Peter Returns to Jerusalem With Great News
[Acts chapter 11, verses 1-18]
When we last left off at the conclusion of Acts chapter 10, Peter was staying and teaching at Caesaria at the home of newly-converted Cornelius the Roman centurion, having been sent there through a vision he had. This week as we start part 1 of Acts chapter 11, we find the apostle Peter has returned to Jerusalem some time later to tell the believers there about everything that had happened on his journey. So let’s take up where we left off starting at verse one.
“The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had already received the Word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.” (Acts 11, verses 1-10)
Let’s all keep in mind that, to the Jews at least, their promised Messiah was a Jewish Messiah for Jews only, since that is what certain sections of the Old Testament taught. So for the Jews in Jerusalem, the very idea of salvation in Christ being available for Jew and Gentile alike was, frankly, more than some of them could stomach. The ones most vehemently opposed, of course, were the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Temple, the Jewish equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics), the very ones responsible for handing Christ over to the Romans for execution. This is why it reads in verse 2, “….You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened….”.
So the apostle Peter relates all that had occurred to the eager, if slightly confused, Jews in Jerusalem who found themselves thinking outside the box when it came to Gentile salvation. Although many Jewish people since have come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Lord and Savior, the vast majority still await Him. That is between them and God, and so because of that I refuse to condemn them. As you all know by now, the Bible warns us repeatedly not to judge others (see Matt. 7: 1-5, Romans 14: 6-13 and James 4: 11-12). But I would like to appeal to my Jewish brothers and sisters that there is still time to follow His Majesty the King! There is still time to give your heart and mind to Jesus!
But for now, and to finish up the first part of this week’s study, Peter tells his Jewish brethren “everything precisely as it happened….”. He spoke of his vision on the roof where he was in prayer, of the definition of “clean and unclean” as far as ancient Jewish customs were concerned, combined with his discovery that there are no unclean people, since Almighty God is the creator of us all. This ‘clean vs. unclean’ paradigm that had been in place for 2 millennia was done away with for good due to Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the whole of humanity. Ever since, everyone and everything that God has made is considered clean and wholesome when they are considered equally, since God has made it all equal. And so now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study, starting at verse 11.
“’Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.‘ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.‘” (Acts 11, verses 11-18)
So now we begin to see why this part of the Book of Acts was included, even though it may seem repetitive in places. The apostle Luke wrote this to be a teaching tool for all future generations of believers so everyone would know exactly why things unfolded as they did with respect to Peter’s ministry. And it’s all because of the words of Christ: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Holy Spirit baptism was freely given to all the people with no preconditions, and that is was distributed verbally while Peter spoke to everyone in the home of Cornelius the centurion, and so it was much the same everywhere the Twelve went (“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning”). There was no ceremony or laying on of hands such as what we see in some denominations today (primarily Protestant). The laying on of hands upon an individual by the church leadership is something normally reserved for healing, not Holy Spirit baptism.
So I think at least some of these churches, who I will decline to name, are not being Scriptural when it comes to baptism of the Holy Spirit. In order to receive the Holy Spirit, one must first receive and embrace the Word of God that is bringing that Holy Spirit word upon the entire congregation, no matter who they may be. I certainly don’t believe that Holy Spirit baptism involves standing up in church and babbling unintelligible things when there is no one present who may interpret those who are performing their version of ‘speaking in tongues’. For additional info you may want to read the first 24 verses of 1st Corinthians chapter 14, everything regarding speaking in tongues is right there. But for Peter and the other six brothers from Caesarea, the baptism of the Holy Spirit came about through the preaching of the Word, which was done in a language everyone could understand – their own!
“’So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections….” As we can all see, the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and Son, had already made his presence abundantly clear to all. This is most noteworthy, I believe, considering the fact that only six others in the group besides the apostle Peter had been there to witness all these things. Everyone else was running on raw faith, just like we are. So take heart and do not be concerned, because as true believers in Jesus you are in some pretty exceptional company!
