For the last 3 weeks in the Acts of the Apostles we have been hearing about conversions – the conversion of the Ethiopian, Saul and finally Cornelius. During this 3rd conversion however, the Apostles learn something that was most likely quite shocking to them. What did they learn? “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Now don’t miss the importance of that statement. First of which, Gentiles were now welcome in the house of God!! It no longer belonged to only those of the Jewish faith. Peter said in Acts 10:34-35, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.”. But secondly, what leads to life?? Repentance leads to life! And what does repentance mean? Repentance means to change direction. To turn from evil and turn to good – turn to God, the one true God, the Triune God!
We also don’t want to forget what we learned from chapter ten that even though Cornelius was a God-fearer – a Gentile who respected the one true God, this God of the Jews, and who lived a moral life, yet he was still separated spiritually from God. Remember humans became separated from God way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the apple. It took the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to reconcile us once again to the Father. To justify us – to make us right with Him.
Thus, Cornelius was not saved, and neither was Saul, nor the Ethiopian, nor any person who does not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Cornelius was not saved until he came into right standing with God through faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.
And Paul tells us, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” 2nd Cor. 5:21. God is a holy and perfect God, therefore all those who wish to enter eternal life in heaven must be holy and perfect too. And that can only happen through the means of propitiation. What is propitiation you ask?
Propitiation is a big word that means satisfaction. Again, because God is a holy God, His anger burns against sin. And because He is a just God, He has sworn that sin must be punished. There must be a satisfactory payment for our sin. And church family, truthfully, do we not feel the same way? Don’t we want justice when someone sins against us? Of course, we do. So, looking at it from a purely human perspective, not even from God’s, it makes sense that God would require justice. However, God as a merciful God realized “If I punish man for his sin, man will die and go to hell. On the other hand, if I don’t punish man for his sin, My need for justice will never be satisfied.”
So how did God solve this problem, this dilemma? What was the solution He came up with? God become our substitute. He took the sin of mankind upon Himself in agony and blood—a righteous judgment and substitute for sin – our sin. His wrath burned out on the cross when His only Son died as man’s propitiation for sin. And this church family …….. is love. “We love, because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.
Our God is a God who is holy, just, merciful and loving. “He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” 1 Timothy 2:4. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9. Therefore, church family, unlike what many people believe, God does not send people to hell. He gives us the wonderful gift of choice. He tells us exactly what we need to do. Consequently, we send ourselves to hell when we chose not to accept His loving offer – the sacrifice of His Son – so that we might live forever!
Now as we begin chapter 11, we hear that the apostles and believers throughout Judea are not happy with Peter at all because they heard that he had went into a Gentile’s home and actually had a meal with them. Sharing a meal together was a special sign of fellowship in that time and culture. Not to mention, Jews simply did not associate with Gentiles, period. They were considered unclean; hence the vision we read about in chapter ten that God gave to Peter when he was in a trance regarding clean and unclean animals.
Consequently, these Jewish Christians considered Peter’s behavior to be a significant compromise. So, they confront him. He in turn, explains exactly what happened. After his explanation they understood – the lightbulb went off in their heads. God’s goodness and mercy, His amazing grace – was for all people, not just the Jews.
This reaction of the Christian Jews shows how significant the change was that God initiated in Acts 10. The change said to the Gentiles, and this is very important, “You don’t have to become Jews first, you don’t have to be circumcised and put yourself under the Law of Moses, in order to follow Christ. Repent and believe and you can come to Jesus.” But it also said to the Jewish followers of Jesus, “Receive your Gentile brothers and sisters as full members of the family of God. They are not inferior to you in any way.”
As we get into the second half of this chapter and our scripture passage for the day, we hear once again how up until this time, the gospel was only being shared with Jews, not the Gentiles. It is in Antioch where we hear about Jewish Christians first targeting Gentiles for evangelism. And that because the Lord’s hand was with them, also known as divine intervention, their effort had great results. Remember we heard about divine intervention in our earlier conversion stories. Clearly God was present with the apostles and disciples in the early church. And because His hand was upon them in Antioch, once again, a large number believed and turned to the Lord. In other words, repented.
