Unity, Cross-cultural Work and Discipleship
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Acts 1:1-8 is our continual framework for reading, interpreting and applying Acts.
Jesus finished his instruction with is disciples speaking about the kingdom.
He reminded them that there would be the outpouring of the Spirit as he promised in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and numerous times in the gospels.
He bears witness to his mission of expanding the kingdom by giving that Acts 2 experience to new frontiers as he regenerates people in those places thereby giving heavenly approval of the expanse of the kingdom to the nations.
We see this happening in Acts 2 on all the nations gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, Acts 8 in Samaria, Acts 10 with Cornelius the Roman/Gentile and then with the Ephesians in Acts 19 way out on the frontier. Each of these Luke’s account of Acts 1:8 being brought to life.
Today’s passage catches us on the expanding frontier just after Cornelius and his crew (Acts 10) received the Gospel and all the power of the kingdom and it’s expanse now to Antioch.
We are going to see some key themes in our passage with all this gospel expanse to new frontiers in 1. the basis of unity, 2. the normal vehicle of the gospel being regular folks preaching Jesus in a cross-cultural fashion and that 3. discipleship has an outworking of service to others sooner rather than later.
What do we see/what does it mean?
Unity: Holy Spirit unifies the church 11:1-18
Peter is the “anti-Jonah”. Jonah runs to Joppa to run away from preaching the gospel to Gentiles in Nineveh. Peter runs to Joppa to preach the gospel to Gentiles gathered in Joppa. We see the same prejudice of chapter 11 that Jonah expresses when he goes up on the hill to sit and watch the Lord destroy the city because of those awful Gentile invaders that occupied his homeland. The disciples of Jerusalem are not sure about these gentiles.
The Lord has shown Peter that these Gentiles are to be included and he is going to have to defend the gospel’s inclusion of them.
1. Gentiles have received the gospel. 11:1
2. The circumcision party criticizes Peter for being with and eating with Gentiles. 11:2-3
This is the first of many coming clashes over the inclusion of the Gentiles and then later of how Gentiles are to relate and vice/versa.
This “circumcision party” is going to be addressed in Galatians. They just can’t get over the external code and miss it’s intent.
3. Peter recounts his encounter from 10:9-48. 11:4-15
The fact that Luke repeats in this section the same story he just relayed to us in the previous chapter indicates the level of importance.
This is a huge deal!
These passages are separate but they are back to back because Luke wants to draw our attention to the vital nature of the frontier work and the unity of the church in bringing Jew and Gentile together.
4. Peter attributes the instruction he receives to the Holy Spirit. 11:12
5. The Holy Spirit made no distinction between persons. 11:12
Peter is recounting this story to those who were critical of him being with and eating with Gentiles.
6. Peter equates Cornelius’ experience with Pentecost. 11:15
“Just as on us.”
This helps us in a couple of ways.
First, it helps us understand what baptism of the Holy Spirit is.
It is not a second work of grace for believers.
It is the regenerating work of the Spirit whereby he resurrects a dead soul, places them into the kingdom of Jesus, adopts them as his children and marks/seals them as his forever.
Second, these frontier peoples get a “Pentecost” experience like the Jewish folks got for the purpose of putting on display that in the kingdom there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free but all one in Christ.
The gift of the Holy Spirit and the “same experience” of his work becomes the basis for unity in the church. All in Christ have the Spirit and have been regenerated by the Spirit.
7. Peter recalls Jesus’ instruction in that moment. 11:16
Jesus spoke to this issue and now it makes sense as it’s coming to life.
8. The gift of the Spirit is the unifying agent of the church. 11:17
9. The gift of the Holy Spirit silences critics, brings glory to God from the critics as well as acknowledgement of God’s work among the “outsiders” God has made “insiders”. 11:18
What do we do with this?
1. Know that unity, not just in the local church, but unity among ethnically diverse disciples of Jesus that comprise the universal church, is a priority.
Multi-ethnic unity is vital and must be sought out.
2. Expect criticism when previously believed unworthy people get saved and fellowship as well as multi-ethnic unity is sought.
This kind of criticism over external legalistic demand are the kind of thing that can destroy fellowship.
Anytime people create laws not written in the text of Scripture and then fellowship around those laws there are divisions.
2a. Don’t create laws and don’t fellowship around created/unbiblical laws as a basis of relationships.
3. Expect the Lord to silence critics when they see the work of the Lord.
If a critic won’t listen to Jesus’ instruction, then they are more than a critic. They are a sinner in need of repentance.
4. Be able to tell redemptive stories of God’s grace as he repairs breaches of relationship because you were a part of that story. In other words, make sure you are engaged in some way to make peace where there is division between nations of peoples and can tell the redemptive story of God’s grace.
