We have reached the pivotal section in Luke’s account of the early Church. The Gentiles are included at last; the gospel is going global. The cues for this narrative transition are clear, in terms of changing emphasis on both character and location. Until this point Peter has been the most prominent person. However, now Paul is receiving more coverage. Until this point Jerusalem has been the centre of action. However, now Antioch becomes increasingly relevant. In this study, we will show how the narrative focus shifts, although the underlying practice remains constant.
At the start of Acts chapter 11, we see Peter discussing his evangelistic experiences with the Jerusalem church. By the end of Acts chapter 12, we are concentrating on Barnabas and Saul in the Antioch church. This miniature change of emphasis in the section is actually the turning point of the whole book. From this point, the narrative follows Paul closely. We only return to Jerusalem and Peter whenever Paul does, e.g., Acts 15. 7; 21. 17.
As a practical point, we know that God has many servants. Elijah was unaware of 7000 faithful servants of God, 1 Kgs. 19. 18. Perhaps Peter was largely unaware of Paul’s progress. Some servants are named – like Peter and Paul. Others remain anonymous, like the original missionaries to Antioch, Acts 11. 20. Whether or not the spotlight of earthly attention shines on you, be assured that your name, Luke 10. 20, and your service, 1 Cor. 4. 5, are recorded in heaven.
We also notice the unstoppable growth of the Church. The Lord Jesus had promised to build the Church, Matt. 16. 18. In this section we see that more and more people are hearing the gospel message, Acts 11. 19, and as a result more and more people are getting saved, vv. 21, 24. This is the result of the word of God having an increasing effect in people’s lives. 12. 24.
Local church practice is becoming established. We can learn from Jerusalem and Antioch what Christians do when they meet as local churches. Why do they gather together? We should have similar kinds of gatherings today in the local churches we attend.
Report meetings: Peter reports on his visit to Cornelius, Acts 11. 4. The believers hear of new converts, v. 22. The ‘ears of the church’ is a quaint term that conjures up thoughts of a pair of flappy ears on the side of a brick building. Of course, we know the church consists of people, all of whom have ears. What are they listening to? The subject is accurate, first-hand reports of God at work in salvation. Report meetings about gospel outreach and missionary activity are vital for encouragement, clarification, and relevant prayer.
Gospel Activity: Gospel witness is essentially in the community. We often use buildings to preach in but the aim should be to go out into the world with the message. In verses 19 & 20 the circumstances forced the Christians to travel and as they moved from place to place to stay safe, they preached ‘the word’ about the Lord Jesus. Preaching the gospel is an urgent activity in which we can all be involved. Paul says, ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!’ 1 Cor. 9. 16. We should have similar sentiments.
Teaching meetings: Barnabas sees the new converts at Antioch, Acts 11. 23. He loves them and wants the best for them. He encourages them to stay close to the Lord – perhaps reminding them of the Lord’s love and His supreme sacrifice. However, Barnabas realizes that the believers need more than devotional ministry, so he locates Saul and brings him back with him to Antioch, v. 25. It seems that there is a consistent, and continuing programme of Bible teaching from Barnabas and Saul, v. 26.
A meeting to arrange giving or sending relief aid: The Antioch Christians meet together to talk about a need, 11. 29. They recognize that the church in Jerusalem has a particular financial problem, and they decide to give what they can to help. Should there be a special meeting for giving? Later, Paul recommends this activity should usually be linked with the weekly gathering, 1 Cor. 16. 1, 2, although perhaps the unusual circumstances involving Agabus’ Spirit-given message necessitate an extraordinary meeting at Antioch.
A Prayer Meeting: While Peter is in prison, the believers are praying round-the-clock for him, Acts 12. 5. Perhaps this assurance of prayer fellowship enables Peter to sleep peacefully in his prison cell, v. 6. Prayer is one way that we can bring comfort to Christians in need, who might be beyond the reach of our practical help. It seems that this is an all-night prayer meeting, v. 12, presumably in view of the emergency situation. However, prayer should be our natural recourse – our spiritual instinct – not only individually but also corporately. We may not expect angelic assistance today, but, equally, we must not restrict the scope of spiritual ambition in our prayers. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible’, Luke 1. 37.
(To be continued).