Reading for Friday, April 20: Acts 11
Acts 11 begins with Peter’s recap of the Cornelius story. It’s worth noting that Luke spends an awful lot of time here on this story, devoting a lot of ink and energy in its careful telling and retelling. In the pre-typewriter / printing press day, this is no small detail. Luke wants to drive home the point that all of this has always been pointing toward the Kingdom doors being thrown open for Gentiles. As a Gentile author, Luke is naturally going to make his case thoroughly.
I love Peter’s reasoning: “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?” As he’s being pressed by the religious types for not toeing the party line (note their criticism of him in v2), Peter basically puts all of this back on God. He’s saying, “Look, you guys can figure out the theology of this later if you want to. All I know is, I was there and God gave ’em the Spirit and if God’s up to something here, I want to be on His side.” And who can argue with this? “And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ (v18)”
I love the latter part of this chapter, too. In Antioch, the believers were first called Christians (v26). I find it interesting that they weren’t called Christians in Jerusalem. But then again, that’s not surprising; Jerusalem was always a bit too preoccupied with politics and religious fads and spiritual watch-dogging. It seems the folks of Antioch especially embodied the Way of Jesus, so much so that other people began calling them by His name. What a concept! Can you imagine what it would be like if people just stopped calling you by your own name and instead just started calling you, “Christ follower.” “Jesus lover.”
One such follower is Barnabas, a man of faith and the Holy Spirit. Barnabas — whose name means son of encouragement — retrieves a character we left a few chapters ago, Saul. He picks him up off the scrap heap and gets to work knocking the rust off. He partners with him, starts teaching with him. This partnership prompts Luke’s note about the disciples being called Christian. It’s not a stretch to say that Barnabas’ character reminds them of the person of Christ – the one who goes to great lengths to retrieve us, helps knock the rust of sin off of our souls, and sets us to work — Kingdom work. Perhaps that’s a good template for Christ-followers today, too.