Some Were Saved.

1 Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel. Acts 14:1-7 ESV

acts-pauls-first-missionary-journey

After the Jews incited the wealthy and influential citizens to turn against Paul and Barnabas, they departed the city and made their way east, to Iconium, located on the easternmost border of the region known as Phrygia. Iconium was a Greek city-state, that due to its more distant location, had allowed its citizens to resist the influences of Rome, and maintain their more Grecian way of life and thinking. The city benefited from its location along a major trade route that linked Ephesus with Syria and the rest of the Mesopotamian world. Iconium was a virtual island of green in a sea of desert. It was lush and filled with vineyards, orchards and farms. And according to Greek mythology, it was the place where the gods, Prometheus and Athena, after a devastating world-wide flood destroyed all of mankind, made a race of new human beings by forming them out of mud and then breathing life into them. It was an eclectic city, made up of all kinds of people and, therefore, willing to tolerate a wide range of religious beliefs and practices.

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in town, they followed their usual pattern, and made their way to the local synagogue. As before, they found a congregation made up of ethnic Jews as well as God-fearing Jews or converted Gentiles. Luke tells us that, as a result of their ministry at the synagogue, “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1 ESV). They found a receptive audience. These people responded positively to the message of forgiveness of sin and eternal life proclaimed to them by Paul and Barnabas. But, as usual, there were those who stood opposed to what they were saying and doing. Luke records that unbelieving Jews, or those Jews who resisted the message of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world, “spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 14:3 NLT). The message of the gospel was met with receptivity and animosity, acceptance and resistance. There were those who had their eyes opened and their hearts softened, while others remained blinded and hard-hearted, completely resistant to what they had heard. One of the things we should notice here is that both groups heard the very same message, spoken by the very same individuals. So, why did some respond positively while others reacted negatively. Were some more spiritual than others? Was it because some were more intelligent and able to comprehend what Paul and Barnabas were saying? Or could it be that some were just worse sinners than others and, therefore, harder to reach? You see, if we’re not careful, we can easily make salvation a man-focused event. In other words, we subtly and unknowingly, make it a decision that is completely man’s choice. But Paul would see a repetitive pattern take place as he ministered. He would see those who believed in Jesus, and those who stood opposed to the offer of salvation. And he would later write, “So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen” (Romans 9:18 NLT). And Paul, anticipating the shocked response of those who question the fairness of this kind of divine, seemingly arbitrary decision making, wrote:

19 Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. – Romans 9:19-24 NLT

 The belief of some and the disbelief of others is not due to the communication skills of the messenger or the intelligence or comprehension levels of the hearer. It is all due to the mercy and grace of God. And while it would be easy for us to question God’s fairness or wonder about the rightness of His methodology, Paul would remind us that “it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Romans 9:14 NLT). Paul, through his ongoing experience of sharing the gospel in all kinds of locations to all kinds of people, began to see and understand that what was happening was completely the work of God, not men. The fact that anyone came to faith in Christ was not because of Paul’s power’s of persuasion or oratory skills. It was due to the grace and mercy of God. Those who believed in the message of the gospel did so, not because they were smarter, more spiritual, or somehow more receptive, but because God chose for them to do so. Here is how Paul came to understand what he was seeing happen in the various cities in which he and Barnabas ministered.

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
    I will now call my people.
And I will love those
    whom I did not love before.”

26 And,

“Then, at the place where they were told,
    ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called
    ‘children of the living God.’”

27 And concerning Israel, Isaiah the prophet cried out,

“Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore,
    only a remnant will be saved.” – Romans 9:25-27 NLT

 

It was Jesus Himself who said, “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up” (John 6:44 NLT). And later on, in that same conversation with His disciples Jesus had said:

64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” – John 6:64-65 NLT

Salvation is the work of God, not man. Paul and Barnabas were nothing more than tools in the hands of God. They spoke, but it was God who chose to open the ears of those who heard so they could respond. It was God who chose to show His mercy on some and not others. And while we may find this hard to accept, we must rest in the sovereign will of God, trusting that He knows what He is doing. That is exactly what Paul and Barnabas did. When their message met with resistance, they didn’t ring their hands and wonder what they had done wrong. You don’t see any sign of them questioning their tactics or making a concerted effort to make their message more user-friendly and appealing. They trusted that they were doing what Jesus had commanded them to do, and that God was doing what only He could do: draw men to Himself. And Luke records that “the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3 NLT). They didn’t worry about the number of converts. They didn’t despair over the ones who refused to hear. They simply did their job and left the results of up to God. And Luke tells us that “the people of the town were divided in their opinion about them. Some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles” (Acts 14:4 NLT).

It wasn’t until Paul and Barnabas learned of a plot on their lives, that they finally departed the city and headed for Lystra and Derby. But when they left the city of Iconium, it was far different than when they had arrived. There were new believers there. A congregation of born-again Jews and Gentiles had been formed, and it had been the work of God. And Luke tells us that the pattern continued as Paul and Barnabas began the process all over again, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the citizens of Lystra and Derby. They were being led by the Spirit of God. They were obeying the command given to then by the Son of God. And they were watching many come to faith because of the sovereign work of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unworthy of Eternal Life.

42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
    that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:42-52 ESV

Paul and Barnabas enjoyed a surprisingly positive response from the little speech Paul had given in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Unlike previous occasions, like the one when Stephen preached a similar sermon, but was met with anger and stoning; Paul and Barnabas were begged to come back the following Sabbath. The people were intrigued by all that Paul had to say and wanted to hear more. When the meeting broke up, Paul and Barnabas found themselves surrounded by a crowd of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, who had, most likely, been moved by Paul’s closing words:

38 “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. 39 Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do. – Acts 13:38-39 NLT

They were intrigued. They had never heard anything like this before. And before parting ways with these highly inquisitive people, Paul and Barnabas urged them “to continue in the grace of God.” The Greek word translated as “continue” actually carries the meaning of abiding or remaining in something. Paul and Barnabas clearly recognize that the grace.of God has been extended to these people and encouraged them to remain in that grace – willingly open to what God may have to show them in the days ahead. One of the worst things these people could do was to harden their hearts and resist the good news that Paul and Barnabas were sharing. They had heard the message of salvation made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection, but they had not yet accepted it. But Paul and Barnabas knew that God was not done yet. They wanted their audience to remain open to what God was planning to do in their midst.

A week later, Paul and Barnabas made their way to the synagogue again. But this time they were met by a larger-than-capacity crowd, because virtually everyone in the city had shown up to hear what these two men had to say. Word had gotten out and the curiosity level was high. And, evidently, there were non-Jews or Gentiles in the crowd. They would not have been allowed into the synagogue, but they showed up anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of these two strangers who were teaching about freedom from sin. But the Jews, angered by and jealous of the amount of notoriety and popularity Paul and Barnabas enjoyed, began to push back and refute their teaching. Luke records that they slandered Paul, most likely hurling all kinds of false accusations against him, in an attempt to undermine his credibility among the rest of the Jews.

