Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 17 2013 - Acts 11:1-30 – Rejoicing in the grace of God

When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was immediately involved in controversy. There were many among the Christians in Jerusalem who argued that if Gentiles were to be accepted as followers of Christ they needed to be circumcised – "They need to become like us." This is the beginning of a controversy that will dominate a significant part of Paul's ministry – but that is still to come.

Peter's visit to Cornelius does not seem to have led to significant evangelistic activity among the Gentiles. But those who had been scattered by the persecution following the death of Stephen spread the good news about Jesus wherever they went – though only among Jews. The news eventually reached Cyprus and Cyrene. Some converts from these regions travelled to Antioch where, seeming to ignore the ground rules, they spoke of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles. The church at Antioch appears to have been the first church made up of a real mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard what had happened in Antioch they wanted to know what was really going on and sent Barnabas to find out. Here again we meet this remarkable man who had a heart for the encouragement of other believers. We read that when Barnabas arrived at Antioch he rejoiced to see signs of the grace of God and encouraged these young disciples to go on following Jesus. And to help them grow in knowledge of Christ, Barnabas went off to Tarsus, looking for Paul and dragged him back to Antioch to help with the instruction and encouragement of these disciples. Here Paul learned to minister to Jews and to Gentiles.

Can you imagine the situation Barnabas encountered at Antioch? Here was a church made up of very young Christians from a variety of backgrounds. He could have easily seen a truckload of problems in the making. Many of the Gentile converts may have had little knowledge of the Bible – of the Old Testament. They may have responded to what they had heard and have come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, but did they really understand the gospel? What’s more, Jewish believers and Gentile believers came from very different cultural backgrounds; would they really be able to follow Christ together without falling out with each other?

But Barnabas was not preoccupied with possible problems; he saw that God was at work and he was eager to join in the work of God. He wanted to do all that he could to encourage these young believers. More than that, he dragged Paul out of premature retirement and pushed him into the ministry that was to occupy the rest of his life. All because he had an eye for where God was at work and a heart to work with God and to promote others in the work of God.

Our churches need more men and women with a heart like that of Barnabas. All too often we avoid working with those who, should they be drawn into the life of the church, will bring all manner of problems with them. Is it any wonder that many churches are getting smaller and smaller and may, within a generation, close down altogether. We need fresh eyes to see what the grace of God and transforming power of the risen Saviour can accomplish with the most unlikely of people.

Lord, deliver me from a spirit of suspicion and make me more like Barnabas. Give me an eye to see where you are at work and a heart that is devoted to working with you. Give me an eye also to see how I may encourage others in the ministry for which you have equipped them without being jealous for my own ministry and my own reputation.

Peter Misselbrook