In Acts 12 we see a great story of God being at work through the prayers of the saints.  Chapter twelve begins by telling us that another persecution of the saints begins, but focused on the leaders of the church.  In verses 1-5 we see that James (brother of John) is put to the sword by King Herod.  Herod saw that the Jews were pleased by this and had Peter arrested.  In verse 5 the church was making earnest prayer for Peter.  Verses 6-19 is the  result of those prayers.  Peter is led out of the prison by an angel.  It seemed so unreal that even Peter thought that he was dreaming.  Then when he is out on the street he realised that it was not a dream and he was free.  Then he goes to Mary's (mother of John Mark) house where the saints were praying for him.  Here is the funny part of the story.  Rhoda goes to the door to see who was knocking and finds Peter there.  She is in shock and leaves Peter outside the door and tells the church that Peter was standing outside the door.  The church doesn't believe her and says that it is Peter's angel.  Peter continued to knock and when the church opened the door they saw Peter and while being amazed they let him in.  Peter told them how the angel escorted him out of prison with the soldiers asleep.

The all important lesson of this story is the importance of prayer.  Here we again see the church at prayer and God acts.  This shows how important prayer is in the life of the church.  When God's people are in prayer, He moves and does mighty things.  It is vital for the church to have a dynamic prayer ministry and be active in prayer, both as individuals and corporately.  I dare say, that if your church does not have a weekly prayer meeting it is not a healthy church and is in grave danger of losing the battle the church is or is about to face.

The church that prays will see God do great an amazing things!

In verses 1-18 of chapter 11 we see Peter explains why he had met with the Gentiles.  It is a good thing because is seemed that some Jews had believed that Jesus was just for the Jews.  After Peter explained what God had done in meeting with the Gentiles the other Christian Jews praised God that the Gentiles had received the truth and glorified Him.  The simple truth here is that the gospel is for all people and so the church must share the gospel with all people; even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Verses 19-30 gives another story and a great lesson.  This is the story of the gospel starting to spread further unto the Gentiles.  The first nine chapters of Acts seem to only have a vision for evangelizing the Jews, but in chapter ten and eleven we start to see the emergence of the church including Gentiles.  Because of the great persecution that came about Stephen's martyrdom many Christians began to flee and go to other regions of the Roman Empire.  We see in verse 20 that some Christians had gone to Cyprus, Cyrene and Antioch, preaching the gospel.  Some Hellenists come to the faith and the church in Jerusalem hears about what is happening in Antioch.  The church sends Barnabas who is excited by what he sees and again in verse twenty-four there is a great many more who come to the faith.  Barnabas gets and brings Saul (not yet Paul) to Antioch and for the next year Barnabas and Saul teach the church.  In addition, a prophet, named Agabus, came and told the church that there would be a famine and the church decides to send relief to the church in Jerusalem through Barnabas and Saul.

There are two main things that is happening here.  First, we see the continuation of evangelism and the Church continues to grow.  In both verses 21 and 24 we see that a great many more come to faith.  This shows that the gospel is continuing to be proclaimed.  A sign of a growing and healthy church is that it is proclaiming the gospel and seeing numerical growth by people coming to Christ.  Now, just because a church is growing in numbers does not necessarily show that the church is healthy.  Healthy growth primarily comes through the addition of new believers.  Then in order for the church to continue to grow in health the church must disciple the people of the church.  This is the second main thing that happens in this passage.

In verse 25 we see that Barnabas goes to get Saul to help him.  Two things come out of this.  First, Barnabas is the leader here.  Barnabas is essentially discipling Saul and together they are discipling the church.  Discipling the church is the second thing happening.  The same verse tells us that for the next year Barnabas and Saul are teaching the church.  Why did Barnabas and Saul have to teach this church?  Because, even though there is a heart and a mind change when someone comes to Christ, the person still has to be discipled in what we believe and how to serve God.  This is very important.  If the new Christian is not discipled there is a greater chance of the person falling away or worse, being a lukewarm Christian.  I will say that again.  If the new Christian is not discipled there is a greater chance of the person falling away or worse, being a lukewarm Christian.  Our job is not finished when someone has come to salvation.  We must continue by discipling them.  Remember we are called to make disciples.

Throughout the history of the church, there has been times that we have done a great job of evangelism and other times we have done a great job of discipleship.  But rarely, except in the early church, have we done a great job of both.  I believe that we are in an age where we, the Church, are not doing a good job of both.  It is time that we get busy doing what Jesus has told us to do. Again, we are to make disciples.  We need to do both evangelism and discipleship.

Now when I speak of evangelism, it is vital that we do both invitational and outreach.  By invitational I mean that the church puts on an event, either in the church or outside of the church, and invites people (friends, neighbours, community) to come to this event.  We must remember that the gospel must be proclaimed at such an event.  By outreach I mean that we go to people to intentionally share the gospel.  This has may forms of which some may be door-to-door, cold contact, or any other way that takes you out of your comfort zone and into the person's turf.  More often we see Jesus and the apostles in Acts doing outreach evangelism more than invitational evangelism.  In the gospels and Acts we rarely, if at all, see invitational evangelism.

