Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Freedom to Serve
Don?t you hate getting blamed for doing a good thing? I?ve shared this story a few times but I remember once when a group of us in ministry used to meet for breakfast on a particular day of the week. One time one of us didn?t show up. The other guys just ignored it but I was troubled. I sought out the brother who did not show up. When I found him he was livid. He wanted to know where we were and why we hadn?t come to the meeting?a meeting he?d apparently called but neglected to tell us about. My good deed ended up being turned against me and I got blamed for the whole episode. Sometimes doing the right thing is the wrong thing, depending on who you talk to.
That was the situation Peter found himself in here in Acts 11. An incredible thing had happened, God had very pointedly told Peter, then demonstrated, that He intended to reach out to the Gentiles with salvation. But when Peter arrives back at home base, those that should have rejoiced accuse Peter instead.
If I?m Peter I?m starting to get a complex here. Both in chapters 11 and 12 he is punished for doing the right thing. First by controversy with his fellow Christians, then by imprisonment from the Roman authorities. In both cases God was victorious.
1 ? 3
There were two schools of thought running through the church at the time. One was that salvation was just for the Jews because the Jews had received the Law. The other was that Gentiles could be Christians if they became Jews first and were circumcised and followed the Law.
When Peter got back to Jerusalem, word had preceded him that Gentiles had received the word of God. What got those that believed all must be circumcised wasn?t that Peter preached to them but that he actually went into their house and ate with them. This would fall under the ?cut off your nose despite your face? department.
I fear that sometimes we sort of hold out our Bible at arms length towards those that don?t look, act, or smell like us. We would welcome them into the church, any church but our own.
Peter must now explain exactly how it happened.
4 ? 15
There is one little detail that is added to this story, which we?ve heard a couple of times by now. It?s in verse 14 where Peter is relating what Cornelius told him the angel said, ?He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved.?
16 ? 18
It was apparently a surprise to Peter and the Jews that not only salvation but the Holy Spirit was for Gentiles as well as Jews. Peter remembers something Jesus said that now holds a greater application than he realized at the time. In fact, it should not have surprised them. Jesus preached to Samaritans (John 4), Greeks (Mark 5) and even Romans (Luke 7). And in John 10 Jesus talked about sheep ?not of this fold.? It was hidden a little, but not that much, that Jesus intended the message of the gospel to go out beyond Israel and the Jews.
What more could they say to this? I notice that they glorify God but don?t rejoice and have not really had their minds changed. It?s like the boss said ?this is the way its going to be? and the staff just has to go along with it, albeit begrudgingly. It won?t be the last time this comes up either.
19 ? 21
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (500,000). It was a beautiful city located 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was also a very corrupt city, with the worship of pagan gods and lots of sexual immorality. There was also a large Jewish population there.
Some of the early disciples didn?t get the memo from the circumcision Jews and started, gasp, preaching to the Gentiles there. Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean and Cryene is in North Africa?both Gentile areas.
Low and behold, people start getting saved. So Peter?s little venture into the Gentile world was not a fluke.
22 ? 26
When the folks at Jerusalem caught wind of what was happening they sent Barnabas up there. He was from Cyprus, was an encourager, and one who was wiling to ?stick his neck out? for others (as he did for Saul in chapter 9). Speaking of Saul, once Barnabas got the lay of the situation in Antioch he went down to Tarsus, which is only a few miles to the west. Saul had gone there after his conversion and now enters back into the picture to begin a decade-long outreach to the Gentiles, headquarted in Antioch.
27 ? 30
Ababus would later predict Paul?s imprisonment in Jerusalem (Acts 21). There were actually a series of famines that took place during this time. This visit referred to here probably took place around A.D. 46 and was Paul?s second to Jerusalem.
This visit is probably referred to in Galatians 2:1-10. More happened on that journey than just delivering money for famine relief. Paul brought his doctrine to the disciples there and got the thumbs up, except more trouble from the circumcision party. The giving itself is referenced in 1 Corinthians 16:2 and 2 Corinthians 9:7.
1 ? 4
Herod Agrippa I. One of a long line of evil, partly Jewish, kings. Herod the Great (Agrippa?s grandfather) killed the babies in Bethlehem, Herod Antipas (Agrippa?s uncle) was involved in the trials of Jesus and John the Baptist?s execution, Herod Agrippa I is the man who has James killed here, and Herod Agrippa II was one of Paul?s judges.
Rome had placed Agrippa over Palestine and now here he sees an opportunity to broaden his support with the Jews who were not happy that this cult of Christianity was spreading.
After killing James, he sees this goes over well so arrests Peter during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which immediately followed the Passover. More Jews than normal would be in Jerusalem so he thought he could be more bang for his buck.
Apparently Herod had learned of Peter?s earlier escape in chapter 5 and so he put four soldiers in rotating groups to guard him. He wasn?t going to escape this time!
There is a direct relationship between the church?s prayers and Peter?s release. It says that ?earnest? prayers were sent up to God. Some translations say ?constant? or ?without ceasing? or ?fervent? prayers. All are good translations of the word. It means ?to stretch out.? Sometimes in prayer we need to stretch beyond ourselves to really be earnest, not casual, in our prayers.
Does this mean God only hears us if we speak loudly and flail our hands around and use the King James English? No, certainly not. I think earnest prayers are the cry of our hearts more than the sound of our voices.
But we cannot escape this correlation. Why is it this way? God could have simply rescued Peter like he did in chapter 5 with no prayer. But God wants his people to participate in his kingdom, so now he is growing his people by making their petitions a part of the process of bringing about his will. And that?s the key. Prayer is successful when it brings the saint?s prayer in line with God?s will?not the other way around.
6 ? 7
Peter is so peaceful that the angel must hit him??Peter, Peter?wake up!?. I love that. Peter is at peace in the midst of the storm. At this point he thinks it is a dream.
8 ? 11
God never does what the world expects. Here no prison can hold Peter. Later, no opportunity for freedom can keep Paul out of jail. It is whatever furthers the gospel and the will of the Lord.
John Mark is the author of the gospel of Mark and becomes an important figure later in Paul?s life.
13 ? 17
Poor Rhoda. She probably never lived it down that she kept Peter out in the street. Saying ?it is his angel? could mean his ?guardian angel? which Jewish superstition believed could look like the person they were to guard.? The saints were so busy praying that they nearly missed the answer to their prayers!
18 ? 19
This was serious business. 16 guards lost their lives. A guard was put under the same punishment as their prisoner if they let them escape.
20 ? 25
This happened in A.D. 44, about a year after Peter?s release from prison. We don?t know why Tyre and Sidon were arguing with Herod, but they needed the trade with the region so they probably bribed Blastus to get the trade agreement. Not content with that they shouted flattery to Herod, which he accepted. It?s not always that God instantly judges it when someone is consumed with pride, but that is emblematic of all sin?putting ourselves above God. It is what Lucifer did.
Herod was judged immediately. Josephus also records this event. Herod was probably stricken with roundworms, which can grow to 9 feet long and rob the body of nutrients while causing intense pain. It was thought among the most disgraceful ways to die.
But though the enemies of God are judged, the gospel of grace cannot be imprisoned or stopped. Luke ends by setting the stage for chapter 13 as John Mark, Barnabas and Saul head back to Antioch from Jerusalem.