When the preacher preaches, his prayer is that the audience will hear, believe and do. Of course, that presupposes that the preacher is presenting God’s word and not just his own ideas or constructs. Some preachers have realized that they are speaking to hostile listeners, so it is refreshing to find a group that really wants to hear the message.
Acts is a history book, and this chapter records how it happened that Peter was sent to preach to a Gentile audience. Until this time, the apostles had mostly just preached to Jews. In fact, there would be a great discussion about the possibility of Jews and Gentiles being on equal footing in the church. But that is not our focus today.
Through miraculous intervention, Cornelius was directed to invite Peter to come from Joppa to Caesarea so he and his people, all Gentiles, could hear from God. In the account there is no clear statement of what Cornelius and company could expect to hear except that it was a message for them.
Also, through miraculous intervention, Peter was prepared for this unexpected meeting. So he made the trip. That is where our verse appears in the narrative. It is Acts 10:33: “So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come.Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” These are the words of Cornelius when Peter arrived and saw a group already gathered. (I am using the New American Standard Bible here.)
The second “you” in the verse is emphasized through a sort of repetition in the Greek. So is the “we” a little later. It is rather like saying, “you on your part … we on our part.” They each had a role in this, and each was prepared to pursue it.
The word “before” is one of several in the Greek that could be used here, but this one has the special nuance of “in the sight of;” it’s not just generally saying that this is in God’s interest, but it is as though they have met in the very presence of God. In their hearts, they knew that this would be a God-saturated event — God would be totally aware of it, and they were ready for it.
Twice the word “all” appears. All of those present wanted to be there to hear what Peter brought from God. They wanted to hear everything he would say. You can’t have a better audience than that!
There was a recognition that Peter’s message would carry God’s authority. Today, as a friend used to remind me, the preacher has no authority other than that he teaches the word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible. It comes from God, and therefore it carries God’s authority, not the preacher’s. The word “commanded” is a perfect passive participle. It refers to words Peter would bring as having been commanded by God with their force continuing. Some would question whether the Bible has authority today, but in keeping with the form of the word “commanded” we should conclude that it does — its authority continues.
What astonishes me in this verse is that the audience had no inkling what Peter would say, except that it would be a message from God. Isn’t that really enough? Shouldn’t we have that level of interest and receptivity for any of God’s word? But here they were like sponges just waiting to be soaked!
You really should read all of Acts 10. Peter preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to these Gentiles, and they responded to the message. There was evidence of the coming of the Holy Spirit to them, as there had been at the first when Jews believed, and they were baptized to give testimony of their newfound faith in Jesus Christ.
Maybe what happened there was unique. Maybe people just aren’t excited about the word of God in our day. But I personally don’t see why that type of reception must be relegated to the past. There are other statements in Scripture suggesting that we should have that kind of interest and enthusiasm for God’s word also. Why shouldn’t you be ready to hear when you realize that God has sent you a message?
I hope and pray that many of us can give the sponge-like response to the proclamation of God’s word. It makes an eternal difference.