Partners with the Holy Spirit: Part #84

World War II robbed us of our home, business, and the loss of family members, but it also renewed our faith in Christ and God. Our people were scattered all over the globe; and yet, they took their faith with them. Suffering, in my own life, has given me a new meaning to my time on earth, and how I spend it. It was no different for the first Christians in Jerusalem. Persecution and the stoning of Stephen brought suffering and death, but it also instilled new energy into the Jesus’ Movement. 

The Evangelist Luke Filed This Brief Report:

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the world. Philip went to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitude with one accord  gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).

Peter and John were dispatched to assist Philip (Acts 8:14). And then Peter and John were dispersed; and they were the first to take a missionary trip. And they ended up bringing into the flock of Jesus the household of Cornelius (Acts 9:32-10:48). During that time, Philip led the Ethiopian minister of Queen Candace to Christ (Acts 8:26-40). The scattered Christians planted Churches in Cyprus, Cyrene, and Antioch. Cyrene reminds the reader of Simon who had to carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). Antioch needed help;  and therefore, Jerusalem sent Barnabas, who installed Paul as the first pastor.

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 none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News 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 large company was 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 large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians (Acts 11:19-26). 

The Church In Jerusalem Was Hanging On For Dear Life

Luke dropped this note to incite the Gentile Christians to send aid to the mother Church. The people were starving. Why? The time of Claudius was 40-41 A.D. (Acts 18:1-2). The persecution and the scattering of the followers of Jesus had saved most of the believers from starvation. However, even the small group that was left in Jerusalem was starving because of their belief “that Christ was on his way to remove them from the world.” These believers, were no different from any other generation, including us, who only remember to follow, what suits us. Jesus had very little to say about His return. And yet, Jesus much, much more to say about what his followers had to do to survive in the world (John 17:15-19).

“Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and that took place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).

Jesus had spoken of His return being an unexpected surprise and that it would happen in their time (Matthew 24: 34, 43-44; Mark 13:28-37). The Apostles misread the signs of the fig tree! And Jesus’ inability, as a man, did not know the exact time. Nevertheless, Jesus had the fall of Jerusalem in mind, and not His imminent return. Luke’s brief note on the condition of the Church hints at the trouble Peter was facing when he returned to Jerusalem, Herod’s prison.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its ranch becomes tender and puts forth it leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place,you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and put his servants in charge, each with is work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch” (Mark 13:28-37).

Persecution Weaned The Followers Of Christ From An Imminent Return of Jesus, Their Lord

Peter became the Apostle or the Messenger to the dispersed Jews. Paul, on the other hand, became the Apostle to the Gentiles who had to separate from the Jews, in order to be acceptable by the world. As long as the Gentiles were treated as a Jewish sect, they could not leave their mark in the world. The reason Rome expelled Christians was because they were regarded as Jewish proselytes (Acts 18:1-2). At the time, there was a peaceful agreement between Judea and Rome. If Aquila and Priscila had been Gentiles, they would have been executed. Paul and Silas were forced to go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:5-11). On their first missionary journey in Antioch Pisidia, Paul and Barabas came to the conclusion that the Gentiles had to separate from the Jews and go their separate ways. The Jews violently opposed becoming followers of Christ, and threatened the missionaries with their lives. This was how it ended Paul and Barnabas’ day in Antioch Pisidia. 

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the Word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitude, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what as spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. So the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” 

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed ( the Greek text has “they believed and that is why they were chosen for eternal life”). And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabs, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them,and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:44-52)

In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul made it clear where he and Peter stood in maintaining a relationship between Gentiles and circumcision Jewish Christians. The sad part was that all the Jews wanted from the Gentiles was material support, and Paul, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, promised to do so:

I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage — to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 2:2b-10).

The Council Kept Believing In Jesus’ Return To Restore Israel, But They Let The Gentiles Go Their Way

The Jews have remain Jews from the beginning of their time. When they became Christians, they were Jews first and so was their circumcision that began with Abraham. Circumcision was a Covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-10), and every Gentile, who intended to be a member of a Jewish household, had to be circumcised (Genesis 17:13). Under Peter’s leadership, when the Church needed more help, they chose six Jews and one proselyte named Nicolaus from Antioch (Acts 6:5). Now In Syria, Antioch became the next leading hub and center to evangelize the Gentiles. The first Christians in Antioch were comprised of proselytes, and these were the people Peter associated with when Paul arrived. These circumcised converts to Christianity would not even eat with the Gentile converts. Peter had even compelled Gentiles to become Jews before they could become Christians (Galatians 2:11-21). Paul gave up circumcision, but not the idea that Israel was a day of the past, as history ended up proving (Romans 11:25-36). The new head of the Jerusalem Church, James the half-brother of Jesus, firmly believed in the restoration of Israel and that God would use the Gentiles to bring it about. James’ texts were Amos (9:11-12; Jeremiah 12:15, and Isaiah 45:20-25).

And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me. Simon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:12-21).

The Gentle Response Was Excuberant

The Jewish religion was burdensome and cumbersome. Being exempt from circumcision and the daily rituals was a great relieve. For the Gentiles, grace had replaced these works that were a merit system to gain salvation. Practicing grace, with love in mind, boosted their faith in Jesus Christ and helped them endure and overcome this world like their Lord (John 16:33).