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Acts #40 (chapter 11:1-30)
The Book of Acts
The First Gentile Church
Acts 11:1-30
Tonight we come to chapter 11 of the book of Acts and I hope to be able to accelerate the study just a little bit. We spent several week on chapter 10 and I don't regret that because it is a significant chapter that deals with the first Gentile conversion.  So what about the Ethiopian eunuch?  Was he as Jew?  I tent to believe he was either a Jew or a Jewish convert for two reasons. 
One, he was going to Jerusalem to study, and two, as we'll see tonight, it is regarding Cornelius the statement is made about repentance being granted to the Gentiles. 
Now, chapter 11 is 30 verses long, but the first 18 are really a retelling of what just happened in chapter 10.  So we'll just read them and let them speak for themselves. 
Acts 11:1-18 
Now this is an interesting passage in that it says exactly what we read in Chapter 10, almost verbatim.  I don't think there is any other place in Scripture where you have the same thing repeated twice in a row with such detail. 
And when you consider how Cornelius describes things to Peter when he arrives, parts of the story are actually repeated three times.  There is a great lesson found in that. 
If God says something once, it's important.  If He repeats Himself, we should really pay attention, and if something is said three times in a row, it must something we really need to hear! And that is magnified when you consider how it was originally recorded. 
The scrolls used in the days when Luke would have written the book of Acts come from a certain kind of bulrush plant.  The longest ones ever discovered are about 35 feet long.  That is fair-sized scroll!  But it would take a scroll of that size just to write the book of Acts with its 28 chapters. 
So Luke had a limited amount of space on which to write.  He has a lot of things to include.  There was much about the early church that needed to be recorded, and yet he chooses to include the same events two and even three times. 
Now keep in mind, he is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Obviously God wants this point about Gentile conversion to be made clear! This is a critical component of the history of the church that addresses so many things going forward!
Now, having talked about its importance, I'm not, however, going to go take the time to cover these events again.  We've covered it and gone into detail.  I just want to make the point that this is a significant passage of Scripture. 
And its importance is seen in the response Peter gets when he returns to Jerusalem.  He gets back to town and everyone's all fired up about these Gentiles being saved and baptized.
And this argument breaks out about what has happened.  But Peter just lays out the facts, and to their credit, they accept what has happened as the will of God.
verse 18
Now, whether you realize it or not, that statement is one of the most shocking statements in Jewish history. Just ask Jonah!  He was willing to be swallowed by a whale before he would make that statement! And he wasn't by himself.  There were very few Jews anywhere anytime who would be willing to make that statement. 
But what Peter has shared is inarguable!  It's obvious.  It's undeniable!  And in reality, it is what lays the groundwork for the church.  The church can never move forward until Jewish believers are willing to admit that Gentiles can be saved, and then embrace them in fellowship in Christ.
Now think about how long it took to get there.  God has been moving humanity toward this day for centuries. Through all the history of the Jews, this has been the goal.  Eventually, Christ makes His appearance and is crucified.  Finally, on Pentecost after the resurrection, the church is birthed.  And now, here we are, perhaps as much as seven years from Pentecost has gone by till this statement is finally made.
But once it happens, once the groundwork is in place, things really begin to move! This on fire church begins to move out and begin the work of evangelizing Gentiles.  
2.  The Genesis
verses 19-20
You can still see this division that exists.  Some are preaching only to the Jews.  They haven't fully embraced this idea of Gentiles being saved.  So why not?  Well, if we pay attention to the text, these men were scattered because of the persecution of Stephen which means they got scattered and then the Cornelius incident happened while they were scattered, which means they hadn't heard of it.
They very likely had no idea of what had happened to Cornelius so they had no precedent for Gentile evangelism. So they were still concentrating on Jewish evangelism. And as they went to these towns and found these Greek speaking Jews, displaced, Hellenist Jews, they would share Christ with them and start a little group of believers.
But some of them, we are told in verse 20, were men of Cyprus and Cyrene.  That means they were Jewish, but they had a Greek background which made them more open to reaching Gentile. And when they came to Antioch, they actually preached to the pagans and people got saved. And all of this was happening in a place called Antioch.
