Acts is a reminder to keep grounded in our purpose. I need to hear from people like Gini who finds hope in the storm of life: “My life has changed since knowing Jesus and now I pray for change in my family. There is hope and I have faith! God is faithful.”
BOOM. The church at Antioch is born. BOOM, the message of salvation transforms the nations/gentiles. The establishment of the Church at Antioch is a major step in God’s sovereign plan to reach the world with his love, acceptance and forgiveness.
As Acts begins, Jesus has been crucified on the cross and risen from the dead. In Acts 1:8, moments from ascending to heaven, he promises the Holy Spirit to guide His faithful followers and says they are to be witnesses to all nations. Fast forward to Acts 11:19-30 and BOOM, the Good News floods into Antioch, one of the most pagan gentile cities of the world. The floodgates are open and the gospel is unleashed. What can we learn from our spiritual mother, the Church in Antioch?
Listen to Acts 11:19 then followed up in v. 20 with the most consequential “however” in the history of the Christian Church. READ 19, 20.
Antioch. In the first century, Antioch was a thriving commercial hub located in the north-western part of Syria, an important trade routes between East and West. It prospered, and eventually became the 3rd largest city in the world with a population of more than half a million. Not surprisingly, Antioch became home to people of many different races. It was a melting pot of different cultures, with Greek, Roman, Syrian and Jewish influences. Antioch, in the timing of God, is ripe for the Good News of Jesus Christ! A good guess is that we are about in the year 46 (the reign of Claudius and a famine Acts 11:28). Antioch was a strategic city…a sports center, including Chariot races. The famous chariot scene in the book/movie Ben Hur, takes place in Antioch…. Antioch was also a place of culture and religion. About five miles outside the city was the temple of Daphne, where sex was esteemed and worshipped through priestesses who were religious prostitutes. In this melting pot of nations, high culture, corruption and immorality, BOOM, a new church of the nations is birthed. READ Acts 11:21.
Lesson: In a healthy church, the Gospel can thrive anywhere. Do not give up on any place or people. The gospel can and will thrive in the most hostile of places… there is no doubt that the solutions of Antioch to provide meaning to life are a dead end, only Jesus Christ provided ultimate purpose… Gini wrote: “My life has changed since knowing Jesus and now I pray for change in my family. There is hope and I have faith! God is faithful.”
Lesson: In a healthy Church, great things are accomplished through everyday people. Acts is full of giants of faith such as Peter, Paul, Barnabus, but when God chooses leaders to bring an explosion of gentiles converting to the faith, they are unnamed people. Look at Acts 11:20 again… READ. No names. God can use anyone at anytime to accomplish His purposes. He will use those that are passionate about the good news to reach a lost world for Christ. Anyone. Maybe even Carl Crouse in Sumas, WA….
Lesson: A healthy church is made up of people with a variety of Spiritual Gifts. Spiritual gifts are… If I were to preach through this scripture a second time I might use the outline of all the spiritual gifts in this scripture… As I glance through Acts 11:19-30 here are the spiritual gifts that jump out at me: 1. evangelism, 2. encouragement (barnabus), 3. discernment (Barnabus enlisting the “outcast” Saul/Paul), 4. teaching, 5. preaching, 6. prophecy (Aguabus), 7. giving. The many Spiritual gifts present in the first church of Antioch is a lesson for us in what it means to be a church… the right people in the right ministry according to their gifts given by the H.S. As we rebuild this church, we’ve been talking about focusing on serving the community, but honestly, we must be open to all the spiritual gifts…
Lesson: A healthy church lives graciously. Barnabus is sent from Jerusalem as a witness/encourager to the new church. The Church in Jerusalem hears about Antioch: READ Acts 11:22. God/the H.S. is always in charge of the church! Barnabus is a much loved leader/well respected. He is chosen as a witness to tell others what he sees in Antioch READ Acts 11:23. Barnabus’s mission is to encourage. Barnabus traveled to Antioch and was thrilled to find a group of men and women who were obviously Christians. "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad." Barnabus did not impose on them patterns or tell them how to be a church, but he affirmed them. The fact that he could see the grace of God among the people is the evidence that convinced Barnabus these gentiles were authentic in their faith. He saw people that received God’s undeserved blessings. He saw people who were gracious. Grace is a gift of God… I try to be a gracious person, thankful for all of God’s blessings knowing I don’t deserve any…. Strive to live as a gracious person. Barnabus saw grace among the people of Antioch, and he himself lived by grace. READ Acts 11:24a. May we be like Barnabus, quick to compliment and slow to criticize. Quick to encourage. Emphasize everything that is right… how we need to hear those words today. Live graciously. Welcome others who are gracious.
