Acts Chapter Eleven, The Expansion Of The
In our study of Acts chapter eleven, we look at the expansion of the early
church to include Gentiles. In chapter
10, we learned of God's
lesson for Peter about race relations. In the end, Peter came to understand that the message of Jesus
Christ was being made available to all men but, as we see in this chapter, he had to explain it to the
leaders in Jerusalem.
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had
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.'
When God moves, people learn of it and that is what happened after the events
of chapter ten. The idea that God loved non-Jewish people would have caused a big stir. Therefore, when
Peter went to Jerusalem, the Jews accused him of breaking the law as it was against the Mosaic Law for
Jew to associate with a Gentile.
Peter recounts the events from chapter ten.
Acts 11:16 & 17
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?
After telling the story of the message that God had given him, Peter reasoned
with the church leaders. His reasoning was that, if God wanted to do something such as sharing the
gospel with the Gentiles, who was he to oppose that will.
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying,
'So then, god has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.'
Upon hearing Peter's testimony and reasoning, the religious leaders understood
that it was a "God thing" and not of man. They chose to accept the will of God and put their traditions
and prejudices aside which is a good lesson for us today as well.
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen
traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.
This verse refers back to the events recorded in chapters seven & eight. After Stephen was stoned
to death, persecution broke out in Jerusalem and many followers of Jesus Christ fled from the city.
These people took the message to the Jewish people in these other places. God used this persecution to
get the people out of their "comfort zones" and to spread the gospel. They were still stuck on the
tradition of God belonging to the Jewish people and so they only shared the message with Jews.
Acts 11:20 & 21
Some of them, however, 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.
At this point in time, Antioch was the capitol of Syria and a very important
city. Some of the men that fled the persecution in Jerusalem stopped here and began to share the gospel
with Greeks as well as Jews. These men would have been considered radicals as they went against
tradition and shared the gospel with non-Jews but with God all things are possible and a great number of
people were saved.
News of this reached the ears of 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.
A great number of people were coming to the Lord and news of God working in
this city spread. When the news reached Jerusalem, the church leaders dispatched Barnabas to check it
out. In this passage, we see that Barnabas could tell that it was a work of God "evidence of the grace
of God". That should be a mark of everything we do as Christians. Those that see what we do should be
able to see that it is God at work and not of us. Barnabas saw this in Antioch and was pleased to
encourage them in the faith. As Christians, we are also called to celebrate and encourage our brothers
Acts 11:25 & 26
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he 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 called Christians first at Antioch.
As great numbers of people were coming to Christ, Barnabas realized that he
would need help in training up these new believers so he went to get Saul. They spent a year in the city
teaching the people who were known as Christians (followers of Christ).
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 over the
entire 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.
What a beautiful picture we have here of the church in action. In this passage,
the Christians in Antioch learned of a famine in the land of their brothers. They immediately banded
together to provide help for their brothers in need. They sent their help to the elders in Jerusalem to
minister to the church. That, my friends, is the way the body of Christ is meant to function. It seems
that today many of the "leaders" in the church get caught up in their own little denomination or local
body and are oblivious to the church as a whole.