Monday, May 24, 2010

Growing the Church in Antioch

Acts 11

Barnabas and Saul at Antioch

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. 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.

[Here we see many of those scattered from the persecution in Jerusalem went up the cost. Phoenicia was north of Caesarea (where we found Cornelius) and followed the coastline up towards Antioch. Others had taken boats to the island of Cyprus. This is just far enough outside of Judea to where the primary language was no longer Aramaic but Greek, yet this verse 19 group witnessed only in the synagogues. Others were scattered to the west as far as Cyrene but also to Cyprus like the first group. But is seems the witness of the verse 20 group extended outside the synagogues and reached a group identified only as the Hellenist or Grecian depending on your translation. Now as far back as the reformation Bible teachers have been debating who these Hellenist were, the primary question was whether or not they were Jews. Technically the word only means one who speaks Greek, so you really have to look at how this term is used in the book of Acts to get a clear understanding of its meaning:


HELLENISTES            EllhniothV    HELLENIST OR GRECIAN    ACTS 6,9, 11


HELLEN                Ellhn        GENTILE OR GREEK        ACTS 16


HELLENISTI            Ellhnioti    IN GREEK            ACTS 21


Based upon this usage we conclude that the Hellenist were Jews but would have differing customs with some being very conservative, keeping to the synagogues, and strictly following the law, other being more integrated with the Greeks or gentiles, maybe only observing the most holy days of the Jewish faith. Some even think these are part of the Diaspora, Jews from the Babylonian captivity who never relocated back to Israel. At this time there would still be a cultural separation between the Aramaic speaking Jews who studied the Hebrew Bible, and the Jews to spoke Greek and used the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.]


21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

[The bottom line is the Lord was using different people to reach different audiences, diversity increased in the church and more people turned to Jesus as a result.]

22 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. 23 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. 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.

[Again we see Jerusalem being reactive instead of proactive. Only after they hear of the Holy Spirit moving through a group of people do they send help from Jerusalem. In this case we have a bunch of witnessing disciples following Jesus and the Holy Spirit but they are lacking leadership, so they Send Barnabas to Antioch to encourage this new church. You will remember we have seen Barnabas twice before, giving a great offering in Acts 4, and uniting Saul with the church at Jerusalem in Acts 9. We also find that Barnabas was from Cyprus like many of the Jews in Antioch, so he is the perfect minister for this church.]

25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 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.

[As the church in Antioch grew Barnabas saw that he could use the help of Saul. Saul had to leave Jerusalem because he was going to be killed by the Jewish leaders there, but here in Antioch he could be a real help to the church. Barnabas remembered what a good Spirit filled teacher Saul was, so he brought him from Tarsus to Antioch. There in Antioch, Saul and Barnabas ministered together for a whole year.


Up until this time Jesus' followers called themselves disciples, brethren, or people of The Way (from John 14:6). Here in Antioch the church gained the title "Christians". Some think this was originally intended as an insult by those outside the church, but believers have adopted the title and kept it. To tell the truth I prefer "the way" because that suggested following a certain path, a way of living, not just believing.]

Relief to Judea

27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 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. [When we think of prophets, we think of the Old Testament prophets like Daniel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. But Jesus also referred to himself and John the Baptist as prophets. We also know prophecy to be one of the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Ephesians 4
10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

These prophets by the Spirit foretold future events, important to the Church.

One of these New Testament prophets from Jerusalem was a man named Agabus. Agabus appears twice in scripture, here and in Acts 21, here he told of a famine in the Roman world, and in Acts 21 he foretold Paul of being imprisoned in Rome. What is interesting here is Luke is recalling the prophecy, but writing after it was already fulfilled, so he adds the detail that it was fulfilled when Claudius was the Caesar of Rome. Because of this little footnote, we have a historical context to the story:

Augustus    27 BC-14 AD

Tiberius    14 – 37 AD

Caligula        37 – 41 AD

Claudius    41 – 54 AD

Nero        54 – 68 AD

So the famine would be in the 41 – 54 AD timeframe. This famine is recorded in multiple secular histories. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles places the famine at 46-47 AD. The Josephus also writes of the famine in the time of Claudius, and the Roman historian Tacitus tells of a man being jailed during this time because he had a vision predicting years of bad harvests for Claudius. Some professors at Harvard studied the geological data from this era to see if this famine was caused by drought, what they found was the opposite. It seems for a few years the rains that flood the Nile river delta came later usual far a few years, flooding the fields that had already been planted, destroying much of the harvest. So the famine stretched from Egypt up through Syria including Judea.]