Now Antioch is a very interesting city.  It was made a free city under Rome in 64 A.D. and served as the capital of Syria.  At this time, it was the third largest city in the world after Rome and Alexandria.  Population estimates are around 600,000.  It was significant because the network of Roman roads crisscrossed there made it attractive to trade. 
In spite of some of the good things, Antioch was basically known as an evil city. In fact, one Roman historian said that the Euphrates River spilled its garbage into the Tiber, which was his way of saying that Antioch corrupted Rome.
Now if Rome was rotten you can just imagine was going on in Antioch.  One writer said that life there was a perpetual festival of vice revolving around the baths, brothels, the amphitheatre and the circus.
There was a goddess by the name Daphne, who was supposed to be the lover of Apollo and they built a garden that was 10 miles in circumference populated by prostitutes where people could indulge in all the activities and immoralities that took place there. 
In fact, the worship of Antioch revolved around sexual indulgences and Satanic activity.  Magicians, and sorcerers and Babylonian astrologers made a fortune off the people of Antioch. So it was a vile place.
And yet it was there that God chose to plant a church.  That tells us about the heart of God.  God likes to save sinners and He likes to reach lots of people.  So He planted the first church in a place called Antioch. 
And he does it through some men from Cyprus and Cyrene.  By the way, does anyone know the names of these men?  No, you don't.  Nobody does. Their names are never given. It's almost a positive omission by the Spirit of God. Why? I'm sure they were more preoccupied with people finding out about the name of Jesus Christ than they were their names.  
And by the way, speaking of what they preached, notice
verse 20b
Notice, they didn't preach about Christ Jesus, which means Messiah. That wouldn't relate to Gentiles so they preached the Lord Jesus. They preached Him as Savior and Lord.
Verse 21
Notice that first phrase, the hand of the Lord was with them.  It means two things: first of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus 14:31, the Bible says, "And Israel saw that great work, which the Lord had done." And the word work is the word hand. It expresses power and the Egyptians were shocked at what God had done. His hand extended means power.
And, secondly, it always means power with blessing. It may not always look like it, but if God's hand is involved, it ultimately brings a blessing.  You see that idea in Ezra and Nehemiah where the Bible talks about "The good hand of the Lord."
So the hand of the Lord was with them in Antioch as the Lord with power that resulted in salvation.  And look at the harvest
verse 21b
Those two must go together for genuine salvation to have taken place.  A lot of people believe, but don't turn to the Lord.  In this case, they did both.
So a church is birthed in Antioch where the Lord Jesus is preached and people are genuinely saved. 
So we have the groundwork, the genesis and third
3.  The Growth
verse 22
Now word comes about more Gentiles being saved and the church sends a good man named Barnabas to Antioch to see what's going on. By the way, this is the same Barnabas that sold the land back in chapter 4 so he could give to help others.  We saw him again in chapter 9 when he stood up for Saul after his conversion and nobody wanted to trust him.
And now we see him again.  And what we read appears to be just a little, incidental fact.  There's a little situation down in Antioch that needs some godly wisdom, so the church sent Barnabas.  But if the right man isn't sent to do this job, things could really spiral southward.  So he is sent to deal with the situation is a big deal, and Barnabas is the right man for the job. 
So what qualified Barnabas?  A couple of things:
First, he had
- the spiritual qualities
You look at his life in the past, and you can tell what kind of guy he was. He's what was needed because he has a compassionate heart and a spirit of encouragement. 
The second thing about him was he had the right
- visible testimony.
Verse 24
He was a good man, which means he was righteous, he was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was full of faith. 
Think about those three and how they testify:
First, righteousness is my testimony to others.  That's what the world should see when they look at a child of God.  They have the right to determine, whether or not I'm as good as my faith says I should be. 
Full of faith is my testimony to myself.  I'm no good to God if I don't believe.  I need to know I really trust Him.  Barnabas was so full of faith he'd do anything that God led him do. He believed God.
