Acts 11


“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.” Acts 11:1-3

In the previous chapter, we saw how Peter in Cornelius’ household were amazed that God’s Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.

And so Peter, who earlier had a vision finally understood the meaning of the vision in the fact that God shows no favouritism between people.

He understood that we don’t have to be a Jew to please God, we don’t have to have been circumcised in the flesh to please God. But what we do need is the right heart and attitude towards God by obeying His commands from the heart.

Here, Peter is trying to explain to other circumcised Jews that God accepts Gentiles. In other words, the Gentiles could enter the church through baptism without first submitting to the requirements of the Law of Moses.

It seems as though news of the events in Cornelius’ house reached Jerusalem and the apostles, even, apparently, before Peter made his way back to the city.

Before the baptism of Cornelius and his household, everyone who had been baptized had been subject to the Law of Moses and circumcision, whether they were of the fleshly Israel or proselytes.

And so Luke tells us there was a bit of a dispute which arose from some of that number and Peter. They did not understand why he had gone into the house of a Gentile and actually eaten there.

Peter Explains His Actions

“Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had 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 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. “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”. Acts 11:4-12

Peter basically explains his visions which happened back in Acts 10:9-16. If we take one lesson from this text it would be this, Peter’s answer teaches us a great deal about resolving controversy within the church. He defended his actions by saying they were authorized and approved by God.

Peter not only went back to the source but he revealed to those disputing believers how this authority was shown. He told them he had seen a vision that indicated to him that he should no longer regard any other man as common and he says, he heard the Spirit tell him to go with the three men who had been sent from Caesarea.

And so, Peter did what we must all do when our authority tells us to do something, he went to Caesarea, accompanied by six other brethren. Peter begins to move away from explaining his vision to explaining Cornelius’ vision.

“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 you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’” Acts 11:13-14

Peter related the story of the vision which Cornelius had which directed him to send for Peter so that he could hear words that would save him and his household, Acts 10:3-8.

Notice what Peter says here, he doesn’t say that Cornelius and his household were saved because the Holy Spirit came upon them. He doesn’t say that Cornelius was saved because he had a vision.

He doesn’t say that Cornelius was saved because he was a good person. He doesn’t even say that Cornelius and his household were saved when they heard Peter’s message. No, he says that salvation was to be theirs only ‘after’ they had ‘heard’ and ‘obeyed’ the words spoken.

In other words, when they had heard the instructions and then followed them by obeying them step by step then they will have the finished product which was salvation.

And so Peter follows on with his explanation about what happened when he met up with Cornelius and his household.

“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 11:15-18

Peter says to them that “the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.” What does he mean? There is absolutely no doubt that Peter is referring to the day of Pentecost when the apostles received the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages, Acts 2:1-4.

Peter says Cornelius and his household received the gift of tongues in the same way they did in the beginning, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

And so with that evidence, Peter didn’t feel that he could oppose God by refusing to baptize them, or in any other way place stiffer requirements on, these Gentiles.

Peter’s arguments convinced all assembled that the Gentiles had also been given the right to eternal life if they would submit to the Saviour in repentant baptism.

We must remind ourselves of the question we asked in the previous chapter, who was the baptism of the Holy Spirit promised and why was it promised?

1. It was personally promised by the Lord to ‘His apostles’ and never promised to anyone else, John 16:7. Cornelius wasn’t an apostle.

2. Those to whom it was promised were instructed ‘to wait’ to receive it, Acts 1:4-5.

3. When ‘they received the baptism, it would guide ‘them’ into all truth, ‘they’ would receive new revelations, and ‘they’ would be granted total recall of all that ‘they’ had been taught by the Lord, John 14:26 / John 16:13-14.

4. ‘Their’ baptism in the Spirit would endow ‘them’ with power and bestow on ‘them’ the authority to become His witnesses, Acts 1:8-9.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord’s promise was fulfilled, Acts 2:33. The Holy Spirit fell on ‘the apostles’, not on the listening Jews, nor on the 3000 who obeyed the Gospel. But, in contrast, in the house of Cornelius, the Spirit fell upon the listening Gentiles.

The two events are obviously quite different, and the only point of similarity is the fact on the Day of Pentecost, in the house of Cornelius the Holy Spirit signalled His presence and approval by enabling these seeking Gentiles to speak in languages they had not learned and.

1. They received the forgiveness of their sins, Acts 2:38 and they received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s own gift to those who obey Him. Acts 5:32.

There is no Biblical evidence that Cornelius or his household had the teaching powers as the apostles did. There’s no Biblical evidence to suggest that they could lay their hands upon other people, and pass on spiritual gifts as the apostles could.

The purpose of Cornelius being granted the Spirit was to demonstrate to the Jews that God was ready for the Gospel to be offered to the Gentiles.

This was evidenced by the fact that even Peter initially resisted the idea that the Gentiles could become Christians as we saw in Acts 10:14ff. This was also evident in the fact that the Jews of Jerusalem when they learned of the matter, criticized Peter, Acts 11:2-3.

