God’s Acts of Providence (41)

Becoming the Apostle Paul (8)

Peter Leads the Way Towards the Gentiles

In 10:1 – 11:18 the story of Peter and Cornelius is told.  Cornelius was a centurion in the Roman Army, serving in the Italian Regiment.  He was thus a gentile and an officer of the occupying army.  Although the story is complex, the outcome is that Peter baptizes Cornelius and his household (all gentiles).  Thus, it is Peter, not Saul (Paul) who was first to bring gentiles into Christ’s Church.  The Church in Jerusalem accepted Peter’s act.

The Gentile Church in Antioch

Acts 11:19-30; 12:25

1119Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoeni’cia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyre’ne, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.

The old barriers between peoples can’t contain the Good News.  Christ’s message of love and forgiveness is exploding into a world that desperately desires the new life that it brings.  Explosions can’t be controlled.  They hurl their payloads in all directions.  In this case the payload was unexpected love, impossible forgiveness, unbounded joy, renewing fellowship.

Note too – the persecution associated with Stephen – Saul’s persecution – was the propellant that had sent this Gospel payload out into the wider world.  That is, by God’s sovereign will, Saul was the Apostle to the Gentiles even when he was the Church’s persecutor!

22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.

We’ve already discussed the wonderful attributes of encouragement and love in this great father of our faith.  To this we must add that the Jerusalem church trusted him implicitly.  Note that they sent Barnabas alone, so confident were they in the soundness of his judgment.

25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.

Once again it is Barnabas who takes the initiative to draw Saul deeper into fellowship with Christ’s Church.  In this case he is the catalyst for a teaching ministry to a mixed Jewish and Gentile church.  Over the course of that year they must have learned much about the unbounded possibilities that exist in Christ for goodwill between all peoples.  The example of the church in Antioch also must have opened their spirits to the need in all places for Christ’s Gospel; and for the possibility of its eager reception.

27Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28And one of them named Ag’abus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. 29And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; 30and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Note that there is already communication and sympathy between the churches.  To this point we have reason to hope for the seamless merging of Jew and Gentile under the banner of Christ’s love.

12 25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John whose other name was Mark.

Having delivered the aid from Antioch to the Mother Church in Jerusalem, they return to their new home accompanied by John Mark.  He will be the source of disagreement between Barnabas and Saul that will teach Saul an important lesson.  Just to be clear, many believe John Mark to be the author of the Gospel of Mark, likely the first of the written Gospels.

Barnabas and Saul Sent Off on the First Missionary Journey

Acts 13:1-3

13 1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyre’ne, Man’a-en a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

What was the work to which Barnabas and Saul had been called?  We know that Saul had been set apart by Christ to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  The question is asked because this is a corporate sending.  Did the church at Antioch make the decision that there should be a major evangelistic initiative to the Gentiles?  If so, was this decision one made in consultation and with the blessing of the Mother Church in Jerusalem?

Perhaps the Holy Spirit gave an authority that when tested through fasting and prayer needed no confirmation.  In any case, the dramatic success of their work on Christ’s behalf with the Gentiles will cause great turmoil and even strong resistance from some parties in the Jewish-dominated church.

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