Confirmation of Gentile Conversions – Acts 11

Grace Bible Church

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 12, 2006

Confirmation of Gentile Conversions
Acts 11:1-30

Last week we studied Acts 10 and the wonderful story of the door to the gospel that was opened to the Gentiles through the visions the Lord gave to Cornelius the Centurion and also to Peter. The Lord’s direct intervention enabled Peter to overcome his inherent prejudice against the Gentiles and finally understand that “God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and those who had gathered with him to hear Peter then confirmed to Peter and the Jews from Joppa that had come with him that the Gentiles were to be included as part of the church, so Peter had them baptized.
This morning we will see in Acts 11 a confirmation of the Gentile conversions as Peter returns to Jerusalem and reports the work that the Lord was doing in Caesarea which results in the Jews there also overcoming their prejudices and concluding that “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (vs. 18). Luke then goes on in the last half of Acts 11 to report on the gospel being spread to the Gentiles in Antioch.
Accused by Those of the Circumcision (1-3)
Acts 11:1 (NASB) Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
News about Peter going to Caesarea and the Gentiles receiving the Word of God quickly spread among the believers throughout Judea. Along with that news was also the report that Peter was not only preaching to the Gentiles, but also staying with them and eating with them. This was alarming news to those “those who were circumcised.” These are Jews who have repented and turned to Christ, but they are still very zealous for the laws and customs of Judaism. This was a clear breaking of Jewish custom, so they confronted Peter about it when he returned.
As I mentioned last week, the prejudices of the Jews against the Gentiles were very strong. Eating with a Gentile would have been resisted by all or nearly all the Jewish Christians at this time. The Jews would have traveled over land and sea to win Gentile converts according to Matt. 23:15, but in doing so they would have also been careful to avoid any personal contamination which would have resulted if they either ate something that was not kosher, or if they ate with a Gentile. Acts 11 is another transition in the progress of the Gospel and the building up of the Church. To this point the Jews did not yet understand the gospel going to the Gentiles nor could they conceive the Gentiles being accepted into the church without them also becoming Jewish proselytes. Remember that God had given Peter a vision that was repeated 3 times to prepare him for having such interaction with the Gentiles. These Jewish believers in Jerusalem have not had such visions, so they are strongly opposed to it at this point in time.
Peter Recounts the Events in Caesarea (4-15)
4 But Peter began [speaking] and [proceeded] to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, a certain object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6 and when I had fixed my gaze upon it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7 “And I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Arise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 “But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 “But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10 “And this happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky. 11 “And behold, at that moment three men appeared before the house in which we were [staying,] having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 “And the Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. And these six brethren also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 “And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa, and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as [He did] upon us at the beginning.
Notice that Peter does not get into a debate with those who had rebuked him. Instead, Peter simply repeats the story of what had occurred starting with the visions that God had given to him which was followed by the arrival of the men from Caesarea and the Spirit directing him to go with them. Peter then points out the believers from Joppa had gone to Caesarea with him and that six of those brethren were with him now (vs. 12). There were adequate witnesses to what had happened. Peter then repeated the vision that Cornelius had received from an Angel. Peter includes here the specific revelation the angel had given to them that Peter would come and “speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ Peter then points out that the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles just as He had upon them at the beginning, referring to the day of Pentecost. In verses 16 & 17 Peter gives his own conclusion to the experiences he had in Caesarea.
Peter’s Conclusion (16,17)
16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 “If God therefore gave to them the same gift as [He gave] to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
Peter’s conclusion is not one of his own thoughts and feelings but one brought about by remembering the prophecy of John the Baptist about the future baptism of the Spirit. Peter then simply points out that he could not stand in the way of God fulfilling that prophecy, and the Spirit had come upon the Gentiles in the same way He had upon them. Peter let the events speak for themselves. He did not have to make any further arguments.
Confirmation (18)
18 And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance [that leads] to life.”
The response of these Jewish believers is a quiet acceptance. How could they argue with what God was doing? They had been agitated, but now they calm down and glorify God recognizing that God was now granting to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. Again, I must point out that this is a huge transition and one that would not have been easy for them to understand and accept. The fact that they do shows their desire to know, follow and obey God. But we are also safe to assume that they were not comfortable with the addition of non-proselyte Gentiles to the Church and that they do not yet understand how everything would fit together. There are a lot of questions about Gentile believers that would arise again in the future, but at least they now did understand and believe that Gentiles could be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation was no longer reserved just for Jews, those with at least some Jewish heritage such as were the Samaritans and Gentiles who were proselytes to Judaism, such as Nicolas in Acts 6:5.
The expansion of the church from Jews in Jerusalem to Gentiles in Antioch took some time to take place. After the church was born on Pentecost, Apostolic authority had to be established and a doctrinal foundation for the church had to be laid down. Long held prejudices had to be overcome. The great persecution of believers following Stephen’s martyrdom forced the church into Judea and Samaria. Accepting the Samaritans as fellow believers and therefore equals in Christ was not an easy transition, but the Lord established the authenticity of it and the transition was made. Prejudices against certain trades such as tanners were also overcome. Accepting Gentiles was the hardest, but the Lord established that transition though Cornelius and Peter. It would be broadened and strengthened in the years to come through the ministry of Paul.
Prejudices can still be hard to overcome. They can develop from many different sources, but the most common is learning it from the sinful attitudes of those around us. It is usually founded in ignorance and lies, but often reinforced by selective application of our experiences. At the heart of all prejudice is either pride or fear or a mixture of the two. We think more highly of ourselves and those who are similar to us than we ought, and we fear what we do not know. That is why prejudice is overcome by submitting to God just as Peter did. Submitting to God requires us to be humble before Him and agree that He knows better than we do. It also requires us to exercise our faith and trust Him as we face our fears of the unknown. As I have mentioned before, I believe this church has come a long way in overcoming prejudice so that we are a very diversified church both ethnically and culturally, but that does not mean that there are not or will not be areas for us to still work on both individually and as a church. Each of us needs to follow Peter’s example of being both personally teachable and submissive to God as well as helping others overcome their prejudices as God continues to mold us into the imagine of His son, Jesus Christ, who is without partiality.
