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.
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.
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 and sisters.
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.