The Body Grows In Syrian Antioch

In the persecution that arose after Stephen’s murder, witnesses for Jesus traveled to places such as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the Syrian city of Antioch (259).  But they were preaching the good news about Jesus only to people who were Jews by birth.

Later, however, others came from Cyprus & Cyrene to Antioch, and they preached Jesus to Gentiles who had become Jews. God blessed their efforts and many of these former Gentiles believed in Jesus & surrendered their lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

When news of this was heard by the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to check out the situation.  Barnabas – who was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit & of faith — was glad when he saw the grace of God among the body of believers in Antioch.

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Barnabas encouraged them to continue following Jesus with all their heart. And the body of Christ continued to grow in Antioch.

Then Barnabas went to the nearby city of Tarsus to find Saul. When he had found him, Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch.

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For an entire year, Saul & Barnabas served the church in Antioch.  It was in that city that believers were first called “Christians” – to indicate that they were living as Jesus intended, showing their love for God by loving other people.

Prophets came periodically from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, Agabus, was inspired by the Spirit to show the church in Antioch that there was going to be a great famine throughout that part of the world.

In response, the Christians in Antioch decided to send relief to the believers dwelling in Judea, each according to his ability. When they had prepared their relief offering, they sent it with Barnabas & Saul to the elders of the Jerusalem church – which would bring Saul to Jerusalem as a Christian for only the second time.

God, please help me to love other people as an expression of my love for You.

(259) Acts 11:19-30

Gentiles Grafted In

The witnesses and other believers in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles (non-Jewish people) at Caesarea had received the spirit of God (258).

When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some Jews — who insisted on circumcision according to the law of Moses – accused Peter of unlawfully sharing fellowship with Gentiles: “You went in to uncircumcised Gentiles & ate with them!”

So Peter explained everything to them in careful detail, exactly as it happened from the time of his vision in Joppa through the time of his message to the house of Cornelius – including the messengers from Cornelius, the vision of Cornelius, and how the Gentile people gathered in the house of Cornelius to hear from God.  He concluded in this way:

“After I began to speak, the Holy Spirit suddenly invaded & took over the Gentiles’ hearts & lives, just as he did with us at Pentecost!

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“Then I remembered that Jesus said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

“So if God was blessing them with the same gift that He gave us when we surrendered to Jesus, how could I withstand God?”

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At first, there was stunned silence when Peter finished speaking.  Then all the church leaders glorified God, saying, “Praise the Lord for also leading the Gentiles into repentance & new life!”

God, please help me to love Your leading.

(258) Acts 11:1-18

One In The Spirit

Then Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak (257).  “Now I understand that God truly will be friends, not only with Jews who honor him by living righteously.  God truly will be friends, also with non-Jews who honor him by living righteously.

“You all know that God sent his son Jesus to make peace between the Jews & God.   This was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John the Baptizer preached.  God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit & with power; he went about doing good & healing all who were oppressed by evil spirits.

“We are witnesses of all the things which Jesus did.  We saw him executed in Jerusalem by hanging on a cross.  We also saw Jesus after God raised him from death; we even ate & drank with him at that time.

“Jesus has commanded us to proclaim that he has been ordained by God to judge all people – both the living & the dead. And the prophets have testified that whoever believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of their sins.”

The Gentiles (non-Jews)  in the house of Cornelius were trying to apply Peter’s message to themselves, even as Peter was speaking.

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Suddenly, the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts & lives!  As with the Jews on the day of Pentecost, these Gentiles now began to testify of Jesus & praise God in many languages!

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The Jewish Christians who had come with Peter were astonished that God would give his Holy Spirit to Gentiles!  The same Spirit then prompted Peter to encourage his companions: “Surely we must baptize these Gentiles, who have received God’s Holy Spirit exactly as we did.”

Then Peter baptized them all in the name of Jesus. Afterwards, Peter remained with Cornelius & his family & friends for a few days.

God, please help me to love anyone who loves You .

(257) Acts 10:34-48

What Peter Saw

While Peter was pondering his vision, the men from Cornelius arrived & asked for him (256).  At that moment, the Holy Spirit assured Peter about the three men: “Get up & go with them, for I have sent them to you.”

So Peter went down and asked the men why they had come; they replied: “Cornelius, a just man who fears God & has a good reputation among all the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel — to summon you to his house, to hear the words of God from you.”

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Peter invited the three men in to stay the night.  In the morning Peter went with them to Caesarea, accompanied by six Jewish Christians from Joppa.  When they arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius was waiting for them, together with many of his relatives & close friends.

As Peter entered his house, Cornelius fell down at his feet & began to worship him! But Peter told him: “Stand up; I am also just a man.”

Then Peter went in & addressed the entire gathering: “You know it is against God’s law for a Jewish man like me to associate with Gentiles like you.  But God has made me see that I should not think of any man as unclean. Now, please tell me why you called me.”