One last thing to note in verse 18 is their understanding of salvation being granted to the Gentiles. Notice how they phrase their statement. God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance unto life.” ( Ara kai toiV  eqnesin o qeoV thn metanoian eiV zwhn edwken – Therefore also to the gentiles the God the repentance into life He is granting). They would use the term repentance to summarize salvation for it is the turning from sin to the Savior. Repentance may not be popular in much of American Christianity, but it is the term used by the early church and it is still required for salvation. You cannot believe the truth about Jesus Christ and at the same time still hold onto your sin and pride.
Conversions in Antioch (11:19-26)
Arrival in Antioch (19-21)
In Acts 11:19-26 Luke turns his attention back in time again to what has been happening in other places following the martyrdom of Stephen.
19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and [began] speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
As a result of the persecution that followed the martyrdom of Stephen believers scattered from Jerusalem and went throughout Judea and Samaria. Some of them even went farther away to the regions of Phoenicia, the Island of Cyprus, and the city of Antioch in Syria which is on the Orontes River. When these believers first went to these places they would speak to the Jews only.
Later, some of those from Cyprus and Cyrene (North Coast of Africa – Modern Lybia) also come to Antioch. Cyprus is fairly close and on a direct trade route to Antioch, but we are not given any indication why those from Cyrene in N. Africa would have traveled to Antioch. ( MAP MAP)
Antioch at this time is the third largest city in the Roman empire ( 1st Rome. 2nd Alexandria). It was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I Nicator and named after his father. It was conquered by the Romans from Syria in 64 BC, and became the capital of western Syria. ( Picture) Antioch was known for its culture and commerce with many trade routes going through it. Cicero described it as a place of learned men and liberal studies. It was also a place of vile sin, pagan worship and sexual immorality.
These men from Cyprus and Cyrene started to do something different. They began preaching the Lord Jesus to the Greeks. Verse 21 adds that the “hand of the Lord,” that is, God’s power, was with them with the result that a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. This is the birth of the first church with a large portion and perhaps even a majority of Gentiles. By comparison, Cornelius and those with him were a small group.
Note again how Luke phrases salvation in this passage. Those who were believing turned to the Lord. (poluV te ariqmoV o pisteusaV epestreyen epiV ton kurion – many in number the believing ones turned unto the Lord). In our own time there are many preachers that want to equate belief with intellectual assent and equate that with salvation, but the Scripture just does not do that. Here again we find that intellectual belief is joined with it practical result in those who are believing also turning to Jesus. They are converted from whatever religious system they had been previously been following into becoming disciples of Jesus Christ (vs. 26). Intellectual assent does not equal salvation from sin. True belief always results in actions that correspond to those beliefs.
We are not told exactly when this happened or even a time sequence in relationship to Peter preaching to Cornelius in Caesarea, but eventually the news of it reached Jerusalem.
Building Up the Believers (22-26)
22 And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and [began] to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain [true] to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
When news about what has happening in Antioch reached Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to find out what was going on. This is the same Barnabas we met at the end of Chapter 4. He was the right man to send for he was a Greek speaking Jew from Cyprus. He was respected by those in Jerusalem and he was true to his nickname, for in verse 23 we find that he rejoiced over what God was doing and encouraged the saints there. Verse 24 comments that Barnabas was “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
Verse 24 also comments that there were “considerable numbers” who were brought to the Lord. There were more than those present could adequately take care of by themselves, so Barnabas set out for Tarsus to find Saul to come and help.
The verb “to look for” (anazhtew / anazêteô) means “to make diligent search.” It appears that Barnabas had a hard time finding Saul, but when he did, he brought Saul back to Antioch with him and they worked together among the many believers there for a complete year
Verse 26 points out that it was in Antioch that “the disciples were first called Christians.” The term “disciple” was the most common name given to the early Christians because of its emphasis that they were followers of Jesus. The term “Christian” is similar in many respects because it means “a little Christ.” These disciples were so identified with Christ that they were given a title bearing His name. This was not a title that they called themselves, but one that non-believers were using for them. It was a name originally given with the intent of mocking them, but the name quickly became a name of honor for the disciples. We get a sense of this from 1 Peter 4:16 – “but if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.”
Contribution from the Christians (27-30)
In verses 27-30 we find the genuineness of these Christians exhibited in their concern and care for disciples in other places.
27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and [began] to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the [reign] of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send [a contribution] for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
While Barnabas and Saul are busy teaching these new Christians, a group of New Testament prophets come to them from Jerusalem. From 1 Cor. 12:10,27 we understand that these men are preachers of God’s word, but that they also had some ability to predict future events as they do in this passage. One of them, Agabus, whom we will meet again in Acts 21:10, is foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine in the future. Luke, who is writing this after the fact, notes that this is the particular famine that occurred during the reign of Claudius (A.D. 41-54). Tacitus, Josephus and other Roman historians write about a great famine in Israel in A.D. 45/46. In those years Egypt sold grain to those in Jerusalem and Cyprus supplied figs.
The response of the church in Antioch was similar to the response of the early believers in Jerusalem to those who were in need. They expressed their love in a practical manner by taking up a collection and sending finances for relief of those in Israel who were affected the most by this famine. Again it should be pointed out that this collection was not required or mandated. It was done out of love as each one had the ability to give. The funds were then sent to Jerusalem by Barnabas and Saul to “the elders” in Jerusalem. This is the first time the term “elders” is used in NT in relationship to an office in the church. The elders in turn would have directed the use of the finances to give relief to those who were in need.
This same type of procedure is still used in both the local church and in the universal church. Within our own church our general practice is that each person contributes as they desire and are able toward the needs of our own congregation and our church leaders determine the best use of the finances available. The motive is love, not compulsion. Because of that, it not uncommon for individuals to recognize special needs within the congregation and talk with our church leaders about the best way to meet that need. Remember, that just because someone has a want does not make it a need, and often even when there is a need there are other factors that must be taken into consideration in deciding the best way to meet a legitimate need. It is best to consult with those who have been proven to have godly wisdom in making those assessments and decisions.
Within the universal church we have often invited you to do just as those in Antioch did in sending a contribution for those in need in other places. We have most recently done that in helping those who were hit hard by Hurricanes Katrina & Rita. We send the finances to local churches in the affected area where their church leaders can best assess the best use of the finances available. In this case, we have done that by sending it to our church fellowship organization, IFCA International, which in turn has distributed it among 26 local churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. We are still following the example of the early church.

