Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, February 24, Chapter 11
The first 14 verses are a repeat of chapter 10. In 15-18, gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, even before baptism or profession of faith. Only God and the Son of Man get to choose, not humans. Even Peter chose not to argue with Jesus this time.
Antioch became the second leading center of church growth and remained for centuries as a center of the faith.
When the faithful at Jerusalem heard what was happening there, they sent Barnabas to investigate and make sure they were staying true to the teaching of Jesus. Barnabas, impressed, preached and then went to Tarsus to get Saul to join him in a year-long ministry in Antioch. In that time, those who opposed the church branded the sect with the derogatory name of Christians.
Notice that Barnabas was the leader with Saul in support. Their roles would reverse, but not for another few years.
Tuesday, February 25, Chapter 12
You have to have a score card to keep track of the Kings Herod. This time it is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. He took over from the exiled Herod Antipas.
The events described in this chapter took place around 10 years after the resurrection. Agrippa beheaded James the Apostle, but Luke chose not to tell us anything else about it. The public reaction did encourage Agrippa to arrest Peter for the same purpose.
The prison escape is compelling reading, but do not lose sight of why God chose to free Peter here, but did not free him later in Rome. Even after 10 years, Peter was the leader of the Church. James, the brother of Jesus was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but his influence was far less than Peter’s. Luke only mentions John with Peter and the other ten not at all. Paul was still some years away from his full authority. Peter was the center of the church in the human sense.
Peter made his way to Mary’s house. This is the Mary who is the mother of John Mark, yet another helper to Paul years later, after they made up over a misunderstanding. Many scholars today believe John Mark as a youth, was present at the arrest of Jesus. More on that in a later book.
Syphilis may have caused the death of Agrippa, but God arranged the timing.
Wednesday, February 26, Chapter 13
With this chapter, Saul, finally called Paul, begins to move to the center stage. The church at Antioch, instigated by the Holy Spirit, commission Barnabas and Saul to a specific missionary journey to Cyprus. The two are becoming equals even as Barnabas gets top billing. Their assistant was the young John Mark.
The two move on to Pisidian Antioch in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey, with John Mark going on to Jerusalem. In a synagogue there, Paul, invited to speak, gives the now familiar outline of the scriptural testimony to the Messiah. This time, their words pleased the people who invited them to return the following Saturday.
Jealousy interceded and some Jews started speaking against Paul and Barnabas, so Paul announced he would turn to speaking to the gentiles. However, being chased from the area quickly became a way of life.
Thursday, February 27, Chapter 14
Here in verse 4 and again in 14, Luke calls Paul and Barnabas apostles, the only times in Acts. However, a number of other people are called apostles at different times. It is not reserved for the Twelve. The New Testament holds apostles to the highest standards, assuming for them the duties of missionaries, healers, and representatives of Jesus on earth. The First Century Church seems to have had a large number of apostles of the caliber of Paul and Barnabas, not to mention the Twelve.
The difficulties in Iconium were common experiences for early Christians, not just for Paul. Every apostle and disciple preaching the Word met with both acceptance and rejection. An important lesson for us is in verses 6-7. There comes a time when we have to move on. Not everyone will receive the Word of God.
One of the more recent early church fathers, Bede, writing in the early 700’s in England, had this to say on the miracle:
Just as that lame man whom Peter and John cured at the door of the temple prefigured the salvation of the Jews, so too this sick Lycaonian prefigured the people of the Gentiles….
Paul tried to help his listeners understand what God does for all of us; that we should thank Him every day for those great gifts. He might have won the day, but the trouble makers from Iconium arrived to promote ugliness to the crowd; again, a common occurrence for Paul.
I turn again to the writing of Chrysostom about 390, only a few decades after Christianity became accepted by the Roman Empire:
Believe me, it is possible to suffer things now worse than what Paul suffered. Those enemies pelted him with stones, but it is now possible to pelt with words that are worse than stone. What then must one do? The same that he did. He did not hate those who cast the stones. After they dragged him out, he entered their city again, to be a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs…. Such things are worthy of crowns, worthy of proclamations by the heralds, worthy of ten thousand good things, not worthy of stones. And yet having suffered the opposite, he did the opposite to what was expected. For this is the splendid victory.
The two missionaries retraced their path and encouraged those who became followers. They also selected men and women, strong in the Spirit, to become church leaders. The Greek word used for ‘elders’ is presbutevrou, presbyterian, a term used generally of leaders.
Antioch, by the way, was the home church of Chrysostom, just 3 centuries later; Paul and Barnabas did excellent work there. Having set those churches on the right road, the exhausted travelers returned to their home church in Antioch where they presented a slide show of their trip.
Friday, February 28. Chapter 15
Reading the first 35 verses of this chapter, you may not get the full sense of what was happening. The young and growing church faced a crisis that could have split them into a civil war that could have damaged the church and the faith for centuries, even to today. The emotions on both sides were high, and both sides had proofs to offer from the scriptures.
This Cliff Note version gives us the impression that Paul and Barnabas let the Jerusalem church serve as the senior elders as was their place. Both Peter and Jesus’ brother James spoke wisely and strongly in support of the Gentile ministry, James using significant scriptural support.
Sadly, the chapter ends with Paul and Barnabas going separate ways over the issue of John Mark.
Be righteous and do good.