Acts at 10,000 Feet
We’ve spent 10 days now considering the events of the early church in Acts. As we consider chapter 11, I want to zoom out a bit and try to understand the big picture of what God was doing through the early church. We’re going to do a fast paced overview of everything that has happened up to this point, read?
Acts 1: Jesus tells the Apostle’s that they are to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 2: The Holy Spirit comes and 1) Breaks down the barrier of languages so that uneducated men could carry out God’s mission to the ends of the earth, 2) empowers the first sermon of the New Testament church where 3000 people get saved, and 3) empowers a great fellowship and unity in the early church.
At this point, you have a large, unified, empowered, community with a clear mission. Sounds like something from God doesn’t it?
Acts 3: Peter and John heal the lame man. This signals both to the church and those observing that the same Jesus who they killed was alive and well and working among this group of people called the church. It also establishes Peter as a strong leader in the early church.
Acts 4: In both Acts 3 and Acts 4 there is pushback from the Jewish religious leaders against the church. The apostles stand strong on the truth of the Gospel and the believers gather and pray for boldness.
Acts 5: God reminds the church that he is holy through the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira. Persecution continues.
Acts 6: The church, led by God, moves to become more organized by delegating certain responsibilities to a group of men they called deacons (servants). Stephen is arrested.
Acts 7: Stephen is killed.
Acts 8: Persecution against the church increases significantly after Stephen’s death. The Christians are scattered and go announcing the joyful news of the gospel of Jesus amidst persecution. Gentiles (non-Jews) are being converted.
Notice how persecution and displays of God’s greatness come intermingled. This is the life of all Christians until Christ returns. As Paul says, we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”
Remember that in Acts 8 evangelism is spreading outside of Jerusalem. More and more Gentiles are coming to Christ. Imagine at the beginning of Acts 9 you see a comic book “meanwhile….” In other words, we’re going to learn some important stuff that will come into play in a moment.
Acts 9: In Acts 9, we see the radical conversion of a Jew named Saul who was persecuting the church. God says of him in Acts 9:15, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…”
Acts 10: Peter, the leader of the early church, is given a vision and an experience with Cornelius that confirms that Gentile believers have all the same blessings as Jewish believers.
Acts 11a: Todays’ chapter! Peter stands up before the leaders of the church and explains what happened with Cornelius. Acts 11:18 says, “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 11b: OK, remember our “meanwhile” back at the beginning of chapter 9? It’s over now. We’re headed back to the Christians who have been scattered out and are “announcing joyful news.” The first Gentile church is established in a city called Antioch. A man named Barnabas is sent by the Apostles to Antioch to help with the new church. Then Acts 11:25-26 says this:
“So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (remember the guy who got converted in chapter 9?), 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. (ESV)
Wow! I know this was a little bit “technical,” but do you see the wisdom and sovereignty of God here? He had a plan for his church! No one else could be planning all of this out. God is faithfully working to grow and build his church. He’s empowering his people to fulfil his mission and unifying them for his purpose.
The question for us is: What has changed? Is God’s mission for us not still the same? Is his Spirit not still present? What an exciting thing to be a part of what God is doing on planet earth!
Grace & Peace.
Daily Reading: Today’s bible reading is Acts 11.