Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Acts 11

March 20th, 2010 by Vic

“Peter, Barnabas, and Saul”

March 21, 2010

Peter was there in Jerusalem when the promised Comforter came the first time after Jesus ascension.  Later while laying his hands on the half Jews in Samaria Peter saw the Holy Spirit come on those believers.  Then the Lord clearly directed Peter to the large home of a Roman Centurion in Caesarea.  While Peter was retelling the story of Jesus to these Gentiles the Holy Spirit came on everyone in that home.  That got Peter in trouble.

Peter was the respected leader of the disciples until he entered the home of a Gentile and ate with the family.  All possible hints of Peter being greater than the other disciples or being a pope are now removed.  He has been greatly used of the Lord, but he is not a pope.

There is criticism when the neighborhood changes.  When “they” don’t act like us.  When “they” begin to outnumber “us” how do we respond?  The number of Christian Jews had by now far exceeded the number of Pharisaic Jews.  The number of Christian half-Jews and Christian proselytes was also growing.  These Christian Jews may have been proud of their greater understanding of the OT prophecies.  These Christian Jews may have felt they were the real fulfilled Jews.  But what if Gentiles become Christians?  The whole neighborhood changes.

This chapter records a period of transition for the church.  The radical fact that God has accepted people not like me becomes overwhelming to my normal way of doing church especially when I need to admit a need and accept help from these same foreigners during a famine.  Headquarters is becoming de-centralized.  Peter is not the Pope.  Antioch will soon become the mission center.

Acts 11:1-18  (Accepting Gentiles)

Peter broke the traditional law of the Jews by going into a Gentile home and eating with them.  Peter does not defend himself.  He had not decided the Great Commission included Gentiles.  He was not sure it was the right thing to do either.  He just states the facts.  It was not his plan.  The conclusion is that God has forgiven and saved the Gentiles by faith in Jesus Christ without becoming Jews like us.  Peter tells these Jewish brethren that are criticizing him that God has forgiven Gentiles and saved them by faith in Jesus Christ.  They were saved by faith in Jesus just like we were.  They don’t look like us, eat like us, celebrate like us, live like us, talk like us or worship like us.  But God saved them.  It was not our culture that saved us.  It was not our culture or their culture that saved them.

In Acts 11:5, Peter reports that he fell into a trance while in prayer. But it was God, not Peter, who initiated the trance and facilitated it.  By definition, a mystic, on the other hand, is someone who initiates a spiritual experience by using rote methods to tap into his inner divinity. Those who use these chants put themselves into a trance.  God does not command it.  They may have good intentions, but Scripture contains no reference in which God promoted mystical practices.  Meditation and mysticism is dangerous even if our intent is to focus on Christ

If you were to jump off a cliff with the intent to fly saying the word “fly, fly, fly” as you jump off and someone else jumped off the same cliff with the intent to hit the bottom saying “fall, fall, fall” as he jumps off, in either case both will hit the bottom. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in contemplative/mystical prayer, although the intent may be to honor Christ.

This event in Acts 11 may be the beginning of denominations.  The Christian Jews wanted the Christian Gentiles to become like them and the Christian Gentiles wanted the Christian Jews to become like them.  And Peter says this was not my idea.  God has accepted the Gentiles.  In Christ there is a unity in our diversity.  God loves Jew and Gentile.  God loves the world.  God has not made clones.

The Jewish problem was not so much a prejudice against the Gentiles as a misunderstanding of God’s plan.  They were so sure their interpretations of Scriptures were right that they could not see the new that God was doing.  They did not understand the prophecies of a suffering Messiah.  Therefore many of the Jews rejected Jesus the Messiah as the plan of God and thus could not find salvation.  The Gentiles were receptive to the gospel of Jesus and saw in Him the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the O.T.  Believing in Jesus these Gentiles received abundant life in the Holy Spirit without becoming cultural Jews.

Peter did not understand God’s new program.  The vision he received from heaven confused him.  He did not go to Cornelius’ home because he had an agenda.  He was convinced that God was in the timing of events but he did not understand what these events meant to the followers of Christ.

