God's Amazing Grace: Acts 11
Welcome! I am pastor Rob, and it is a privilege to speak to you today.
I want to tell you something embarrassing. Don’t tell anyone. At times I was a brat growing up, and I am not proud of it. The primary reason I say that is because of one event about 25 years ago. I was in Junior High and reacted horribly to a gift. You know when you are hoping that you are going to get something, and it is like your aunt knit a giant pink onesie bunny pajama suit, like the one in Christmas Story? Have you ever had that experience? Maybe you had expectations for something, and it didn’t meet those expectations? I had. That picture was not me by the way. I don’t wear glasses. My gift was way better than a bunny costume, mind you. Here is an audio clip of what I got. You tell me what it was. (PLAY MP3) That is right. My brothers and I got the super, cool, hi-tech, 8-Bit Nintendo System with Super Mario Brothers, as a game. Who wouldn’t want that? That was great. However, I was upset about something else. I wanted more! Can you believe that? I wanted another game. Maybe it was triggered by the fact we got Tecmo bowl, and I was into action games, not sports games. That was more for my brothers. So what did I do when I didn’t get what I want? I pouted. I may have whined. I may have complained, I can’t remember. Katie, I am sure you are glad I got over that. (I am a work in progress.) So, what did my parents do? If it were me, I would probably struggle with some sinful anger. However, my parents were incredibly gracious. They still are. They listened to my request and tried to fix it. They got me Castlevania without much hesitation. Then, I stayed up super late with Super Mario Brothers and biological brothers playing video games till our thumbs and fingers hurt from the boxy plastic controller. In the morning, we woke early with our bloodshot eyes and played some more. All I can think of, years later, was how ungrateful I was that day for my gifts. How embarrassing. Perhaps you can relate.
How Should We Respond
How should I have responded? How should we respond to amazing gifts? To explore that question, we are going to Acts chapter 11 to hear about four amazing gifts through three stories, two groups of people, all from one giver.
Here is a picture of where we are headed. Let’s buckle our seat belts, and turn to Acts chapter 11.
11 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 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.”
Thank you. Let’s pray. God thank you for your Word. It is truth. And it is life. What a gift your word is. We need you. Help us see who you are, what you have done, and may that transform us. In your great name, we pray. Amen.
Let’s go back to the beginning of chapter 11. Look at verse 1. This verse sets the stage for the entire chapter.
“The Gentiles also had received the word of God.”
Did you hear that? The Gentiles received the word of God! That is monumental. The gospel went to the Jew first; then it goes to the Gentile. This was a shift in history. We turn a corner, and the gospel spreads to people like you and me, people without the ancestral Israelite background. God was fulfilling his promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations from Genesis chapter 12. And God was fulfilling his word in Acts chapter 1 verse 8:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
In chapter 8 the gospel moved from Judea to Samaria. Verse one states,
And there arose on, that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Chapter 8 goes on to explain how Philip brought the gospel all the way to Cesarea, 70 miles from Jerusalem. In chapter 9:19, Saul converted to Christianity and shared the gospel in Damascus, 136 miles north of Jerusalem. In chapter 9:30, the leadership in Jerusalem sent Paul back to his hometown of Tarsus 350 miles away presumably. Chapter 10 describes the gospel breaking into the ends of the earth, the Gentile population.
We heard last week about the Gentile Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. He was God-fearing, devout, and moral man. He was generous and a person of prayer. He believed in God but didn’t follow Jesus. Why would he need to? The answer is found in Acts 4:12. It states,
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
What is that name? Jesus. That is why Peter went to share Jesus with Cornelius. What may seem unnecessary to the world, God deemed necessary. If we could make it to God through generosity, kindness, and spiritual disciplines, Cornelius would. But he still needed something, Jesus. Cornelius needed to believe in the Messiah. Peter, the Apostle, needed to share Jesus Chapter 10 signifies the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles like Cornelius.
