The Jerusalem Church, Introduced To World Mission
By John Mike
Key Verse 11:18
“When they heard this they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”
History was made when the Gentiles received the Gospel message at the hands of the Apostle Peter. Since he went to the house of a Gentile, he was immediately criticized by the Jewish Christians who did not understand the heart and mind of God, which was set on world mission. God’s desire is for the spreading of the Gospel message to all people groups and to all nations. They did not understand, but what could Peter do but obey the command of God to fellowship with them, accepting Cornelius invitation and serving them the message of the Gospel of Salvation. This was a severe violation of the Old Testament Law, but Peter explained what God himself told him to do. A new age had arisen for all who express faith in Jesus Christ and desire the blessing and baptism of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Now the gift once exclusive only to the Jewish believers was now available to the Gentile nations and the whole world. God raised up one man, Barnabas, as a source of inspiration and humble heart to embrace the fledgling Gentile church and nurse it to spiritual maturity. God’s heart’s desire is to send the Gospel message and offer salvation to both Jews and Gentiles and to render unto them the gift of the Holy Spirit. We praise and thank God who brought the message of salvation and the Holy Spirit of God to both Jews and Gentiles.
Verse 1 reads. “The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” As we recall, Peter had a vision of four footed animals, birds and reptiles being let down to earth on a sheet by its four corners. A voice told him, “Get up Peter, ‘Kill and eat.’” This happened three times. Peter being a stubborn man did not accept God’s message the first two times and replied, “Surely not Lord.” It was not easy for him to accept but the third time was a charm and now he was ready to go with the three Gentile men who were waiting for him outside his door. They went to Cornelius house where God used him to plant Gospel faith in the hearts of all who were in Cornelius house. God showed his approval by pouring out the Holy Spirit on these Gentile believers. Acts 10:47 says. “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” It was a time of rejoicing and even Peter understood the mystery and shared in it.
But still others could not perceive of such a thing happening. These were the brothers back home in Jerusalem, some of them Peters own Bible students. They heard what was going on and they were ready to confront Peter for what they perceived as unholy actions. Behind his back they gathered and made a list of all of the laws Peter had broken. He has gotten soft; He has lost his mind; and the speculations went on. Verse 2 reads. “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him.” At the murmuring of their complaints, Peter should have been offended. But Peter had matured into a patient man who lived before God. He knew his own stubbornness to accept Gods plan that God had to repeat to him three times before he finally accepted it. [We recall Jesus questioning him after the resurrection. “Simon son of John, Do you truly love me more than these?”…… “Simon, Son of John, do you truly love me?”……”Simon son of John, Do you love me?” (Jn. 21)] Peter had a strong will, but when he submitted to God’s word and commands, it was genuine and from the heart. Peter concluded with these words in verse 17. “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?”
When Peter came to town it is reasonable to think that he expected to be challenged by his co-workers for his unconventional meeting with Gentiles. Even Peter would have a hard time standing up to serious minded disciples, determined to bring him to his senses. But Peter lived before God not before men! When he lived before God he did not hesitate to tell them the facts. Peter respected the word of God and honored it. He lived before God and so he had no problem telling them the truth. How tempting it would be to weave a story other than what really happened to make him look good. But Peter was not like that. He was not defensive and immature, but told the story as it really happened. When he accepted the word of God, he really accepted it deeply. Peter greatly respected God’s word. He was like Old Testament Joseph, who interpreted dreams for Pharaoh, exactly as they happened. He did not consider what a precarious situation he was in but imparted the truth of God as it is. He was not mindful of his own wellbeing but told God’s truth revealing God’s will to his people, whatever the cost.
Peter had a great shepherd heart like Jesus to explain everything to them and helping them to understand. Peter described with an absolute conviction of faith what had happened that urged him to enter into a Gentile’s house and eat with them. God wants to include Gentiles in the preaching of the Gospel and receiving its message and this was non-negotiable. They were now to be included among his own people. When Peter delivered the message with truth and clarity, they accepted. Once again verse 17, 18 says. “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus, who was I to think I could oppose God. When the y heard this they had no further objections and praised God saying, ‘so then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’” They could criticize Peter but in the end they must make a choice, whether to accept God’s way and will or not to accept God’s will and his way of working.
