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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 11

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Defending Ministry to the Gentiles

A. A controversy in Jerusalem regarding ministry to the Gentiles.

1. (Act 11:1-3) Peter hears objections to his association with Gentiles.

Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!"

a. Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God: The greatness of the work among the Gentiles in Caesarea could not be kept hidden. Besides, there was no desire to hide it, even though many Jewish Christians (those of the circumcision) would be confused and offended.

b. "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!" The charges against Peter are simple: "You, who are supposed to be a faithful Jew, associated with and even ate with Gentiles!" This offended these Christian Jews, so they contended with Peter.

i. We must remember that sharing a meal together was a special sign of fellowship in that culture. This was considered to be a significant compromise by these Jewish Christians.

c. When we see what the reaction of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem was to what Peter did, we can see how wise it was of Peter to take six witnesses with him to Caesarea and his meeting with Cornelius (Acts 10:23; 11:12).

2. (Act 11:4-15) Peter explains his ministry to the Gentiles.

But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.' But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning."

a. Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning: This account is an obvious condensation from Acts 10:9-43. God is emphasizing the importance of these events by repeating the story.

b. What God has cleansed you must not call common: At first, Peter thought God was speaking about food. But Peter came to understand the vision of the sheet and kosher and unkosher animals has to do with people, not food (Acts 10:28). There is a sense in which the sheet represents the church, having both "kosher" (Jews) and "unkosher" (Gentiles) on it, with no distinction.

c. The conclusion is important: The Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning shows that God's stamp of approval was on this ministry to the Gentiles. How could these believing Jews withhold their approval when God had given His?

3. (Act 11:16-18) Peter interprets these events by remembering the words of Jesus.

"Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."

a. If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? If God was moving ministry out to the Gentiles, who is Peter that he could withstand God? Peter recognized the importance of sensing where God is going and heading that same direction, instead of trying to persuade God to go your direction.

i. It is important also to note these Christians would see this was all in accord with the Scriptures. They had both the word of the Lord Jesus, recorded in Mark 1:8, and the Old Testament promise that Gentiles would come to the Lord through the Messiah (in passages such as Isaiah 49:6).

ii. There are many today who look at some work or another and say, "look what God is doing." But activity alone isn't enough to validated a work of God. It must also be in line with God's Word. This work among the Gentiles passed both tests.

b. They became silent: The Jewish believers in Jerusalem first react with a stunned silence. But then they glorified God, because they saw He was now working among the Gentiles also!

i. This is a powerful passage, demonstrating that the hearts of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were soft enough to be guided by God. It is a glorious thing when God's people will allow their prejudices and traditions to be overcome by God's Word and God's work.

ii. The church in Jerusalem embraced these Gentile believers at first, but it would be a long time until all the objections were answered.

B. The Church in Antioch.

1. (Act 11:19-21) The church in Antioch grows as Gentiles turn to the Lord.

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

a. Preaching the word to no one by the Jews only: At first, Christians scattered over the Roman Empire preached only to Jews. But they eventually began to preach Jesus Christ to Gentiles as well.

b. Some of them were from Cyprus and Cyrene … spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus: These unnamed disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene are genuine heroes. They began the first mentioned "mission to the Gentiles" (here called Hellenists) in Antioch.

i. In Antioch, we have the first example of Christians deliberately targeting Gentiles for evangelism, and this effort had great results.

c. When they had come to Antioch: Antioch was founded about 300 B.C. by Seleucus I, one of the inheritors of Alexander the Great's empire. He had a thing about founding cities and naming them after his father, Antioch, and he did this about fifteen times. This city of Antioch was called "Syrian Antioch" or "Antioch on the Orantes." Back then it was a city of more than half a million; today it is a Turkish city with a population of about 3,500.

i. Antioch was considered by many the third greatest city in the Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. The city of Antioch was known for its sophistication and culture, but also for its immorality.

ii. "The city's reputation for moral laxity was enhanced by the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, five miles distant, where the ancient Syrian worship of Astarte and her consort, with its ritual prostitution, was carried on." (Bruce)

d. And the hand of the Lord was with them: Because God was with them, their ministry was blessed and multiplied, the result was that a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

i. A ministry can't turn people to the Lord unless the hand of the Lord is with them. You can turn people to a personality without the hand of the Lord; you can turn people to a social club without the hand of the Lord; you can turn people to a church or an institution without the hand of the Lord. But you can't turn people to the Lord without the hand of the Lord.

