After Peter’s experience with Cornelius, he returned to Jerusalem to give the church an update. He explained all that happened, and despite their initial skepticism, the church in Jerusalem trusted that God was showing the Gentiles too that repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18).
Due to persecution that stemmed from Stephen’s stoning, believers went as far as Phonecia, Cyprus and Antioch and continued to preach Christ in these areas. In Antioch, followers of Christ were first called Christians (11:19–26).
In Acts 12, we find our fourth update on the early church. At the beginning of the chapter, the persecution of Christians continues, as Herod kills James and imprisons Peter. Peter is supernaturally rescued from prison and God kills Herod because he did not give God the glory (v. 23).
“But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). Despite the craziness and chaos of these events, the word of God, the church, continued to increase and multiply. The persecution of Christians seemed to fuel the expansion of the church instead of stifling it.
God sent Paul on three different missionary journeys where he helped found the Christian church in the Middle East and beyond. Acts 13 and 14 give an account of Paul’s first missionary journey. Along this journey, Paul and Barnabas visited many places including Cyprus, Paphos, Perga, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Everywhere they went, they proclaimed Christ in the synagogues (Acts 13:5).
In Paphos, Paul rebuked a false prophet and magician by warning him to “stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord” (Acts 13:10). At Antioch in Pisidia, Paul told the Jews that Jesus alone offers salvation and redemption, not the Law of Moses. Because the Jews did not listen, Paul turned his message to the Gentiles, who believed (13:39–48). In Lystra, Paul healed a crippled man, and the crowds began to think that Paul and Barnabas were gods. Paul vehemently rejected these claims and pointed the crowds to the living God who made the heavens and earth. Paul was stoned but miraculously survived. The next day, Paul and Barnabas went to Derbe, where they made many disciples. On their way back to Antioch, they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to persevere. They also appointed elders to each church. Upon their return, Paul and Barnabas shared all that God had done through them (14:8–27).
Paul was on a mission to preach Christ to Jews and Gentiles, to rebuke heresies, to heal the sick, to make disciples, to encourage believers, and to share the mighty works of God.
Oh, God, help us to follow Paul’s example individually and collectively as the church.
In Acts 15, we read about a big moment for the early church. Should Gentile believers be circumcised? Peter spoke up; he believed circumcision was not necessary for Gentile believers. He said God did not make a distinction between them (Jews) and the Gentiles for He also gave the Gentiles the Holy Spirit and cleansed their hearts (Acts 15:7–8). He also believed if they required the Gentiles to be circumcised; it would place the law on them, which is an unbearable yoke they could not live up to (15:10). But rather, Peter believed that the Gentiles could be saved by the grace of God alone (v. 11). So the church decided: Gentiles did not need circumcision for salvation. God’s grace alone is our means for salvation.