As I’ve mentioned before, it’s seemed to me from time to time that some rather humorous situations happen in the Bible. I’m not sure there was much laughter during the events of Acts 11. But perhaps if a movie was made of Acts 10 and 11, then things happening in both chapters at some points could really bring a smile. [The next class in our series on Acts was on this chapter and you can hear an edited version of that class here.]
It’s not a chapter full of doctrinal disputes… well, I take that back. That’s exactly what the first half of Acts 11 is about. In Acts 10, Peter had had the mind-blowing experience of witnessing to the Gentile group that the centurion Cornelius had gathered at his house to hear Peter. It was “bad enough” that the Lord had led him there in the first place. But “to make matters worse”, the whole group of Gentiles was filled with the Holy Ghost! And the brethren “heard them speak in tongues and glorify God” (Acts 10:46). Uh-oh. Now Peter had to go back and “face the music” so to speak. And it really seems like he knew what was coming.
When Peter got back to Jerusalem, “they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and did eat with them!'” (Acts 11:3). Some people in my classes have asked me if this was the Pharisees contending with Peter about this. No, folks, this was the Christian body of Christ in Jerusalem at that time. And it just shows how deeply entrenched old mindsets and “old wine” can stay with us.
But Peter had seen this coming. He’d “rehearsed the mater from the beginning” (Acts 11:4) which means he’d thought it over in advance how he was going to explain this “big mistake” to all the brethren who were still thinking that they were still obligated to keep all the Mosaic Law and traditions that they had before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The whole first half of the chapter is Peter just giving a personal testimony of what happened. Basically he was saying, “You can’t blame me, guys; I was just obeying God!” He ended it by saying, “Who was I to try to stop God?” (Acts 11:17)
God is pretty smart, isn’t He. He knew He had to do something like this through Peter as he was the head disciple. So the reaction of the disciples when they heard Peter’s testimony? “They held their peace.” (Acts 11:18) Ha! It sounds like many of them would have liked to say something but, under the circumstances, “They held their peace.”
There’s just so much here that’s going on, the almost struggle of God to bring His people further into the fuller understanding of His Will and His grace. And a parallel struggle of the weakness of human nature and frailties, to hold on to legalism, “old wine”, the past and traditions of the past. Thank God for the brave pioneers of history who’ve dared to obey God, usually against the onslaughts of, not intentionally evil people, but often “religious” people who just can’t accept that God is moving a new direction and calling for a change from how things have always been.
We went over a lot of this in the class we had and pondered the implications of it all for our own times, how we instinctively resist change and are highly suspicious of anything that might be a new move of the Lord or a better way to do His will that He is leading us toward.
The second half of the chapter is about the continuing move to more missionary work as Barnabus, who we first heard of in Acts 4, headed up to Antioch where he went to search for Saul (Paul) who was not far away in his hometown of Tarsus. It was their teaming up in the chapters ahead of us that produced Paul’s first missionary journeys in chapters 13 and 14.
One other seemingly insignificant thing in this chapter, it says “And in these days prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch” (Acts 11:27). The early church had prophets? It says so there. Does your church have prophets? That’s ok; hardly any churches have prophets anymore unless they are of the Charismatic persuasion. I could go off on a very big discussion about that but won’t do it here and now.
But it’s a little like a movie where some character is introduced who, as it turns out later, is very important. So a specific prophet is named, Agabus, who prophesied that there would come a famine in their times. And the Bible says this happened. So the brethren in Antioch took up a collection to send to the brethren still in Jerusalem. We’ll hear more about Agabus.
I hope you’re studying along with us as we go through Acts and are listening to the classes on line. The edited version of the Acts 11 class that we had can be heard here.
I love to read history because there’s often so much to learn about people and about life. Certainly this is true of the book of Acts, where we can read about the founding of our faith and its progressive advancement in the first years after the Lord’s resurrection. It’s thrilling, inspiring and feeding. I hope you are enjoying it too.