It was the miraculous demonstration of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his associates that turned the tide. And the effect of this divine act of Gentile acceptance remains intact to this very day.

Holy Spirit baptism is not necessary to one’s salvation today, nor is it a demonstration of our salvation. It was a phenomenon of the first century, unique to those circumstances.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians in A.D. 62 he confirmed that there was but ‘one baptism’,  Ephesians 4:5. Clearly, he’s talking about ‘water’ baptism, the very practice that was to continue ‘to the end of the age’ as Jesus commanded, Matthew 28:19-20.

Here, this chapter clearly shows us the reason why Cornelius and his household received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit being outpoured on them wasn’t so much for Cornelius’ benefit. In many ways, it wasn’t even for Peter’s benefit but it was for the benefit of those to who Peter was speaking on this day.

God was sending a clear message out to the Jewish Christians who were meeting in Jerusalem that He loves and accepts Gentiles into His church.

People didn’t need to be a Jew to be recommended to receive a Saviour. People didn’t have to be circumcised in the flesh to be recommended to receive a Saviour. Our sin is all the recommendation we need to receive a Saviour.

It doesn’t matter about your age, your colour, your riches or debts because we all come to the cross of Christ filthy with sin, Romans 3:21-25.

Meanwhile, when all this praising of God was going on, something else was happening in the background. Do you remember back in Acts 7 at the end of the chapter where Luke informed Theophilus that Saul approved Stephen’s death?

There was a great persecution happening, Acts 8:1, and as a result of that persecution the church was scattered, Acts 8:4. What we see happening next, was the purpose for God allowing this persecution of His people to take place in the first place. The Gospel message needed to go out into all the world, Mark 16:15.

The Church In Antioch

“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to 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”. Acts 11:19-21

Luke reported that those scattered by the persecution at the time of Stephen’s death went over a large area preaching the Word but only to the Jews.

The men of Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch as well, Acts 8, and Antioch becomes the centre of activity and outreach to the Gentiles.

And there was no doubt that God was working in the background. There is no doubt that God was with these men because Luke tells us that ‘a great number believed and turned to the Lord’.

Those young Christian coverts that were scattered all over the place needed something we all need from time to time. And so Luke tells us that Barnabas, the son of Encouragement, was sent to Antioch to encourage these young converts.

“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.” Acts 11:22-24

When word of the events in Antioch reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas. And he encouraged all the young followers of the Lord to commit themselves to the Lord with all their hearts.

Luke tells us that Barnabas was a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit and he was fully committed to teaching the Gospel to everyone and anyone willing to learn.

When we are good, full of faith and guided by God’s Spirit, it will have a ripple effect. Luke says, ‘a great many more people being added to the church’.

And God blessed Barnabas’ efforts so much, he needed help and so he went to Tarsus to bring Saul back to help in this rich work.

“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”. Acts 11:25-26

Antioch was the world’s third-largest city at that time, trailing only Rome and Alexandria. And Barnabas needed help and so Barnabas and Saul worked together with the church in Antioch for a year and were able to teach a large number of people.

Notice also that Luke records that the disciples in the city of Antioch were the first to wear the name ‘Christian’. This is the first time the word Christian is used in Scripture, it is used only two other times, Acts 26:28 / 1 Peter 4:16. The word, Christian identifies us from the non-believers.

This seems to be the fulfilment of God’s promise to give His people a new name after Gentiles had seen God’s righteousness and kings had seen His glory, Isaiah 62:2. How appropriate that they would now be designated as followers of the Christ, or anointed King.

What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who follows and obeys the words of Christ. Being a Christian is more than just wearing the Name, it’s all about living the Name. People should see the Name Christian in our lives, in our homes, in our speeches, in our attitudes, even in the way we suffer, 1 Peter 4:16.

Living the Name Christian should also lead us to help others, as these Gentile Christians in Antioch are about to do.

“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”. Acts 11:27-30

Luke tells us that certain prophets, who had received a miraculous gift that allowed them to speak for God, came from Jerusalem to Antioch.

We’re not told how he received this miraculous gift, but because he came from Antioch, it’s probable that Saul, who is now an apostle, laid their hands on him, Acts 11:25-26.

A man named Agabus was among them and he stood up and told the church a great famine was coming. Now because Luke mentions that the prophecy was fulfilled in the days of Claudius that would mean that it would have taken place around 44-48 A. D.

Notice what they did, they weren’t forced to give a tenth of their income, they weren’t forced to give to the extent that they couldn’t look after themselves. Luke says that each Christian, ‘as he was able to’, gave to send relief to the brethren still living in the area around Jerusalem.

It was agreed that the offering would be taken to the elders in Jerusalem to be distributed to any Christian in need. Do you notice anything interesting about who they sent their offering?

The money was taken to the elders and not the apostles why? The reason their gifts went to the elders and not the apostles was that the apostles still had work to do, Acts 6:3-4.

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