Acts Lesson 27 - The Antioch Example
What does grace look like? It looks like people coming to faith; people praying; people giving to help others; people accepting others, regardless of color or national origin. Have you seen grace in action lately?
“The Antioch Example”
I invite you to travel back with me to the Golden city of the Roman empire.
Antioch was called the Queen city of the east. It’s main street was more than four miles long - paved entirely with marble, and lined on both sides by marble columns.
The Roman author, Cicero described it as a place of scholarly citizens and classical studies.
In addition to that, Antioch rivaled Corinth in it’s sinfulness. It would have been a combination of Las Vegas and New Orleans combined. It was the only city in the ancient world that had its streets lit at night.
Chariot racing, gambling and the pursuit of physical pleasure was the action in this city. In fact, even its chief religion at the Temple of Daphne was nothing more than immorality and prostitution.
Antioch was sin city - any vice, any god, any pleasure, was within walking distance.
The streets of Antioch were never quiet, this city never slept.
If there was a city in the Roman empire that you would never imagine to be the place for an evangelistic crusade - it was Antioch.
If there was ever a city that would ignore the gospel - it was First Century New York city.
And yet, out of the next few verses in our study through the Book of Acts, what we discover is an incredible example - an example of Christianity - an example of God’s grace - an example of godly living in the midst of ungodly temptation - believe it or not - an example of a New Testament church.
Let’s pick our story back up with chapter 11, verse 19.
19. So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.
(stop for a moment - this may sound strange unless you remember the transitional nature of the Book of Acts - these believers had left Jerusalem at a time when the gospel was being delivered to the Jew first. They had no idea that Peter had recently introduced the gospel to a Gentile named Cornelius - they were simply following a pattern of evangelism that had already been expanded - they just didn’t know it yet!)
20. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Now, in this passage there are five phrases that sort of jump off the page - we just read the first one.
What I’d like to do is work our way through this passage and simply highlight key phrases - statements that could stand alone for deep discussion and application.
Go back to that phrase, 20. men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also these two towns - Cyprus and Cyrene were simple, blue collar towns - built around the copper mines.
Evidently, some of the Jewish men were burdened for the cosmopolitan harvest field of Antioch.
But I have to to tell you - this ministry we’re reading about was unconventional - copper miners had never been through rabbinical school. They didn’t know they were supposed to go to Jerusalem and get permission first - they were just so excited with what Jesus Christ had done in their lives that they just assumed the big city needed to hear the message! Gentiles even!
They just arrived in sin city one day and began preaching the Lord Jesus.
Their grammar was probably crooked and their hands were calloused - without market research and demographics, purpose statements and administrative techniques, these men were simply on fire.
Their ministry was unconventional - but let me add, the results were undeniable.
21. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
We don’t know all the details - but Antioch would never be the same.
The temple of Daphne has a dramatic drop in business - the chariot races and gambling tables notice a drop in profits - the streets seem a little quieter than usual - why? Becuase the city was being swept up in this evangelistic crusade!
Now notice - 22. And the news about them reached the ears of the
church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.
Ah - Jerusalem has heard the report of - we’re not too sure about this group of preahers, what are they called, “Copper Miners for Christ?” Barnabas, go check it out.
Now, we’ve studied this man Barnabas before - his nickname was “Encourager” - if you drop down to verse 24, Luke provides another biographical sketch for his readers, “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
Three things marked Barnabas in the mind of Luke - his character, his commitment, and his courage.
Now, if you were a member of the Jerusalem church, and the leaders needed to send someone with discernment and faith, someone dominated by the Holy Spirit - may I ask you a question? Could they send you?
Could you discern whether or not the revival in Antioch was the genuine item - “Barnabas, we don’t have a set of guidelines to give you - no church growth materials for you to compare Antioch to - just go, in faith and with sensitive ears to the Holy Spirit.
Ask yourself, “Could the church have chosen you?”
Well, Barnabas finally arrives at Antioch: 23. Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;
There’s the next key phrase - Barnabas “saw” the grace of God. What does the grace of God look like?! We talk about living under grace; experiencing the grace of God - being saved by grace; we sing “Amazing Grace” - but what does grace look like - so that Barnabas could see it?