“….they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’.” This sentence sums up the entire New Testament! Just as God has created and loves all men and women equally, so he has sent his only Son as the blood payment for our sins (as in previous studies, including my own), and this blood payment has similarly been distributed equally. This is the Gospel of Christ – that all of us are reconciled to God through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God! Formerly the Bible, which consisted of what we now call the Old Testament, was during the time of Christ the only ‘Bible’ there was. It was a Jewish book written for Jewish people, calling them God’s chosen ones.
But after the ascension of Christ into the heavens, the Gospel has been extended to all because of the positive qualities God has seen within those who call upon his name, and who profess their undying devotion to God’s only Son. So there you have it in a nutshell, people. This is just another way to explain how one may obtain eternal salvation. The first step is to hear the Word, or in this case to read it. What you do with it is entirely up to you, and I would advise you to pray before proceeding. But proceed we all must, because where our souls will spend eternity depends on it. See you all next week for the second half of Acts chapter 11.
The Gospel Spreads Like Wildfire
[Acts chapter 11, verses 19-30]
Last week as we finished up part one of Acts chapter 11, we found Peter and six other brothers from Caesarea explaining everything that had transpired at the home of Cornelius the centurion. The primary thing that caused everyone concerned to stop and do a double-take was that the Holy Spirit was being received by Jews and Gentiles alike, something that had previously been unheard of. Centuries of Jewish religious and cultural domination was crashing down all around them, which would end with the fall of Jerusalem and the entire Middle Eastern region at the hands of the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. Still, that historical occurrence was at least 30 years into the future as far as the early Church was concerned at this point in time. So, for this week’s study of the apostle Luke’s narrative, there will be a shift in the scenery as Luke moves us onward to the medium-sized city of Antioch (pronounced ant-ee-ock), which was in modern-day southern Turkey. So, let’s take up where we last left off, beginning at verse 19.
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Steven traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11, verses 19-24)
You’ll all recall back in chapter 9, when Saul had to be lowered in a basket out of a window in the wall surrounding the city of Damascus after his conversion to Christianity. The religious and legal authorities had put out a ‘kill order’ on Saul for heresy and blasphemy against the Jewish ruling council in Damascus, and for treason against Rome for siding with the Christians that he was being paid to round up to be transported back to Jerusalem. Saul is currently lying low while he awaits further instructions from the Lord. In the meantime, all those who had fled the persecution brought on by Steven’s stoning death had wound up in the places listed above in verses 19 and 20. You already know where Antioch and Cyprus are located. Phoenicia was in Greece, and Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast in north-eastern Libya. (The precise location of the ancient city was thirteen kilometers from the coast).
“….some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Evidently a very large number, possibly a majority of the population, were being converted as a result of the testimony of the brothers from all these places, and they had all combined their spirits to come and perform Spiritual warfare on the Lord’s behalf! As it was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and that very morning in Jerusalem as Peter gave a sermon that brought 3,000 men to the Faith (not counting women and children), and as it was at the home of Cornelius the centurion, so it also was at Antioch as the believers and those who testified to what the Lord had done for them through his Holy Spirit retold their experiences. Their messages were received loud and clear, and the very sound of the men’s voices testifying to the crowds who gathered wherever they went, was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to baptize everyone who asked for it.
There was no formality or order of service as we understand it, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate that way. Although those who taught spoke in tongues, or other languages, taught and preached in those tongues, they knew those languages supernaturally. Jews taught to Greeks, Egyptians, Cypriots, Syrians and many others situated in modern Turkey, Jordan and Iraq as they taught each other. All did so supernaturally. None had any formal training in those other languages since there were no schools as we know them today. There was some rudimentary education for some, but for the majority there was none at all. So it was extraordinary that they could teach and inspire one another in each other’s native language.
