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Acts 11

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-18

Prejudice Turned to Praise

Acts 11:1-18


After Peter's visit to the home of Cornelius and his return to Judea he learned that the Apostles and brethren there had heard how the Gentiles had received the Word of God. As Peter came up to Jerusalem, they contended with him, criticising him because he went in unto the men of the uncircumcision, and ate with them. This made it necessary for Peter to rehearse the matter from the beginning. The message of today centers in this story.


When Peter was telling Cornelius in chapter 10, how God had appeared to him and sent him down, he said, "Ye know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation." It was this same condition that prevailed in the minds of the Apostles and Gentiles in Jerusalem. The saints there did not object to the Gentiles becoming Christians, but they insisted that they should become Christians by first becoming Jews. Circumcision, as they saw it, must, of necessity, precede the salvation of an alien Gentile.

We now see how God was moving in a mysterious way in the sheet let down from Heaven and in the conversion of Cornelius. We see God meeting the prejudices which centered in the Apostles and brethren in Judea, as they contended with Peter a contention which, in after years, was centered against Paul.


When Peter had come to Jerusalem, and the brethren contended against him, he manifested utmost patience with them. He knew that their present convictions had, previously, been his. Therefore, Peter proceeded quietly, and without ostentation, to present unto them the facts that had led him to go in unto the uncircumcised, and eat with them. He rehearsed the matter with them from the beginning, and expounded it by order. Let us learn to deal with men who differ from us, in a like spirit of consideration. Let us follow Peter's rehearsal of the whole matter.

1. Peter describes his trance and vision. He told how a certain vessel descended, as it had been a great sheet, let down from Heaven by four corners; and how, upon it, he fastened his eyes.

He told how he had seen in the vessel four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.

He told how he had three times seen the net drawn up into Heaven, and let down again, and how three times God had warned him saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."

He told how, immediately, three men had come to the house, and had told him that they were sent from Caesarea unto him.

2. Peter described the command of the spirit. The Spirit had spoken unto Peter, and bade him to go, nothing doubting. This was Peter's second reason, which he rehearsed to the saints in Judaea. He had gone because he had seen a vision, but in addition to that vision, and voice from God, he had gone because he had heard the Spirit commanding him to go.

The man who once stood before the rulers of the Jews and had said, "We ought to obey God rather than men," could scarcely have done less than go. The man who had borne witness that God had given the Holy Ghost to them that obey Him, could scarcely have refused to obey, when the Holy Ghost spoke to him. Peter explained that six brethren had gone with him, but he did not go merely because they were willing to go along. He went because the Spirit had told him to go.

3. Peter described how, as he began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on the house of Cornelius, as he had fallen upon them at the beginning. This was the third reason that he set forth, in order, that he might convince the Apostles and brethren that God had turned to the Gentiles. To us, it is a climactic reason. The falling of the Holy Ghost upon the house of Cornelius does not teach that similar Pentecostal outpourings must occur at every revival meeting. This particular manifestation of the Holy Ghost definitely set forth that the Gentiles were included in the blessings of the Spirit.

Peter told the brethren when he saw the Holy Ghost fall upon them that he remembered the Word of the Lord, how He had said, "John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost."

Peter told the brethren, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?"

We wish to urge the Christians of today to follow the Lord fully, no matter what they may fear from the leaders. We rejoice in Peter's fidelity to God, and in his prompt obedience to the voice of God.


The Apostles and brethren in Judaea listened intently to Peter's rehearsal of his visit to Cornelius. Let us follow their conclusions, and the convictions which settled upon them.

1. They held their peace. They no longer contended against Peter. They no longer continued their dissension. They quietly yielded the conviction of years and accepted the will of God. It takes a real Christian to lay down a prejudice that has swayed his life during the years of an ecclesiastical loyalty. A fool will cling to his contentions even when convinced that he is wrong; a wise man will change his mind.

2. They glorified God. They did more than yield their former position they praised the Lord for the new revelation which had been vouchsafed to them.

It is one thing to say, "Amen"; it is another thing to say, "Hallelujah." It is one thing to say, "The will of the Lord be done"; it is another thing to say, "Praise God, for it's doing." A Christian may bear the yoke because necessity is put upon him, but not all Christians bear the yoke with re-joking. A Christian may yield his feet and his hands to the stocks, but not all Christians under such circumstances would be willing to join Paul and Silas in singing and praising God.

3. They acknowledged God's new order. Here are the words they spoke, as they glorified God, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." No longer was the bread to be given to the Jews only, but the "dogs" of the Gentiles, without the epithet, "dogs," could eat with them.


Acts 11:19 tells us that "they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only."

