God, we praise You for being able to transform persecutors into preachers. We praise You for preparing both those who share the gospel and those who hear the gospel. Help me to trust You more as I see you exalted in these chapters today. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Acts 9-11
In these chapters, we discover how God uses all kinds of people to make disciples and grow churches! Watch and marvel as God uses a stubborn apostle, a foreign soldier, a violent antagonist, and a group of nameless believers as His witnesses.
God’s plan enters a new stage as the good news will now be announced far and wide to all peoples. But it took visions and dreams to convince Peter of this. Jesus’ words in Luke 24 are being realized and God’s promises to Abraham are finding wider fulfillment. The promise of Isaiah 45:14 is coming to pass, and Gentiles are coming into the kingdom. The door of salvation has swung wide open.
Acts 9:1–31 Notice here the miraculous appearance of Jesus Christ to Saul and the transformation of Saul from persecutor to preacher. But also, don’t miss Ananias’ bold obedience in approaching a chief persecutor of the church. Jesus appointed Saul as “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings” (9:15, ESV).
Acts 9:32–43 Jesus Christ uses Peter to heal a paralyzed man in Lydda, and the residents of that area turn to the Lord! Then Peter heals a disciple named Dorcas in Joppa, a nearby town, and many more people believe in the Lord. Clearly, God enabled Peter to work miracles of healing in Jesus’ name.
Acts 10 In another nearby city, a centurion and an honorable man named Cornelius is praying. Then, this uncircumcised Gentile has a vision or dream in which an angel tells him to invite Peter to come to Caesarea and explain the good news. At the same time, while still in Joppa, Peter also has a vision while praying on the rooftop of Simon the tanner. A voice tells him to take and eat animals that were considered unclean in the Old Testament. Peter is confused.
Meanwhile, Cornelius’ messengers arrived to Peter, and the Spirit convinces him to go with these men. When Peter gets there, he explained to Cornelius that God told him not to consider any people unclean or off limits because Christ came to save all kinds of people. The Old Testament dietary, calendar, and clothing restrictions that kept the Jews distinct from Gentiles were no longer valid. What’s more, God wanted Peter, himself a Jewish Christian, to eat with Cornelius as a symbol of a new covenant that included all peoples, not just the Jews.
Cornelius invited Peter to explain the good news to his household relatives and servants. When they hear the gospel, the Holy Spirit fills the people and the place; they speak in tongues and are then baptized, just like the Jewish believers at Pentecost in Acts 2. Keep in mind how revolutionary this is: a group of uncircumcised Gentiles have now believed the gospel, received the Holy Spirit, and been baptized!
Acts 11 When the Jewish Christians hear of this, they begin to rebuke Peter. But Peter explains his vision of the animals and what happened at Cornelius’ house. The Jewish Christians believed and said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
A few observations to note: Cornelius’ dream is not the gospel but rather a vehicle God used to motivate Cornelius to send for Peter. What, then, did Peter do? He explained the gospel to Cornelius and his household, and the dream was the means to a specific end: Peter’s articulated gospel. As Cornelius’ household believed, the Holy Spirit came down upon these new Gentile believers, and Peter and his companions were surprised that Gentiles, too, could be a part of God’s chosen people. Luke’s point is clear: he wants us to see that the gospel is God’s good news for all people!
Pay attention as well to God’s surprising strategy to start a church in Antioch. As persecution scattered believers who could only speak with Jews, some Jewish believers ended up in Antioch. Crossing a cultural barrier, these ordinary followers proclaimed the Lord Jesus in a manner understandable to Greeks—and a large number grew strong in faith. Eventually, Barnabas and Saul landed in Antioch, and they met and taught many people in that church. Still later, the Gentile believers in Antioch sent famine relief to the Jewish church in Judea. Again, Luke’s point is clear: as the gospel is proclaimed, God’s multi-cultural church is strengthened.
42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
- We shouldn’t be surprised if God gives dreams and visions to Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists that direct them to a Christian or local church where they’ll hear the gospel clearly explained. Cornelius’ vision was not the gospel, and he was not saved by the dream, but God used the dream to direct him to a person and place where he could hear the gospel and be saved! (Acts 11:13–14)
- Food laws, which had long created a barrier between God’s people and the Gentiles, are fulfilled. God does not show favoritism, but to those who do repent and believe in Jesus’ name, He grants forgiveness and eternal life (11:18, 43).
- If Jesus can take his chief persecutor and turn him into a gospel preacher, Jesus can save anyone. Pray expectantly for those most opposed to Christ and His people. Ask God to take terrorists and make them church planters!
- God used all kinds of people to make followers and help start churches, not just professional pastors and ministers. What roles might you play?
Choose one of the following:
- Boldly speak to someone the Holy Spirit seems to have brought to mind (Acts 9:10–17). Express any fears and reservations to God in prayer (9:13).
- Give an offering to someone in need (11:29).
- Encourage a new Christian and help them find opportunities to serve (9:26–28; 11:25–26).
- Discuss results of Spiritual Health and Singleness/Family Life Health evaluations with your accountability partner this week. Identify any activities you want to start, stop or continue, or any areas of concern. [Being a Disciple]
- Use the Outreach Assessment below to evaluate your current practices for outreach, evangelism, and discipleship. Take notes to share with your Deepen Discipleship group and accountability partner. [Making Disciples]
- How much do you interact with unbelievers? In what contexts? (ie. work, school, social clubs, recreation, neighbors?)
- Do you have any cross-cultural relationships?
- Do you have a particular plan for outreach and evangelism?
- Are you currently involved in discipleship relationships? In accountability relationships?