But Paul and Barnabas refused to back down, instead speaking out boldly in their own defense by declaring that they were only doing what they had been told to do: Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, with the Jewish people. That is why they had originally showed up at the synagogue in the first place. But Paul lets these incensed Jews know that, in rejecting the gospel message, they were turning their backs on eternal life. Not only that, they were freeing Paul and Barnabas to take the very same message of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul uses an Old Testament Messianic prophecy from the Book of Isaiah to make his point.

“I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
    to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT

This was God speaking of His own Son, proclaiming that He had entered the world in order to bring the light of the gospel to the whole world, to the farthest corners of the earth. This meant that Jesus had come in order to die for all mankind, not just the Jewish people. In fact, in that same passage in Isaiah, the voice of the Messiah Himself is heard:

5 the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

From the very beginning, Jesus had come to do far more than simply establish Israel as a great nation once again. He was not a Messiah who was going to come and set up an earthly kingdom and restore to Israel the glory and grandeur they had enjoy during the days of David and Solomon. That day will come, but it is in the far-distant future. First, Jesus came to die as a payment for the sins of mankind. He came to offer Himself as a sinless sacrifice, an unblemished lamb, capable of satisfying the just demands of a holy and righteous God.

The apostle John opens up his gospel with these sobering words:

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:9-13 NLT

Jesus came to the Jewish people. He was born a Jew, a descendant of King David himself. He was raised by Jewish parents and circumcised as an infant, just like every other Jewish boy. He grew up going to synagogue with His parents. He made the annual trips to the city of Jerusalem for the celebrations of Passover and Pentecost. And all during His life, He had kept the law of God perfectly, having never sinned or violated a single command of His heavenly Father.

But John tells us Jesus was rejected by His own. He was the very Light of God, the reflection of God’s own glory and character, but the Jewish people, for the most part, refused to see Him for who He was. They rejected the Light, preferring to live in darkness. John expands on this very thought later on in his gospel.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:18-21 NLT

And we see this lived out in the pages of Luke’s account. The Jews who were verbally assaulting Paul and Barnabas, were rejecting the Light as expressed in the gospel message these two men had preached. Rather than rejoice in the news that they could have forgiveness for and freedom from their sins, they balked, fearing the very idea of  having their sins exposed. They were self-righteous hypocrites, who would rather have men think well of them, than have confess their sin so that God would forgive them.

And when the Gentiles, who had gathered to hear what Paul and Barnabas had to say, heard them say that the gospel was now available to them, they were ecstatic. Luke writes that “they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers” (Acts 13:48 NLT). Rather than reject the Light, they gladly received it, having the darkness in which they had lived for so long, illuminated by the glory of the grace of God. They came to the light and they were saved. Unlike many of the Jews in the crowd that day, the Gentiles willingly and gladly exposed their sinfulness to the bright light of Christ and found that they received forgiveness, cleansing, acceptance and salvation. Not condemnation. Not rejection. 

But those living in darkness did what they naturally do: They tried to hide their sin by getting rid of the light. They stirred up others in the city, influential others, to came to their cause and oppose the teaching of Paul and Barnabas. And they were successful, inciting a mob to chase Paul and Barnabas out of town. But these two men simply did as Jesus had instructed the disciples when He had sent them out. “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave” (Matthew 10:14 NLT). But when they walked out of the city of Pisidian Antioch, they left behind a vibrant group of energized Gentile believers, who Luke describes as “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52 NLT). These men and women became lights in the midst of the darkness of Pisidian Antioch, and their presence would continue to have a cleansing, purging and transformative impact on that city for years to come.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I Am Doing A Work.

13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. 19 And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,

“‘You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you.’

34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’

35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,

“‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’

36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
    be astounded and perish;
for I am doing a work in your days,
    a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” Acts 13:13-41 ESV

Here we have Luke’s record of the initial leg of Paul and Barnabas’ first of three missionary journeys. And we will see that that it combines the divine will of God working through the lives of men. In verse four of this chapter, Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the leadership of the church in Antioch of Syria, but under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Their first stop was the island of Cyprus, where they ran into a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. It just so happened that this man, who also was a sorcerer or magician, had a close relationship with the Roman governor, a man named Sergius Paulus. The seemingly chance encounter Paul and Barnabas had with Bar-Jesus led to this man’s blinding and the Roman governor’s salvation. It had been a divine appointment all along. And now, as Paul and Barnabas leave Cyprus, we are told by Luke that they made their way to Pisidian Antioch, located in Asia Minor, in what is now modern Turkey. But what prompted them to go to this seemingly remote location? It is clear, from Luke’s perspective, that they were being directed by the Holy Spirit, but there is no indication that from the text that Paul and Barnabas received a direct order from the Spirit to focus their efforts on this particular city. Recent scholarship has shown that the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, whom Paul and Barnabas had helped lead to Christ, had connections in Pisidian Antioch. His family owned a large estate there. So, it would seem that he encouraged the two men to carry the good news of Jesus to his family members who lived in Pisidian Antioch. What this reveals is how God orchestrates events, even our relational encounters, in such a way, that we moves, unseen, guiding and directing our steps. When Paul and Barnabas had set out for Cyprus, they had no idea they would meet the Roman governor and see him come to faith in Christ. And they most likely had no hard and fast plans to place Pisidian Antioch on their missionary itinerary. But upon meeting Sergius Paulus and hearing of his concern for the spiritual well-being of his distant family members, Paul and Barnabas made it a priority to go and share the gospel there.

Upon their arrival, they made their way on the Sabbath to the local synagogue, as was becoming their custom. Their arrival had not gone unnoticed, because when the traditional reading of the Scriptures was complete, they were asked to say a few words to the congregation. It seems a bit odd that Paul and Barnabas were giving the privilege of addressing the crowd gathered in the synagogue. If news had reached Pisidian Antioch of all that had happened on Cyprus, and the ministry Paul had had among the Gentiles in Antioch in Syria, the Jews in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch would most likely not have welcomed these two men as they did. But given the chance to speak, Paul took full advantage of it. And he presents a sermon that has a very familiar ring to it, echoing what Peter had said in Acts 2 and the message Stephen delivered in Acts 7. Paul started his message by addressing his audience. “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen” (Acts 13:16 ESV). This would have included native Jews and Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. Then, he proceeded to give them a history lesson. He started by recalling God’s establishment of Israel as a great nation while they were living in the land of Egypt. He reminds them of God’s miraculous deliverance and the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness that their ancestors endured. But eventually, they arrived at the land promised to Abraham, and conquered the nations that lived there. And 450 years later, God gave them a series of judges, then their first king, a man named Saul. He was followed by the great king, David, a man after God’s own heart. And then, Paul gets to the real point of his message. “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:23 ESV). His goal all along had been to get to the topic of Jesus, the son of David and the Savior of the world. Paul wastes no time, but cuts to the chase, telling his audience “to us has been sent the message of this salvation” (Acts 13:26 ESV). But the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea had refused to accept the very one who had brought them salvation. They had failed to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Even His suffering and death had been predicted and, without even knowing it, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had helped fulfill these prophecies by having Jesus put to death. And Paul makes it clear that “though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed” (Acts 13:28 ESV). But God raised Him from the dead.