The only way to have redemptive stories is to preach the gospel to people. Invite them to come to a worship service with you. Disciple people into the kingdom.
Illustration: Reaching out to Muslims or Refugees helps to debunk many of the myths that float around as truth and you can be able to be a peacemaker.
Cross-cultural Work: Unnamed disciples making disciples cross culturally 11:19-26
1. Stephen’s martyrdom scatters unnamed disciples, strategically, to a very frontier setting. 11:19
This is not frontier in the sense of not civilization. This is frontier in that it is very unfamiliar territory to the typical Christian at this point and unfamiliar with the values of God’s kingdom.
It’s one thing to do evangelism in a place where the church has been established, and ground is being taken and the spiritual air has been affected by the values of God’s kingdom.
It’s quite another when Christians are working within a set of values that are opposite of the kingdom and the spiritual climate is charged with evil rather than light.
This is that kind of frontier.
This frontier work is being engaged by some unnamed disciples who are just obeying Jesus.
2. Some men of Cyprus and Cyrene (part of the scattered and Hellenized) reached out to non-Jews in Antioch. 11:20
“Persecution thrust two kinds of believers into other parts of the world. The first shared the good news only with fellow Jews. The second was willing to share the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles because they were Hellenized (Greek speaking Jews) and were not so attached to Jewish prejudices. Merely verbalizing the indwelling witness of Christ in their hearts, they were not aware they were doing anything radical. These unnamed Jews…with no official direction, no human instruction, no precedent to follow, nothing but a burning love for Christ…took the message to Antioch without realizing the revolutionary greatness of their act. There were the first believers to bring the explosive light of Christianity into the midnight of paganism.”
Antioch then may be like Las Vegas now.
There is a comfort level on the part of these disciples with sinners in such a way that they realized the gospel was needed there and they were not hindered in engaging the people.
This brash crossing of ethnic lines was novel and unheard of, yet these men did it in obedience to Jesus.
3. The disciples preached Jesus. 11:20
4. The hand of the Lord was with these Jesus preaching disciples so that people are beginning to follow Jesus. 11:21
5. News reaches Jerusalem about kingdom movement in Antioch so the church sends reliable Barnabas to investigate what’s happening. 11:22
It’s one thing if some God-fearing Gentiles believe the gospel. It’s another when some pagan Gentiles start coming in. What do we do with that?
6. Barnabas recognizes God’s grace (Holy Spirit) and encourages the new believers. 11:23
7. Barnabas’ ministry reaches even more people and the number of disciples begin to grow. 11:24
8. Barnabas goes to Tarsus, in search of Saul, we presume because of his ministry to Gentiles so he can help in discipling these new followers of Jesus and they, together, enjoy a fruitful ministry together in Antioch. Barnabas may have reached out to Saul/Paul in order to be obedient to the Lord’s command to work in pairs. We aren’t completely sure why he went to get Saul/Paul, but get him he did and these two reasons are very likely. 11:25-26
What do we do with this?
1. The kingdom advances through the ambassadorial work of unnamed followers of Jesus. So, be encouraged that obedience to King Jesus will result in kingdom fruit one day. Some plan. Some water. Some harvest. But Jesus gives the increase.
2. Celebrate unheard of frontier work when Jesus is lifted up even if the methods leave us scratching our heads.
3. Preach Jesus and expect the Lord’s “hand” to produce results.
The “hand” of the Lord is a concept presented in the Bible that means the directing of God to bring about the good work of God.
Illustration: When the boys were little, I would let them sit on my lap in my car and allow them to “drive”, all the while keeping my hand on the wheel at the bottom directing things. They were driving, but I was making it happen.
When we do kingdom work, we work for real, but the “hand” of God makes our work fruitful. He’s keeping his good hand in the work to make it effective.
4. Let’s partner up in kingdom work. Grab someone who can help, and don’t go it alone.
Discipleship: New disciples begin serving as an outgrowth of following Jesus 11:27-30
The Lord, in his good providence, had determined a famine over the land (Psalm 105:16-17) for good purposes. One of those good purposes was that it would be an opportunity for unity.
So, the Lord sent prophets to tell of this famine from the church that would be affected so that those who would have an abundance could have the opportunity to bless the affected.
It just so happened that the affected would be the one’s that the church started with and the one’s blessed by the affected’s evangelistic work would get to return the blessing in supply of resources in a famine.
God would use a famine to allow the new disciples to spread their wings and build unity in his church by putting the blessers in the position of needing to be blessed.
1. The Lord sends prophets to warn of a famine. 11:27-28
2. The new disciples minister to the home church as normal outgrowth of their following Jesus. 11:29-30
What do we do with this?
1. When making disciples, put them to work as part of discipling not as an “end” to book learning.
Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”