Maybe this gospel thing is new for you. In a nutshell, it is that Jesus died for your sins. Forgiveness comes through Jesus’s death. You must believe this, to be saved. You can’t get to heaven or God without Jesus’s death on the cross. He is the only way. He paid for your sins.
Back to Jerusalem.
In chapter 11, Peter went back to headquarters. It is time for a party, the circumcision party. (Not the kind of party we think of.) This party was political. It focused on nationality, ancestry, and spiritual rule-following. They were upset at Peter for eating with Cornelius and friends. They criticized him. Peter understood. He had the same concerns, but God overruled him three times in a supernatural encounter.
This is what Peter said in chapter 10.
“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Acts 10:28
Peter understood his critic’s concerns. He was calling Gentiles, like you and I, unclean, impure, and common. He saw it was unlawful to associate, and visit with them. That was before God confronted him. God gave permission and direction to associate and visit. This was not some psychedelic trance or willy nilly cultural compromise. God was highly visible in a series of events that preceded and surrounded this change of perspective on the outsiders. Luke points to 6 broad things that help us see God’s endorsement of this change of perspective.
6 Things in Chapter 10
- A devout Gentile was praying, and God gave him a vision. (3)
- God spoke in that vision.
- God received the prayers and giving to the poor as a memorial by this Gentile man. (4)
- God knew where Simon, Peter was staying, the town: Joppa, the home: Simon the Tanner, by the sea. (5)
- At the same time, God put Peter into a trance. (10)
- God spoke to Peter telling him what to do, and with whom.
God was at work all over chapter 10, solidifying his counter-cultural instructions about fellowship. Peter repeats much of it to God’s credit in chapter 11.
NAIL IN THE COFFIN
In conclusion, Peter says to this party.
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
I think this verse is the nail in the coffin, putting to rest the leaders’ objections to this unorthodox relationship between the Jew and the Gentile.
But it does raise the question, How? How did the Holy Spirit fall on the Jew in the beginning? Do you remember what happened? In chapter 2, we learn that they supernaturally acquired the ability to speak foreign languages to proclaim and praise God. That is exactly what happened in chapter 10:44-46.
44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
HOLY Spirit Movements
The Holy Spirit was moving. God was adding people to the faith in droves. It fits with what Jesus described earlier on in his ministry. Peter concluded:
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
There is no room for spiritual pride. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Don’t look down on others. Be humble.
This brings us to the first extraordinary gift of God this morning: The Holy Spirit. I signify the Holy Spirit here by a dove.
The Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles just as Jesus had said. God was at work, and the party had to bite their tongue. You can’t argue with the Spirit. Instead, they praised God. Look at verse 18.
Verse 18. When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God,
God gave them the Spirit.
Why was the Spirit Given?
The Spirit was not given based on something they did. It was a gift. It was not earned or conjured. Sometimes it feels like the unsaid rule is if you get a gift, you have to give a gift. We do this with our siblings. At Christmas, we randomly draw names, and everyone gives gifts under $25. It is fair. You give me a gift. I give you a gift. I venture to guess some of you do this. Pretend one year you are out of money. You can’t get a gift. Possibly you forgot, or worse, a health issue or work issue puts you in a position where all you can do is re-gift a gift or make something from scratch. You don’t have $25. Everyone is opening gifts. It is your turn, and you turn red, your blood pressure increases. You look down and give your gift or make your explanation. You want to run and hide. Maybe now is a good time to go to the bathroom. They receive what you gave shockingly with thankfulness. And then it is your turn. To your surprise, your sibling has pitched in with everyone. They know your circumstances. They know your poverty and hardship and pain. They love you with overwhelming love. They shock you with something you could never repay: a car or some crazy vacation. You don’t deserve it. You were the mean one growing up. How would that feel? That would be so awkward and embarrassing because of the inability to return the favor. Friends, the Holy Spirit is even more amazing.
- He comforts us.
- He pours out on us God’s love.
- He gives us boldness to say and do the hard things.
- He protects us from our sins.
- He gives us supernatural gifting for witnessing and building up the church from time to time.