At this point, Paul had them. They were either incensed or totally intrigued by what he had to say. Because of their distance from Jerusalem and the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, this may have been the first time many of them had heard this news. But as Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, they would have known about the Messiah and would have found the words of Paul, if nothing else, fascinating. And Paul let’s them know why he and Barnabas are there: “…we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 ESV).

Paul wants them to understand that the Scriptures they revered and read each and every Sabbath day in the synagogue, spoke of Jesus. He uses the psalms of David to show them that these passages were prophetic, speaking of the coming Messiah. Jesus, because He died and was raised back to life, did not undergo any decay. His body was spared the normal and natural effects of death. This was not true of King David, who had written, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 13:35 ESV). David had not been speaking of himself, but of one to come. And Paul lets them know, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus had been that one. He had come. He did die. But He was raised back to life. And Paul and Barnabas were witnesses of that reality. And the truly good news was that “through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight—something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:38-39 NLT). There’s the crux of Paul’s message: Justification. How are sinful men made right with a holy God? Not by keeping the law. That was an impossible task. It always ended in failure, because the law was always intended to show man his sin. Paul would later write a letter to the people living in this part of the world, telling them, “Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). And one day, he would also write to the believers in Rome, telling them, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins” (Romans 8:3 NLT).

Paul was offering this devout Jews and God-fearing Gentiles an opportunity to be made right with God, through faith in Jesus Christ. But he warns them to not repeat the sins of their ancestors, who had scoffed at the words of God. Quoting from the book of Habakuk, Paul repeats the words God had spoken to the people in Habakuk’s day. “I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you” (Acts 13:41 ESV). Paul warns his audience to not treat God’s words with disbelief. He wants them to understand that God was doing a work in their day. He had sent His Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of mankind, so that the penalty for sin could be paid for and the consequences of death eliminated once and for all. But they must believe. They must trust that what Paul is saying is true and that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Savior of the world.

God was doing a work among them, but they ran the risk of missing it if they refused to see it for what it was: God’s plan of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of His very own son.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Too Blind to See.

1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immeiately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. Acts 13:1-12 ESV

At the close of the previous chapter, we saw that Peter left Jerusalem for parts unknown, while Saul and Barnabas headed back to Antioch in Syria, with John Mark as their traveling companion. In the opening verses of chapter 13, we get a glimpse into how God communicated with His church in those early years. He had equipped the church with prophets, teachers and a variety of other leaders. Paul would later include these very same offices or positions in his list of those through whom God had gifted the church.

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

Both Barnabas and Saul are included in Luke’s list, indicating that they were each either a prophet or a teacher, or perhaps both. Some believe, because of the way the list is configured in the Greek, that there are two groups of individuals listed; one being the prophets in the church in Antioch, with Barnabas being one of them. The second group is made up of the two men with the gift of teaching: Manaen and Saul. It is impossible to know who had what gift, but it is clear that God was speaking to and through these men in order to give His divine directions for future ministry. We have already seen how God used the stoning of Stephen and the increased level of persecution against the church to spread the gospel by forcing the Christians to disperse from Jersusalem. We have also seen God use a dream to communicate His will to Peter, commanding him to go to Caesarea and minister to Cornelius and his household. Now, we see God speaking through men whom He had endowed with the gift of prophecy. But notice that there was not any one man who stood up and spoke up, acting as the voice of God and proclaiming His will to the rest in the room. It seems from the text, that these men were gathered together for prayer and had been fasting, most likely seeking God’s direction. And it would appear that God gave them a unified, corporate manifestation of His will by speaking to them through His Holy Spirit, who told them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2 ESV). These two men, who were both part of the group that had gathered to pray and fast, were set apart by God for a specific task. This was the call of God, not that of men. Somehow, through the voice of the Spirit, God had communicated to these men that Saul and Barnabas were to being given a specific, God-ordained assignment, and Luke records, “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3 ESV).

Both of these men had become huge assets to the church there in Antioch. But the leadership recognized the clear call of God on their lives and, in spite of the loss of their services, gladly sent them on their way, having commissioned them by the laying on of hands. They didn’t allow their own needs or desires to get in the way. I am sure they would have loved to have kept both Saul and Barnabas there in Antioch, but God had other plans. And Luke makes it clear that those plans were being directed by the Spirit of God. There next destination was the island of Cyprus and, as would become their habit on the rest of their journeys, they made it their first priority to visit the local synagogue before they did anything else. While recognized as the apostle to the Gentiles, Saul never lost his deep desire to see his fellow Jews come to faith in Christ. Years later, in his letter to the Roman believers, he would write: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1 NLT). In that very same letter, he will go on to say:

13 I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, 14 for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. 15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:13-15 NLT

And one of the most powerful indicators of his love for his fellow Jews and his deep desire to see them saved, is found in an earlier portion of his letter to the Romans:

I would be willing to be forever cursed–cut off from Christ!–if that would save them.
 – Romans 9:3 NLT

So, we will see Saul and Barnabas make it a habit to visit the synagogues within each city they visit, focusing a good portion of their efforts in attempting to persuade Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

Having visited the local synagogue, the three men made their way across the island, eventually running into a man named, Bar-Jesus, described as a magician and a Jewish false prophet. It’s interesting to note that Saul and Barnabas are on the island of Cyprus because God spoke truth to men who were real prophets of God. Now, two of these men, Saul and Barnabas, one or both who were gifted by God as a prophet, run into a false Jewish prophet. This man is described by Luke as a magician, a fairly innocuous term that sounds a bit non-intimidating to us. But in that day and age, it had a far more robust meaning. A magician could refer to a wise man, teacher, priest, physician, astrologer, seer, interpreter of dreams, soothsayer, or sorcerer. In many cases, their so-called magic had direct ties to the occult. Like the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who had opposed Moses, Bar-Jesus most likely utilized demonic powers to perform signs and wonders. Interestingly enough, his name literally means, “son of a savior.”

Luke indicates that Bar-Jesus had some kind of relationship with the local proconsul, a man named Sergius Paulus, who held the distinction of being the highest-ranking Roman official on the island. Sergius Paulus, upon hearing of the arrival of Saul and Barnabas, summoned them to appear before him, but Bar-Jesus, also known by his nickname, Elymas (Sorcerer), tried to intervene, seeing these two men as competition. He had the ear of the Roman proconsul and was not interested in having Saul and Barnabas interfere by sharing “the faith.” But Saul, now mentioned as Paul for the first time in Luke’s account, confronts this man, declaring in no uncertain terms his disdain for Bar-Jesus and his unholy agenda. “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10 NLT). Paul saw this man for what he was: an enemy of the gospel. Out of jealousy and motivated by selfish ambition, he was attempting to dissuade Sergius Paulus from hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. And Paul, under the indwelling power and inspiration of the Spirit of God, struck Bar-Jesus blind. This man, who supposedly had the power to provide insight and wisdom by way of his sorcery, was suddenly without sight. The one who claimed to be a Jewish prophet, with the power to see into the future and declare the will of God, could not see his own hand in front of his face. His physical blindness became an apt representation of his moral and spiritual blindness. No longer would he mislead people with his lies. Instead, he would have to be led by the hand just to make his way around the city of Paphos.

