Calvary Road Baptist Church

“PREPARING A CHURCH FOR MISSIONS” Part 1

Acts 11.1-18 

My text is Acts 11.1-18: 

1 And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.

4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:

6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.

8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.

9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.

11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.

12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house:

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.

16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.

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?

18 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 chapter ten is the account of a Gentile, a Roman centurion, who had come to Christ, and the baptism of his household with the Holy Spirit of God. It is worth the read. The passage we have just now read shows how God used the events recorded in chapter ten to open up the hearts of seven Jewish Christians to the fact that God had opened the door to the household of faith, even for Gentiles. As important as individuals are in God’s economy, so groups of individuals are also profoundly important. God taught seven men a great and life-changing lesson concerning the broad scope of the Gospel and its power to save any sinner.

For God’s plan for the Christian era was to be realized, this life-changing lesson about God’s inclusion of the Gentiles into the family of God had to reach more than just seven men. It had to reach the entire Christian community. But before that could happen, it is a vision that an entire congregation initially had to catch. That is what chapter eleven is all about.

Every Christian must know and understand why the ethnic prejudices that were so prevalent in that day had to be addressed. It is a challenge that must be addressed in every region by every congregation in every Christian history era. Every believer must be made to realize in his or her heart that God is an impartial God. God’s impartiality must be reflected in every Church of Jesus Christ.

We know that before His ascension, the Lord Jesus Christ established a mission for His disciples. We call it the Great Commission. The Gospel was to be preached to every creature. However, to this point, knowing that they were supposed to, commanded to, and directed to, preach the Gospel to every creature, the disciples still had not obeyed that directive, except in a few isolated instances.

The Church of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem was, perhaps unknowingly, in a state of rebellion. On the one hand, they were learning so much about the Christian life, the joy of sins forgiven, and the development of their approach to ministry that they were caught up in the glories associated with their relationship with God through Christ. On the other hand, their latent cultural bias against the surrounding Gentile communities made those people groups less than desirable targets for Jewish Christian evangelism.

I am not persuaded theirs was necessarily a conscious rebellion fired by a flame fed and fanned by a hatred of Gentiles. I imagine it was in the background of their thoughts, with them imagining their less than welcoming friendliness toward people like me, not seeming to them to be entirely unreasonable from a human perspective. After all, they had experienced centuries of suffering at the hands of the ungodly nations ravaging them and carrying their people off into captivity.

If it wasn’t the Egyptians, it was the Canaanites. After the Canaanites, it was the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Then it was Alexander’s army, with the Romans merely the latest oppressors. Never mind that God had brought all those conquerors against them in response to their sins against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Though Jewish people eventually came to despise Gentile idolatry, repudiated Gentile values and culture, and resented Gentile domination, what is that to the Jewish Christian whose Savior died for those same Gentiles and wanted His disciples to reach those Gentiles with the Gospel? Additionally, what does the past oppression of your people have anything to do with your present life as a Christian? Are not old things passed away, and all things become new?

For the early Jewish Christians to obey their Lord Jesus Christ, they must set aside the prejudices they had learned in their lost condition. They must deal with their spiritual baggage. They must put Christ first. They must reach out to those who were different from them. Has anything changed in our day? This is an ongoing challenge. This matter must be addressed by every generation in every congregation.

Let us reflect on how God used Simon Peter and his six witnesses, along with the events that transpired with the Roman centurion named Cornelius, to begin preparing the Jerusalem congregation to see the entire world as their mission field, for beginning to obey their Lord Jesus and preach the Gospel to every creature, as He directed them to do.

In the passage we read at the outset, let us note three scenes leading to the Church in Jerusalem embracing a vision for lost souls, even the lost who are ethnically and racially different from them.

We will look at three scenes, which I have labeled the reaction to Peter, Peter’s response, and the Church’s reaction. 

SCENE #1, THE REACTION TO PETER 

We see here that the grapevine operated at a breakneck pace, verse one: 

“And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.” 

In the last sentence of chapter 10, it can be seen that Cornelius and his friends asked Peter and his friends to stay with them certain days. No doubt, Peter and his six companions did just that. After all, there was much about the Christian life and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that those people needed to be taught. But while Peter and friends tarried in Caesarea, someone got news to Jerusalem. And they got it there quickly.

Next, we notice that the grapevine is selective, verses 2 and 3: 

2 And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,

3 Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. 

I have no real problem with grapevines other than the fact that they, like most journalists, are highly selective about what facts are transmitted. Notice that when Peter finally arrived in Jerusalem, he was confronted by a select group of individuals concerning one small detail. Apparently, of all of the things that happened in Caesarea, someone who had been in Caesarea thought the brethren in Jerusalem ought to know that Peter actually ate meals with uncircumcized Gentiles. No report was made of souls saved. No report seems to have been made about the Spirit’s baptism of Gentiles. No report of Peter’s reasons for doing any of the things he was alleged to have done. No concern for Peter’s reputation or how much hurt would come to Peter’s wife and family as a result of such selective journalism.

