And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive
that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and
does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to
Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the
word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after
the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the
Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all
oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that
he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death
by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him
manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to
preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be
judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that
every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his
Peter said that Cornelius knew about Jesus. It seems that Cornelius already had an accurate understanding of both John the Baptist and Jesus. Peter did not have to tell Cornelius things he didn't know already. Peter's sermon, however, tell Cornelius what he needed to hear (and what we still need to hear). He needed to hear of God's forgiveness so that he could be baptised.
The address gives us some idea of how Peter understood the work that Jesus had given Him to do. Peter starts with an admission of God's openness to all people. God has been open to us so our response can only be that we are to be open with each other. It is acceptable, right and proper to allow our faith in God's mercy to guide how we relate to those of every nation who fear Him and do what is right. God's law is there to enable His people to be generous.
Peter was coming to terms with the momentous impact that God's Spirit was having upon his experience. Here he is telling Cornelius' household that Jesus Christ has come. The Holy Spirit had made this visit possible. National background makes no difference. The promise and the gift are freely available. Forgiveness of sins is for all who believe.
Peter also explained his understanding of the way the gospel changed forever the relations between Jew and Gentile. Jesus, he said, did not appear to everyone, but after His resurrection He chose some to be His witnesses and this is confirmed in the fact that He ate and drank with them. God's Great High Priest had made atonement for sins. Says Peter, "By eating and drinking with us in the days after His resurrection He confirmed that there are to be no "common" or "unclean" witnesses." (Luke has already told us that Jesus ate with them even while they disbelieved! Luke 24:41). And the Holy Spirit had made it possible for Peter to visit the Centurion's house in Caesarea to explain God's forgiveness. This event was to become part of the ongoing debate among Jesus' followers about the right way for Jews and Gentiles to relate to each other.