That is what God gave disciples, the elders, the Jews, and now the Gentiles. God was at work.
How can God give so generously the Spirit? He paid the price, with his son’s life. We can have the Spirit because Jesus died to make it happen. God can dwell in us because we are forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus.
HARD TO GRASP GRACE
For the Jewish person who adheres to the Old Testament, that could be hard to swallow. The Gentiles are a people group who worshiped idols. They didn’t live by the same rules. They were lawless. They were enemies. And now they have the Spirit? That doesn’t seem fair. If that was what they believed, this was a misunderstanding of the basis for standing before God. We stand on grace alone. God gave them the Holy Spirit by grace. That was the first gift I saw here in the passage.
Second Gift: Repentance.
The second gift we see here in verse 18.
18 When they [The circumcision party] heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
The second gift we see in this passage is repentance
What is repentance?
What is repentance? It is a turning of 180 degrees. It is a U-turn.
Who is Repenting?
Who is repenting? It is the sinner. It is the lost. It is the Jew, and it is the Gentile. Luke shares numerous times the call for people to repent.
In Acts 2:38 Peter said to the population,
“Repent and baptized every one of you.”
In Acts 3:19 Peter addressed the men of Israel saying,
“19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” Our actions demonstrate our convictions.
Peter said to Simon the Sorcerer in Acts chapter 8:22,
22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
Repentance is something we do, and do, and do, and do as long as we are living. We are to be continually becoming more and more like Jesus. We are works in progress, turning and turning, and turning to him.
On October 31st, 1517, on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther posted 95-Theses. His second Theses was this,
“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said ‘Do sincerely repent,’ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”
The call of God on our lives is to stop sinning and live for him. At the same time, repentance is a gift, and we are desperately in need of his gift. Our change is contingent on God. Let’s read verse 18.
18 When they [The circumcision party] heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Repentance leads to life. Jesus said in John 10:10 that he came to give life and life more abundantly. In John 14:6, Jesus described himself as the way, the truth, and the life. Grace leads to faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus leads to repentance, which leads to life. Sin destroys lives. Doesn’t it? Raise your hands if you have seen it? Have you seen it this week? Jesus offers abundant life for those who will listen.
Do you see the dynamic relationship here? God grants repentance, and God commands what he grants. We are responsible. God is sovereign. We bump up against mystery quickly. So we see the second extraordinary gift, repentance. We get to our second story in verses 19-26 and third gift.
JERUSALEM SENDS BARNABAS
Like earlier, when the gospel went to Samaria, the leadership in Jerusalem sent representatives to check out the spiritual transformation they heard about. This time they sent Barnabas. He was from the area. He was an encourager, filled with faith and the Spirit.
What did Barnabas see when he got there? Look at verse 23,
23 When he came and saw the grace of God.
What did he see? He saw grace. What was that? Back up to verse 21 to find out.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
God’s people were preaching the Lord Jesus Christ. People responded by believing and turning. They were repenting. There was a mental and physical reaction to the truth of Jesus Christ. People were not just flipping affiliations. They were actively making lifestyle changes. They were going against tradition, culture, family, and their own sinful tendencies. Wouldn’t that have been wonderful to observe? Marriages transformed, parenting improved, children on the right track, workers being honest, bosses being generous and kind. That is the feeling in the air of Antioch. It is electrifying. It is not just one person; it is a movement of people. Picture it. Barnabas was glad.
Barnabas’ Next Step
What does he do? With this multitude of excited baby believers. What would you do? He can’t handle all of the discipleship before him. These new believers needed teaching. Who could help? Barnabas has just the right person. He goes to Tarsus. Why? The reason why is because of Acts 9:15. God said of a man in Tarsus,
15 ...“he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Who was he? Saul, AKA Paul. Barnabas went to get Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Picture that dynamic duo. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit under their preaching and teaching of Paul and Barnabas? They didn’t stay for a weekend workshop or a six-week study, but a one year intensive. God gave them teachers. That was the third gift I see in this passage. Not only did he give them the Holy Spirit, and repentance, he gave them teachers.