There appeared to be no concern for anything else besides the sensational value of telling people that Peter had actually eaten meals with Gentiles! And, of course, this kind of gossip stirred up all of the folks who had a real problem in the area of circumcision. It seems to be the nature of folks to get really stirred about things that are of most importance to them. So, the folks who got stirred up about this circumcision thing were folks who still tended to cling to the notion that circumcision was required for salvation, that the only way to heaven was through the synagogue.

But these folks of the circumcision in verse 2 did the right thing. They could have mumbled and griped about Peter’s actions or done any number of things that could have undermined his ministry. But instead of all that, they correctly approached him and confronted him about his perceived wrongdoing. Yes, they are to be commended for accusing Peter of misconduct to his face. Why? Because by talking to his face, instead of behind his back, they showed their genuine interest in getting at the truth, and they allowed him to explain his actions to them. Their reaction to Peter is not to be condemned, but rather to be commended. It showed obedience to Christ, Who said, 

“Moreover, if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone....”[1] 

Thank God for courageous Church members who will do this. 

SCENE #2, THE RESPONSE OF PETER 

This is recorded in verses 4-17. As we proceed through the record of Peter’s response, notice that he merely tells folks what happened in his response. He doesn’t get agitated or angry. He tells what happened and why. We should strive to imitate Peter’s method of response. It shows great spiritual strength.

In verses 4-15, Peter rehearsed the events related to Cornelius and went into a little more detail than is recorded in chapter 10: 

4 But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,

5 I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:

6 Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

7 And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.

8 But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.

9 But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

10 And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.

11 And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.

12 And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man’s house:

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.

15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 

Verse 12 reveals that Peter’s six witnesses were still with him, verifying everything he told them. He had thought he would need their testimony, and he was right. Verses 13-14 are especially significant: 

13 And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. 

Peter mentioned something the messengers of Cornelius said not recorded by Luke in chapter ten, though he obviously knew it was said, being the writer of Acts. What is recorded in verse 14 can be understood in two ways.

Many credible teachers believe that the primary mission of the Apostle Peter was to go to Caesarea and introduce this Roman centurion, Cornelius, to Christ. This seems to make Acts 11.14 easy to understand on the surface.

Turning back to Acts chapter ten, I maintain Cornelius was already a believer in Jesus Christ prior to Peter’s arrival on the scene, and that Peter’s mission was not to introduce him to Christ, but rather to witness his Spirit baptism, then to water baptize him, testifying to God’s salvation of the Gentiles who trust in Christ.

You might remember, from Acts chapter eight, that the Apostle Peter did not go to Samaria to introduce the Samaritans to Christ. They were converted and baptized under Philip’s ministry. Peter went to Samaria to confirm that they had come to faith in Christ and to witness their Spirit baptism.

My reasons for believing Cornelius’ experience was a duplication of what had happened with Peter in Samaria, that Peter arrived on the scene to witness an already converted to Christ Gentile’s Spirit baptism, are as follows: 

#1 Acts 10.2 shows Cornelius to be devout and fearing God. Good works seem to follow his fear of God, which is consistent with a truly saved man.

#2 Acts 10.4 shows that Cornelius’s prayers and alms (or good works) came up for a memorial before God. This is inconsistent with the Bible’s teachings that salvation is by grace not works, that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and the Bible truth that God does not hear the prayers of an unsaved man. It perfectly fits if he is already a believer.

#3 Acts 10.15 records the voice from heaven saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,” with the word translated “hath cleansed,” ἐkaqarίsen being an aorist active indicative third person singular verb referring to an accomplished deed. I think this is the most substantial evidence Cornelius and some in his household are already converted. I cannot imagine unsaved Gentiles being so described.

#4 Acts 10.37 shows that as Peter related the facts of the life of Christ, he recognized that Cornelius was already aware of these same facts when he said, “That word, I say, ye know.”

#5 Acts 10.44 shows that God interrupted Peter’s Gospel presentation, something He would not have done if Cornelius was an unbeliever in need of Christ: 

“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” 

Thus, I conclude that Acts 11.14 does not necessarily refer to the moment Cornelius came to a saving knowledge of Christ but to something else. Let me elaborate.

There are three distinct aspects of salvation taught in God’s Word. There is justification when Christ is received as Savior, and one is immediately saved from the penalty of his sins. Then there is sanctification, which is a lifetime process of deliverance from the power of sin in your life. Finally, there is glorification, which is our actual deliverance into heaven with a new glorified body. When the word “saved” or salvation is referred to in the Bible, the only way to understand whether the Author is talking about the first, the second, the third, or all three of these aspects of our salvation is by carefully studying the context of the passage in question.