29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

[We often speak of a growth in terms of an increase of new believers. Here we see growth in spiritual maturity. The church at Antioch, thankful for the teachers from Jerusalem, takes up an offering, each giving as much as they could afford, to send relief, providing for the saints in Jerusalem. This church had grown in grace and compassion. Most of them would not personally know who they were helping, but they had love for the brethren even a long way off.

There is evidence that the Aramaic speaking Jews, and the Greek speaking Jews usually maintained a cultural separation. But in the Christian church, we are one body, and one spirit. The Spirit of God, gives us a love for others who belong to Christ Jesus, even with barriers of language and culture. This is evidence of our redemption. John 13
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Confirming the Work of the Lord

Acts 10

[In Acts 10 An Italian Centurion names Cornelius has a vision while fasting and praying in Caesarea . Peter was in Joppa he has the famous lunchtime vision, followed by a visit from the servants of Cornelius. So Peter goes to Caesarea with disciples from Joppa, to find Cornelius has assembled a house full of people to here Peter speak.]

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—

[Following the message of his vision Peter overcomes a lifetime of prejudice to preach to gentiles, seeing that Jesus is not just the savior of the Jews.]

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. 45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Then Peter answered, 47 "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.

[The sign gifts of the Holy Spirit were still at work confirming the power of God, and the Jews with Peter were amazed when they see uncircumcised gentiles receiving the same gifts, so they baptized the believing gentiles and remained with them.

Peter, no doubt on a spiritual high from what he had just witnessed in Caesarea, was met in Jerusalem by a company of Christian critics. Yet even in this "critical confrontation", we see God's Spirit of discernment, peace, and unity rule in His church.]

Acts 11

1 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, 3 saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!"

[News travels fast! Apparently, one of the Jewish brethren who had traveled with Peter made a bee-line to Jerusalem to break the news. Before criticizing someone or something, it's always important to check and make sure you have ALL the information.

We dare not confuse these people with the Pharisees or some other group outside the church. They clearly represented a conservative minority within the church, a group dedicated to protecting a Jewish perspective on Christianity. And why not? Messiah was a part of the Jewish faith, promised for thousands of years, so they didn't immediately understand all that Jesus taught about the law being fulfilled in him. What was their contention? Not the proclamation of the gospel. Not the giving of the Holy Spirit. Not baptism in the Name of Jesus. No, such weighty and theological matters were pushed aside in order to protect a tradition of the Jews – don't EVER eat with a Gentile.

They didn't care about the particulars. They didn't want the evidence. They simply knew that a prominent church leader had done something to offend them, and they wanted to be sure he heard about it the moment he stepped into town. So to hold a committee meeting to see if they would allow whatever it was that happened in Caesarea, sound like a bunch of Baptist to me.]

4 But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: 5 "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. 6 When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8 But I said, 'Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.'

[The old Peter may have wanted to cut off a few ears when confronted by such critics; but the new Spirit-filled Peter, with self-control, patience, and humility provides a thorough explanation.]

9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven.

[Peter's vision demonstrated that God was doing something new. "What God has cleansed you must not call common". As long as the gospel was being preached to the Jews the central message was Jesus is messiah. But Peter needed to expand their vision so they would see that Jesus was not just the savior of the Jews. But this was not God changing his mind; this also was foretold long ago in Isaiah 42

Isaiah 42

6 " I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
      And will hold Your hand;
      I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
      As a light to the Gentiles,
       7 To open blind eyes,
      To bring out prisoners from the prison,
      Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

God had also promised to bless "all nations" with the offspring of Abraham way back in genesis 18. So Jesus fulfilled the covenant of Abraham by being a light to the gentiles. That's what the Jews in Jerusalem needed to understand. Peter wasn't making this up on his own, Peter was just being used to keep God's promise.]

11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 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, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.'

[The timing the men asking for Peter and the Spirit telling him to go with them were tell-tale signs that this was all part of God's sovereign plan.]

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.

[Here was the confirmation, the Holy Spirit fell on them just like us, there was no difference.]

16 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.' 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?"

[Peter drops the bomb. Who am I? I didn't choose, the Holy Spirit did. If an apostle says "who am I", then the circumcision crowd needs to hush and let God have his way.]

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."