And while Paul’s display of Holy Spirit induced power left one man blind, it opened up the eyes of another. Sergius Paulus “believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12 ESV). Paul had not just shut down Bar-Jesus, he had opened up the Scriptures to the proconsul, revealing to him the truth regarding Jesus and His offer of salvation. This Roman official believed. He heard the good news and received the gift of eternal life made possible through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. There on the island of Cyprus, Luke records only the salvation of a single individual: a Roman proconsul. His emphasis seems to be less about how many were saved, than about who. The nature of the evangelistic efforts of the church was dramatically shifting. It was moving out of Jerusalem and Judea and away from the Jews. Bar-Jesus had been a Jew, but he had been struck blind because of his unbelief and opposition to the gospel. He is an apt representation of the entire Jewish nation at this point in time. He was mired in deceit, selfishness, idolatry and evil. He saw the gospel as competition, not a means of salvation. But Sergius Paulus, a pagan with no prior knowledge of Yahweh or any concept of who the Messiah might be, was miraculously converted to the faith. His eyes were opened and his life was irrevocably changed forever.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Touched By An Angel.

12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.

18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. Acts 12:12-25 ESV

After his miraculous release by God from prison and from Herod’s intentions to put him to death, Peter made his way to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, the man who enlisted Saul’s help in Antioch. We are not told why Peter chose Mary’s house as his destination, but it could have been that it was the one place of closest to the prison where he could seek refuge. Luke tells us that there were many believers who had gathered at Mary’s home in order to pray for Peter. When he arrived, a young servant girl named Rhoda, was the one who responded to his knocks at the gate. But when she heard his voice, she was so surprised that she left him standing there and ran to inform the rest that Peter was standing outside the gate. Her news was met with incredulity and skepticism. Whatever it was that they had been praying for, it evidently had not been for Peter’s release. They refused to accept Rhoda’s word that Peter was standing outside the gate. They even went so far as to claim that it must have been his angel. The Greek word, aggelos, was typically used to refer to a divine being or messenger from God. We cannot be sure exactly what those inside Mary’s house meant when they used this word under these circumstances. They could have simply been saying that Peter had sent them a human messenger with news of his condition. That would have been a legitimate use of the word. But they could have also believed that it was an actual angel, sent from God with news about Peter. Finally, they might have been using the word in the sense of a guardian angel, sent by God to rescue Peter. Whatever they meant, it seems that they were reticent to believe that it was actually Peter standing outside the gate. After all, they had just recently heard the devastating news that James, the brother of John, had been executed by Herod. So, even since Peter’s arrest, they had been anticipating similar news. There is no indication in this passage that they had been praying for or expecting God to free Peter. They certainly could have been, but it seems odd that they were so dumbfounded and disbelieving when Peter showed up outside the place where they had been praying.

In fact, Peter was left to stand outside, knocking on the gate, hoping to gain entrance. He had found it was easier to get out of Herod’s prison than it was to get into Mary’s home. But eventually, they opened the gate and found Peter standing there, just as Rhoda had said, and they were amazed. The Greek word that Luke uses to refer to their reaction has a much more robust meaning than just amazement. It refers to a sense of astonishment or bewilderment. It was even used to refer to someone being out of their mind or insane. They were legitimately shocked to see Peter standing there. They had been expecting the worse. And they must have been shouting, crying, laughing and jumping up and down in excitement, because Luke indicates that Peter had to get them to quiet down long enough for him to tell them what had happened. And we can only imagine that they stood by in rapt silence as he related the details of his escape: The angel, the helpless prison guards, the chains falling away, and the self-opening prison gate. It was an amazing story and it must have left them awed and amazed at the power of their God.

When Peter had finished, he told them to take this news to James (the half-brother of Jesus) and the rest of the original apostles. This James, who had been in the upper room with the rest of his brothers on the day of Pentecost, had become a leading figure in the Jerusalem church and would later write the book that bears his name. Peter wanted these men to know what had happened to him, so that they might be encouraged by the news. Then, Luke tells us Peter departed. We are not told where he went or what he did. But it is likely that he left Jerusalem for a time in order to lessen the risk any of the other followers of Christ might face for harboring him as a fugitive. We know that Herod, upon discovering that Peter had somehow escaped, ordered a search for Peter, but he was never found. And, as a result, Herod had all the guards, whom he deemed responsible for Peter’s escape, executed. Then, Herod himself left Jerusalem and traveled to Caesarea, where he had a palace. He got out of town. We don’t know whether his departure was to save face or because he couldn’t stand hearing the news circulating through the streets of Jerusalem that Peter had been miraculously rescued by God. This powerful man had failed in his attempt to put an end to the growth of Christianity. Even with his impressive resources and backed by the power of Rome, he was no match for the cause of Christ. In fact, Luke reveals that Herod’s days were numbered.

Some dignitaries from Tyre and Sidon came to visit Herod at his royal palace. They were dependent upon Herod and his government for food, so even though they were at odds with the king, they found themselves having to grovel before him on behalf of their people. Luke goes out of his way to describe Herod in his royal robes, sitting on his royal throne and giving a royal speech before these men and all those in attendance. And these men, in spite of their dislike for Herod, were forced to listen, then to shower him with flattering accolades, shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22 ESV). And Herod basked in the glory of their words, thoroughly enjoying the experience of being compared to a god. But his pride and pleasure at being deified would not last long. Luke records, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23 ESV). Herod was struck down by God. The angel who struck Peter’s side in order to wake him up and set him free, struck Herod with a debilitating and devastating disease. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would suffer for five days and then die. Peter was alive and well, doing the will and the work of God. Herod was dead, for having tried to oppose to the will of God and eliminate the messengers of God.

And Luke matter-of-factly states that “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24 ESV). The gospel didn’t skip a beat. The kingdom of God continued to spread. And the chapter ends with the announcement that Barnabas and Saul left Jerusalem returned to Antioch, accompanied by John Mark. It was business as usual. There was work to be done. The death of James had not diminished the zeal and enthusiasm of the disciples. They mourned, but they went on with the work Jesus had assigned to them. Peter’s arrest had shaken them, but God had proven to them that He was in charge. He was not done with Peter and they were not done with their job of taking the gospel to the nations.

