THE SAME GIFT
The news surrounding Peter's encounter with Cornelius and the Gentiles spreads quickly throughout Judea. The gospel is spreading just as Jesus said it would. The witness advanced from Jerusalem to Judea with little resistance. However, when Philip preached the gospel to the Samaritans, there was some hesitation to receive those who believed, so the apostles sent Peter and John to evaluate the situation. They prayed for the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit. This news about Cornelius and the Gentiles was met with skepticism and criticized by the circumcision party. Peter returns to Jerusalem to address the issue and testify to what he witnessed. They rebuke Peter for sharing a meal with these Gentiles, so Peter explains what happened. Luke repeats what happened with Cornelius with many of the same details because the story is so important. Peter's actions are called into question, so he wants the brothers and apostles in Jerusalem to understand that this is God's doing and not his own. Peter describes the vision that he saw during prayer, and he recites the command he was given to kill and eat followed by the reprimand for calling anything unclean. The same vision was shown to Peter three times. Peter details the instructions from the Spirit and subsequently why he entered the house. Peter then describes what Cornelius experienced including the angel directing him to send for Peter so that he could declare the message of salvation. Peter tells these Jews the Holy Spirit fell on these Gentiles the same way it had fallen on them at the very beginning. Peter connects the events that took place to the words of Jesus concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter asks a rhetorical question that implies to any who would oppose what God is doing is fighting God. Silence fell on Peter's audience as they weighed his words. The issue was not completely resolved, but for that moment they glorified God for granting repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles.
The persecution that broke out in Jerusalem had scattered believers as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The city of Antioch was the third largest city of the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria) and the capital of Syria. City officials had even encouraged immigration, going so far as to offer Jews full citizenship. There were large communities of Jews, Greeks, Romans, Asians, and Africans. The Christians in Antioch were risk takers that spoke to the Greeks about Jesus. God's plan for the nations was clarified daily as Gentiles and pagans were told the news about Jesus Christ. God was with these renegades, and many Hellenists believed and turned to the Lord. News of what had occurred in Antioch spread and soon the church in Jerusalem received the news about this unorthodox church. They dispatched Barnabas to investigate these claims and to bring news back concerning these new believers. When Barnabas arrived, he saw the evidence of grace and was filled with joy. He encouraged the believers and exhorted them to be faithful. Luke describes Barnabas as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. So many people were coming to the Lord, that Barnabas sought help in making disciples. He traveled to Tarsus to look for Saul of all people, and when he found him, they both made their way to Antioch. They met with the church for a year, and this was the first place that the name Christian was used. It was such an amazing thing that prophets came from Jerusalem to visit the church at Antioch. A man named Agabus and prophecies through the Holy Spirit that a great famine was coming. This community of new believers rallied to send relief to the brothers and gave generously to that end. The church then sent the gifts to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. The gospel was moving, and God was building his church in ways that most could never have imagined.
Things To Consider:
- Why is change often met with criticism?
- What can be learned from Peter returning to face the criticism?
- Why are stories so important for sharing faith?
- Why is this issue revisited by Peter and Paul?
- How does Peter appeal to the word for authority?
- What are cultural and racial barriers that exist today?
- Are there any of these obstacles that you struggle with? Why?
- Do you think it was wise to send Barnabas to Antioch? Why or why not?
- Why is teaching so important for new believers?
- How would people label you if they were asked about your faith?
- What does the gift from the church at Antioch tell you about their faith?
- Are you making disciples and helping young Christians? Why or why not?