Well, if we looked throughout the book of Acts at every reference to the church in Antioch - what Barnabas saw was:
-people coming to faith in Jesus Christ -prayer and fasting
-sacrificial and spontaneous giving (we’ll see in a moment)
-a vision for the world - ch. 13 - Antioch will commission first missionaries
-we would see love and acceptance between new believers - in Galatians, Paul made reference to the fact that Jew and Gentile believers were sharing the Lord’s supper together...eating together!
Here’s Barnabas in the middle of it all - preaching and encouraging faithfulness. He soon realizes that he can’t do this alone - in fact, God’s word is now exploding among the Gentile people - who could help him?
25. And he left for Tarsus to
look for Saul;
Now remember, some 8 years have elapsed since Saul and Barnabas last met. You may remember our study some time ago in chapter 9 how Barnabas risked his reputation by introduing Saul to the Apostles and defending this former hatchet man of the Sanhedrin.
But it wasn’t long after that introduction that Saul was sent packing back home to Tarsus - the Apostles didn’t have any use for him - there didn’t seem to be any future for him in the church.
Hello Saul . . . Goodbye Saul.
But not for Barnabas - Barnabas never completely forgot Saul - and now, who better to serve with him than a Jew, cultured in Greek who was also a Roman citizen. Saul was perfect for the job . . . if only Barnabas can find him!
The word translated look in verse 25 is a very intense word.
Ladies when you go to the mall and look for a new outfit - you kind of browse - you’ve got it down to a science - my wife and I can walk into a ladies section and in five minutes she’ll say, “I don’t see anything here for me” - I love to hear those words - but I think, we didn’t look at everything - that’s one kind of looking - a casual browsing.
You ever lose your child in a store - you know what kind of looking you start doing - you are looking with intensity - down every corridor, up every aisle - your listening for their voice - nothing distracts your attention - not even a 90% off rack - you are fervently looking - that’s the word here.
In fact, this compound word, literally means, “to look up and down.” It was used only one other time by Luke - and it was in the narrative where Mary and Joseph are on their way back from Jerusalem - “Where’s Jesus? I thought he was with you - well, I thought he was in the wagon with you - Luke 2 tells us that they returned and looked for their missing boy.
Why was Barnabas so intent on finding Saul - why risk displeasing the Apostles - Barnabas didn’t ask them you know - why risk handing over this incredible ministry to an unknown man - an obscure character who was unproven - and overlooked by the church leadership?
It as more than intuition - it was more than the fact that Barnabas and Saul had hit it off 8 years earlier - it was the will of God . . . how do I know?
Becuase in chapter 9 of Acts, the word of the Lord had come to Ananias - a word no doubt shared with the other Apostles - a word that Ananias shared with Saul - “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles.”
Barnabas - sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and obedient to the word of God, realized that Saul’s time had come.
26. and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and (here’s the next key phrase!) the disciples
were first called Christians in Antioch.
There have been a lot of names in the New Testament for believers:
-disciple -brother/sister -witness -saint
-child of God -steward -elect -pilgrim
Yet, from history, we discover that the name Christian was a name the pagans came up with - not the Christians: in fact, only two other times is it even used in the New Testament.
It seems to have been a derogatory name - “little Christs” - imitators of Christ. That name was enough to sentence a person to death.
Yet, in Peter’s epistle, the Holy Spirit uses the word in a positive sense, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.”
What does it mean to be called a Christian?
-Is it a nametag you put on on Sundays? No.
-Is it an adjective for a good person - that man is a good Christian man.
-Is it synonymous with being an American citizen - “Of course I’m a Christian, I was born in America.”
-Is it a name for people who’ve never comitted a felony, “I’m a Christian becuase I’ve never killed anybody”
The name Christian means, “Little Christ; that is, one who imitates, adheres to Christ.”
11 years ago my family and I moved from Texas to North Carolina. Anybody else move here from Texas - we just had to move away from all that crime - we lived near the Cowboys football stadium - We became North Carolinians - how? By simply residing in the state of N.C.
You are Christians becuase you reside in the body of Christ.