The work of spreading the gospel is not without its risks. There will always be enemies and opposition. We will always face difficulties and trials as a result of our faithful obedience to fulfill the commission given to us by Jesus. But like Peter and the other disciples, we have work to do. We must remain faithful and diligent to do what we have been called to do. As we will see, Peter didn’t give up. He didn’t quit or run in fear, viewing his work on behalf of Jesus as too dangerous or risky. He knew he could end up in jail again. He was well aware that his life could end in violent death, just like James. But as long as God gave him breath and kept setting him free from imprisonment, he would keep telling the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rescued by God.

1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Acts 12:1-11 ESV

In the preceding chapter, Luke mentioned the famine taking place in the land of Judea. This devastating natural disaster had left the congregation in Jerusalem in a state of great need and physical suffering. So much so, that an effort was made on the part of the new Gentile converts to raise funds to send to the church in Jerusalem to assist them in their time of need. Luke records that Barnabas and Saul made a trip to Jerusalem to deliver the generous gift of the Gentile church.

29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem. – Acts 11:29-30 NLT

But chapter 12 presents an even greater problem taking place back in Jerusalem. The persecution of the church was continuing to increase in magnitude and intensity. Now, Herod, the pseudo king of the Jews, who had been appointed by Rome, was getting in on the act. Herod Agrippa I was part-Jew, but was greatly disliked by the Jewish people because of his close association with the Roman emperor Gaius, who had given him his position. In an effort to curry favor of the Jewish people, Herod used his political office to carry out attacks on the church, even going so far as to have James, the brother of John, executed. And when he saw how much this pleased the Jews, he made plans to do the same thing to Peter. The murder of James, one of the original apostles and a leader in the Jerusalem church, would have had a devastating impact on its members. And, while the news of his death would have surprising and unexpected, Jesus Himself had predicted it. Years earlier, while Jesus was still on the earth, James and his brother, John, had come to Jesus with a request.

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36 “What is your request?” he asked.

37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” – Mark 10:35-39 NLT

James was dead. And Peter was next. At least, that was Herod’s plan. It was as if his plan was to eliminate the leadership of the church, one man at a time. And he was serious about it, having Peter arrested and thrown in jail.

This entire section of the Book of Acts provides us with an important interlude or break that separates the spread of the church to the Gentiles, as recorded in chapter 11, and Saul and Barnabas’ trip to Cyprus, where they continued their evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles. As the gospel made its way into the world, the heat in Jerusalem was intensifying and the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was becoming increasingly volatile and violent. Yes, there had been thousands of Jews who had come to faith in Jesus, but as a nation, both politically and religiously, they were standing opposed to Jesus’ claim to be their Messiah. John, the brother of James, recorded the nature of Israel’s rejection of Jesus, illustrated in their corporate refusal to accept Him as their Messiah.

37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. 38 This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

Lord, who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

39 But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and have me heal them.”

41 Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. 42 Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:37-43 NLT

Now, years later, and long after Jesus had been put to death by the religious authorities of Israel and the Roman government, His disciples were facing the same threat of execution. But the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel, while disappointing, had a purpose. It opened up the door to the Gentiles. Because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, the gospel was taken to non-Jews, so that they might enjoy the righteousness and redemption provided by faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And Paul, himself a devout Jew, would later write that Israel’s rejection of Jesus would not be permanent in nature.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

This was all part of God’s divine plan. Had the Jewish nation, as a whole, not turned its back on Jesus, the persecution and scattering of the church would not have taken place. But it did, because that is the way God ordained it. Even Peter’s arrest, while clearly the decision of Herod, was part of God’s sovereign, pre-established will.

Luke tells us that when Peter was arrested, the rest of the church got busy lifting him up in prayer. They feared for the worst. James was dead, and they had no reason to expect that the same thing would not happen to Peter. So, they took their need to God. Luke doesn’t tell us what they prayed, but we can easily assume that they pleaded for God to spare Peter’s life and to deliver him from the hands of Herod. And God did just that. The story of Peter’s deliverance provides us with a startling, but often overlooked reminder of God’s power. Herod, the king of the Jews, who had the full authority of the Roman empire behind him, had placed Peter in jail and had every intent to put him to death. And Luke tells us that, on the very night he had determined to carry out his plan, God stepped in. And He did so in a dramatic and memorable way. Peter was sound asleep, chained to two Roman solders, when suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared, filling the cell with dazzling light. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to the two guards, but they were either paralyzed or, perhaps, even killed by the angel. All we know is that Peter’s chains dropped off and, after having gotten dressed, he walked out of the prison a free man. And the whole time this was going on, Peter thought he was dreaming. It wasn’t until he had made his way out of the prison complex and the angel suddenly disappeared, that Peter realized that what had happened was real and not a dream.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” – Acts 12:11 ESV

God had much more for Peter to do. His work on behalf of the kingdom was not yet complete. In John 21, we have Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s death, but this was not the time or the place. Herod, even as powerful as he was, stood powerless before God Almighty. His execution of James, could not have happened without God’s approval. We don’t know why God allowed James to die by the sword, any more than we know why God allowed Stephen to be stoned to death. And God is not obligated to explain Himself to us. But we can rest in the fact that God, in His sovereign will and almighty power, was in full control of all the circumstances surrounding His church. He was going to use each and every event – the good, the bad and the ugly – to accomplish His divine will for the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. And as we will see later on in this same chapter, God would eventually deal with Herod, revealing that no one stands outside of or aloof from God’s sovereign hand and righteous judgment.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Just As He Had Planned It.

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:19-30 ESV

In this section, Luke begins to introduce yet another phase of the church’s continuing spread and growth. Back in chapter eight, he had described one of the ramifications of Stephen’s martyrdom. It was the increased persecution of the church, in part, because of the efforts of Saul. Yet, in spite of the intensification of the persecution, he said, “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went” (Acts 8:4 NLT). Then, by way of example, he chronicled Philip’s trip to the region of Samaria and all that happened as a result. Here in chapter 10, Luke picks up where he left off, letting us know that the persecution of the church had resulted in a dispersion of the Christians well beyond Samaria. The believers who fled Jerusalem “traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 10:19 ESV). But then Luke adds a telling detail, revealing that these Jewish believers kept their efforts to share the gospel restricted to their own people: The Jews. He says that they spoke the word to no one but Jews. This is significant because he shares it immediately after detailing the dramatic outcome of Peter’s journey to Caesarea, where Gentiles came to faith and received the anointing of the Spirit of God just as the disciples had on the day of Pentecost. This provides us with an important insight into the early days of the church. As the church continued to grow and the gospel made its way outside the confines of Jerusalem and Judea, the effort developed multiple fronts, each seemingly with its own emphasis and distinct motivation. Those Jewish believers who escaped and made their way to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch in Syria, were still under the impression that this new religion was little more than a new branch of reformed Judaism. It was a religion of Jews and for Jews. After all, Jesus had been a Jew and had claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. So, it made sense that they would concentrate their efforts to share the gospel by focusing on fellow Jews. And, as Jews, the thought of sharing their new-found faith with a Gentile would never have crossed their minds. Remember, it took a vision and a word from God to get Peter to go to the home of Cornelius.