Peter was now a completely changed man. He was previously described as shifting sand with an unpredictable temperament, whereas now his foundations are built on a rock of God’s word and of faith and of Christ’s shepherd heart for all people. He had changed from a stubborn man who only thought of himself to a man who graciously thought of others with a learning mind. He truly cared that his brothers in Christ understood the truth of world mission, although it could cost him misunderstanding and the loss of his position of leadership. He matured into a man who no longer lived before the eyes of others but lived before God, seeking the acceptance of God alone. Peter was a leader in the church and as such was responsible to uphold the truth. This is the attitude of a good soldier who is fulfilling his duty. A soldier is responsible to carry out the orders given him. Boout Peter did not stand on the power of obedience to fulfill his purpose in carrying out the truth. His motives were much more personal. He had an inner motivation that would enable him to stand as a man of power and grace which he was destined to be. Peter now stood on the truth by his own conviction of heart. This is the conviction that God showed him at Cornelius’ house, which is God’s desire for world mission. He now stood on his very own personal conviction of world mission. He now stood on the repentance of his own heart which was previously closed due to his own stubbornness. So now, even the stubborn Christian brothers and sisters had to bow down at this conviction and submit to the will of God. They had to accept the conviction that what was happening to the Gentiles is that God had accepted them as his very own— that now you too must accept them! We cannot stand on any truth unless we stand by the conviction of our own heart’s conviction. This is the most powerful of all authorities. Conviction enables us to stand on the truth and with this authority from the Lord; God’s servants can advance in the power of his truth.
Look at verse 19. It reads: “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Steven traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to the Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them about the good news about the Lord Jesus.” Antioch was an unbelievably immoral city. It was very cosmopolitan and well known for its trade as a rich commercial center. It had its own sports center. The Romans built great temples, a forum, a theater, baths, aqueducts and other public buildings. The main streets were lined with marble colonnades and with temples and statues. It was the most unlikely place to receive the gospel. But this is where world mission began. Antioch is the place where God first brought the Gospel message to the rest of the world. The character of the early church was shaped in this city with all kinds of people groups whose ways of thinking were far differed.
Consider how mission minded they were to endure under such diverse circumstances. How is it that they lived, and how did they serve? While living in the world before receiving the message of salvation, everything they did was centered on pleasure, going to the movies or Coliseum, going to the bath house, having a steak fit for a Greek. If you weren’t being entertained in some way, you just weren’t living. But these Gentile Christians broke free from the world and its pleasure seeking, which is incredible. It is amazing that they gave it all up. They broke free from Gentile tradition, which is unthinkable. Cornelius was a man who broke free from his once godless tradition. He was a soldier from the Italian regiment, a Centurion, a soldier of soldiers since he was Italian and they were native to Rome. His background was of a true inborn citizen from the heart of Rome, who naturally was expected to act like a notorious enforcer of Roman peace. But Cornelius grew as a precious servant of Jesus, who loved God and loved his fellow man. The Jews never imagined that the Gentiles could accept God and his word, but they were drinking it in like crazy.
Verse 20 reads. “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.” Antioch was a big city. The atmosphere was intimidating, rich with philosophy and culture. These men who went from Cyprus and Cyrene were not skilled missionaries and did not have much to offer. They just began to speak with the Greeks about this new life they experienced. They did not look like much, but the Lords hand was with them. “The Lords hand was with them” was the key to God working mightily. They were the recipients of persecution but it didn’t matter; the Lords hand was with them. They also had a heart to serve the gospel so they did not hesitate to speak the name of Jesus. God wisely used these people and their background as Gentiles to serve the gospel.
Barnabas, who was originally called Joseph, was himself a man from Cyprus, whom God used as a man of encouragement. Since he grew up in the Gentile world, he could be used to be a blessing to other Gentiles and help them. He could relate to their way of life and practices. He could accept others as they were since he himself was one of them. Consider if a man of Jewish background was sent to take care of these baby Gentile Christians, it probably would have shocked his socks off, since their cultures were immeasurably different. They did not have the Bible available as we have it, nor did they have years of Christian history to glean from its precious examples of faith. They did not have any testimonies of how God worked in the lives of others through faith as we have. They only have the good news of a man who died several years ago on a cross, and that he is the Son of God. These messengers were truly men and women of faith, proclaiming this truth for the first time in history. They were truly blesses to have a man of faith, Barnabas, who understood the struggle of giving up the old way of life and going forth to preach the gospel message. Because the hand of God was with these messengers of faith, the Gospel was able to spread amongst the Gentile nations.