But today we have churches – even whole denominations – whose idea of speaking in tongues is standing up and babbling a bunch of gibberish and what amounts to baby-talk, and that passes for ‘speaking in tongues’. Except that that’s not speaking in tongues, it’s just people putting on a show for the most part. The apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-25, a detailed explanation of what speaking in tongues entails. You can find my study on the first half of that chapter from this link. But my point here is that the apostle Paul wrote that people shouldn’t speak in tongues out loud unless there is someone there who can interpret. You can pray in tongues in an unknown language, Paul wrote. But to paraphrase, if nobody else would understand the tongue in which you are praying, pray anyway, but only between yourself and God. Otherwise, no one will understand you and it will confuse or even drive away new believers.
“News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” You’ll recall from chapter 4 that Barnabas’ was actually a nickname which meant ‘encourager’ or ‘the son of encouragement’. Evidently he had a positive, upbeat kind of personality that is always welcome wherever it may go. So we can see that Barnabas’ arrival in Antioch was precisely what the Lord had in mind. The Holy Spirit was with Barnabas, and spoke through him to all who would sit and listen, and who were willing to be taught. So it is profitable to seek out such people today just like back then. Nothing has changed. In the world in which we live there are really positive and really negative people living side by side, and not always harmoniously. Unless, of course, you stick with only the positive people, like Barnabas was. Better yet, become one yourself! Be the change you are seeking! And now let’s finish up the second half of this week’s study starting at verse 25.
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread out over the Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11, verses 25-30)
So now we have advanced within the apostle Luke’s narrative to the point where Saul, who had been cooling his heels in his home town of Tarsus after barely escaping from Damascus with his life, is brought to Antioch by Barnabas. I am struck by the great lengths people had to go to back then in order to get things accomplished. In today’s world, Saul could have been summoned with a phone call and a plane ticket. How easy things are today compared to the first century A.D.! Back then, Barnabas first had to go from Antioch to Tarsus, which was a fishing village on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean sea (this would be in southeastern Turkey today). This is a distance of approximately 123 miles by today’s standards. Then he found Saul, who didn’t have much luggage due to his clandestine escape from Damascus, and they went back to Antioch – all without a car! Now that’s what I call ‘dedication’! Could any of us walk a 250 mile round trip today just to bring someone back with them? Barnabas did exactly that.
“So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” So here it is evident that Saul, who shortly afterward would rename himself ‘Paul’ and who ultimately wrote one third of the New Testament, was mentored by Barnabas at Antioch prior to his performing any preaching or teaching on his own. Considering that Saul had formerly arrested, jailed and sometimes even executed Christians, his now being taught and mentored by Barnabas amounted to a radical career change for Saul. There’s no overstating that fact, that a paid executioner had been transformed into a humble and willing student! That is what the awesome power of the Holy Spirit truly looks like! As a result, others who saw visually what we are seeing here in my words on this page received, and continue to receive, the inner peace and presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, Savior and Redeemer!
Then a man named Agabus stood up and predicted a widespread famine, which actually occurred not too long after that. Consequently, the early church in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside of Judea received an offering from the believers further north in Antioch, as it is written in verses 29-30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” This gift, and the others described by other apostles, was always in the form of trade-able goods or food stores. There was no cash as we know it today. So they sent gold or silver coins, nonperishable foods, and likely a sword or two. Today, they would be called “preppers” and would have to endure the humiliation of a criminal prosecution.
They sent each other assistance as they had need of. One church or group of churches would send another an offering during times of famine, which happened more frequently back then than it does today. They didn’t have to get on radio or TV to get their needs met like so many churches do in modern times They didn’t need to demand that everyone pay 10% of their income, either. All they had to do was to come together in prayer in the Spirit, with each person in the group combining the internal habitation of the Holy Spirit within themselves together with everyone else, like a team prayer, and their needs would be met. This was, and still is, especially true when all other means have been exhausted. God supplies all our needs each and every day! And next week we’ll begin part 1 of chapter 12.