Cyprus, Phoenicia and Antioch were located hundreds of miles from Jerusalem and illustrate the ever-expanding reach of the gospel. Antioch, located in the region of Syria, was 300 miles from the city of Jerusalem and, at that time, would have been the third-largest city in the entire Roman empire. It was a bustling metropolis, made up of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. It is estimated that Antioch had a population of anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000 people, with a seventh of them being Jews. As a city, it had a reputation for decadence and its citizens’ love of pleasure. And yet, Antioch would become a major hub for Christianity in the coming years.

As the believing Jews made their ways to these various destinations, they faithfully shared the good news regarding Jesus Christ. Luke tells us that, in Antioch, they included Hellenistic Jews in their target audience. And he records that “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 10:21 ESV). Even though they were restricting their outreach to Jews, God was blessing their efforts. And when news of what was happening in Antioch got back to the leadership of the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to check it out. When he arrived, Barnabas was greatly encouraged by what he saw and spent time exhorting those in the church there “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 10:23 ESV). He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. It was not going to be easy to live out their new faith in the midst of a culture like that in Antioch. These people, as Jews, were already in the minority. Now, as believers, they were going to face further rejection by their own people. So, Barnabas felt compelled to strengthen the fledgling church by remaining with them for a prolonged period of time.  And knowing he would need help, he traveled to Tarsus to enlist Saul in his efforts. This would begin an important new phase in the God-ordained ministry of Saul. And it is essential that we recognize God’s sovereign hand at work in all these details. Stephen’s martyrdom had resulted in persecution and the dispersion of the church. It had also resulted in Saul’s intensified efforts in that persecution, after he approvingly watched the stoning of Stephen. And yet, the resurrected Jesus had confronted Saul as he made his way to Damascus to round up Christians and, as a result, Saul had undergone a dramatic conversion. And some three years later, when Saul had traveled to Jerusalem, it had been Barnabas who acted as his host and sponsor, introducing him to the apostles and explaining the dramatic details behind Saul’s conversion. Now, when the leaders in Jerusalem felt compelled to send a representative to Antioch to investigate all that was going on, they just so happened to choose Barnabas. This was anything but a case of happenstance or blind fate. It was the hand of God. Barnabas was chosen because God had ordained it. And his arrival in one of the largest, predominantly Gentile cities in the Roman empire was something God orchestrated. Now, he would have Saul working by his side, a man whom Jesus had chosen to be His witness to the Gentiles. It’s important that we recall the words spoken by Jesus to Ananias, commanding him to go lay hands on Saul.

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. – Romans 9:15 ESV

Here in this chapter, we see God instigating what will be another new front in the war against sin and death. He is putting one of His primary weapons into the battle, sending Saul into an environment where his gifts and abilities will be used by the Spirit of God to accomplish great things for the Kingdom. It had probably been close to nine years since Saul’s conversion, and during that time, he would have been growing in his faith and honing his Spirit-given abilities as a messenger of the gospel. God had been preparing Saul for this very occasion.
Luke records that Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch; ministering, evangelizing, and growing the fledgling congregation there. Interestingly, Luke provides us with the insight that it was at this point in the timeline of the church that believers came to be known and referred to as Christians. This was most likely about ten years after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. A decade had passed and the church, formerly called “the way” was now known for the name of the One whose name they believed and placed their faith in. This name is significant in that it contains three important characteristics. First of all, “Christ” is the Greek translation of Messiah. The Messiah was the Jewish Savior, promised by God in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, we have in the name “Christian”, an obvious link to the Jewish roots of Jesus. But Christ would become the primary name by which Gentiles would commonly refer to Jesus. It became like a second name for Him, much as we use it today. And the ending, “ians” is of a Latin derivation, the language of Rome and of the predominate language of the empire. Luke’s inclusion of the seemingly insignificant fact that the name, “Christian” had become the primary means by which believers were described is more important than we might imagine. The faith was becoming universalized. It was making inroads into the various cultures of the day, and developing a reputation as a free-standing religion, separate and distinct from Judaism or any other pagan religion. It was slowly, but surely, becoming a fixture in the culture of the day.
Luke ends this chapter with what appears to be another interesting, but unimportant anecdote: A prophecy regarding an eminent worldwide famine. Once again, we have to look beyond the black and white nature of Luke’s reporting of Agabus’ prophecy. Why did Luke, under the inspiration of the Spirit, include this information at this point in his book? As we will see, this famine will play a significant part in the future of the church. And Luke provides some insight into how it will impact the ministry of Saul himself.
29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 10:29-30 ESV
The church in Jerusalem would suffer greatly because of this famine. The Jews there, already suffering from persecution because of their faith, would find themselves living in relative poverty and barely able to exist. While there had been a time, in the early days of the church in Jerusalem, when the rich believers had been able to provide for the less-fortunate in their midst, after the arrival of the famine, that would no longer be possible. Now, the global church would provide for the needs of those in Jerusalem. And Saul would make it part of his life’s mission to raise funds among the predominantly Gentile congregations to which he ministered, and to see that those resources made their way back to the church in Jerusalem. God would even use a famine to accomplish His will regarding the spread of the gospel and the unity of the church around the world. As it spread, God would see to it that it remained unified in its love and mission.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Don’t Oppose What God Approves.

But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:4-18 ESV
The first question we have to ask ourselves when reading this section of Luke’s account, is why did he include it? After all, it simply appears to be a retelling by Peter of all that happened while he was in Caesarea. In fact, it is virtually identical to what Luke wrote in chapter 10. But the key difference is the audience to whom Peter is sharing the story of the conversions of Cornelius and all the other Gentiles who had gathered in his house to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is addressing his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. He is explaining to a room full of Jews what went down in Caesarea. And he is having to do so because he had been accused of wrongly associating with Gentiles. There were some in Jerusalem who, when they had received news of what had happened in Caesarea, where less-than-happy. In their minds, Peter had done the unthinkable. He, a Jew, had mingled with the unclean. He had defiled himself by associating with those whom the Mosaic law declared to be common and unclean. When Peter had arrived back in Jerusalem, rather than rejoicing with him over the exciting news of the conversions of Cornelius and his friends, these men said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV).
Their response brings to mind the kind of reactions Jesus had received from the religious leaders regarding what they believed to be His questionable choices in relationships.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 NLT

For some in the Jerusalem church, the idea of Peter eating with Gentiles was unacceptable. To think that he shared the gospel with them was even more disconcerting. How could he do such a thing? Well, Peter goes out of his way to tell them. He explains all that had led to his decision to make the journey to Caesarea. And he makes it clear that this had been God’s decision, not his own. He had simply obeyed orders and followed the divine directions given to Him by God. He recounts the vision he had received from God. And he once again makes note of the fact that the sheet containing all the unclean creatures had descended to him out of heaven. It had come from God’s very throne room, which meant that the very creatures Peter had viewed as unclean and defiled, had come from God’s presence. He had sent them. And at the end of the vision, the same sheet, full of supposedly unclean creatures, ascended back into heaven. And three separate times, God had told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9 ESV).

