Summary: Peter gets throne into prison but God gets him out. It’s in part thanks to earnest prayers of the saints. Just how does prayer work into the will of God in our lives?
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.