Last week, Pastor Mike told us the Holy Spirit of God had been poured out on the Gentiles. This amazed the Jews of the day. They believed in who Jesus was and what He did and because of this, they were baptized. Jews and Gentiles are equal in God’s eyes. This morning, we’ll see how Peter responds to this incredible revelation.
Our passage today comes from Acts 11:1-30.
We start out with a confrontation with the church in Jerusalem. When you’re in ministry, confrontation is inevitable. Confrontation has a negative connotation; it’s not fun or exciting, but it is sometimes necessary. Sometimes there is confrontation where none is needed. Over the years, I’ve had my share of both and more often than not, it’s the latter category. People that disagree just because. No doctrinal issues, no scriptural misinterpretation, no ungodly or unholy behavior. Just disagreement with the thought that they have a right to voice their objection or provide an opinion. I hope I, and all the pastors here, are approachable enough that you can come and share your thoughts and feelings about a wide variety of topics and issues. If it’s a doctrinal or theological matter, we’re eager to sit down and reason through the scriptures. But if you’re complaining about something you prefer to be done or not done, you’re probably not going to be satisfied. Matters of doctrine will be carefully evaluated, but matters of preference really cannot be entertained.
“Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” News spread throughout Judea that the Gentiles received God’s Word. As Peter made his way back home and entered Jerusalem, there were people waiting for him. It looks like many people had no issue with this, but there were some loud complaints that came from a smaller group of people Luke says, “were circumcised.” Those people were Jews and they had an issue with something that Peter did and they confronted him by saying, “You went to the uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Remember, it was unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles. Peter even said so in 10:28: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.” Peter had to be convinced that all were equal in God’s eyes and now he must do the same with the Jews. Peter doesn’t freak out, doesn’t get offended, doesn’t look down on the Jews for asking this question. Instead he does what all leaders should do, he, “began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence saying.”
Look at vs. 5-17. This is Peter’s defense. He simply told them what happened, and it’s the fourth time we’ve heard it. I wish all confrontations ended the way this one did. You can see the move of the Spirit of God on the Jews Peter was talking to. Listen to this in v. 18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” When we consider people the way God considers people, division should melt away, racism should be eliminated, and discrimination a thing of the past. Society in America is becoming more and more divided. I’m reminded of the children’s song: black and yellow, red and white, they’re all precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor, it matters not to Him, He remembers where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Simple words, profound truth. I’m praying God would break down the walls that divide us. That’s the message Peter is conveying to these people and they got it! Perhaps you have a cross reference note next to the word repentance. Repentance crosses over to 2 Cor. 7:10 that tells us, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The Jews understood Peter’s explanation and rejoiced that Gentiles could receive salvation. This is yet another example of the incredible power of the Holy Spirit and how he works in people’s lives.
The second church is located in Antioch. Luke tells us, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” Remember back in 8:1, Saul was leading the effort to eradicate these followers of Christ that forced them to flee for their lives. Believers are scattered throughout Samaria and Judea and they’re telling Jews about Jesus. So, we arrive in Antioch. Antioch was a really important place. It was a strategic city for the Gospel message. It was founded about 300 B.C. and was a Hellenistic city that promoted Greek culture. It was not known for godliness. Antioch was a major cult center for the Greek goddess Daphne and the Assyrian goddess Astarte and was known throughout the Empire for its immorality, so what better place to introduce the cleansing power of God? It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire that had a population somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 with a Jewish population somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000.
The Gospel began with the truth being told to the Jews as mentioned in v. 19 and here’s a good reason why. There was fairly large Jewish Hellenistic population there. Greek would be the dominant language spoken and those people that were there teaching the Word would also have to speak Greek. Something else was also happening. Verse 20 says, “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Perhaps one of the men is Lucius who is mentioned later in 13:1. Fast forward to Paul’s words in Rom. 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” God used Jews to reach the Gentiles, but at the same time, again according to Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) Jesus Christ is the common denominator that fuses diversity together in the Kingdom. When you preach the truth of who Jesus is and what His mission is, God blesses the message. The messenger need not be perfect, only willing.
