In our final lesson on “Christianity…In The Beginning” we talked about the church at Antioch. The chart below highlights some of the good things they were accomplishing.
We also suggest that this was a good stopping place for our study. Christianity had finally become what God intended it to be. Accepting the Gentiles was a big hurdle for the early church and the church at Antioch seems to be the first group to embrace the Gentiles. But they also showed their love by the act of Benevolence toward the predominantly Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, and their love for all the world by sending out Paul and Barnabas to preach.
Who it was who labeled them “Christians” is not stated in the text but I believe it could be said that at Antioch the church was really becoming for the first time all that God wanted the church to be.
A big question for us is, does our church deserve to be called Christians?
Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch from Jerusalem.
Earlier we read how they had labored there for a whole year and had great success. Now, at the direction of the Holy Spirit, the church sends them out on what is called “Paul’s first missionary journey”.
We have noticed many great examples about the church at Antioch. What great example do we see in this final reading?
How might it be said that, at Antioch, we see “Christianity” in its maturity — what God really wants His people and churches to be?
Herod failed in his attempt to execute Peter and now he gets what he deserves. Note that it was his pride that ultimately led to this judgment from God.
In contrast to Herod’s gruesome death, what does verse 24 tell us about the word of God and the cause of Christ?
Again, what lesson is there for us about being faithful to God in a culture that may be anti-Christian at times?
God foils Herod’s plan to have Peter executed. This is a wonderful story about how God delivered Peter from prison and how he comes to the house of Mary where many of the Christians were gathered together praying.
Let’s not get caught up in the excitement and forget that James was beheaded. Also Herod executes the soldiers under whose watch Peter had “escaped”.
What does all this teach us about following Jesus in a world where people might be antagonistic towards Christianity?
What else is interesting to you about this account?
In today’s reading we see an old enemy of the God’s people, Herod, begins to “harass some from the church”.
This is the grandson of Herod the Great who had the babies killed when Jesus was born. His uncle is the Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist.
James has been killed with the sword and it seemed for certain a similar fate awaited Peter. How does the church respond in verse 5?
How is this an example for us to follow?
The church at Antioch learns about a famine that will afflict Jerusalem and they respond by sending aid “to the brethren dwelling in Judea”.
What does this say about the kind of people that made up the church in Antioch?
What does it teach about what the church should be and do?
The church in Jerusalem hears about the group of disciples at Antioch and sends Barnabas to help them. Barnabas sends for Saul and for a year they work together building up the church at Antioch. Verse 26 says it was here that the disciples were first called Christians.
What are your impressions of the church at Antioch?
Note: One more week to go in our study of “Christianity… In The Beginning”! We will not finish the entire book of Acts, but this week we will look at a church that, in many respects, exemplifies what God wants Christians and churches to be. In fact they were the first ones to be called “Christians”. It seems like a good stopping place.
Today’s Reading: Acts 11:19-21
This refers back to the scattering of Christians recorded in Acts 8:1. The reading mentions two groups of disciples who went out preaching the word. One group is mentioned in verse 19, and then in verse 20 we read about a second group of men who were from Cyprus and Cyrene.
Where did the second group go?
How was the second group different from the first group?
Did this second group have God’s approval?
Accepting the Gentiles is a big hurdle for the church, but its something they must do in order to be what God intends for Christianity to be.
Peter was criticized going to the Gentiles and in today’s reading he is defending his actions. He refers to the “critical moment” when the Holy Spirit suddenly fell on the Gentiles. This convinced Peter to baptize them and accept them as part of the body of believers.
How do Peter’s critics respond to his explanation? What is commendable about their response?
Though they will still struggle with assimilating Gentiles into the church, this was a key moment in the beginning of Christianity.
This is Peter’ report of what happened at the house of Cornelius the Gentile. They Jews want an explanation for why He went in to a Gentiles house and ate with them.
Peter had done more than that – he had actually baptized them and accepted them into the new body of believers!
What impresses you about how Peter defends his actions?
How does he show that he was acting in good conscience in all that he did?