Daily Devotional

October 5, 2019

Daybreak: Acts 11:1-30

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18)

The principle of unity is a part of our national heritage in the United States of America. Symbolic of that fact are the words E Pluribus Unum that appear on all coins minted in this country. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the motto was first used on U.S. coinage in 1795. An Act of Congress on February 12, 1873, made the inscription a legal requirement for all coins of the United States.

Even if we are not Latin scholars, we could probably guess the general meaning of these words once we realize that pluribus is the basis for our English word “plural,” and unum is related to the English word “unit.” E Pluribus Unum literally means “out of many, one.” Originally, the phrase referred to the thirteen colonies which joined together to form the United States of America. However, in later years its meaning came to suggest that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries has emerged a single people and nation. The United States truly is a “melting pot!”

The principle of unity is also a key aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God promised throughout Scripture that Gentiles as well as Jews would be recipients of the Gospel, although it would be delivered first to the Jews. However, many Jews supposed that God favored them over all other ethnic groups; some even had the false notion that merely being Jewish was evidence that one had a right standing before God. Impacted by this longstanding perspective, the converted Jews of the Early Church had a tendency to be exclusive and separate themselves somewhat from their Gentile brethren.

Peter’s experience at Cornelius’ house, where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Gentile believers, opened his eyes to the truth. In today’s text, he gave the church elders in Jerusalem an account of what had happened, ending with the words of verse 17, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?” To that question, the church leaders could give no other response than, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” This was a turning point for the Early Church. The Jewish/Gentile divide had been perhaps the greatest impediment to the spread of the Gospel following Pentecost. Once the church understood and accepted that the Gospel was for all, Christianity spread rapidly and many Gentiles became believers.

What are the implications of this great truth in our day? Simply this: the good news of Christ is for everyone. We must never permit differences of race, culture, economic class, religious background, education, or any other factor to be an impediment to unity within the Church, or to hinder us from reaching out to non-believers. The world will be blessed as we accept God’s divine plan and look beyond any diversities, working together to proclaim the Gospel to all.

Background

Chapter 11 can be divided into two main sections: Peter’s explanation of his association with Gentiles to the church elders at Jerusalem (verses 1-18), and the spreading of the Gospel message to the Gentile world through evangelism (verses 19-30).

The traditional rites of the Jewish faith, particularly circumcision, were of great importance to Jewish believers. Those who emphasized the necessity of continued adherence to the Law were sometimes referred to as those “of the circumcision” (see verse 2). The “uncircumcised” (verse 3) were considered unclean, and it was thought that contact with such individuals would defile a person. The most stringent disapproval of Peter’s actions related to the fact that he had eaten with the uncircumcised, which no strictly observant Jew would do.

The narrative of verses 5-10 replicates the events described in chapter 10, verses 9-16. The church leaders in Jerusalem could make no rebuttal to Peter’s straightforward account, especially since his actions were validated by the Spirit’s descent upon the Gentiles. Additionally, Peter was accompanied by six brethren, who also witnessed this event. God had made evident that Gentiles could become believers, and that understanding began opening the door for the evangelizing of non-Jews.

At verse 19, Luke resumed the narrative he left off at Acts 8:1. (Acts 8:2 through 11:18 is an interjection given in order to provide a description of the ministry of Philip, Saul’s conversion, and some glimpses of Peter’s ministry.) Luke went back to his theme of the evangelism that took place due to the persecution and scattering of the believing Jews after the martyrdom of Stephen. Mention was made of three specific locations: Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Phoenicia was a long, narrow country on the seacoast, in an area that is now part of Lebanon and Syria; Cyprus was an island off the coast of Phoenicia; and Antioch was the capital of the Roman kingdom of Syria.

While early evangelistic efforts were being directed to Jews only, brave men of Cyprus and Cyrene (a city in the province of Libya in Africa) ventured to preach to the Grecians at Antioch. God blessed those efforts and “a great number believed” (verse 21). Thus, it was at Antioch where evangelism first became a worldwide outreach, because the Samaritans to whom Philip had preached were part Jewish, and Cornelius and his household to whom Peter had preached were Gentiles who were already worshiping the Jews’ God.

Having been informed regarding what was occurring in Antioch, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas, a Spirit-filled Cyprian Jew (see Acts 4:36), to investigate. Rather than denouncing what he found at Antioch, Barnabas encouraged the new believers. Soon, evaluating that the job was too great for one man (Antioch at the time had a population of five hundred thousand or more), he traveled about 125 miles to Tarsus to find Saul, the educated young Jewish rabbi who had been converted some years before, and solicited his assistance. Locating him seemingly was not an easy task, as the word “seek” in verse 25 implies a difficult search.

Under the combined ministry efforts of Barnabas and Saul, the fledgling group of believers in Antioch prospered spiritually. Verse 26 indicates that it was at this location where Christ's followers, formerly referred to as “believers,” “brethren,” “saints,” and “disciples,” were first identified as “Christians.” It is noteworthy that this designation was not chosen by them, but was assigned by Gentiles outside of the church. The fact that non-believers had to give a name to the emerging movement was an indicator of how large the group of Christ’s followers had become.

Amplified Outline

(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)

III.    The witness in Judea and Samaria
    C.    The witness of Peter
        4.    His witness in Jerusalem (11:1-18)
            a.    Peter’s conflict with the Jews (11:1-3)
            b.    Peter’s explanation of his actions (11:4-17)
            c.    The result (11:18)
    D.    The witness of the persecuted Church
        1.    The witness in Antioch (11:19-30)
            a.    The beginning of the Church (11:19-21)
            b.    The instruction of the Church (11:22-26)
            c.    The ministry of the Church (11:27-30)
                (1)    Agabus’ prediction (11:27-28)
                (2)    The Church’s relief (11:29-30)

A Closer Look

  1. According to verses 20-21, what did the men of Cyprus and Cyrene preach to the Grecians, and what was the result?

  2. Why did Peter’s simple retelling of what had happened at Cornelius’ house have such an impact on the church leaders in Jerusalem?

  3. What are some ways you and your peers might be able to reach out to groups of people you have never approached before with the Gospel message?

Conclusion

The Gospel is for all people everywhere. Let’s take care to include people of all backgrounds, cultures, and religions in our evangelism!

Reference Materials