2. (Act 11:22-24) The ministry of Barnabas in Antioch.

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

a. They sent out Barnabas: The church in Jerusalem sends an able man in Barnabas, previously known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul of Tarsus after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28).

b. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad: At the church in Antioch, when Barnabas had seen the grace of God, he was glad. Can people see the grace of God at our church? Or do they see a legal relationship with God?

c. Encouraged them with all purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord: Barnabas rightly focuses on his main job as a leader of the congregation. He strengthened the church family itself, with the result that a great many people were added to the Lord.

i. This is the plan for church growth spoken of in Ephesians 4:11-16. Leaders in the church dedicate themselves to building strong, healthy Christians. As the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry, they grow into maturity, and do their ministry, and it causes growth of the body.

3. (Act 11:25-26) Barnabas and Saul work together in Antioch.

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

a. Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul: Barnabas remembers this precious brother Saul, and how he had been sent out to Tarsus for his own protection (Acts 9:28-30). Now Barnabas goes and finds him.

i. To seek Saul is more literally to hunt him up; Barnabas had to do some looking. MacArthur says the original word "suggests a laborious search on Barnabas' part."

b. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. Together, Barnabas and Saul taught a great many people, making the church in Antioch strong.

i. Saul had spent some twelve years in Tarsus since we last met him; these years were not "wasted" or "lost," but spent in quiet ministry and preparation for future service.

c. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch: How did the name Christian ever become associated with the followers of Jesus?

i. The ending ian meant "the party of." A Christ-ian was "of the party of Jesus." Christians is sort of like saying "Jesus-ites," or "Jesus People," those of the group associated with Jesus Christ.

ii. Also, soldiers under particular generals in the Roman army would identify themselves by their general's name by adding ian to the end. A soldier under Caesar would call himself a Caesarian. Soldiers under Jesus Christ could be called Christians.

iii. In Antioch, they probably first used the term Christians to mock the followers of Jesus. "Antioch was famous for its readiness to jeer and call names; it was known by its witty epigrams." (Gaebelein) But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus the "Jesus People," the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck.

iv. Christians must be willing to take the title "Jesus People," and must also be worthy of the name. Instead of claiming any other title - Roman Catholic, Protestant, charismatic, whatever - we should be just plain Christians.

v. Eusebius, the famous early church historian, describes a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he would only reply, "I am a Christian." "What nation do you belong to?" He would answer, "I am a Christian." "What city do you live in?" "I am a Christian." His questioners began to get angry: "Are you a slave or a free man?" "I am a Christian" was the only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he would only answer, "I am a Christian." This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words "I am a Christian" on his lips. (Eusebius, Church History)

4. (Act 11:27-30) A prophetic word announces a famine.

And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

a. Showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar: We don't know exactly how Agabus showed by the Spirit this famine was on the way. But the Christians took the word seriously, and generously begin preparations to meet the needs.

i. "We know from other sources that Claudius's principate was marked by a succession of bad harvests and consequent scarcity in various parts of the empire - in Rome, Greece, and Egypt as well as in Judaea." (Bruce)

b. You can tell these are truly disciples and Christians, because they gave generously to meet the need. They gave, each according to his ability.

i. We also see they determined to give. If a person does not determine to give, they often never do.

c. Sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul: The high regard that Barnabas and Saul had among all is evident by the fact that they were trusted with the relief fund.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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