 4.)
Trembl[ing]: Fearful, afraid, trembling
We do need to be afraid of God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). It is not a popular theme, but God is to be feared – on the basis of His word. Why is that so important? It’s because it is through His Word that we learn why and how we must fear Him. Scripture says we are to come boldly before His throne, but not flippantly (Hebrews 4:16). Also, our fear should not be a blind or abject fear. It needs to be a well-informed one, one tempered with hope that this fear-inspiring God also loves me with an unconditional love!
Cornelius had all of these characteristics. The sobering fact is that I can have these characteristics, too. The question is: “Why don’t I?”