Scripture Reading: Acts 11 - 12 …
Throughout the book of Acts the power of the Spirit through the spoken Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is on display. At the beginning, the apostles could not have understood how God would fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless ALL nations through the "Seed of Abraham." But Peter’s experience at the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, pointed to God’s new work among the Gentiles. Now he returned to Jerusalem to explain his actions to the apostles and the rest of the Jews. Their initial response was predictable.
For two thousand years the descendants of Abraham were the chosen people of God. Even though God had promised to bless all nations through the "Seed of Abraham," the Jews did not understand that since Jesus was the promised Messiah, God was now going to call people from among the Gentiles to be a part of this "new thing," the Church. This would take some explaining! The apostles and the brothers in Jerusalem had heard that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God and believed, but those who were "circumcised believers" (11:2) were not ready to accept the idea of mingling with Gentiles. Had not God told them NOT to do so??
But when Peter explained the vision God had given him, and all that had happened when he went to the home of Cornelius, he told them that God had gone ahead of him and had told Cornelius that the one who would come "will bring you a message through which you and your household will be saved!" (11:14). Peter said, "Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit,' so if God gave them the same gift as He gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (11:16-17). This convinced them and they praised God that He was now granting repentance unto life to the Gentiles.
Here is the crucial point: This was NOT a new religion, as some imagined. This was the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham, indeed, the continuation of that covenant, as Paul would later explain in Romans 3-4 and Galatians 3 and other places in his letters. None of the Jews who believed in Jesus thought they were abandoning their place as the people of God or their religion. They believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, and they believed in Him for forgiveness and eternal life. The MESSAGE was at the heart of the Church from day one. And though many are distracted by other things, it is the proclamation of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that remains today as the foundation for the true Church and the mission for true believers!!
The response to the Gospel was nothing short of miraculous. Those who were being persecuted went around the entire area proclaiming Jesus as Lord. As they did so, "the Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord" (11:21). When Barnabas went to Antioch and "saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts … and a great number of people were brought to the Lord" (11:23-24).
Paul and Barnabas worked together in Antioch for a year and taught many people and it was here that the believers were first called, “Christians” (11:26). It is hard to even comprehend what was happening in such a short time in this part of the world. From Jerusalem the Gospel was spreading throughout the Middle East and thousands were coming to Jesus for forgiveness and new life. But it was not without resistance on the part of the Jews and the governor, King Herod. Herod was determined to persecute Christians and had the brother of John put to death, then seized Peter and threw him into prison. When the believers heard that Peter was in jail they gathered to pray for him.
Peter was "sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries" were standing guard at the entrance (12:6). They were no match for an angel! The angel of the Lord appeared and the chains fell off Peter's wrists and they walked out!! Past the guards, past the sentries, out of the prison and onto the street. Peter thought he was dreaming until the angel left him and there he was, free! So he went to Mary's house, where the church was gathered - praying for HIM to be released. This has to be one of the more amusing moments in the book of Acts, as Peter stands at the door knocking and the servant girl, Rhoda, leaves him there and goes to tell the people who are praying and they don't believe her.
Isn't this what they were praying for? And God answered!! But they weren't the only ones who were surprised. The next morning the soldiers searched for Peter and couldn't find him. Somebody had to take the blame and the guards were executed. That would not be the last word, however. Herod was about to discover that opposing the apostles and the message of the Gospel was opposing God, and he would pay with his life. As Herod went to Caesarea and proudly addressed the people, decked out in his royal robes and seated on his throne, the people proclaimed, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Herod, of course, soaked it all in ... for a moment, but because he did not correct them and give praise to God, "an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died" (12:23). That sounds gruesome, but all those who reject the message of the Gospel will face a similar fate.
In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, "the word of God continued to increase and spread" (12:24). This is the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants being fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the same message and the same power from God is at work in the true Church today, calling people to receive salvation through faith in Jesus!! The message has not changed for 2,000 years and will remain the same until Jesus returns in glory! We who believe today must understand the great privilege that is ours in knowing the Savior, the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus, and live to proclaim the message to the world, for it is the ONLY message with the power to SAVE!!!
"Heavenly Father, the testimony of the Church continues today throughout the nations of the world as a witness to Your faithfulness, Your power and Your glory. Thank You, Father, for the privilege of being part of the Church. Fill us with Your Spirit today and empower us to proclaim the Gospel with zeal and boldness until Jesus comes, for in the Gospel is the power to save! In Jesus' name, Amen"