So Peter reviews the events (4) that brought the gospel to the Gentiles.  God made it happen without any plans or programs developed by the Jerusalem leaders.  While praying at noon, God sent a vision and repeated the vision 3 times.  At the end of the vision, the Spirit told me to go with 3 men (12) who were just then knocking at my gate.  They told me their commander in Caesarea had seen an angel who gave him my name and address.  The angel told him I had a message of salvation.  I was amazed that an angel of the Lord had been sent to a Gentile.

Is it good news or bad news that God loves foreigners?  Is it good news or bad news that God knows your name and address?

Peter does not repeat the sermon he had started in Cornelius’ home.  He rests his defense on what God did, not on what he preached.  He just says the Holy Spirit came on them just like He came on us in the upper room here in Jerusalem.  They are just like us.

Remember the Lord told us ahead of time that we would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  We did receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and for 10 years have seen the Spirit multiply our ministry.  Now I have seen the Spirit of the Lord come on a Gentile household.

11:17  God is giving Gentiles the same gift He gave us.  We are dispensers of grace, but God gives the Spirit to all who believe in Jesus Christ.  Was I supposed to tell God He could not do that?  Was I supposed to remind God that these Gentiles had not attended our membership class?  Did you want me to oppose God?

We received the same gift they received.  We did not earn it.  Salvation is a gift confirmed by the Holy Spirit.  We are just like the Gentiles who believe.  Our salvation came through faith in Jesus Christ not our culture or the works of the law.  If God gave them the same gift he gave us showing to us His divine acceptance, who could possibly withhold baptism with water and deny them fellowship in our group.  To do that would be to oppose God.  I have accepted them as brothers.

11:18-21   (Encouraging Gentiles)

God has expanded our fellowship to include Gentiles.

After Stephen’s stoning and death, persecution grew and God scattered Christians like seeds.  They grew and multiplied because (21) the Lord’s hand was with them.  This is how the Church grows.

Jesus promised that He would build His church.  Now the church is launched into the world.  Not by any great plans of the Jerusalem leaders.  Not by any big entertainers or celebrities.  We do not know the names of the people from Cyprus and Cyrene who were the early pioneers of cross cultural ministry.  God uses people who will do the work and never care who gets the credit for it.  The Lord’s hand was on these people who just wanted Greeks to know the story of Jesus.  The Lord’s hand is on all today who just trust and obey.

Antioch was the third greatest city in the Roman Empire.  Rome was the political center.  Alexandria in Egypt was the university center with the world’s greatest library.  Antioch was the resort, sport, and game center.  It is nestled at the foot of the mountains about 8 miles up the Orontes River.  They were proud of their chariot races and the temple for Daphne.  The main street was over 4 miles long, paved with marble, and lined with marble colonnades.  It was the only city in the world at that time that had its streets lighted at night.

11:22-30  (Receiving help from Gentiles)

The Christian leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to go investigate this rapidly growing church in Antioch.  (Notice that The Apostles do not send Barnabas nor do these leaders send a disciple.  This means there is no hierarchical positions in the church yet.  There are functions.)  Barnabas appeared earlier in 4:36f and 9:27.  He was originally from Cyprus.  He probably knew some of these people who had started preaching to the Greeks in Antioch.

Cyprus was about 100 miles SW of Antioch by sea and Tarsus was about 100 miles NW of Antioch by land.

Barnabas was a Jew from the tribe of Levi.  He could have been a priest.  He is the only person described as a ‘good man’ in the NT.

Barnabas was known as an encourager.  He immediately encouraged the Greeks to ‘remain true’ to the Lord with all their hearts.  The KJV says, “Cleave to the Lord.”  Why does he command them to cleave or remain true?  Because spiritual growth does not come automatically.  The parable of the soils illustrated that.  The condition of your heart determines the growth of the seed.  Cleave to the Lord with all your heart.

How do you cleave to the Lord?  You purpose in your heart.  It’s not “Just say no”.  It must be “just say never.”  Just say never again to drugs, to divorce, to illicit sex, to pornography.  Jesus does not stand at the door of your brain and knock.  He stands at the door of your heart.  It is a heart thing.  With the heart man believes unto righteousness.  Seek first the kingdom of God.  “All of you who hold fast to the Lord are alive today.” (Deut 4:4)  Hold on to Him and enjoy the ride.  That is not always easy in an immoral culture.