After a person is led to Christ it is important to continue with that person by discipling them.  The whole of the church needs to be discipled and must be discipling.  In this passage, the Christians go and share the gospel, the unsaved come to faith and Barnabas and Saul disciples.  We, the church, need to follow this example.  The church that does both evangelism and discipleship will be a church that is healthy and growing.

If I were to title this study/post I would call it, "The problem of legalism and the profitability of teachability".  This title is what happens in Acts 11:1-18.  In the first verse we something to be joyful about: the Gentiles has received the Word of God.  But a problem happens here.  When Peter returns to Jerusalem the circumcised group in the church criticised Peter because he had visited with uncircumcised people.  This was a problem of legalism.  The circumcised group believed that you couldn't be a true Christian if you weren't circumcised and that the circumcised could not have fellowship in the home of an uncircumcised.  The problem with this is that circumcision was a sign of being a Jew and not a Christian.  The circumcised group was wrong and legalistic.

Now, let me be clear here on legalism.  There does need to be a measure of legalism because it points us towards holiness, but when legalism gets in the way of Scripture and what God is telling us to do it is wrong and misses the mark.  In this situation, Peter was right because the Lord told him to go to the household of Cornelius.  Since Peter obeyed and went to Cornelius' home those who gathered became Christians and received the Holy Spirit.  We cannot get in the way of obeying God? 

I was pasturing a church where the elders were becoming legalistic about baptism.  The elders said that I had to do a baptismal class first before baptising someone who has come to salvation and wants to be baptised.  One elder said that we first had to see fruit before we baptise someone; to see if they will stay a Christian.  Is not obedience a sign of fruit?  In addition, where does it say in scripture that before we baptise someone we must do a baptism class and see fruit first?  It doesn't, only says to repent and be baptised.  Baptism is an act of obedience which shows fruit for the change that has already happened in the heart and mind of the new Christian.  The elders had placed a restriction on me that I had to let the elders know when someone was going to be baptised.  One week an adherent at our church expressed that he wanted to be baptised.  I had informed the elders that I would be doing a baptism that Sunday.  Unfortunately two of the elders had not received my message.  So one elder attempted to confront me before the morning service and after the service he had approached the person being baptised and apologised for the baptism being handled wrong.  This elder had made a mockery of baptism, the step of faith and obedience this man had made.  All because one elder had gone to the extreme of legalism.  This is the problem we have when we are to legalistic and attempt to withhold someone from being obedient to God.

We then see in our story in Acts 11 that Peter explains what had happen; from God calling him to go to the Gentiles receiving salvation and the Holy Spirit.  Then there is a completely opposite reaction.  The church praised God and had no other objection.  The lesson in this part is the teachability of the church.  When the church heard the story of what had happened they learned that they should not object to obeying God and praise God for the work that He did.

From all of this we learn that the church must not be legalistic to the point of causing people to disobey God and placing them in bondage to things that God has not established, that is, traditions of man.  The second thing we learn is that the church must be teachable so that we will remain in line with God's calling and direction; so that we love and obey Him.

We come to the chapter where Peter has his vision of the sheet of unclean animals being lowered down.  God tells Peter to eat and Peter refuses because he is unwilling to eat anything unclean.  God then tells him not to call anything common what He has made clean.  This was setting Peter up for what He was about to do.  Earlier we find that God had spoken to an Italian named Cornelius and told him to call for Peter.  The men Cornelius sent called on Peter and the next day Peter goes with them after God had told him that these men came for him and he was to go with them.  In verse 34 Peter says, "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-35, ESV)  Peter learns that with God there is no partiality.  God wants all people to come to faith in Him.  Peter then preaches to the gathering.  Something remarkable happens here.  The Holy Spirit falls upon the people and they begin to extol God and speak in tongues (46).  These gentiles had received forgiveness of their sins and received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Peter's response then was to baptise these people right away. 

From this story we learn two things.  First, that one does not need to be baptised first before receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This is not a reason for not being baptised because we are commanded to do so.  It is our first act of obedience as a new believer.  The second thing we learn is that with God there is no partiality.  He wants all people to come to Him in faith, to receive salvation.  It doesn't matter what a person has or is doing that is sinful.  God doesn't expect us to change before we come to Him.  It is after we come to Him that He changes us and we turn away from sin.  So it doesn't matter if you are an atheist, homosexual, liar, thief, a thought to be "good person" or the most vilest of offenders in the world.  God wants you to come to Him in faith and confess your sin to Him, so that He will forgive your sin.

In regards to what we learn about the church: we do not judge the unrighteous (2 Cor 5:12-13).  That is God's responsibility.  Our responsibility is to love all people who are lost, present the gospel and treat them with love so that they may want to know Jesus.  We are not to show partiality to any unbeliever over another nor are we to do the same within the church.