Acts 10:1-12:23: Times of Transition.

Actually, Acts 13:1 might be called a turning-point, although the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 is itself a landmark in early church history.  The Gospel had begun to be slowly diffused through the nations, but there was still a lot of ground to be covered in the disciples themselves.  They still had much to learn.  The conversion of Cornelius was one such lesson.

1. An Elect Gentile, 10:1-11:18.

Conversion of, 10:1-48.  This chapter shows us the opening to Gentiles of the door granting direct access to God.  The early church, made up of Jewish believers, had a very difficult time working through the idea that Gentiles could have such access.  After all, for centuries the Jews had been God’s chosen people and in order to come to God, one had to go through them, as it were. Over and over, Israel had gotten into trouble for mixing with other nations, and now, here was the Gospel message for them equally with Israel.  It was a tough nut to crack and took a direct message/vision from God to get it done.

In the conversion of Cornelius, we see God working both in Peter and Cornelius, vs. 1-33, and His witness in Peter’s message to Cornelius, vs. 34-43, and, finally, in the manifestation of the Spirit, vs. 44-48.

This incident forever refutes the idea that baptism is essential to salvation – unless one believes that unbelievers can receive the Holy Spirit.

Controversy concerning, 11:1-18.

1. Confrontation, vs. 1-3.  It seems terrible that believers would be upset over others receiving the Word of God, but we must remember the cultural and religious background of these people.  God Himself had forbidden religious and/or social admixture with other peoples and Jerusalem and the Temple had for centuries been the focal point of God’s worship.   As we noted above, the early church had great difficulty understanding this change in God’s dealing with mankind “one-on-one,” as it were, instead of through the mediation and channel of Jerusalem.  They failed to understand that a Person is the Way into God’s presence, not a place, John 14:6.

2. Recitation, vs. 4-17.  Peter gives a simple and straight-forward account of what happened, and then finished with the reasonable conclusion in v. 17 that since God was pleased to give “them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

3. Glorification, v. 18.  These early believers recognized the hand and will of God and submitted to it, even if they didn’t completely understand all that was going on.

2. Expanding Grace, 11:19-30.

The Gospel goes to Antioch in Syria and a second influential church is established.  With this church prospering, the church at Jerusalem recedes into the background as far as the divine record is concerned.

Growth of the church, vs. 19-21.  Here we pick up the record begun in 8:4 of the scattered believers.  Saul wanted to exterminate the church at Jerusalem, but all he succeeded in doing was extending the reach of the Gospel.  Note well v. 21.  See also Saul’s later testimony as Paul in Philippians 1:12, But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Grace of the church, vs. 22-24.  These verses record the last “investigation” we read of by a delegation from Jerusalem.  The church at Antioch was recognized as a true and independent assembly of believers.  There is no Scriptural support for the denominational and hierarchical structure we see in Christianity today.  There is no “holy city”  or “headquarters” in spite of what men might think.  Though they may choose to work together, no church has any authority over another church.  Each is to be autonomous and responsible only to her Lord.

V. 23 mentions a theme often recurring in Scripture:  the perseverance of the saints.  Cf. 13:43 and 14:22.  While certainly also teaching the preservation of the saints, Scripture also teaches the responsibility of the saints to act like it.

Gathering of the church, vs. 25, 26.  Barnabas became a key man at Antioch.  We saw him first in Acts 4:36, which tells us that he did what he could.  Here he was enabled to do much more, even to playing an important role in the early missionary efforts of Saul/Paul.

Gift from the church, vs. 27-30.  Nothing is said of this church having a “community of goods” as did the church at Jerusalem.  They did, however, have the same compassion and sent aid to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem.

3. Escape From Death, 12:1-24.

Herod’s Murderous Design, vs. 1-4.  Perhaps this whole incident was politically motivated.  Herod was hated by the Jews.  V. 3 indicates at least that the arrest of Peter was done with the idea of getting on the Jews’ good side.  See in this the sovereign purpose of God.  He permits the death of one of His servants, v. 1, but then delivers another from death.  Why didn’t He deliver them both?  Only He knows.  Only He needs know.  Cf. Job 33:13.