Based upon the evidence in chapters 10 and 11, I am convinced Cornelius had already received Christ as his personal Savior before Peter’s arrival. The salvation referred to in Acts 11.14 has to do with the daily salvation from the power of sin in their lives, which Cornelius and the others could only have when they were filled with the Spirit of God and had been taught the Word of God, thus starting off their life of salvation from sin’s power and looking forward to salvation from sin’s presence.

When Peter arrived on the scene, the Gentile Christians were filled with the Spirit. Then they were taught by Peter in the days and perhaps the few weeks that followed. That is what Peter rehearsed to Church members in Jerusalem.

After his rehearsal, Peter recounts a prediction made by John the Baptist, verse 16: 

“Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” 

It must have been with great affection that Peter remembered Christ’s words about the Baptist. You will recall that Peter had initially been one of John’s disciples. Then, when Christ’s earthly ministry began, Peter followed the Master instead of the Master’s forerunner.[2] Peter’s reference to John’s prediction of believers being baptized with the Holy Ghost shows us that Cornelius’s experience was the Gentile Pentecost. Peter made it such by his reference to John.

Then, concluding his response, Peter wound up asking a rhetorical question. That is, a question was asked, not to evoke an answer, but to prove a point, 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?” 

He is making the point to these Church members that God gave the Holy Spirit to those Gentiles, not Peter. It was God Who elevated all men to common ground in Christ, not Peter. Who was Peter that he could withstand God? He was nobody. He drove the point home. Thus, God has revealed that all people stand equal in His sight. When none have merit, but all stand condemned until saved by God’s unmerited grace, how in the world can anyone say that this kind of person is acceptable and that kind is not? 

SCENE #3, THE REACTION OF THE CHURCH 

How did they react to Peter’s response? The only way they could react. In verse 18, we see the reaction of the Jerusalem Church: 

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

Those folks are to be highly commended for their restraint. They kept quiet and allowed Peter to answer their charges against him fully. They paid attention to what he said instead of listening for a weak spot in his argument to seize upon as soon as he finished talking, as people often do. They wanted to know the truth, and they desired that the Lord’s words be fulfilled, which said, 

“Moreover, if thy brother hath trespassed against thee, Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” 

They thought Peter had sinned, so they approached him. When Peter finished talking, they knew they had gained their brother. Indeed, they had never lost him.

Those folks are also to be highly commended for their response to Peter’s words. They recognized God’s workings through the apostle, and they followed him on this crucial issue of the faith. They glorified God, saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” We ought to band together in our thanks to God for being no respecter of persons. As a result of Him being big enough to respect no man above another, He cleared the way for me to be saved. For that, I am grateful. 

The Jews who challenged Peter were Christians, but they were immature believers. They leaned toward thinking one must become a Jew before one can become a Christian. Fortunately, God showed them the error of their ways. And, also, fortunately, they responded to God’s clear teachings on this matter.

How we have been blessed as a result of the obedience to God of those who have lived before us. How great a responsibility we have to give our children blessings by our obedience to God. Is there an area of your life where disobedience reigns? If so, why not follow the example of these early Christians and get your heart right with God on the matter?

If you are not saved, then you need to obey the Gospel. You are a sinner, according to God. And you stand before God condemned to a Christless Hell unless you repent of your sins and respond to Christ. All you have to do is receive Him. If you do not know how to do that, perhaps we can talk.

Christian? Is thy heart right with God? Look at the lengths God went to address the Jewish Christians’ prejudices brought into their Christian lives from their Jewish heritage. It was groundbreaking and led to expanding the Gospel ministry to such Gentiles cities as Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome.

But that is not all. God later brought drought to the region so Gentile congregations could offer the Apostle Paul an offering to bring back into this region to feed these same Church members.[3] Why so?

Some remaining believers still harbored pent-up animosity toward Gentiles, even Gentiles who were Christians. But it is challenging to maintain ethnic hostility toward those who are giving to buy food to keep you alive. Amen? So Paul brought the money from Gentile Churches to feed Jewish Christians.

What lengths will God go to so His people will see only souls in need of Christ and not skin color or ethnicity. Actual missions blossoms when such petty issues are put aside.

That is why our Church supports missionaries in Africa, Asia, Australia, India, South America, Europe, Israel and maintains efforts to strengthen Gospel ministers and Churches and to establish Churches here at home.

__________

[1] Matthew 18.15

[2] John 1.29-42

[3] Acts 11.26-30; Romans 15.26; 1 Corinthians 16.1-4; 2 Corinthians 8.4; 9.1, 12; Galatians 2.10

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