Acts 11 is a great “little” chapter. It only consists of two stories — Peter’s report to the Jerusalem church about the work of the Holy Spirit among Gentiles and Barnabas and Saul’s (Paul) ministry to the church in Antioch. With these two stories, Luke begins to transition his focus from the story of the church in Jerusalem and its leaders (Peter, John, and others) to the expansion of the church among the Gentiles, which centers on the ministry of Paul.
Excitement (vv. 1-18)
In the first half of the chapter, Peter gives a report to the church in Jerusalem about the work of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles. At first, the congregation did not respond favorably. They criticized Peter for going “to uncircumcised men and [eating] with them” (vs. 3). But, as Peter began to explain to them the vision he had seen and the ministry of the Spirit that he had experienced, their hearts were softened. They became excited about the Gentiles coming to faith. Verse 18 reads, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'”
This has been my experience. When true Christians hear of the work of God in bringing people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, they get excited. They want to celebrate the work of the Savior. They want to sing for joy because people have received new life. They want to praise God for he is greatly to be praised for rescuing men, women, and children from their sins. A miracle of grace has happened, and it is greater than any earthly or ethnical distinction we make between men and women. The grace of God extends beyond all boundaries and brings men and women together in Christ. That is reason to celebrate!
The First “Christians”
In verses 19-30, Luke tells us about the congregation in Antioch. It is a mixed congregation, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, and developed out of two missionary endeavors.Stephen, first, traveled through Phonecia, Cyprus, and Antioch proclaiming the gospel only to Jews. He spoke of the truth of Christ, and many Jews responded to the call to faith. Then, other “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” traveled in the same region speaking the truth to Gentiles. The had of the Lord was on them as well and many Gentiles heard the message of Christ and responded in faith. These men and women assembled in Antioch and were called “Christians”.
(The term “Christian” was most likely a label placed on the congregation by the unbelieving public. It is an indication that the church was beginning to have an identity of its own, one not associated with the Jews. As the movement grew, it became recognized socially.)
Characterized by Graciousness
Finally, I would note that the Antioch congregation was characterized by graciousness. They “determined every one according to his ability, to send relief to the bothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” They responded to Judean Christians’ needs by sending famine relief. Isn’t that a beautiful and gracious thing?
Wouldn’t it be awesome if Christians everywhere responded to the expanse of the gospel with excitement and graciousness like the believers in Antioch?