And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
I. God's word treats all men as needing to be saved.
II. God's word gives us to understand that all men can be saved.
III. God's word prescribes the conditions of every man's being saved.
IV. God's word settles the conclusion that even good men, unconverted, cannot be saved.
C. S. Robinson, Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 352.
Reference: Acts 11:13, Acts 11:14.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 252.
Acts 11:18I. It was God's will that, by Jew and Gentile, by heretic and orthodox, by men of the East and men of the West, the truth should be tried and sifted,—the power of the word brought out, and the might of His Spirit demonstrated. Had Judaism prevailed, the sacred spark of Divine life must have been overlaid and ultimately extinguished. But, for the recognition of the Unity of God, for the conservation of the moral conscience, for the maintenance of the record of God's everlasting covenant, it was necessary that the Jewish element should abide and be incorporated. Long was the struggle before it would consent to pass into its place of testifying to Christ, and to take its yoke off the shoulders of the brethren. Nor let us think that it is yet at an end. In the whole ascetical and ceremonial system of Rome we have the successor of the Jewish spirit and practice.
II. Still, then, the conflict is being maintained, and let us never forget it. We stand on the immovable basis of Gentile Christianity. We know no difference of race or colour, of sex or condition in life; to us there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek nor barbarian, bond nor free. The struggle lasts, but the future is not without largeness of promise and brightness of hope. Day by day men stand up among us witnessing to these truths; lives are spent and souls are called to glory; of Christ's fulness we are receiving and grace for grace. And as, close upon the end of the first century, a Christian father could make it his boast that there was not a known land where God the Father was not called on through His Son Jesus Christ, so we, past the noontide of the nineteenth great secular day, may boast, by the same grace of God, that there is not a land on the now revealed earth where the free doctrines of salvation by individual faith and individual sanctification are not proclaimed on the testimony of the Word of God.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 235.
References: Acts 11:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 44; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 545.
Acts 11:19-26The Church at Antioch.
I. This church was established by lay agency.
II. It was a church established among the Gentiles. The text marks a new epoch in the history of the kingdom of God Jesus Christ had plainly intimated that the Gentiles also were to be admitted into the Christian fold. The Jewish Church was like the chrysalis containing life in an undeveloped state; the Christian Church is the chrysalis emerging in the winged butterfly,—it looks disdainfully upon boundaries and soars high over barriers.
III. This Gentile church was flourishing in grace. Every true minister will, like Barnabas, strive to promote the growth of grace and knowledge in the Church; and if he cannot accomplish the twofold work himself, he will, like Barnabas, seek another to help him. To our knowledge let us add grace; both are necessary in order to perfection in religion.
J. C. Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 266.
Reference: Acts 11:20.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., No. 385.
Acts 11:20-21I. Notice the spontaneous impulse which these men obeyed. They find themselves rejoicing in a great Saviour-Friend. They see all around them men who need Him, and that is enough. They obey the promptings of the voice within, and lay the foundations of the first Gentile church. (1) Such a spontaneous impulse is ever the natural result of our own personal possession of Christ. A heart warmed by the love of Christ needs to express its love, and will give it forth, as certainly as light must radiate from its centre, or heat from a fire. (2) True kindliness of heart creates the same impulse. We cannot truly possess the treasure for ourselves without pity for those who have it not. (3) Loyalty to Christ creates the same impulse. If we are true to our Lord, we shall feel that we cannot but speak up and out for Him, and that all the more where His name is unloved and unhonoured.
II. This incident suggests the universal obligation on all Christians to make known Christ. These men were not officials. In these early days the Church had a very loose organisation. But the fugitives in our narrative seem to have had among them none even of the humble officers of primitive times. Every Christian is solemnly bound to fulfil the Divine intention, and to take heed to the imperative command, "Freely ye have received, freely give."
III. Observe the simple message which they proclaimed. Their message was but the proclamation of their own personal experience. They had found Jesus for themselves to be lover and Lord, friend and Saviour of their souls, and the joy they had received they sought to share with these Greeks, worshippers of gods and lords many.
IV. Notice the mighty Helper who prospered their work. "The hand of the Lord was with them." How little any of us know what shall become of our poor work, under His fostering care. How little these men knew that they were laying the foundations of the great change which was to transform the Christian community from a Jewish sect into a world-embracing church. Let us sow the seed, and He will give it a body as it pleaseth Him.
A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 294.
References: Acts 11:20, Acts 11:21.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 113; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 262. Acts 11:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1282. Acts 11:22, Acts 11:23.—J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 234.
Acts 11:23I. Notice, first, what Barnabas saw. The "grace of God" here was very probably the specific meaning of the miraculous working of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ at work in men's hearts, making them pure and gentle, simple and unworldly, refining their characters, elevating their aims, toning their being into accord with the music of His life, is the true proof that men are Christians, and that communities of such are churches of His.
II. What he felt: "He was glad." It was a triumph of Christian principle to recognise the grace of God under new forms and in so strange a place; it was a greater triumph to hail it with rejoicing. As our eyes travel over the wide field of Christendom, and our memories go back over the long ages of the story of the Church, let gladness, and not wonder or reluctance, be the temper with which we see the graces of Christian character lifting their meek blossoms in any corners strange to us, and breathing their fragrance over the pastures of the wilderness.
III. What he said: "He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." The first thing that strikes one about this all-sufficient directory for the Christian life is the emphasis with which it sets forth the Lord as the sole object to be grasped and held. The sum of all objective religion is Christ; the sum of all subjective religion is cleaving to Him.
A. Maclaren, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 257.
References: Acts 11:23.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 114; Good Words, vol. iii., p. 380; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 291.
Acts 11:24Consistency of Human and Divine Affections.
I. There is no hint given that Barnabas acted otherwise than well and wisely in the course he pursued with reference to John Mark. He is declared to have been "a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith," and St. Paul is related to have recognised after many years the excellence and profitableness of the young disciple whose inconstancy had offended him at first so deeply.
It may be asked what lesson or inference we may draw from this narrative. And I answer at once, that we gather from it the compatibility of heavenly with earthly duties, and the consistency of human with Divine affections. There is here set before us the example of a good man, and we behold him insist on reconciling the high responsibilities of his apostolic order with the claims which arise out of the ties of kindred—his natural affection for his sister's son. It was grievous, doubtless, that anything which that young man had done should have led to sharp contention; but we know from the sequel of the sacred story that it was Paul who had judged with undue severity, not Barnabas who had acted with undue indulgence. Here, then, the consistency of human with Divine affections is set before us.
II. Such teaching ought to bring something of comfort to beings like ourselves. God has placed us in this world, and made us what we are. It is He who has surrounded us with such a curious and complicated network of relationships, duties, ties. And it is incredible that these ought to be considered in the light of instruments of our ruin, traps and snares in our way. Rather as methods of our probation and helps to our perfection should every one of them be welcomed, weighed, and dealt with. For it is certain that there is room both for the claims of friendship and the ties of blood, on the one hand; for God's service and a due regard for His honour and glory on the other.
J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 58.
References: Acts 11:24.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 338; J. A. Picton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 273; Preacher's Monthly. vol. v., p. 305. Acts 11:26.—Ibid., vol. x., p. 321; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 236; R. W. Church, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 163; see also Discipline of the Christian Character. Acts 11:29.—J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 480. Acts 12:1-3.—T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 364; J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 314. Acts 12:1-25.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 136. Acts 12:12.—G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 218; J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 214.
And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them.
But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying,
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:
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.
And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.
But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.
But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.
And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.
And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.
And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:
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;
Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.
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.
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?
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.