Cornelius replied: “Four days ago I was fasting & praying in my house at 3:00 PM.  Suddenly, a man stood before me in very bright clothing & said, ‘Your prayers & your generosity have been remembered by God.  Send to Joppa for Peter; he is living with Simon, a tanner, in his house by the sea. Peter will tell you what you must do.’

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“So I sent for you immediately, and I’m glad you have come.  Now we are all present before God, ready to hear God’s words from you.”

God, please help me love the enduring cleanness of Your creation.

(256) Acts 10:17-33

Two Visions

Cornelius, a Roman military leader, lived in the nearby town of Caesarea (255).  Though not a Jew, he was a devout man who honored God, encouraged his family to honor God, gave generously to people in need, and prayed faithfully to God.

One afternoon at 3:00 PM — several years after Jesus had returned to heaven and the witnesses had begun their jobs for Jesus — Cornelius saw clearly in a vision an angel of God, & he heard the angel calling him by name!  As Cornelius observed the angel, he was fearful, and asked, “What is it, master?”

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The angel’s reply came: “Your prayers & your generosity have been remembered by God.  Send to Joppa for Peter; he is living with Simon, a tanner, in his house by the sea. Peter will tell you what you must do.”  When the angel had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants, plus a godly soldier, and sent them to Joppa to find Peter.

The next day, as these three men were coming into Joppa, Peter was praying at about midday.  As he prayed, Peter saw a vision of heaven opened & an object, like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him on the earth. In this sheet were various animals (wild & domesticated), various reptiles, and various birds — many of which Jews were forbidden to eat, according to the law of Moses.

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Then Peter heard a voice saying, “Get up & eat whatever you wish.”  Peter said, “No, master, I have never eaten anything that would make me ritually unclean.”  The voice spoke to Peter again, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”

Three times, this vision & conversation were repeated!  Then the object was taken up into heaven . . .

 

(255) Acts 10:1-16

Aeneas & Tabitha

As Peter went through all parts of Israel, he visited the saints in Lydda (254). There he met Aeneas, a man who was paralyzed & had been bedridden for 8 years.

Peter simply said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed.”  And Aeneas got up immediately!

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All the people in Lydda & in the nearby town of Sharon, who became aware of this miracle, also became believers.

In another nearby town of Joppa, there was a student of Jesus named Tabitha, also sometimes called Dorcas. She was always doing good works & charitable deeds.  But one day she suddenly became sick & died.

After preparing her body for burial & laying her in an upper room, the other believers sent two messengers to Lydda to beg Peter to come to Joppa right away.

When Peter arrived in Joppa, they brought him to the upper room where the body of Dorcas had been laid.  All the widows were weeping; they showed Peter the tunics & garments which Dorcas had made while she was alive.

Peter put them all out of the room, and then he knelt down & prayed to God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter turned to the body & said, “Tabitha, get up.” The young woman opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up!

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Peter gave her his hand & helped her to her feet.  Then he called in the saints & widows, and he returned Tabitha to them, alive & well.

As this became known throughout Joppa, many people believed in Jesus. So, after finding lodging in the home of Simon (a tanner), Peter stayed many days in that town.

 

(254) Acts 9:32-43

Saul’s Early Ministry

During this time, Saul began preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Messiah promised by God (253).  People who knew Saul’s past hatred of Christians were amazed when they heard these messages!

After his ministry had continued for some time, jealous Jews plotted to kill Saul; they kept watch day and night, looking for their chance.  But when their plot was revealed to Saul, believing brothers helped him escape Damascus at night, letting him down over the city wall in a large basket!

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(According to his testimony in a letter written several years later to his friends in Galatia, a region of Turkey, Saul spent some time in Arabia after leaving Damascus.  Perhaps he was re-thinking the books of Moses, in light of his encounter with Jesus.  Eventually, Saul returned to Damascus before going to Jerusalem for the first time as a Christian.)

When Saul finally got to Jerusalem, he tried to join the Christians there.  But they were all afraid of him & didn’t believe that he had really become a Christian.  Barnabas stepped in & brought Saul before the 12 witnesses.  Barnabas told them how Jesus had arrested Saul on the road to Damascus.  Barnabas also reported that Saul had preached the gospel boldly at Damascus.

Saul was then welcomed into fellowship with the believers at Jerusalem.  While there, he continued to speak boldly in the name of Jesus.  But Saul was opposed by Jews who followed certain Greek cultural traditions; they thought Saul was now the pagan, because he didn’t understand God exactly as they did.

Eventually, these Greek Jews actually plotted to kill Saul. When the believers uncovered that plot, they took Paul away to the port city of Caesarea, and from there they sent him safely home to Tarsus.

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For a time after that, the churches throughout all Israel (Judea, Galilee and Samaria) had peace, and the members of the body grew closer & closer to God.  They honored God in their daily lives, and they were comforted by the Holy Spirit.  As a result, the churches continued to grow.

 

(253) Acts 9:20-31