Cornelius Had a Religious Experience

Cornelius experienced miracles

"About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and 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. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do." And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually" (Acts 10:3-7).

This is not the first time that an angel intervened to instigate a man's conversion. It was an angel who arranged to have Philip meet the traveling Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26). But notice that even though the angel appeared to the man to be converted in Acts 10 and to the preacher in Acts 8, the purpose of the appearance was the same -- to bring the preacher together with a person needing to hear the message of God. In both cases, the angel did not preach the message but, instead, arranged for a man to come and teaching his fellow man.

As we read through Acts, not every conversion was accompanied by the appearance of angels, but each conversion followed a similar pattern. A man teaches the gospel and the listener responds to the message. Hence, we conclude that the supernatural actions on the part of God don't overrule the requirement for a man to teach the gospel. "For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:13-17).

If a man must teach another man, then why did miracles accompany some conversions? We are told that there was a period of time when the gospel was being revealed and confirmed. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:3-4). This revelation would not be a continual event but would take place once in history. "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). But the spreading of this confirmed gospel was work done by men. "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us" (II Corinthians 4:5-7).

There is no case where an angel taught someone the gospel so that they might be saved. Saul saw and heard a vision of the Lord (Acts 9:3-5), but the Lord directed him to wait for a man to come and teach him (Acts 9:6). Ananias was contacted by an angel concerning Saul, but he was required to go to Saul and teach him about Jesus (Acts 9:10-18).

Hence, we must conclude that while confirmation of the gospel was needed in the original delivery of the message, it does not take a miracle to hear or to accept the gospel. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21).

Could the miracles experienced by Cornelius and others happen today? Some do claim to have experienced a miraculous event. Since I wasn't there, it would not be worth arguing whether the event occurred or not. But I am interested in what was told to the one who experienced the miracle. Is it similar to or different from the teachings found in the Bible? If what is told is different, then we need to pay heed to Paul's warning, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).

My next question concerns what these people now teach. If the Holy Spirit is guiding them and teaching them, then I would expect to find all that they say in harmony with the Scriptures, for the Spirit will not contradict today what He taught in the beginning. "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (I Corinthians 14:33). If there is a difference in the message, then the only conclusion must be that what is being taught did not come from the Spirit of God.

Finally, I must ask what these people do. What evidence is given to you by God to support your claim that you are speaking by the inspiration of God? You see, when Cornelius received the Spirit, he began to speak in other languages (Acts 10:46). Cornelius did not simply claim to have the Spirit. It was evident to those gathered that the Spirit had come upon Cornelius.

Notice throughout Acts 10 that Cornelius's claim to have experienced miracles was not based solely on his own word. Peter received a vision that collaborated what Cornelius saw (Acts 10:19-20). The same was true of Saul and Ananias; each experienced separate visions that confirmed what had happened (Acts 9:5-6, 10-12). By the way, notice that Cornelius and Peter experienced a series of miracles. Cornelius saw an angel. Peter had a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven. Then Peter was directly told by the Spirit to go with the men Cornelius sent. Finally, Cornelius and his household began to speak in tongues during Peter's lesson. Few people today offer any collaboration for the miracles they claim to experience. It is only their word. They would do well to recall the words of Jesus, "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true" (John 5:31). Jesus would not lie, but even Jesus stated that the testimony of only one cannot prove the truth.

You know, despite all these miraculous events, Cornelius still needed to hear words from Peter in order to be saved. "Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:13-14). The experience of miracles in his life did not save Cornelius. Nor can it save you. You too need to hear words by which you can be saved.

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