Peter, the Church in Antioch, and They’re Now Called Christians (Acts 11)

Last week we left off with the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Gentiles and Peter’s revelation and teaching that the uncircumcised could be saved (“everyone who believes in Him receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” ~Acts 10:43)

    Vs 1-3 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

Peter returns to the Jews in Jerusalem and they called him out on his eating and fellowship with the Gentiles. This may have been out of shock rather than accusation.

So Peter responds by telling the story:

    Vs 4-16 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
    But I said, “Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.” But the voice answered me again from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

    At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

This last verse is quoted directly from Jesus in Acts 1 when Jesus had come to visit them after His death and resurrection:

    And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” ~Acts 1:4-5

But also John the Baptist had said the same thing earlier:

    Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. ~Mark 1:6-9

The Holy Spirit comes to us when we are saved in Jesus. Once we’ve heard the “word of truth” (which is the Gospel) and then we’ve trusted Jesus to save us, we are then “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance”.

    In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. ~Ephesians 1:13-14

Peter wraps up his story a question:

    Vs 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?

Indeed, who are we to question God? I know a Christian brother who was so hurt by another Christian that he said “If that guy is in heaven, I don’t want to be there.” The fact is that God is the judge, not us! And “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) No single sinner is better or worse than another. That’s what Peter is just learning and teaching to the disciples. God loves the Gentiles too!

As the disciples are taking this in, they are realizing this truth from The Lord. They could be upset or irritated with God that they share the same Savior and salvation as the Gentiles. Instead of grumbling about it, they praise Him!

    Vs 18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

“And they accepted the work among the Gentiles. Now they weren’t really ready to enter into full fellowship with the Gentiles. As we move along into the book of Acts, we will find that Peter went down to Antioch and he was eating with the Gentiles until certain brethren from Jerusalem came down. And then Peter separated himself because of the feelings that they had still of eating with Gentiles, and it caused a division in the church of Antioch for which Paul rebukes him. And Paul refers to that in the book of Galatians.
So the walls are tumbling, though they’re not completely down. Not by a long shot. And we’ll come in the fifteenth chapter to some issues that arose over this very thing.” ~Pastor Chuck Smith

    Vs 19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.

So at this point the scattered believers are still preaching and teaching to the Jews only and not the Gentiles. But notice the persecution does lead to the spreading of the Gospel! God uses even the most difficult of situations to accomplish his work.

    20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.

The men of Cyprus and Cyrene were Greek-speaking Christians, and here we see them begin to witness to the Gentiles (the Hellenists).

    Vs 21-22 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

Many are now believing in Jesus and the Jewish Christians are hearing about it all the way into Jerusalem. So the Jerusalem church sends out Barnabas to investigate. Remember Barnabas is the one that helped to bring the disciples and Paul together back in Acts 9.

    And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. ~Acts 9:26-27

So Barnabas is the right man for the job of helping to heal relationships and helping to unify the brothers.

    Vs 23-24 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

I love the encouraging faith of Barnabas that we see here!

    “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
    ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

We are called to encourage one another and build one another up in faith, rather than to tear each other down.

    Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
    ~Hebrews 10:23-25

We are called to encourage one another in fellowship, not neglecting to meet together (that means go to church!), and help others to show love and good works.

    Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
    ~1 Peter 4:8-10

We are called to love one another, show one another hospitality (invite folks over and feed them dinner!) and to use what God has given us to help each other.

The next six verses demonstrate that kind of encouragement to us:

    Vs 25-30 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

These are brothers and sisters in Christ, they are the early church. Barnabas goes out and finds Saul and brings him into the Antioch church. They fellowshipped together -“not neglecting to meet together”. They showed “hospitality to one another without grumbling” by bringing in Saul and meeting with the prophets from Jerusalem. They used the gifts they’d been given “to serve one another as good stewards”.

The early church here is living out their new faith in Christ. They are doing exactly what Christ did in his earthly ministry. In doing so, they had earned a new name: they were now called “Christians”. Think of the Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and so forth. They are the people of Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossae. Christians are simply the “people of Christ” or “followers of Christ”. I want to be known as a Christian because others recognize Christ in me.

    Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:16
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8 thoughts on “Peter, the Church in Antioch, and They’re Now Called Christians (Acts 11)

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