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Acts 11:1-30: Acts of the Church Print E-mail

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The local Church can either encourage or hinder the spread of the gospel.  We see this illustrated at the beginning of what is called ĎThe Modern Missionary Movement.í  For hundreds of years the Church had neglected missions.  Granted, at particular times and in particular places, the Church was reaching out to new frontiers, but not really globally.  The cause of global missions was fanned into flame by men like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor, in the 19th century.  Yet, it was not easy to get the Church to embrace this effort.  The story is told that at one point Carey was at a meeting talking about the importance of taking the gospel abroad when he was told: ďSit down young man.  You are an enthusiast.  When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting you or me.Ē 1  For years, such thinking had kept the Church from embracing the call to take the gospel to those who had not heard.  Yet, as Carey went on to prove, with the Churchís support, the gospel can indeed reach the heathen!

As we have seen so far in the book of Acts, the apostles and the early Church were serious about getting the gospel to the lost.  It began with reaching the Jews of Jerusalem.  Through persecution it spread to the Samaritans.  And as we saw last week, eventually the good news was proclaimed to Gentiles, who were saved through their faith in Christ.  The Enemy has attempted repeatedly to slow down the mission and as we see in the letters of the New Testament, the Church will have to fight to stay on task.  But we also see the Church taking decisive action to keep moving forward with the gospel.  In our passage this morning, we see three such actions.

They investigate Gentile conversion by listening to Paul (v. 1-18)

Just in case you think that the inclusion of the Gentiles was not that big of a deal, Peter is asked to answer for why he had been eating with Gentiles.  Look at verses 1-3.  As you can see, eating with Gentiles was not something that Jews did.  The struggle for the acceptance of Gentiles in the Church will continue in the book of Acts.  At this point, we see a particular group questioning Peter about his actions.  We will see this group again criticizing even more, but Peter addresses their concerns by simply recounting what happened with Cornelius.  Through the story, he presents three clear proofs that God has indeed accepted the Gentiles.  The first proof is his own vision.  Look at verses 4-10.  God taught him through the vision that he should not consider unclean what God had made clean, which applied to Gentiles.  The second proof is the vision of Cornelius.  Look at verses 11-14. The timing of the whole event from Peterís perspective had to be divinely ordained.  Not only that, but the Spirit told him to go with the representatives of Cornelius.  Then when he arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius told him of the vision that God had given him.  All of this reveals Godís hand at work.  Finally, Peter tells them how the Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles.  Look at verses 15-16.  When you add all of this together, Peter sees no way you can deny Godís acceptance of the Gentiles.  He draws his conclusion in verse 17.  Look at that with me.  How could Peter stand in Godís way?  The Lord had orchestrated the entire event so that Peter and the Church could accept Gentile conversion.

So, how does the circumcision party and the rest of the Church in Jerusalem respond at this point?  Look at verse 18.  They praise God for granting repentance to Gentiles.  As we continue through the book of Acts, we will see further reluctance concerning the Gentiles, particularly from the circumcision party.  But at this point, they investigated what had happened with Peter and Cornelius and they rejoiced at Godís mercy in saving the Gentiles.  They asked questions, they investigated, and when the answers came, they responded with worship.

They encourage those in Antioch by sending Barnabas (v. 19-26)

Luke continues to tell us about the growth of the Church due to the persecution of Stephen.  Look at what he says in verses 19-21.  A couple of things are interesting about these verses.  First, we see the Church beginning to embrace the mission to the Gentiles.  They were reluctant at first, but eventually they began to reach out to Gentiles.  This mission will be championed by Paul and his upcoming missionary journeys, but it is just getting started at this point.  Second, notice who began this work?  Do you see any names in these verses?  No.  The ones who are spreading the gospel into Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch are unnamed disciples.  The ones who begin reaching out to Gentiles in Antioch are not named.  Who were they?  Just ordinary disciples committed to making more disciples.  Does that sound familiar?  They were just followers of Christ who were giving their lives to tell others about the Savior that they had found.  They were not overly special or overly gifted or overly educated.  They were just people like us.  Just ordinary disciples making disciples.  And the Lord blessed them.

How will the Church in Jerusalem respond to the news that many were being saved in Antioch?  Look at verses 22-24.  The Jerusalem Church decides to send them Barnabas.  Luke has already mentioned that Barnabas was faithful in giving (4:36-37) and here we see that he is a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  I point this out to note that it would have been difficult to send such a leader to Antioch.  He was an encourager and a teacher and a leader.  He is someone who would be missed by the Church in Jerusalem.  Yet, the spread of the gospel in Antioch was important and so they decided to send one of their leaders to help encourage and strengthen this new work.  It was sacrificial on their part and beneficial for those in Antioch.

