The First Great Gentile Church

Acts 11:19-30

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.  Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.  And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Acts 11:18 is a momentous passage.  Peter’s ministry to Cornelius and his household, and the positive response by the church at Jerusalem (see Acts 10:1-11:18) set the stage for Paul’s outreach to the Gentiles in the remaining chapters.  The next few verses cover one of the most important events in history – the founding of the Gentile church. 

  • The Gentile Church is Born
  • Born through the witness of lay believers (Acts 8:1-4).  Note that everyone was scattered except the apostles
  • Born by believers sharing with everyone they met – Jews and Gentiles alike.  God desires everyone to hear the good news and for everyone to be saved.

Isaiah 45:22 – “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!”

Matthew 22:9 – “Go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.”

Romans 10:12 – “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek (between the rich and the poor, between the educated and the uneducated, between the white and the black, between the Church of God and the Baptist, between the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic), for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.”

  • Borne by the hand of the Lord.  “the hand of the Lord was with them.”
  • God allowed the persecution.
  • God gave the believers the boldness to proclaim the good news.
  • God opened the eyes of the people in Antioch to receive the good news.
  • The Gentile Church is Nourished
  • Mother Church sent ministerial help – the church needed leadership.
  • Barnabas encouraged the new church – to continue with the Lord with purpose of heart (a deliberate plan, an intention, a design).  It is not enough to start walking with God, but the church must have a deliberate plan, an intention to keep walking with God.
  • Barnabas taught the new church – teaching is an important part of the church.
  • The Gentile Church had an Effective Witness
  • Believers were first called “Christians” at Antioch.  The Greek word used was christianos.  This was likely an insulting name given to the followers of Christ (Christos) like the term “Jesus-freak” was used a few years ago.  Later, believers took the name and began applying it to themselves.  Eventually the name was adopted by the whole world for the followers of Christ.   If we call ourselves “Christian,” we need to recognize what it means to be a true follower of Christ.

Colossians 2:6 – As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.

1 John 2:6 – He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

  • The Gentile Church Had a Ministry to Others
  • When they heard of the prophesied famine coming, they took up a relief offering to Jerusalem.  This was an offering each person shared in according to their ability.  Again, we see that a growing, thriving church is one that reaches out to others – it is not consumed with just meeting its own needs.

Galatians 6:10 – Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us (ergazomai – work, be busy, accomplish something, produce things, be engaged in, toil.  Ergazomai is the opposite of idleness, laziness, or inactivity.) do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

1 Timothy 6:18 – Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.

NOTE:  Preaching–Teaching–Exhortation – There are three different Greek words used for preaching and teaching in this passage.

  • Lalountes is translated “preaching” in the King James Version and “spoke” in the New King James Version.  It is the simple sharing of conversation among people.  In other words, as the believers were scattered abroad, wherever they went, whoever they talked to, Jesus was the topic of their conversation.  Jesus was so real in their lives, so much on their mind that they simply “spoke” about Him to every one they came in contact with. 
  • Euaggelizomenoi is translated “preaching” and it means to declare and proclaim the gospel – the good news.  The believers – the lay people – actually went into Antioch and preached and proclaimed that Jesus Christ had died and risen again for their sins. 
  • Parekalei is translated “exhorted” or “encouraged” and means to warn, comfort, encourage, challenge, admonish or advise.  The believers – both in their day-to-day conversation and in their preaching – urged the people at Antioch to continue with the Lord with one purpose, one plan, one commitment of service.

Christianity and Prejudice – Can They Belong Together?

Acts 10:1-35

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!”

And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”

And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.

While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”

Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?”

And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” Then he invited them in and lodged them.

On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Prejudice and partiality exist.  Prejudice is everywhere — in every nation, in every city, in every neighborhood, even in every family.  Unfortunately, prejudice is many times in the church.  Prejudices arise because people are different.  Different nationality, different language, different religion, different color, different social standing, different wealth.  When we meet someone different from ourselves, it often makes us uncomfortable.  The unknown can be intimidating.  We are more at ease when we are in a group where “someone is just like us.” 

Prejudice often leads to mistreatment – from ignoring, gossiping, and joking about to persecuting, abusing, opposing and enslaving.  Mistreatment leads to more prejudice.  Both the one mistreating and the one being mistreated form judgments against the other group of people.  If one person does wrong in a certain group – judgments are formed against the entire group. 

Prejudice is passed on from one generation to another.  Think about it.  You may be prejudiced against people you have had little contact with.  Where did you get your knowledge of them?  From your parents, from your peers, from TV, from what you have “heard.”  What little contact you have had with them was probably hindered from any real understanding or meaning because of preconceived ideas – both on your part and on theirs. 