Sermon Study Sheets

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “Gentiles” are mentioned. Talk with your parents about the importance of the gospel going to the Gentiles.
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How did the church in Jerusalem hear about what was happening in Antioch? Who were “those of the circumcision” and why were they so upset with Peter? How does Peter deal with their concerns? What principle does this give us that may help in dealing with people’s concerns? What is Peter’s conclusion and what is its basis? How did the church in Jerusalem respond? Was this the end of the matter? Why or why not? How have you overcome prejudice in your own life? Are there areas of prejudice you still need to overcome either in thought or practice? Develop a plan for overcoming them. Where was Antioch? What is the significance of that city? When did the Gentiles start to hear the gospel in Antioch? What was their response? Why did Barnabas go to Antioch? Why did Barnabas go get Saul? What did they do in Antioch? How would they have done that? What is the significance of the name “Christian” and how / why was it first used in Antioch? What was the response of the Christians in Antioch to the predicted famine? What are the specifics of how their response was carried out? How should the church respond to similar situations today in both the local church and in the universal church.

Sermon Notes – February 12, 2006
Confirmation of Gentile Conversions – Acts 11:1-30


Convincing the Church in Jerusalem (11:1-18))

Accused by Those of the Circumcision (1-3)

Peter Recounts the Events in Caesarea (4-15)

Peter’s Conclusion (16,17)

Confirmation (18)

Conversions in Antioch (11:19-26)

Arrival in Antioch (19-21)

Building Up the Believers (22-26)

Contribution from the Christians (27-30)

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