“Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter” Acts x, 4-5
The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s greatest message for humanity. The gospel originated in God and is validated by His power. He has set a narrow gate before us. Only those who choose to enter through this narrow gate will see life eternal. God will never set His gospel aside to make concessions for individuals however pious or charitable they might have been.
Cornelius was a pious man. It was unusual for a Roman soldier to be rich in piety and good works. So remarkable was his devotion to God and to his fellow beings that God sent an angel to acknowledge his prayers and alms. Notice the balance between prayers and charity in Cornelius’ life. Some are so pious that they are of no earthly use to anyone. Others are so caught up with charitable works that they see no value in “useless” prayer or spiritual disciplines. Cornelius excelled in both. That is remarkable indeed.
Why did God send an angel to Cornelius? Was it just to commend him? Certainly not. God wanted Cornelius to send for Peter, the apostle, who was in Joppa. God wanted Cornelius to listen and respond to the gospel in obedience. That was the only way for Cornelius to “ascend” to God’s presence! Just because his prayers and alms reached God’s presence, he could never be admitted into heaven on account of those valuable deeds.
Some Christians often wonder whether God will ever send great men and women to hell “just because they weren’t born-again Christians.” Such Christians should read Acts 10. The Bible does not offer one gospel for vile people and another for saintly people. All are sinners and worthy of hell. And that includes Cornelius and every other person who has earned a big name through charitable works. If God could have taken Cornelius to heaven without him having to listen, believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, He would have done it. But there’s no other way. If there was any other way, God would have spared His Son.
Cornelius had to know Jesus through the preaching of a former fisherman. Cornelius and his household had to repent of their sins and become disciples of Jesus Christ after accepting water baptism. God has ordained this apparently ‘foolish’ procedure for people to secure their eternity. That’s why we proclaim that people should believe in Jesus, repent of their sins and be baptized.
It’s one thing for our prayers and alms to reach God. It’s altogether another ball game when it comes to sending the pious alms-giver to heaven!