Peter’s Miraculous Deliverance, vs. 5-19.  This is an unbelievable section.  Here is Peter, expecting to die.  Was he worried?  He was sound asleep!  He had witnessed the death of his Lord, had been reconciled to his risen Lord.  Death held no terror for him.

Herod’s Miserable Death, vs. 20-23.  One would think Herod might learn something from all this, but no.  How dense, how stupid we are, apart from the grace of God!

  

 

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Acts 6:5-9:43: Men, Martyrdom and Miracle

In this portion of Acts, we have the first lapping of the “water of life” beyond the shore of Jewry.  If one takes Acts 1:8 as the “outline” of the book, then chapter 8 gives us preaching “in Samaria,” and then the first convert from “the uttermost part of the earth,” i.e., the Ethiopian eunuch.  In this portion, we note the beginning of changes from a narrow and limited view of evangelism to a wider world-view, all in accord with the revealed will of God all along, Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 28:19.  God’s purpose in grace has never been as narrow as some would make it, although, to be fair, neither has it been as wide as others tend to make it.

This section focuses of four men of martyrdom or miracle:  Stephen, Philip, Saul and Peter.

1. Stephen, 6:5-8:4.

His Ministry, 6:5-8.  Chosen as one merely to help in the distribution to the poor, Stephen evidently soon excelled.  SInce the early Christians seem greatly to have been filled with the Spirit, he was probably one of many such men, but he is noteworthy because his life in particular impinged on and greatly influenced a young man named Saul of Tarsus, 7:58.  Also, Saul may have been one of “them of Cilicia” who were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, Acts 6:9-10, although that isn’t certain.

What an encouragement this young man is to us – and what a rebuke to our expectations!  We want huge crowds and wonderful “ministries,” but even in the ministries of men like Spurgeon – may God raise up some men like him! – the working of God’s Spirit is always “one-on-one.”  As an encouragement to us – here was a young man apparently cut off very early in his life, yet his testimony was part of the means of the conversion of one who forever influenced the church.  We have such a narrow, sometimes fatalistic, sometime ineffective, view of the sovereignty and purpose of God.

His martrydom, 6:9-8:4.  Stephen’s witness before the Sanhedrin is a masterpiece.  It isn’t simply a collection of facts, or a mere historical recitation, but a careful account of God’s dealing in grace throughout Israel’s history, not leaving out their rebellion and sin, which ultimately consisted in their murder of the Messiah, 7:51-53.  He probably never got to finish.  His mention of God in v. 56 would have been intolerable blasphemy to the Sanhedrin, v. 57, and for that they killed him.

2. Philip, 8:5-40

Philip was another of “the seven,” and like Stephen was greatly used of God.  He is interesting for several reasons.  He was used in a great city-wide “revival,” for lack of a better term, and yet was caught away in the midst of it all to go way south to talk to a single individual.  What we said about Stephen is also applicable here.

One result of his ministry was the “conversion” of a man named Simon.  A lot of discussion centers around the question of whether he was actually saved or not.  I don’t think he was, but then I don’t really know.  We can’t see the heart of people.  According to our Lord in Matthew 7, there will be a great number of people who can say, “Lord, Lord,” who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is not without reason that another of these four men – Peter – warned his readers to make your calling and election sure or certain, 2 Peter 1:10.

3. Saul of Tarsus, 9:1-31.

In the audience listening to a heretic named Stephen was a young, zealous Jew named Saul of Tarsus.  This same Saul later preached a sermon which echoes the sermon of Stephen, Acts 13:16-41.  We doubt he ever forgot that episode or that preaching, for we believe it was the means of his eventual conversion.

But even though the seed had been sown, it was not yet God’s time for the harvest.  In the meantime, we believe that Saul fought tooth and nail against what he had heard.  In some circles, there is a great and often heated discussion about whether God’s grace is effectual or whether it can be resisted no matter what God might try to do.  I think Saul indeed had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the border of the kingdom of God, 8:1-3; 9:1-2, 5, but when he found out who Jesus really was, he “willingly” walked into it.

4. Peter, 9:32-43.

Just because the Gospel emphasis is beginning to shift from Jew to Gentile does not mean that things were not happening with the Jews.  Peter was still being mightily used  of God.  This section shows him being moved into place for what was not his final ministry, but it is the one we Gentiles are the most concerned in, for it shows the door of faith being opened wide to us.