Notice what God said to Peter. He was very specific in His word choices. God had told Peter that he had “made clean” these once unclean animals. The Greek word Luke used is katharizō, and it means to cleanse or purify. In a levitical or sacrificial sense, it means to pronounce something clean that has been purified by sacrifice. In a moral sense, it means to free something from defilement of sin and from faults (“G2511 – katharizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God was telling Peter that He had made a divine determination to purify what had at one time been considered unclean. He had done it. God had declared the creatures to be clean. He had passed judgment and declared His decision. And He had expected Peter to accept it.

And the vision had been just that: A vision. It had been a visual tool used to teach Peter a real-life lesson regarding Gentiles and his view of them. God was about to let down a sheet full of unclean creatures, in the form of Cornelius, his family members and friends. But God had cleansed them through the sacrifice of His Son. Their sin debts had been paid for on the cross. They had once been defiled by their sin and separated from God as a result of their impurity, but God had done something to redeem and restore them. He had sent His Son to die for them. And long before Peter and his six companions had made the trip to Caesarea, God had already chosen those who would be saved there. And Peter was not to call common what God had already made clean. God had chosen to remove the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wrote of this important determination on God’s part.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT
The gospel was not reserved just for Jews. Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but He had become the Savior of the world. And once again, Paul describes that what Jesus did on the cross had opened up the doors of heaven to all – both Jews and Gentiles.

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:13-14 NLT

Peter had seen this happen first-hand. He had seen God bless the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham. He had watched in amazement as the Holy Spirit filled those Gentile converts and empowered them in the very same way He had the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter could only say, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he had witnessed in Caesarea had been of God. His vision, Cornelius’ vision, the coming of the Spirit, the gift of tongues – it had all been evidence of God’s divine hand. And he had no desire to stand opposed to the will of God.

And Luke simply records that when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18 ESV). Like Peter, they saw that this was of God and that they had no business standing in opposition to what God had predetermined to do. If He had decided to deem Gentiles worthy of receiving the gospel, who were they to stand in His way.

As we will say later in Luke’s account, many of the same individuals who had called Peter to task over his association with Gentiles, would raise their voices again in protest over the growing movement to convert Gentiles to the faith. In fact, in chapter 15, we will see where Paul and Barnabas are accused of not requiring circumcision of all Gentile converts. Luke records, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 ESV). These men were teaching that Christianity was nothing more than a kind of reformed Judaism. They were demanding that all the requirements of the Mosaic law be kept in order to any Gentile to be accepted as a true believer. This matter will come up repeatedly in the later chapters of Luke’s account, as we see Paul and others continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

There were those who could not accept what God was doing. It went against their preconceived notions of religious right and wrong. They had put God in a box and determined that there was only one way for people to have a right relationship with Him – and that was through some form of law-keeping or adherence to a set of religious rules. But Paul, the apostle who spent his life ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, would later write:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. – Romans 3:27:30 NLT

Peter and Paul were ministering in a new day. The rules had changed. The Redeemer had come. The way of salvation had been paved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No more hopeless attempts to try and live up to God’s holy standards on your own. No more need for physical circumcision. God was circumcising hearts and setting apart a people for His own, whom He had declared to be clean. And that would include Jews and Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Amazed and Appalled.

44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”Acts 10:44-11:3 ESV

Peter preached the gospel to a house full of Gentiles and something incredible happened. They came to faith. Now, that alone should not have surprised Peter and his six companions. They had seen thousands of people respond to the gospel message, placing their faith in Christ. But this was the first time they had seen it happen to non-Jews or Gentiles. And what made this particular occasion even more amazing was that Cornelius, and those among his family and friends who placed their faith in Christ, immediately received the filling of the Holy Spirit. If you recall, back in chapter eight, Philip took the gospel to the Samaritans and Luke records, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12 ESB). They believed and were baptized, but it was not until Peter arrived that they received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17

Why was the situation in Cornelius’ house different? They simply believed and were not even required to undergo water baptism. Luke simply states that the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word. In verse 16 of chapter 11, Peter infers that these new converts had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And not only that, they received the Spirit in the same that he and the 119 other disciples had on the day of Pentecost.

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” – Acts 11:15-17 ESV

They had the exact same experience as that of the Jewish disciples of Jesus. They received the Spirit and they spoke in foreign languages. And more than likely, they spoke in Aramaic, because the men who accompanied Peter from Joppa were Jews and they were able to understand that they were praising God. These Greek-speaking, Gentile converts to Christianity were experiencing the same powerful display of the Spirit’s indwelling and confirming presence as Peter, James and John had. And it was all based on nothing more than their faith in the gospel message as proclaimed to them by Peter.

So, why the difference? How come the Samaritans had been required to wait for the arrival of Peter and have him lay hands on them before they could receive the Holy Spirit? Luke never provides us with an explanation. He simply records the facts as they occurred. Once again, we have God seemingly breaking established protocol. Not only was He doing a new and seemingly unacceptable thing by having Peter take the gospel to unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles, He was pouring out His Spirit on them without any involvement by one of His chosen apostles. All of this would have left Peter and his six companions perplexed and bewildered. What was God doing? What was He thinking? And Luke records that Peter and his fellow Jews were amazed at what they were seeing. This would not have been what they expected. It was hard enough for them to fathom God allowing Gentiles to embrace the gospel. But for Him to do so without requiring them to undergo water baptism, signifying their repentance, was hard to understand. These Gentiles were immediately anointed by the Spirit of God, with no additional or prerequisite steps placed upon them. What we have here is the inaugural occurance of what will be many more Gentile conversion stories. And they will all follow this same basic pattern.

Immediately after their acceptance of Christ as Savior and their acceptance by God as illustrated by their baptism in the Spirit, these new converts were baptized in water, signifying their acceptance and membership into the family of God, the body of Christ. And just as Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures had been a shock to his system, this day’s events was a real-life illustration of what God had been trying to tell him through that vision. “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). The word “common” has a much more intense meaning in the Greek. It is koinoō, and it refers to something that is defiled, unholy, or profane. God had been trying to tell Peter that Gentiles, who were seen as “common” or defiled by the Jews, were no longer to be viewed that way. He was declaring them clean. And Peter had just seen God confirm His words with actions. The apostle Paul would later write of the significance behind that day’s events.

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

That day, in the home of a Roman centurion, Peter was given a shocking introduction into God’s new dispensation of grace. In that room there stood Jews and Gentiles, each of whom had expressed their faith in Christ as their Savior and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit as confirmation. They had all things in common. They were co-equals. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. And as Paul would later tell the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). This was a new day.