This verse carries us back to the 8th chapter of Acts, where the Spirit gives the immediate aftermath of Stephen's martyrdom. In Acts 8:1 , it says, "They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the Apostles." The verse now before us gives us the further workings of that same persecution.

God was using the wrath of men to praise Him. Satan had headed the persecution, thinking to destroy the Church; God had used the persecution to greatly enlarge the Church.

The saints fled from Jerusalem and Judaea, but they did not leave their Christ behind them. With their new faith, and with a heart filled with love and joy, they hastened on their way proclaiming Jesus Christ, God's Son, as the Saviour of men.


The Jerusalem saints who were scattered abroad, and went everywhere preaching, carried with them the same conception that had, at first, dominated the Apostles and brethren in Judaea. They opened their heart toward the Jews, but they withheld their message from the Gentiles. Once more, however, the hand of God was plainly seen. Certain men of Cyprus and Cyrene, when they came to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. The results were most marked. We read, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."

There seems to have been no difference in the message which the saints had preached to the Jews only, and the message which the brethren from Cyprus and Cyrene preached to the Gentiles. Both preached the Lord Jesus.

That the purpose of God was to preach to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, is made sure, insomuch that the hand of the Lord was upon those who had come down to Antioch, blessing" their testimony.


The saints in Jerusalem, having heard Peter's rehearsal of the conversion of Cornelius, held their peace and glorified God. Now the Church in Jerusalem, receiving tidings of what had happened along the way, and particularly at Antioch, sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch.

This commissioner from the Church in Jerusalem was sent, not as a dictator; and his commission by no means suggested that the Jerusalem Church was setting itself up as a leadership; with authority over other churches. The sending of Barnabas did mean that the brethren in Jerusalem were tremendously interested in the spread of the Gospel, and particularly in the fact that the Gentiles were being saved; it did mean that the brethren in Jerusalem wanted to add encouragement, and to show a co-operative spirit in the work of God, even to the ends of the earth.

We believe that, until this day, it is the will of God that churches should be co-operative, but never co-ersive. Churches may have fellowship in prayer, and in preaching, and in missionary activities; they may band together for the spreading of the gospel message to the ends of the earth, but they should never become dictatorial in their attitude one toward the other.


In Acts 11:23 , we read, that when Barnabas had come, and had seen the grace of God, he "was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord."

What a delightful spirit was this. Barnabas was glad! There was no semblance of jealousy in his heart, because he had not been the leader in so great and gracious a ministry. He was glad because of what God had done through others.

The driving soul who is interested in the little corner in which he, himself, is stationed, but is unconcerned in the larger work in the great world-field, where the multitudes labor, is indeed to be pitied. He makes us think of the one who is reputed to have prayed,

"God bless me, and thy wife,

My son, John, and his wife,

Us four, and no more."

Each local church, in each city, should be deeply interested in the spiritual success of the other churches of his city, and should, as far as is possible, lend a hand. If an evangelist comes to town upon whom the hand of the Lord rests, the churches should all rally to him and rejoice with him in the salvation of the lost.

We are not surprised when we read of Barnabas, that he was "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith."

The result of the visit of Barnabas was constructive and helpful. "And much people was added unto the Lord."


As Barnabas viewed the work of God at Antioch, his mind turned toward Saul, who, at the time, was abiding in the near-by town of Tarsus. Beyond doubt Barnabas had known of Saul's remarkable conversion, and of his having been designated of God as "a chosen vessel unto Me, to carry My Name before the Gentiles, and kings"; therefore, with the Gentiles of Antioch turning to the Lord, Barnabas thought of Saul, who afterward was known as Paul.

Thus, Barnabas found Paul, and brought him to Antioch, and "it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the Church, and taught much people."


It was not until the Gentiles began to turn to the Lord, that the believers were called "Christians." The name fastened itself upon the saints, as the natural result of the dominant note of their testimony; and as the central pivot of their faith.

The Christians taught Christ, lived Christ, and glorified Christ, until they were themselves called, "Christians." We remember how, in our work in South America, especially in Bahia, Brazil, the Christians were accustomed to go to and from our church services carrying their Bibles in their hands. Because of this they were called "Biblias," that is "Bibles," by the populace. We have gone down the street more than once, and have heard the voices of the passers-by, saying of us, "Onde vie uma Biblia," "There goes a Bible."

We are sure that the Christians were not ashamed to be nicknamed "Christians." It "was, no doubt, a joy to them, to be thus associated with their Lord.

"Ashamed of Jesus, can it be?

A mortal man, ashamed of Thee?

Ashamed of Him, whose angel's praise

Shall ring through Heaven through endless days."

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 11". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/acts-11.html.
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