Third day of the fifth week after Easter. Read this week's lectionary readings here.
God moved heaven and earth to save Cornelius, and on the very eve of his salvation Cornelius still committed idolatry! Yet God forgave him even of this sin. Moreover, God was listening to Cornelius's prayers. Even in his sin, even in his unsaved state.
I don't know if God listens to the prayers of all of the unsaved, or just of those who are looking for salvation. I do know He is aware of everything that goes on in this world, and I do know that He wants everyone to be saved, according to I Timothy 2:4. And I know that He is working on each individual detail that happens in this world to bring about the good of those who love Him and who are called, according to Romans 8:28. He had arranged a lot for Cornelius: He had planted Israel centuries earlier, to hold up His light to the Gentiles. He had brought Rome into power, so that Cornelius would be stationed in Judea. He had sent Jesus and the apostles through the region, which according to Acts 10:37 Cornelius knew about.
And of course those are minimal compared to the real work which Jesus did for Cornelius's salvation in suffering and dying in agony on the cross.
And He had listened to Cornelius's prayers, watched his deeds of righteousness, seen his heart, and arranged to give him the desire of his heart: contact with Jesus, through the preaching of the Gospel and immersion into the atoning death of the Savior.
Those who do not believe God's Gospel often want to charge that the Gospel is one way among many, that other paths of faith are just as valuable, that God can and should and will send everybody to heaven.
But God didn't just forgive Cornelius upon his prayer alone, nor because of his religious life, nor in response to him being a good person. Cornelius could only be saved through the work of Jesus Christ. That work had to occur, and Cornelius had to hear about it, and he had to believe in it and accept it, and he had to become a part of it.