11:25  Barnabas knew his limitations and went to find Saul and ask him to come and help encourage the new believers in Antioch.  For a year Barnabas and Saul ministered together.  This sport minded city had nicknames for everyone.  The members of this new religion they named Christians.  They did not call them evangelicals, the people talking about good news.  They did not call them Nazarenes, the people talking about a man born in Nazareth.  They did not call them 7th Day Adventists, the people talking about a second coming.  They did not call them Baptists.  We don’t read of any more baptisms at Antioch.  They did not call them people of the Way, because there were lots of ways.  They did not call them ekklecia/church people, because a lot of groups assembled regularly.  They did not call them Jesuits, because they talked about Jesus as a good man.  The people at Antioch called them Christians because they were the people talking about Christ/Messiah and desiring to live like Jesus Christ.  We are Christians not because of what we believe, where we meet, or some ritual we have performed.  We are Christians when we tell everyone about Christ.  We are Christians when we live like Christ lived.  Do your neighbors call you Christian for the right reasons?  Is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian?

Agabus was a prophet.  The word prophet literally means to tell forth.  The secondary meaning is to foretell.  As men spoke the word of God sometimes it was a prophecy to be fulfilled in the future.  However the primary meaning for prophet was a teller or proclaimer of God’s word.  In the early church there were men and women inspired with messages who seemed to have special assignments to declare God’s word.

Archaeologists have found a manuscript dated about 100 A.D. called “The Teaching of the Disciples”.  It had an order of service for the Lord’s Supper.  It also said that the prophets should be allowed to speak in their meetings.  But it warned of false prophets.  If the prophet in a vision asks for money or for a meal he is a false prophet.  It says that prophets should always be given hospitality for one night but if they desire to stay longer without working they are false prophets.

Be careful of false prophets.  Is their prophecy confirmed by the word?  Does the Holy Spirit confirm the prophecy in your heart and head?  The disciples apparently met together and made a decision to help.  A giving church is a healthy church.

Agabus told them a famine was coming to the whole Roman area of Syria.  The disciples met and gave according to their ability.  The Lord had blessed them and they decided to pass along the blessing.  There is no hint here of socialism.  They did not sell all their goods and let the leaders distribute them.  They took an offering, but did not send it with Agabus.  They sent the gift with Barnabas and Saul.  It was probably about 300 miles to Jerusalem.  Barnabas and Saul gave the gift to the Christian elders.

Make a mental note that some leaders in Jerusalem were identified as elders.  Just as the culture of the Jews recognized some as elders so the Christians were now doing that.  But we have no record of any ritual or anointing that made them elders.  However when we get to the Gentile Christians a ritual develops with the laying on of hands.  The Greek culture did not have a way to identify elders so the Christian Greeks developed one.

It was not easy for the Christian Jews to realize that Gentiles can be Christian without being a Jew.  It’s like “I enjoy my relationship with Jesus so much and I think you should have the same relationship I have.”  If you would just go to this school or attend this class or have this vision or read these books or meditate with your eyes closed or pray 3 times a day or…  And while I’m still adding scenarios, God just sends His Spirit to clean your heart and fill it with love.

When the church was persecuted and scattered, it grew.  The church of Smyrna in Revelation 2 was also persecuted.  Jesus did not criticize this church.  He encouraged them.  Barnabas was an encourager.  He was a one on one kind of person.  He recognized his limitations and went to find Saul.  The word ‘look for’ in 11:26 is the same word as in Luke 2:45 when Jesus’ parents went back to Jerusalem to look for Jesus.  They were frantic.  Their son was missing.  Barnabas is frantically looking for Saul.  He needed help.

Are you like Barnabas?  Do you encourage people?  Are you overwhelmed with the ministry the Lord has given you?  Do you need some help?  Let the Spirit direct you to a Saul.

Are you like Peter?  You really do not understand what God is doing, but His timing has made you a blessing to several other people.  You are not comfortable doing some things for the Lord, but the Spirit seems to be pushing you to do something different than you usually do.  You get criticized and you can’t think of any good defense.

Are you like Saul?  You are in your home town sharing what God has done.  You tell anyone who will listen that Jesus is the Messiah.  You are being faithful.  Then your old friend Barnabas shows up and asks for your help.  God opens another door of ministry.

Are you like the church leaders who first question what God is doing among these untouchables?  Then you begin to see these untouchables as people.  Then you graciously accept their help.

Growth requires change.  God wants to help you change.

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