What was this teaching like? I am sure it dealt with the Old Testament and the Apostle’s teaching on Jesus. What was it like? I think didactically it was probably like what Jesus modeled. It was living among them. It was day to day interaction. It was modeling as well as instructing. It was discipleship. Who is discipling you? God wants you to have this gift too. Who teaches you about God? This is more than just information. God is seeking transformation. Who can mentor you? Who can walk alongside you as you think through spiritual things? You don’t have to do this alone. God has put you in a community called the local church. Seek out a Paul or Barnabas to help you along the way.
God Sends Prophets
God was not done. In verses 27-30, we come to our third story and the fourth gift.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
God sent messages to his people through the prophets. That was the fourth gift to the Gentiles I see here with a megaphone.
What is a prophet?
What is a prophet? I think when we think of prophets, we think of crazy people with billboards on the street proclaiming doom and gloom. Possibly we think of the Old Testament men who spoke on behalf of God. The Bible describes prophets as messengers of God. They go beyond just explaining scripture like a teacher. They spoke on God’s behalf. Some brought a warning. Some predicted the future. Some called people to repent. In the New Testament, Paul seems to expand or clarify the role. Paul’s offers this to the Corinthians church.
14 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. [Some debate this, but I think this is a prayer language unlike the language found in Acts 2 and 10. Paul goes on] 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.
Notice what verse 3 and 4 say about prophecy. This may not be exhaustive. Prophecy is for building up and encouraging and consoling.
The text in Acts gives us an example. Agabus,
28 stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
We know, from secular history, that Claudius reigned from 41 AD to 54 AD. History recounts multiple famines during his reign, and Luke thinks of one in particular that had widespread implications. (https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Claudius,
What I love about this detail, is that it becomes a foothold for us to see the veracity of the Bible, as Luke anchors Acts in history. You can trust your Bible. History supports it. That is encouraging.
However, is predicting a worldwide famine encouraging? Is that upbuilding for Antioch this prophecy? I think the church of Antioch could be comforted hearing such predictions in three ways:
- God knows the future. It is encouraging to know God knows. He is all-knowing.
- God can speak of the future in advance to his people. God is a speaking God. He can tell us information we don’t know.
- God then presents an opportunity for the church to respond. They are not in power. God is. When they hear what is about to happen, they respond with compassion. They work together to send a financial gift to help the church who, at the beginning of the chapter, were put off that Peter would eat with them. How, ironic?
In chapter 11, I have shown the four gifts of the Holy Spirit, Repentance, Teaching, and Prophecy through three stories between two people groups: the Jews and Gentiles, all from God.
So what? How do we respond to these amazing gifts? We don’t want to be bratty. We want to be humble, teachable, and faithful people.
- I think there is a tendency to forget what God has given and focus on what we have done. We look at younger generations and look down on them. Alternatively, we make fun of older generations and think that we know better. We forget how far God has taken us and how patient God has been. Do you arrogantly look down on others? Be patient. Don’t be so hard. God has been patient with you. Be humble.
- Secondly, I look at the teaching that Paul and Barnabas brought and reflect on how they seemed to respond. The Gentiles were teachable. Are you? The people turned to the Lord. Where do you turn? God sends truth in His holy word. Do you listen? What does listening to God look like? Are you filling your life with the truth? Be teachable.
- Finally, God gives insight into the future. His people move towards generosity. Will you? What do you do with the gifts God has given? Be faithful.
When I really consider the blessings I have, my heart turns from self-absorbed self-pity to a cup overflowing with God’s grace. I want to be humble, teachable, and faithful. How do you? All of these push us to seek to understand what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What does it look like to follow God’s leading? I think it is more than just reading our Bible, praying for a couple of minutes, and going to church. Those are good, but God is calling us into a deeper walk. Will you go with him? What might that look like in the next week?
*All rights reserved. Only use with authorial permission or attribution.
Powered by EmailOctopus