Lesson: A healthy grace filled church will impact people. 11:24b describes the result of being a Holy Spirit filled, faithful person. I don’t know what this is looking life for us or will look like, but who we are in Christ is our greatest witness. To live our faith. To serve Christ by serving others. To be faithful. Gracious. Do good as an expression of ou faith… keep on serving with a glad heart. Keep on giving. May we be a church family that is a safe haven for others, a place of encouragement, a place of God’s blessings… the character of the person who shares the good news is an important part of the message of salvation itself!
Lesson: The members of a healthy church are committed to discipleship. READ The people are committed to learning and growing in the Lord. A disciple is a great name for followers because that means we are perpetual students.
Lesson: A healthy Church welcomes sinners. Paul is enlisted by Barnabus to be a teacher in the church. Saul/Paul is the same man that was there when Stephen was stoned, the man who had an official license to murder Christians, the man who was amazingly transformed into a believer in Jesus Christ. It has been as much as ten years since Saul was converted. Much more will be said of Saul/Paul in future sermons, for he is about to become the main vessel of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. The point for today, even though it had been ten years, Paul’s past surely would cause the Christian family to pause… yet the ever gracious church of Antioch welcomed him.
Lesson: A healthy church belongs to Christ. READ Acts 11:26b. In Acts the followers of Jesus are given many names, but the one that endures to this day is “Christians.” ~ one who belongs to Christ. It was originally a term of ridicule. Remember that Antioch had many ethnic groups constantly at odds with one another. Before they were saved, the believers would have been identified according to their ethnic group such as Jews, Greeks, Syrians, Arabs or Romans. But things changed after they were saved. The new believers became a unified, multi-ethnic community ~ they could not be called Jewish or Greek or any other known name in Antioch. What unified this group that crossed the usual lines is not their ethnic background, but rather, the ONE that they followed. It was noticed they were always talking about Jesus Christ. Their lives were so filled with Christ that they wanted everyone to know Him and love Him. This led to people calling them ‘Christians’.
May this cause us to reflect deeply on what it means to be called a Christian. When we serve a turkey dinner may it be in the name of Christ, when we hand out a warm blanket, when we invite people to a safe place… do it for Christ. ‘Christian’ reflects the important role Christ is given in our life. Can people around us sense how much Christ means to us through our words and actions?
Lesson: A healthy church is generous. Acts 11:27-30 The last verses with Agabus the prophet and the giving of money back to Jerusalem is a wonderful touch. The first multi-nation church is thrilled to help the mother of all churches back in Jerusalem. This affirms the roots of the gentile church. It reflects a giving spirit. READ Acts 11:29. The church is generous as a whole, yet it is up to each individual within the body to give as the Lord touches their heart… beautiful.
BOOM. Just like that. The gentile church is born. The gospel is well on it’s way to the ends of the earth to impact people like Gini: My life has changed since knowing Jesus and now I pray for change in my family. There is hope and I have faith! God is faithful
The church of Antioch is the spiritual mother of all churches, still providing lessons of what it means to be a healthy church ~ the gospel thrives, ordinary people have a place , Spiritual gifts are active, grace abounds, discipleship is a hallmark, sinners are welcomed, the people belong to Christ, and the church is generous. May we be open to taking on that same character as we seek to become a part of God’s great Kingdom work. Amen.