But not everyone was going to be thrilled with God’s seeming change in plans. When word got back to Jerusalem that Gentiles had received the word of God and been baptized in the Spirit of God, they were not exactly thrilled. This had not been what they were expecting. It wasn’t that they were unwilling for Gentiles to be included in hearing the gospel message. Jesus had made that pretty clear in His commissioning of them as His witnesses. It was just that they thought there would be more requirement involved, such as circumcision, conversion to the Jewish faith, keeping of the Mosaic law, and more. After all, these people were common and unclean. They were out of step with the holy demands of God’s righteous commands as given to Moses. There had to be more for them to do. And when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, he was met with criticism from the circumcision party. This is a reference to those Jews who had come to faith in Christ, but who held strong ethnic-religious ties to their Jewish faith. After all, Jesus had been a Jew and a rabbi. He was the Messiah who, according to the Old Testament prophets, was to be the Savior of the Jewish people. These people put a high stock in things like circumcision and the keeping of the various dietary restrictions and Jewish religious observances. So, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that the Gentiles in Caesarea had been baptized into the body of Christ without any additional requirements placed upon them. In fact, they look down their noses at Peter and express their disdain for his activities in Caesarea: “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV). As far as they were concerned, Peter had violated the law of God. He, a Jew, had defiled himself by associating with common, unclean Gentiles. But they were in for a shock. Their preconceived notions of how things should be were about to be rocked. They were going to hear about Peter’s vision about the sheet filled with unclean animals. They were going to share his shock at God’s command to “kill and eat.” They would reel upon hearing Peter’s recounting of all that happened in the home of Cornelius. And I find it interesting that Peter doesn’t bother to bring up that his host during his stay in Joppa had been a man who practiced the unclean trade of tanning animal hides. Peter kept that little tidbit to himself.

But the bottom line is going to be that the church was entering a new and exciting dispensation, where the grace of God was going to be extended to all and all who would believe in the name of His Son. Men, women, slaves, freemen, Jews, Gentiles, Romans, tax collectors, prostitutes, priests, widows, businessmen, shepherds, fishermen, and even tanners. We may not always agree with God’s ways. We may not approve of His methodology. But God doesn’t ask for our advice or our permission. He simply asks that we trust Him and willingly submit to His divine plan for our lives and the redemption of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good News For All.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he invited them in to be his guests.

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”

30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:17-43 ESV

Peter was at a loss as to what the meaning behind his vision might be. But even as he wrestled over the possible implications of his dream, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would be receiving three visitors and that he was to accompany them. That was all the detail he received from the Spirit. And, just as the Spirit had said, the three men arrived at Simon’s house, in search of Peter. When Peter asked them the purpose behind their visit, they replied: “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22 ESV). This entire encounter had the hand of God all over it. Cornelius was spoken to by an angel from God. Peter had received a vision, clearly given to him by God. Then he had received a word directly from the Spirit of God. Peter may not have known what his vision meant, but he no doubt understood that God was behind all that was happening. And so, after hosting his guests for the evening, he accompanied them the next day to Caesarea, not knowing what God had in store for him there. 

We know from Acts 11:22, that Peter did not go to Caesarea alone. He had invited six other brothers from Joppa to join him on the trip. The journey most likely took them about two days time. And when they arrived at the home of Cornelius, they found it packed with the centurion’s family and friends. Luke informs us that Cornelius, in a sign of gratitude and veneration, fell down at Peter’s feet and worshiped him. There is no indication that he knew of Peter’s status as an apostle of Jesus. He simply knew that this man had been sent to him by God with something important to share with him. But Peter, informing Cornelius that he too, was nothing more than a man, had him stand and explain what it was that he wanted. Cornelius recounted to Peter the vision and message he had received from the angel, then he explained that he and his guests were eagerly waiting to hear what God had to say to them through His messenger, Peter. “Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you” (Acts 10:33 NLT).

Luke doesn’t tell us when Peter finally put all the dots together. But sometime between when he arrived at Cornelius’ house, saw the crowd of Gentiles gathered, and heard Cornelius’ description of his vision, Peter grasped the significance and meaning of his own vision. Here he was in a Gentile’s home, surrounded by other Gentiles who eagerly waited to hear him deliver a message to them from God. And Peter, as a good Jew, saw the absurdity of it all. He even told Cornelius and his guests, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28 NLT). The vision of the sheet filled with unclean creatures and the command from God to “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV), all began to make sense. He remembered the words of God, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV), and and he realized that Cornelius and the people gathered in his home were Gentiles whom God saw as clean, not unclean and common. They were acceptable to God, so they must be acceptable to Peter. To a Jew, a Gentile was considered unclean and to avoided at all costs. They were uncircumcised and did not keep the strict dietary laws of the Jews. They did not obey the Mosaic law. So, any contact with them made a Jew ceremonially unclean. And yet, here was Peter, under the direct command of God, sitting in the home of a Gentile, and a Roman centurion at that, getting ready to share the gospel. God was doing something new. He was opening up the door of salvation and including those outside of what had once been the closed doors of the Jewish nation. The apostle Paul would later remind the Gentile believers in Ephesus of the significance of their inclusion into the family of God. 

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

He would remind the believers in Corinth that they were a fellowship made up of Jews and Gentiles, a blended family chosen and adopted by God. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT). And here was Peter experiencing this new phenomena for the very first time. This was an historic moment. It was a paradigm-shifting point in time. Nothing would ever be the same. The playing field was being leveled. There would no longer be the haves and the have-nots, clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. And Paul would make that point perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatian believers.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

All of this would have been a shock to Peter’s system. As a devout Jew, this was antithetical to all he had ever believed. He was part of the chosen race. He was a member of the holy nation, God’s people, the Jews. But Peter saw the hand of God in all of this. When God had commanded him to go to the home of Cornelius, he had obeyed. “So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:29 ESV). He may not have fully understood what was going on, but he knew it was the will of God, and that was enough for Peter. And when he saw what God was doing in Cornelius’ home, he fully grasped that God had far greater plans for the gospel than he or the other apostles had ever understood. God was non-discriminatory. In fact, Peter told Cornelius and his guests, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34 ESV). Peter got it. The vision of the sheet made sense now. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were no longer to be considered unclean and unacceptable.

Which is what led him to later write to the highly blended congregations located in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

Jews and Gentiles together were to make up the body of Christ. And so, Peter began to explain to the house full of Gentiles eagerly listening to his voice all that God had done through Jesus Christ, relating His ministry, death, burial and resurrection. And he told them the commission that Jesus had passed on to he and his companions.

42 “And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.” – Acts 10:42-43 NLT

But notice that the “everyone” in Jesus’ order had just taken on a new meaning. No longer was the gospel restricted to Jews living in Jerusalem. It had already begun to spread outside the city walls and had even been taken to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews living outside of Jerusalem. It had been shared with the Ethiopian eunuch. And now, Peter was sharing the good news with a house full of Gentiles in the city of Caesarea.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson