Grace Notes

Acts Chapters 10-12

Introduction:

  • Luke shifts the focus of the story back to Peter beginning with two miracles at the end of Chapter 9.
  • The miracles of healing a paralytic and raising Tabitha from the dead was Luke’s way of establishing once again that the ministry of Jesus was continuing.
  • Luke was also highlighting that the gospel had spilled out of Jerusalem and revival was coming to cosmopolitan, Gentile commercial centers.

Acts 10: 1-8  Changed by Revelation

  • Cornelius a God-fearing Roman centurion is introduced–Luke lingers over the character of this man to highlight that he was being singled out by God for remarkable service.
  • God had a plan to use this devout Gentile to answer a big question.

Q: Is the Gospel of Jesus exclusively for the Jews?  Will Gentiles be welcomed into the fellowship of believers as they are or do they have to become proselytes of Judaism?

  • Luke describes how the Lord gave Cornelius a yearning for more–a desire to go deeper with God.
  • He answered Cornelius’ desire with instructions to call for Peter — the instrument of the grace he longed for.

Acts 10:9-23

  • In a divinely choreographed move, God was simultaneously guiding Peter to a new openness through a mysterious vision that disturbed him greatly.
    • this vision was a sheet full of forbidden foods and a startling command to eat!
    • Peter was revolted by the command.
    • He must have wondered how things that had been unclean for thousands of years suddenly could be called clean.
    • God repeated the experience three times to highlight how pivotal this vision was.

Point of the Vision:  This vision was not a contradiction of previous dietary restrictions, it was a parable used by God to teach Peter a new truth.  The sheet with four corners represented the four points on a compass–north, south, east and west.  It represented the world.  Inside the sheet the animals represented all the people of the world–Cornelius, the Romans, the Ethiopians, etc. that Peter would also be revolted by.  God wanted Peter to see his heart–how he looked on the people that God longed to save as revolting and unclean.  God was showing Peter his cold heart that needed changing if he was to continue the ministry of Christ.

  • Luke highlights the sovereign timing that has Peter pondering the meaning of this vision at just the time that the messenger from Cornelius arrives.
  • God orchestrated an experience that helped Peter not miss the point! 
  • Luke lets us see that Peter got the message of the vision when in verse 23 he does what no orthodox Jew would do, “Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

Application:  If you wrote the names of individuals, churches, groups —all the people you dislike and despise and cannot bring yourself to welcome on a list, would the sight of your prejudice make you yearn for God’s transforming grace?

Acts 10:23-48  Gentile Pentecost

  • Peter set out to Cornelius’s house with a transformed mind and heart.
  • Cornelius–full of reverence and spiritual hunger welcomes him with a humility that you would not expect from a soldier in an occupying army.
  • Peter preached the gospel of peace and forgiveness through Christ–Lord of all.
  • While he was speaking the Holy Spirit gave these Gentile listeners a parallel experience to the one the disciples experienced at Pentecost.

Key Point:  Peter sees no reason not to baptize the new believers — in other words he does not require them to become circumcised or commit to Judaism. Gentiles were on equal footing with Jews–old conventions were broken.

Truth: The Lord will see to it that we move on in our growth as disciples.  He accepts us where we are but does not leave us where we are in our attitudes!

Acts 11:1-18   Peter examined by Circumcised believers

  • Back in Jerusalem, Peter was called to account for his association with the Gentile.
  • Peter recounts how the Spirit guided him to Cornelius through the vision–and how the Spirit came on that family as it had the disciples at Pentecost.
  • He linked what he witnessed  to words spoken by Jesus regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit proving that he had interpreted his vision  according to truth. (vs. 16)
  • Peter’s testimony of God’s Spirit moving among the Gentiles silenced his critics.

Acts. 11: 19-30  Church in Antioch

  • Greek speaking Jews had fled Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen. 
  • At the time it was Saul who headed a persecution to stop the spread of this message that centered on a resurrected Jesus.
  • Many of those relocated Jews settled in Antioch
    • 300 miles north of Jerusalem
    • 3rd largest city in the world at this time.
    • Melting pot society–Greek, Roman, Semitic, Arab and Persian people mixed and mingled.
    • Famous for its worship of the goddess Daphne whose temple included ritual prostitution.
    • It was the first century’s “Las Vegas.”
  • Interestingly, in this atmosphere, the good news of Jesus was spreading quickly as ordinary followers shared their faith with others.
  • The citizens of Antioch noticed the vitality, inclusiveness and compassion of this new community and coined a name to describe them.
  • It was in Antioch that believers were first called “Christian.”
  • The Jerusalem church got wind of what was happening up north and they sent Barnabas to check it out.

Ironically, it was Saul’s persecution that was the cause of these believers being scattered to Antioch–it was also Saul,  who now converted, was called to teach and encourage the faith of these new Christians.

Key Thought: It is important for new believers to be discipled–taught what it means to follow Jesus.

Chapter 12  – Who can deliver us?

  • Herod had been appointed by Caligula to rule in Palestine.
    • He was of Jewish descent but had no love for the faith of his fathers.
    • He had been educated in Rome and grew up as a close friend to the imperial family there.
    • His true love was power and control so he would do anything that would keep him popular with the people.
    • When he began a persecution of the Christian Jews and beheaded James, he discovered that it made him more popular–as a politician, he decided to escalate that program to gain more attention.

Q: How did this persecution impact the church?

A: It appears that it pressed the church to prayer–but the prayer seems to have been characterized by low expectations!

  •  It must have been difficult to believe that Peter would be rescued since James’ fate had been beheading.
  • If God did not rescue James they would not be expecting Him to act differently in Peter’s imprisonment–they prayed according to what they thought God was willing to do.
    • The church must have been praying for Peter to be comforted and sustained and for his faith to remain strong as he faced certain death.
    • We can conclude this as we read how unprepared everyone–Peter and the church were when he was set free!
    • Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to tap him awake to get him out of prison.
    • The praying believers would not believe the house girl who said Peter was at the door–they thought it might be an angel or the ghost of Peter sent to encourage them in their grief.
    • Herod purposed not to have another escape of Christian prisoners–God purposed a rescue!

Key Points:

  1. Luke is highlighting that God not Herod is in control. 
  2. He is highlighting that it is not the content of our prayers that is as important as the  fact that we are praying! 
  3. He leaves the mystery of God’s rule in the universe as it relates to the question, “Why does he spare some and not all?”
  4. He suggests that some witness through death while some witness through continuing to live.

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