Third, full of the Holy Spirit is my testimony to God through which i say to Him, "I'm available to do whatever you tell me to do." 
With Barnabas, no matter how he was examined, whether before men, in his own sight or before God, his testimony qualified him to go to Antioch.
But there was something else that qualified him and that was
 - the physical heritage
Barnabas was from Cyprus, which is where the guys who founded the church in Antioch were from also.  So immediately, Barnabas is accepted. 
He's not seen as an intruder.  He can step into the situation and be respected and heard.  So he had the qualifications. He was the man for the hour.
Verse 23
When he saw what God had done up there, it was a beautiful experience.  All these Gentiles were saved and he was glad about it!  And notice how he puts his spiritual giftedness into action.  He exhorts and encourages them. 
And notice how he encouraged them:
"that with purpose of heart, they should continue with the Lord."
What does that mean?  Barnabas has this group of brand-new believers.  So what does he encourage them to do? 
First, to cling to the Lord. That's the first thing necessary.  Satan will do everything he can to shake the faith of a new believer.  Make up your mind that you will continue with the Lord.
Number two, stay close to Jesus Christ. It's always heartbreaking when someone goes through the motions of getting saved and then you never see them again.  They never learn the joy of being close to God.
Now, reading between the lines, his encouragement to continue with the Lord obviously meant continuing with the church and being in the study of Scripture.
So when Barnabas said, "Hey folks, cling to the Lord", he intended for them to saturate themselves into the life and teaching of the church. 
And with that encouragement, he left them, verse 25 tells us us, to go to Tarsus and find Saul.
verse 25
Now, keep in mind, years have passed since Saul got saved.  He got kicked out of Jerusalem quite a while ago because he was stirring up more trouble than they could handle. They sent him back home to Tarsus in Cilicia. You know what he did? He went all over Cilicia starting churches.
In the meantime, according to 2 Corinthians 11, he was being beaten up mercilessly along with all the other things he mentions there, and most of them occurred in these years of which we have no record.
But he's been busy and moving around and doing the work of the Lord and Barnabas has to "seek" Saul. He eventually locates him
verse 26
This is quite a team! How would you like to have for the pastors of your church, Paul and Barnabas? Don't think about that too long you'll get discontented. They're not around so, anyway!  But there they are, serving together at Antioch. 
And notice what they do.  They taught.  Of all the things they could have done and maybe did, only one is mentioned and that is they taught.
You want to know what the primary responsibility of the church is?  Want to know why the church is here?  It is for the purpose of teaching.  And notice, they assembled with the church.  The word "with" is a Greek word that means "in".  They assembled in the church.  Apparently they had a large place where they all came together.
And they spent a whole year teaching and the repercussions from what they taught are still being felt in the world today.  The most important thing we can ever do is teach the Word of God.
verse 26b
They had never been called Christians before. That's a new name and it was a term of derision.  It was intended to mock and ridicule these followers of Christ.  But the believers in Antioch turned it into something courageous and honorable. 
And today, you and I have the privilege of bearing the name they died to preserve.  There are lots of people who call themselves Christians without considering what it means, but if you're a Christian, wear it well because in its beginning, it was given to the finest who ever lived among us.
And beyond that, it's the name of Christ.  If you're going to claim the name of Christian, either wear it well or don't wear it at all. 
Well, the church grew, and one final thing, quickly, notice
4.  The Generosity
verses 27-30
Not only was the church sound in doctrine, but they put what they learned into action.  The Jerusalem church sent up some prophets who warned about a coming famine. 
And these "Christians" responded.  Their immediate response was, "If there's going to be a famine down there and God has told us about it, He must want us to help with it."  So they sent some money to those people. Now keep in mind, these are Gentiles showing their love to those who had for so long, hated them. What a beautiful picture of love.
And by the way, they not only sent money, they sent men and those men were the best they had! 
Christians are still doing that!  Right now, we have disaster relief teams at work because there is a need.  We are sending money and sending men because that's all we have to offer.  That's the pattern given us through Antioch, and it's still working to bring men and women to Christ
Let's pray.
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