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12 November 2023 // Acts 11

The Scattered Church                                                                                                    
Kevin Okonski
Acts 11                                                                                          
SCRIPTURAL APPLICATION:  Read Acts 11 & watch/listen to Nov 12 sermon.
Criticism and Contention within the Church vs. 1-3
            Great things happening!
            Big questions rising!
Clarifying the Details vs. 4-16
Confirmation of the Word vs. 16-18
Continuation of the Gospel vs. 19- 30
            A new audience 19-22
            A new perspective 22-23
            A new purpose 27-30
  • What did the message teach me about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
  • What did the message teach me about the human condition?
  • Is there anything I need to confess, repent, or be grateful for, because of this passage?
  • How do I need help in believing and applying this scripture to my life?
  • How can I encourage others with this passage?

Backbone of the Night
One of the most demanding ministry experiences of my life was a six and a half week lecture tour to the nation of South Africa. I visited every part of that country, preaching in Soweto, Zululand, and up near the Kruger National Park, known throughout South Africa as “The Game Reserve.” Just north of there stretches the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, populated by small people called the Kung Bushmen, so-called because they punctuate their language with clicking sounds.

Standing on the sands of the Kalahari and looking up at the night sky, one can see thousands of heavenly lights and see them more clearly. What we call the “Milky Way” stands out, of course, but such terminology would have no significance at all to the Bushmen. I learned, however, that they had their own name for that vast cluster of stars. They call it “The Backbone of the Night.” When asked why they have chosen such a title, they say, “Those stars hold the night together. If it were not for the Backbone of the Night, great chunks of darkness would fall down upon us and kill us all.”

Limited astronomical accuracy to be sure, but a magnificent picture of the church. Jesus is the light of the world, and in his image we are lights in the world. How did Paul put it in Philippians? “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Phil. 2:14–16a).

Antioch became such a congregation. The darkness of that city now surrendered to the light of the gospel. Not only that, but this starry and stellar group of Christians would soon send that light around the Mediterranean world, something Jerusalem never seemed quite interested in doing. Mother church? No one can doubt the significance of Jerusalem in the early chapters of Acts; but now things are different. The mother church for the Gentile world, the home base for the rest of Acts, will not be Jerusalem, but Antioch, a congregation which bore the marks of a biblical church.[1]
A.  Household Salvation (v. 14)
It seems apparent that all the members of Cornelius’ family (and likely his servants as well) trusted Christ (10:44–48; 11:14). In this case, we have every reason to believe that Cornelius merely gathered them and they each voluntarily opened their hearts to the gospel and trusted Christ. Of greater difficulty is the passage in Acts 16:31 where Paul promised that if the Philippian jailer believed he would be saved and your household. Even there, the text mitigates that collective prophecy when Luke tells us that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (v. 32).
On this passage Marshall observes, “The New Testament takes the unity of the family seriously, and when salvation is offered to the head of the household, it is as a matter of course made available to the rest of the family group (including dependents and servants) as well.… It is, however, offered to them on the same terms: they too have to hear the Word (16:31), believe, and be baptized; the jailer’s own faith does not cover them” (Marshall, 273).

B.  Antioch (v. 20)
The brief profile offered earlier hardly does justice to this remarkable city. At the link of the Lebanon and Toras Mountain ranges, right where the Orontes River breaks through those hills and flows to the sea, sat a significant urban center sometimes called “Antioch-by-Daphne” since that celebrated temple of Apollo was nearby. Other appellations included “Antioch-on-the-Orontes,” “Antioch the Great,” “Antioch the Beautiful,” and even “The Queen of the East.”
Modern Antakyah, a poor city of about 35,000 located in southeast Turkey, apparently never recovered from its sack by the Persians in a.d. 540. First-century Antioch was a genuine melting pot. Its 500,000 inhabitants joined western and eastern cultures, Greek and Roman cultures, Semitic Arab and Persian influences. The city contained a large Jewish population, perhaps as much as one-seventh of the total.
Amid sophistication and commerce, Antioch indulged itself as a highly visible representation of Roman vice. The pleasure park of Daphne offered moral depravity of every kind. Juvenal, the Roman satirist, complained that the sewage of the Orontes flowed up the Tiber, bringing into the imperial city the superstition and sin of the east.
What would we consider a modern counterpart? Obviously major North American cities would be considerably greater in size, but what about influence and reputation? New York? Chicago? Los Angeles? Toronto? Perhaps all would qualify on most counts and, thank God, in each we would find thriving communities of Christians spreading the light today as did these new converts in Antioch almost two thousand years ago.

C.  Christian Prophets (vv. 27–28)
As the gift of prophecy takes shape in the Pauline epistles, it seems to center on proclaiming and explaining God’s written revelation. At this point in the history of the church, however, prophets were still predicting the future. We have already noted that Agabus appears again in chapter 21 and that Luke mentions other Christian prophets in Acts 13:1 and 15:32. We dare not forget Philip’s prophesying daughters (21:9).
Traditional Jews believed prophecy ceased during the exile but expected its return at the coming of Messiah. Peter’s quotation from Joel at Pentecost clearly linked prophecy with Christianity and demonstrated to some extent that the Jews were right—prophecy did come back dramatically with the coming of Messiah. Notable exceptions occurred even prior to Pentecost—John the Baptist and Jesus himself, both clearly recognized by the New Testament as prophets.
Perhaps the most important issue here is to recognize the transitional nature of Acts. We should not be surprised to see the visionary foretelling of Agabus replaced by the explanatory forthtelling of Paul and others (1 Cor. 14).

D.  Reign of Claudius (v. 28)
Verses like this help us date the events in Acts. The reign of Claudius took place from a.d. 41–54, and Roman historians refer to a string of bad harvests and famines during that reign. Most scholars place the Judean famine about a.d. 46 so we should find our place here in Acts 11 just prior to that. If we place the death and resurrection of Christ in a.d. 30, we can place the founding of the church at Antioch approximately fifteen years later. Since events in Acts cover a period of about thirty years, we are approximately halfway through the historical time period Luke intends to cover in this book.[2]

      1.   How long has it been since your church discovered God developing a new work? How did you respond?
      2.   What can your church do to be sure it is alert to what God is developing? What role does prayer, Bible study, and church fellowship have in this?
      3.   How does God use hard times and troubles to develop new work? Do you expect your troubles to lead to opportunities to join God in new work?[3]


  [1] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 183–184.
[2] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 184–186.
[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 187.