Gentiles responded to the life changing message of the truth of who Jesus Christ is. “A large number who believed turned to the Lord.” The church continues to grow through the preached Word from people that were transformed by the very message they are proclaiming. As the church was growing, word got back to Jerusalem, “and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.” Conversions to Christ are awesome and miraculous, but we cannot stop there. There must be a training period where the new convert is taught the fundamental doctrines and principles of the faith. In my opinion, this has been one of the grandest failures of the modern church. Once saved, many church folk assume new converts will miraculously become what God wants them to be through some sort of magical, mysterious, Holy Spirit infusive, transformative process. If we compare our spiritual growth to our biological growth, we see the fallacy of such assumptions. When a baby is born, the parent does everything for that child. As the child grows, more and more responsibility is transferred to the child. At first the kid is carried from place to place, then the kid is taught to crawl and walk; is taught to dress themselves and brush and floss their teeth. The parent reads to the child and engages in intentional instruction. The parent teaches the kid about colors and shapes and animal names. The child is taught to recognize letters and words and learns how to read and then in school, is given assignments to read themselves. This continues throughout their scholastic career. Students are given syllabi so they know what to expect during the course or semester. On the job, a person is given instructions on how to perform certain tasks within their responsibilities. Employees are given handbooks or manuals giving them instructions. In the church? We attempt discipleship using hopes, dreams, and recommendations. As a result, many people don’t take the time to truly disciple others because they were not discipled themselves. We either assume someone else will do it, or the individual will somehow know how to be transformed. Of course, there is individual responsibility, but the child has a parent, the student has a teacher and the worker has a supervisor. If we want to be effective for the Kingdom, we must engage in intentional discipleship.
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw something I am sure made a profound impact on him. “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” When news of Philip’s work in Samaria got to Jerusalem, the church sent Peter and John, who were apostles, to check it out. Hearing about the work in Antioch, the church sends the non-apostle Barnabas, a very good choice. Barnabas was the one that introduced Saul into the circle of the apostles. Luke described Barnabas as, “a good man,” the same phrase he used of Joseph of Arimathea in Lu. 23:50. Barnabas was, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” the same way he described Stephen back in Acts 6:5. Barnabas was the right man for this mission and he did it all without a title. Remember: you don’t have to have a title to minister to God’s people. You don’t have to be in some assigned position from the church to do God’s work. Barnabas literally saw what the Lord had done in the people and he was filled with joy, unspeakable and full of glory. Believers who had been scattered following Stephen’s murder had powerfully shared the hope of Christ in this Gentile community and the people responded in considerable numbers. Considerable means notably large. As in other places we’ve seen in Acts, the church is now growing so fast, new converts cannot be counted.
Barnabas encouraged the people to remain steadfast and true to the Lord and leaves Antioch, very encouraged, “for Tarsus to look for Saul,” because he sees the amount of work that needs to be done and knows he cannot accomplish it by himself. In Tarsus, “When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Saul and Barnabas go back to Antioch and engage in intentional, concentrated discipleship for a year. Saul and Barnabas worked shoulder to shoulder with this Gentile community continuing a partnership that would take them on a missionary journey to Cyprus and beyond that we’ll see in Acts 13 and 14. Because of their devotion to Christ, the people that followed Jesus were called Christians and this happened first in Antioch.
Luke mentions the prophet Agabus to close out the story of Antioch. Take a look at 11:27-30. Agabus predicted a famine in the land and Luke says it occurred during the reign of Claudius. Extra-biblical documents confirm there was a famine throughout the Roman Empire around 46 A.D. That’s not the point of Luke telling us this seemingly random fact. The reason he points this out is how the people responded to hearing a famine was coming. “And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” The brethren didn’t ask for help although they probably heard Agabus’ message since he went to Antioch from Jerusalem. Agabus says a famine is coming and the disciples in Antioch respond. Nobody way forced to give, but everyone did give: everyone participated. “Each of them determined to send a contribution.” Then look how the offering got to Jerusalem. They sent, “It in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” If you recall from the first mention of Barnabas back in Acts 4:36-37, he sold a tract of land and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Now he and Saul are going to bring money and bring it to the elders. This represents a shift in leadership. The elders have been present from the beginning, but where are the apostles? Verse 1 says they were throughout Judea. And we know Peter just arrived back in Jerusalem. It seems their responsibilities took them away from Jerusalem and the daily operations were left with the elders. We’ll see that take shape as we continue our walk through Acts.
We started off this morning looking at the confrontation between Peter and the church at Jerusalem. They took issue with Peter eating with uncircumcised men. Peter shared his vision that God is no respecter of persons and everyone is equal in God’s eyes and the people responded with rejoicing. We moved on to Antioch where large numbers of Gentiles responded to the gospel message. Barnabas and Saul are dispatched from Jerusalem and spend a year engaged in intentional discipleship. The story of the church at Jerusalem and Antioch are not over: next week, we’ll see a challenging shift in Peter’s life.