We see the wisdom of Barnabas through his recruitment of Saul.  Look at verses 25-26.  Luke notes that many were being saved in Antioch.  Barnabas got to a point where he realized that he needed help in shepherding these people.  So he went and got Saul from Tarsus, his home town, where he had been for several years.  Barnabas was the one who presented Saul to the apostles in Jerusalem and he knew that he could be a great help in Antioch.  Saul agreed to come and they spent a whole year in Antioch discipling the new believers there.  We see in this the humility of Barnabas and the principle of a plurality of leadership in the Church.  Barnabas needed help in teaching the people and he recruited another leader to help him.  No minister should ever be so confident in his own gifts that he cannot recognize when he needs help.  And the Church is well-served to recognize the need and the solution as well.

They support those in need by sending money (v. 27-30)

The partnership between the Church in Jerusalem and the Church in Antioch did not go only one way.  Antioch had been blessed with the leadership of Barnabas, so when they saw a need they wanted to be a blessing in return.  How did all this come about?  Look at verses 27-28.  Some prophets come down from Jerusalem and one of them, a man named Agabus, said that a famine was coming.  In particular, it seemed that this famine was going to be difficult for the believers in Judea.  Of course, this raises the question of prophecy in the New Testament.  Agabus was obviously given a vision of what was going to come to pass.  The Spirit gave this vision to Agabus and the Church in Antioch so that the saints in Judea could be served and edified.  I believe that such gifts continue to exist.  That does not mean that everyone who claims to be a prophet is truly a prophet.  We must be discerning.  But I do not believe that the Bible teaches that such gifts will cease.

How does the Church in Antioch respond to the prophecy given by Agabus?  Look at verses 29-30.  They decide to act based on the prophecy.  The people give according to their ability to meet the future needs of the believers in Judea.  These believers had been blessed by the sending of Barnabas and now they wanted to be a blessing by sending relief.  We see in this some great principles for partnering with other Churches for the sake of the gospel.  Resources were shared and sacrifices were made so that the work of the gospel could continue.  One Church might send money while another sends leaders.  Either way, they work together for the spread of the good news.  They work together for the gospel.

So what actions does the Church made to further the work of the gospel in this passage?  First, they investigate the inclusion of the Gentiles by listening to Paul.  They listen to how God is working and respond with worship.  Sometimes a new work may seem unwise or unhealthy and we need to investigate and research.  Yet, we must not become like the circumcision party will eventually become, namely rejecting Godís work because it does not line up with our traditions.  Instead, may we celebrate the new work, pray for its success, and rejoice in Godís mercy towards sinners.  Second, they sent out Barnabas to encourage the new believers in Antioch.  We must be willing to make such sacrifices.  I pray that God would send out an army of teachers and leaders from our Church.  As hard as that can be, and we have experienced that even recently, I pray that we will rejoice in the work that God is doing in every place.  Finally, the Church in Antioch gave money to support the believers in Judea.  They did not want their fellow Christians to suffer from want while they had plenty.  We must listen to the Spirit and give to support the work of Christ wherever there is need.  That might be giving to the Cooperative Program to support missions.  It might be giving to individual missionaries who need our support.  It might be giving to the PRC to support the work in our own community.  Whatever it looks like and however the Spirit leads us, may we be willing to support Godís work financially.

At the end of the day, we can either be a Church that support the spread of the gospel or hinders it.  We can either get stuck in our traditions or be open to new works of the Spirit.  We can either be selfish with our resources or be sacrificial in our giving.  We can either get in the way or spur it on.  Exactly what this looks like can be difficult to discern.  How we go about this requires wisdom and the leadership of the Spirit.  But it begins with the realization that the gospel matters more.  The good news of Jesusí death and resurrection to save all of those who turn from their sins and trust in Him matters more than anything else.  If God demands that we let go of some of our traditions so that more people can hear, we know the gospel is worth it.  If He asks us to send out our leaders (which could eventually be some of our children), we know the gospel is worth it.  And if our money is needed to support our brothers and sisters, we know that the gospel is worth it.  So may we never hinder, but always encourage the continual spread of the gospel.  Amen.

1 Quoted in H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), p. 185.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 August 2014 )

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