David Guzik said:
You can’t turn people to the Lord unless the hand of the Lord is with them.
You can turn people to a personality without the hand of the Lord.
You can turn people to a social club without the hand of the Lord.
You can even turn people to a church or an institution without the hand of the Lord.
But you can’t turn people to the Lord without the hand of the Lord. The Holy Spirit must be present. And yes, the Holy Spirit was present!
Next in the passage we have Barnabas reentering the story. By the way, Barnabas is called an apostle, later in Acts chapter 14. You might recall we first heard about Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
And then again in Acts 9:27 regarding Saul: “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”
And here in this scripture we learn even more about Barnabas, “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” 11:22-24.
At this time, Barnabas becomes, once again, associated with Saul. Realizing both the amount of work and the depth of work needed in Antioch, Barnabas remembers Saul and departed for Tarsus to go find him. If you recall, Saul had been sent to Tarsus for his own protection.
Once Barnabas finds Saul after a laborious search, they both return to Antioch. Antioch was 300 miles north of Jerusalem, and 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Many considered Antioch the 3rd greatest city in the Roman empire behind Rome and Alexandria. It was known for its business and commerce, its sophistication and culture, but also for its immorality. Hence Barnabas’s request for help from Saul.
Now at this point when the two of them reunite, it is 44 A.D. Saul was converted in 33 A.D. so about 11 years have gone by since his conversion. Paul spent three years in Arabia immediately after his conversion, then he returned to Damascus to preach Jesus as the Messiah. He fled Damascus because of persecution; visited Jerusalem and met with the apostles with the help of Barnabas. He then preached in Tarsus from 36 A.D. to 44 A.D. and that is when he was invited by Barnabas to go to Antioch. So, while it doesn’t necessarily sound like it when you are reading through these couple of chapters, several years have actually gone by.
Saul and Barnabas worked side-by-side in the church in Antioch for a year. We are told together they taught a great many people. This resulted in the church growing, and disciples being equipped to go and make more disciples – the great commission we learn about in Matthew 28:16-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. Thus, this church became strong in the Lord! Despite Antioch’s lack of morality, because of this church and the great preachers who preached there, including Barnabas, Paul and Peter, the church in Antioch grew to have a world-wide impact.
By the way, Antioch is where we first hear the term Christian. They had been called disciples in Acts 1:15. They had been called believers in Acts 5:14; witnesses in Acts 5:32; brothers in Acts 6:3; followers of the Way in Acts 9:2; saints in Acts 9:13. Now they would be called Christians. And later in Acts 24:5 they would be called Nazarenes.
However, truthfully, they probably first used the term Christian to mock the followers of Jesus. “Antioch was famous for its readiness to jeer and name call. But as the people of Antioch called the followers of Jesus Christians, the believers appreciated the title so much that it stuck. Interestingly though, the word Christian only appears in the Bible twice and the word Christianity does not appear at all.
When you think of the word Christian – what does it mean to you? How would you define it? When I looked up the biblical definition of the word Christian this is what I found: one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Now I have a question for you to consider as I often do. When someone asks you who you are and you begin to define yourself and perhaps even give a list of some of the roles you play, for example, I’m a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a farmer, a teacher, a sports fanatic, a pianist, etc. Do you also include I am a Christian? Or I’m a child of God? Or I am a Son or Daughter of the Most-High God? If you don’t, should not your Christianity be the very essence of who you are? And perhaps it should be identified first.
Eusebius, the famous early church historian, described a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he only replied, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He answered, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was his only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he only answered, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips. (Eusebius, Church History)Let us pray…… Holy God may we first identify as a Christian. May our love of You and our relationship with You be so deeply entrenched within that it is the very first thing we think to say when we are asked about ourselves and may we not be ashamed to say it. We thank You for Your love so great that You sacrificed Your Son that we might be with You. We love You Lord. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us. Our Father…….
Have a beautiful week. Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!