This study is a short one and could be combined with the next
Peter had been travelling in the area to the west of Jerusalem, visiting new churches that had sprung up wherever the Jewish Christians had been dispersed (Acts 9:32). Then he had been directed to visit a Gentile centurion in Caesarea. News spread of the conversion of many Gentiles in that area, so when Peter finally returned to Jerusalem he had some questions to answer.
1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticised him 3 and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’
Back in Jerusalem the Jewish Christians and the Apostles were still steeped in the rules and regulations that had applied since the time of Moses. Having any sort of fellowship with Gentiles was forbidden; eating with them was impossible.
Note the last phrase in verse 2.
Are we quick to criticise when people seem to be acting against our Biblical Doctrines or established church rites and rituals ?
(Perhaps several could share the reading of this next passage)
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-
8 ‘I replied, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
9 ‘The voice spoke from heaven a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 ‘Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, “Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
15 ‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.’
They really couldn’t say anything else, but that didn’t mean that their attitudes had changed. It seemed that it would take a long time for those in the ‘Mother Church’ in Jerusalem – mainly Jews – to fully admit that Gentiles were accepted ‘by faith alone’ (see Acts 15:5-
Now read verses 19-
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.
What a thrilling time this must have been. Christians fleeing for their lives, yet eager to spread the good news to anyone they met! It seems that nothing and nobody could halt the spread of Christianity amongst the Jewish people.
20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene (a town on the coast of Libya, N. Africa) went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Maybe spurred on by the news of Peter’s exploits, these men were led to tell the Gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch. Following the explosion of revival in what was then the Roman capital city of Syria, it soon became the epicentre of the Christian church, taking over from Jerusalem.
Not surprisingly, the leaders in Jerusalem were concerned.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Barnabus, though not one of the original Apostles, was regarded as one – and a ‘safe pair of hands’, just the person to find out what was going on.
23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
In what way was the response of Barnabus different to the Leaders in Jerusalem?
It seems he was quick to recognise the new work of the Holy Spirit among Gentiles rather than be immediately critical and worried that rules were being broken.
25a Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.
Barnabus recognised that there were not enough experienced Christians to help all the new converts and rather than sending to Jerusalem for help, perhaps even asking Peter to join him, his thoughts turned to Saul. Jerusalem was 500 miles to the south, but Tarsus was only 150 miles round the coast, so Barnabus went to find him.
This was not only good for the Christians in Antioch, but was recognition and acceptance for Saul who may have felt he had been sidelined.
25b So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
To start with, the new Christians were predominantly non-
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
After a year the church was well established, and when Agabus told them of the famine already causing suffering to the brothers in Judea, the new disciples immediately responded and put together an aid package; asking Barnabus and Saul to take it back to Jerusalem to ensure it reached the right people.
Once it had been distributed, Barnabus and Saul returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark (12:25).
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