Think of the divisions:  In Ireland – Catholic vs. Protestant; In the Middle East – Jew vs. Muslim; in India – Hindu vs. Muslim and Hindu vs. Christian – In USA – white vs. black,  rich vs. poor, English-speaking against Spanish-speaking.

This passage in Acts strikes a fatal blow against prejudice.  It shows forever that Jesus Christ has come to erase all prejudices and barriers between people.  By studying the book of Acts, it becomes clear that while prejudice may be natural, it is not to be a part of the Christian’s life.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoeverbelieves in Him shall be saved.”

The Jews, like everyone else, had developed their own laws and customs.  They were steeped in their own nationality and viewed other cultures as “dogs.”  They had been mistreated through the years – conquered by various nations – scattered throughout the earth.  During the time of the Early Church, they were ruled by the Roman government.  The one thing that united them wherever they went was their religion (belief in one true God, the sacrifices at the temple only, their special diet, their observance of the Sabbath, etc.)  These rules and beliefs kept them from alien beliefs and maintained their distinctiveness as a people and a nation.  Therefore, anything that threatened their religion they believed threaten their very existence as a people. 

The Jews had misread and misunderstood God’s purpose for them.  When God called Abraham, he called him to be the head of a nation that would be a witness to the entire world.  God wanted to use the Jews to be his “missionary” nation to show the world God’s love and power.

Genesis 12:1-3 – Now the Lord had said to Abram:  “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation;  I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  This promised that Abram and his family would be a blessing to all the earth is repeated in Genesis 18:18, Genesis 22:18, Genesis 26:4 and Genesis 28:14.

The prophet Isaiah also spoke of this.

Isaiah 2:1-4 – The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.  Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

The Psalms are full of exhortations to “make known His deeds among the peoples.”  Yet, they had completely separated themselves from the world in ways God had not intended. 

  • They referred to other cultures as “dogs.”
  • They would have no contact with a Gentile unless absolutely necessary.
  • They would not help a Gentile woman giving birth because it would be bringing another Gentile into the world.

This was the prejudice of the Early Church.  This was the barrier God had to break down.  That is the point of this chapter.  God was showing Peter, the leader of the Church up to this point, that the doors of salvation were to be opened to every person, regardless of race, language, religion, color, social standing, etc.

  • God Chooses a Gentile to Receive the “Good News”
  • A Roman noncommissioned officer – not only a foreigner, but one of the despised Romans who had conquered Israel and subjected them to Roman government.
  • Devout man who feared God – he believed in the one true God and held him in extreme respect or awe.
  • A generous and praying man – note that his prayer was to God always.  In other words, prayer was a daily part of his life.
  • In spite of his respect of God, his generosity, his prayers, he still lacked something – knowledge of and a relationship with Jesus Christ and        the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

NOTE:  Cornelius is a good example that, while respect of God, good deeds and prayer are important, without a true knowledge and acceptance of Jesus Christ, they are insufficient for salvation.

  • Because he was seeking God, God sent an angel to him to lead him into the full knowledge of God. 

NOTE:  Cornelius is a good example that, if someone honestly seeks God even without true knowledge of His Word, God will provide an answer.

Romans 1:20 – For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Jeremiah 33:3 – Call (cry out, call out loudly to get someone’s attention) to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty (inaccessible) things which you do not know.

Jeremiah 29:13 – And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

  • God Chooses a Jew to Give the “Good News” to the Gentile
  • Peter was a praying man.  He was praying about the sixth hour (12 noon).  This was one of the three prayer hours practiced by the Jews.  This indicates that Peter was praying at least three times a day. 

Psalm 55:17 – Evening and morning and noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.

  • Peter was just a man.  He had got hungry, he did not immediately recognize God’s leading.  He was subject to the prejudices of his time and culture. 
  • Peter obeyed the leading of the Holy Spirit. 
  • He went with the men.
  • He “entered” the house of Cornelius.
  • He rejected worship from Cornelius.
  • He preached the “good news” to the Gentiles.
  • God Clearly Shows that Prejudice Does Not Belong in the Church

Romans 10:12 – For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.

Galatians 3:27-28 – For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek (German or Spanish, American or Russian, black or white, Anglo-Saxon or Hispanic), there is neither bond nor free (educated or uneducated, rich or poor, sophisticated or simple), there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 6:9 – And you master, do the same things unto them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven and there is no partiality with Him.

Partiality means favoritism, distinction, bias, conditional preference.  The word denotes a biased judgment, which gives respect to rank, position, or circumstances.  God shows no partiality injustice, judgment or favorable treatment when dealing with people, and He expects us to follow His example.