[The fruit of their wise contemplation was God's glorification and one of the most shocking admissions in Jewish history, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life". This truth had been prophesied by Isaiah but was now a reality through Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Jesus is a light to the gentiles. So in the end the committee in Jerusalem confirmed the work of Jesus. So we see God can choose to save whomever he wants. Sometimes when the Spirit of God moves in ways we don't expect, all we can do is stand back and cheer. They "glorified God", and that is always God's will.]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Peter and Cornelius – Part 1

Acts 10

Cornelius Sends a Delegation

 1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment,

[Just up the coast from Joppa, is Caesarea, stationed there is a centurion named Cornelius. Now most people assume a centurion commanded 100 men, but depending on the time and place, other literature puts the potential command size at anywhere between 80 and 600 men. We also see that these are Italians. So as a southern European, he is a stranger or foreigner to Caesarea. As a military commander we can project that he is a well disciplined individual.]


2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

[Here we begin to see similarities with the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. Though not a Jew, it says he feared God, gave generously, and prayed constantly. This fits the characteristics of gentiles called God-fearers, who are not just religious like the poly-theist of the Roman culture, he would be knowledgeable of the scripture, and the God of Abraham, he believes in one God, and his faith alters his behavior in prayer and giving. Moreover his family and household servants followed his religions lead, making him a pretty special Roman commander.]


3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!"
4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, "What is it, lord?"
So he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.

6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do."

[The 9th hour is mid afternoon, after the noon-day meal, we call this nap time. Cornelius is praying when he receives a vision from God. In his vision he sees clearly, an Angel of God, calling him by name (I love that God knows our names, we have a personal God). Cornelius gives the humble response "What is it lord". The angel tells him God has noticed you! What an awesome statement, the God of creation takes notice of an individual who 1) Prays and 2) Gives, and God calls those two things a memorial. A memorial is a record or proof that you were here. If God were looking for your spiritual memorial, what would he find? For Cornelius he found praying and giving. Without explanation the angel gives our centurion a command. Send men to Joppa, look for Peter at Simon the tanner's house by the sea. Is there anything that God doesn't know? He knows where you are, and who you are with at all times. Then he says that Peter would give him further instructions. See how God works? Once we demonstrate that we will follow his leading, then more of his will is revealed to us.]

7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

[As soon as the angel departed, the vision ended, and Cornelius acted. He called two household servants and a "devout" soldier, that means a godly man, a man of like faith as Cornelius. If you have a god-led mission, send a godly man. So he explains his vision to these 3 men, and sends them to Joppa to find Peter. What a great time to have servants. Why risk looking crazy yourself when you can send someone else?]

Peter's Vision

9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance

[As Cornelius' men are traveling, Peter goes up to pray at lunch time. And he's hungry, but lunch isn't ready yet. Yet as Peter is praying he falls into a trance.]


11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."

[What do you dream about when you're hungry? You dream about food. But this is the wrong kind of food. He sees a giant table cloth and animals that were "unclean" or not suitable for a Jew to eat under the law. But the voice said "kill and eat", what a horrible vision, it's like a nightmare. Peter does not dream about food he likes, he dreams about animals he has been trained to consider unworthy or unsuitable all his life.]

14 But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean."

[Peter objects, "I have never eaten anything" like that before. It's not me, God, that's not my thing; it's not what I do. I'm a good Jew. Oddly enough though Peter identifies the voice as the Lord, he still says "no".]

15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

[The Lord spoke again and explained, "If I make it clean, then it is no longer unsuitable". And the point was reinforced by repeating the vision two more times. Finally the giant table cloth was gone and the vision ended.]

Summoned to Caesarea

17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.
19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, "Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?"

[So Peter is wondering about the vision, when the Holy Spirit speaks to him. He is told 3 men are looking for him, and he is supposed to go with them without question, "Doubting nothing", because they are sent by God. So Peter goes down to have a chat with Cornelius' men and asks "why are you here?"]

22 And they said, "Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you." 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them.
On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

[How would you like to the guys trying to explain their purpose in coming to a man they never met before? They don't know about Peter's vision, but they have to tell the story. "Ok, I know this is going to sound crazy but Cornelius is a great guy, everybody likes him, he's godly, he's nice to Jews, anyway he was talking to this Angel, and the Angel said for us to come here and find you, and that's why we are here." Here is where they were probably expecting to get the door slammed in their face, but instead they are invited in to stay the night. The next day the 3 from Cornelius and Peter, and some of the saints form Joppa, all leave for Caesarea. Why would Peter take saints from Joppa? He was discipling them, showing them first hand how to follow God's direction. Two visions, for one purpose, to bring the gospel to Caesarea. It's amazing how much God loves us, all the details he works to make us a part of his plan.]