Read verse 22 and 23. “News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” As we said, Barnabas was a man of encouragement. The early church was wise to send such a man as him. This shows that the church in Jerusalem was thoughtful and concerned about the people who were scattered due to persecution through Stevens’s martyrdom. The church kept up with them and prayed for these scattered saints. The church was not concerned with itself only but cared enough to send Barnabas. Verse 24 says of Barnabas, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Barnabas was very open towards the spiritually unrefined condition of these people. He was open to anything and was not judgmental, rather he was gracious. He looked for any sign of the grace of God at work and was thankful. He was the perfect man for the job. He could have seen a hundred things that were wrong if it were the church in Jerusalem. They had no idea about Jewish culture. Imagine the shock of smelling BBQ pork ribs roasting or a hot buttery lobster tail. This would repulse the pallet accustomed to a kosher meal and forbidden by Jewish law. But this was the Antioch church which had a new culture that accommodates the various peoples who received God’s invitation to be a part of this ever growing spiritual family. It had room for the numerous customs, traditions and diet for the sake of unity. It was really something special. Barnabas was not here to Judge, but to encourage. He was not jealous of the rapid spiritual growth nor did he make mention of his superior position as elder-apostle and say look at ME, respect ME. I am great and you are not, listen to ME! His concern was not for his own honor nor did he put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Jerusalem church was very wise to send this man. His shepherd heart was very big and his desire was for them to grow as God’s people and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Now that the early church was growing in number, what course of action did Barnabas take? Verse 25 and 26a read. “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch…” Barnabas showed his true humility when he realized that he was not equipped to teach them the word of God, so he went and found someone who could. He knew that the flock of God needed a Bible teacher. He knew that Saul was prepared to teach them the word of God. Barnabas prayer and received inspiration from God and thus went out to seek Saul to teach them. We see that God inspires his servants and opened the way for the Holy Spirit to work. Barnabas was a good behind the scenes worker who sought to build others up in spite of himself. What happened when he opened the way for Saul to teach them the Bible? Look at verse 26b. “…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.” He was like Jonathan, who was a close friend to David. He was willing to give up his position as next in line to be king, so that David, God’s choice for a king might lead God’s people instead. And so for a whole year they were taught Bible by Saul and Barnabas. They met as a group and were given the name Christians here at Antioch. They were fed a spiritual meal of the word of God daily and so the Holy Spirit could work. Where there is a steady diet of the word of God in a spiritual environment, the Holy Spirit can work mightily through that word of God planted in the heart. Bible study clearly provides the platform through which the work of God can be done since the word of God is the way for a conviction of heart since it reveals the truth of God.
The church in Antioch experienced a time of spiritual growth. Now it would have to endure in a time of trial. Verse 27 and 28 read. “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.” This famine would include the whole Roman world that they knew, including Antioch and Jerusalem. The Antioch church was sensitive to the needs of its Christian brothers living in Jerusalem. To them she was like the mother church and they could not bear to see her suffering in starvation. So what did the Antioch church do out of love and a shepherd heart? Read verse 29 and 30. “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gifts to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Their heart was to help the Jewish brothers out in their time of need. They did not worry about their own needs but gave generously to those who were in need. This was the fruit of the word of God working together with the Spirit in a personal relationship with God giving them a desire to love and serve, even in their own time of need. Without knowing God’s love personally, you can’t be sacrificial. You really can’t! We must really know God’s love and grace to us so a desire of generosity from a thankful heart flows out from within. May God give us a generous heart to love and serve others, especially our missionaries coming from overseas to the ISBC so that they might experience our generosity, having a time of spiritual rest and restoration.
We can see that the Antioch church was well fitted to be a world mission church. Their teachings were centered on the word of God and on prayer. Men and women were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were culturally diverse and had teachers who understood this diversity. They were willing to travel wherever God needed them. And they had a spirit of sacrifice, especially for their brothers. All of these were a good spiritual foundation where world mission could begin and the Good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be spread. They were a small church but God used it mightily. Thus, a world mission church was born. May God bless us with this same spirit of world mission that was in the early church, so that we too may have renewed spiritual desire to love and serve others with the Gospel message until the gospel can spread from us to all peoples and all nations of the world— beginning with you and me. Amen!