Today's Bible Reading: Acts 11
Selected Biblical Text
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:19-26 ESV)
Reflecting and Thinking
News about the baptism of Cornelius and his household and the reception of the word by Gentiles traveled quickly. When Jews in Judea became aware of the happenings in Caesarea, Peter went up to Jerusalem to explain what had happened. In the first half of today's chapter, Peter recounts the events at the house of Cornelius, providing many helpful details as we compare Acts 10 and Acts 11.
In the second part the chapter, those scattered by the persecution traveled to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, but the gospel was shared only with Jews. After the conversion of Cornelius, some who came to Antioch spoke to the Gentiles and many Gentiles became believers. Again, the news reached Jerusalem, and the response this time was to send Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas rejoiced to see the work of God. He encouraged the new Christians (as they soon came to be called) and brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch. If Gentiles were coming to faith in Antioch, and if Paul was to be an apostle to the Gentiles according to God's commission, Antioch was a good place for Paul to be.
This chapter shows the providence of God in several ways. The gospel will spread more rapidly into the whole world if it is being spread by both Jews and Gentiles. Although Antioch had the second largest concentration of Jews in the eastern Mediterranean, preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch was probably easier than in Jerusalem. No better ambassador could have been chosen than Barnabas; he was from Cyprus, the home region of some of the first preachers to the Antiochian Gentiles. How did Barnabas know to go get Paul? Perhaps Paul had told Barnabas the story of his conversion and the words of the Lord (chapter 9). Barnabas had been one of Paul's first supporters in Jerusalem. When news of famine problems in Jerusalem reached the church in Antioch, the church (including some Gentiles) decided to send aid to Jerusalem. Barnabas and Saul were charged with delivering the help. How interesting that the Jerusalem church needed and received aid from Antioch so quickly. God's providence is not always easy to see. The value of this chapter as evidence of God's providence is often overlooked.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your constant involvement in our lives. We marvel at your work; by faith we answer your call depending on you to work for good in our efforts. May we today see those who need and want you, in Jesus' name, Amen.