But the question remains - how are you living up to your name. If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you.
In Costa Rica the traditional Spanish bullfight has undergone some specific changes that distinguish it from what a tourist would see in Spain. The Costa Ricans no longer allow the toreador to kill the bull after the classic fight. As a result the great bullfighters do not stop in Costa Rica and no native fighters are really being developed. Therefore, the Costa Ricans have altered their fight to allow anyone who is older than eighteen and sober to fight the bull. Many times the fight begins with as many as one hundred and fifty young men standing proudly in the ring, waiting for the bull to break wildly through the entrance gate. When the bull does enter, immediately one hundred and forty of the "bullfighters" scramble wildly over the sides of the ring. From the beginning mob of so-called toreadors, only ten or less are really ready to challenge the bull. All one hundred and fifty want the name of "BULLFIGHTER," but only a few are willing to live up to it.
More than likely, every one in this auditorium wants the name, Christian; question is, how many of us are willing to live up to it?
27. Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.
Ephesians informs us that Apostles and prophets were part of building the foundation of the N.T. church. They both eventually moved off the scene - any home builder knows that you don’t keep laying the foundation. They are eventually replaced with pastors and teachers who built the superstructure of the church upon that miraculous foundation.
The gift of prophecy could exist still today, not in the sense of foretelling the word but in the sense of forthtelling the word - declaring the word of God that has already been revealed.
One of these prophets makes a prediction - a famine is coming that will impact their area - hisotry records that there were actually three of them.
The Jerusalem church had already been decimated by persecution - thousands of believers had fled . . . the church in Jerusalem needed help.
Now notice another key phrase:
29. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas
and Saul to the elders.
No percentage was dictated - this was not a command to give - it was simply the response of caring hearts.
And don’t miss the irony here - who is helping who? The Gentiles are helping the Jews.
Antioch, the movement that the Apostles weren’t too sure about, is now helping the Apostles.
And guess who is carrying the money - a man they’d dismissed 8 years earlier as somewhat unimportant to the cause - Saul himself.
Did you know that this is the very first reference to a church taking up a missionary collection.
And it is to this day, one of the signs of a healthy church - when people in one church can give money away to people in another church or ministry.
Phillips Brooks, a famous pastor from a century ago was once asked what he would do to revive a dead church - he immediately responded, “I would ask them to take up a missionary offering”
One of the most sensitive nerves in the human body is the nerve that activates the muscles that move the arm from the side to the back pocket.
Winston Chruchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
These believers gave!
If we want to be like the church in Antioch:
1) we have to act worthy of our new identification - our new name!
Before the world - Paul exhorted the believers to “walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Before other believers - the believers in Antioch could have ignored the Jerusalem church - “Hey, you didn’t care enough about us to send an Apostle here - you sent a layman, Barnabas - besides we know how you feel about Gentiles. . .so you’re having trouble making ends meet - get another job!”
But they imitated Christ - they were like Christ in their actions and attitudes toward those who were in need.
2) If we want to be like the church in Antioch, we have to be alert to new opportunities
It is the church in Antioch that will become the center of evangelism;
It is the church in Antioch that will send out the first missionaries
It will be the church in Antioch that supports the Apostle Paul - in fact, after his missionary trips he will return to report, not to the church in Jerusalem, but to the church in Antioch.
These copper miners planted a church that bristled with anticipation.
What new opportunities are there for Colonial?
Tonight we vote on a budget that includes money to plant our first daughter church in Wake County - I’ve read that a goal is a dream with a deadline;well, I’ve been dreaming lately - and formulating some goals that over the next 25 years will allow us to plant, reproduce, resource, encourage 300 churches.
I’ve put the deadline of 25 years simply becuase you’ll be putting me out to pasture about that time - I want you to know, when the time does come for me to hang up my sermon notes - I want us to be able to look over our shoulder and see, not just beautiful buildings, thousands of people worshiping, but I want to see that we’ve been like the church in Antioch - only one thing will satisfy me - that we like this church here had a part in reaching the world.
Let’s walk worthy of our name - we’re Christians!
Let’s be alert to new opportunities for ministry - ministry that ultimately glorifies our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
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