ACTS11v19to30: BLESSING IN ANTIOCH
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
I have taken my headings for this exposition from John Stott's commentary on the passage in his book, 'The Message of Acts.' I could not think of any better ones!
(B) The Greek mission is initiated by unnamed evangelists.
The persecution of Greek speaking Christian Jews led to their dispersal and the spread of the Gospel. Some targeted only their fellow Jews with the good news about the Lord Jesus. There is a tendency for churches to evangelise particular groups - children, teenagers, women or young families. Sometimes men or the elderly are overlooked. Every unbeliever needs to hear the gospel!
A few bold spirits - men from Cyrene and Cyprus - went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. v20. It is possible that here we see Stephen's legacy because he taught Cyrenian Jews in the Synagogue of the Freedmen before his martyrdom. It is noteworthy that those taking the initiative were not apostles or deacons or prominent individuals like Barnabas but anonymous followers of Jesus.
Anonymous Christians make by far the greatest number of converts to Christianity. A great deal is made of Luther's conversion and the huge changes he triggered in Christendom. The part played by his godly confessor and superior is often forgotten. It was his confessor who, with shrewd insight and under the guidance of God's Spirit, gave him the task of studying and expounding the Psalms and Paul's epistles to the Galatians and Romans. It was through scrutinizing these Scriptures that the light dawned.
(C) The Greek mission was endorsed by Barnabas.
It was a happy choice on the part of the Jerusalem Church to send Barnabas to Antioch. He was glad when he saw the evidence of the grace of God. v28. Barnabas did not arrive in Antioch to find fault or to counsel caution. He was neither disapproving nor suspicious. Barnabas was glad.
I hope we can be glad for the success of others. The anonymous devotees of Stephen had done a great work in Antioch. They had built up a thriving church there. It is possible to visit churches that are growing and to feel jealous. I sometimes preach in a fellowship that is full of young people and it is easy to think gloomily, "Why isn't it like this in my church?" Far better to be glad that the word is being spread and lives are being saved.
I hope we can be glad for the redemption of others. The older brother was not happy with reception the returning prodigal received. He did not share his father's view: "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Luke15v32. I shall never forget the joy that was clearly evident at the baptism of my brother Paul, myself and a friend. The church at Brockley rejoiced that three of their young men had come through for the Lord. My dear Uncle Stephen came down from London just so he could sing a solo to mark the occasion. There was no doubt that he was glad.
Yesterday I took the morning service at the Earl Soham Baptist Church. Anna, one of my old pupils was there with her dear little daughter - blond haired and beautiful. What pleased me so much were the words of Julia, Anna's mother, "Anna has come back to the Lord and is being baptised next month." I have to say that Anna even looked better for coming back to Jesus.
Barnabas encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. v23. New converts need a lot of care and encouragement. They are very vulnerable. Satan will attack them. Friends and family may oppose them. After the first flush of joy on believing a reaction often sets in. Babes in Christ are like bedding plants that have just been set out. Those bedding plants will not thrive without attention. They need watering in and watering when they flag. After the plants have become established they do not need such a high level of care although the wise gardener will still keep his eye on them.
Barnabas was a good man. I think three qualities are essential in a good man. He must have integrity. There is no falseness or duplicity about a good man. I read the obituary of the architectural historian Annabel Ricketts in today's Daily Telegraph. This paragraph caught my eye: Annabel Ricketts possessed a complete integrity which made her greatly valued and loved. Incapable of artifice, or of striking a false note, she was always ready to enliven proceedings with some piercingly honest and witty sally. That is the way Barnabas was.
Secondly, he must possess a generous spirit. Barnabas sold land in order to finance the early church. He was generous in his judgements. Barnabas befriended Paul when he arrived as a new Christian in Jerusalem and introduced him to the apostles. He was prepared to give the young John Mark a second chance after he had shown lack of staying power on his first missionary journey. The church is indebted to big-hearted men like Barnabas. Rev. George Bird, who was for many years the pastor at Bethesda Baptist Church, Ipswich, was a larger than life figure who made Christians feel better about themselves. He cheered the members of his large congregation up with a handshake and a few words of greeting. He knew them all by name.
Thirdly, a good man must be warm-hearted - someone who likes people. George Bird exuded warmth and bonhomie! Many successful ministers do. I listened to one on Sunday at Garland Street Baptist Church in Bury St Edmunds - Rev. Bob Cotton. He is a lively gospel preacher but his greatest gift is his ability to relate to people.
Barnabas was a deeply spiritually minded man. He was full of the Holy Spirit and faith. The Holy Spirit of truth had kindled a flame within his heart and informed his actions. He had utter confidence in Jesus to save him from sin, perfect him in love and fit him for Glory. He was wonderfully used by God's Spirit in Antioch because a great number of people were brought to the Lord. v24.
(D) The Greek mission is consolidated by Saul.
It is remarkable that Barnabas took time out from his ministry at Antioch to look for Saul. Things were going so well under Barnabas' leadership - why share the credit with someone else? There are not many successful Christian leaders who would do what Barnabas did. Help is usually only sort when things are going badly.
Saul had been in obscurity for eight years in Tarsus. He had been a troublemaker in Jerusalem and achieved very little in Tarsus. His track record was not great! This did not stop Barnabas from going into Galatia to find him.
Barnabas did not mind taking a few weeks out to search for Saul. He did not consider that he was indispensable to the church at Antioch. They could manage perfectly well without him for a month or so. No-one is indispensable although some might be missed when taken from their fellowships.
Barnabas's decision to recruit Saul showed three things:
Barnabas had an excellent character. He was a man of sterling worth. Saul's bearing and personality were probably nowhere near as impressive as Barnabas's. However, Barnabas recognised his own limitations. He knew he wasn't quite up to the job of teaching the Gentile Christians. Character has its limitations. Saul was a much better teacher than Barnabas - and Barnabas acknowledged it.
I read recently the biography of the 'Holy Fox' - Lord Halifax. It was not long after war was declared in 1939 that Neville Chamberlain resigned. Lord Halifax was Foreign Secretary and widely respected. He was the choice of most of the leading politicians of the day to lead the nation in its hour of greatest need. Halifax's biographer wrote that the Holy Fox's greatest contribution to his country was to recognise that he was not up to the job - and that Winston Churchill - for all his faults - was.
(b) Good judgement.
The joint ministry of Barnabas and Saul was a huge success. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. v26. This was a nickname. Most nicknames tell us something about the person or group to which they refer. At school I was called the, 'Purple Scruff.' I was red-faced and untidy - and still am.
The members of the Antioch Church were called Christians because they spent so much time talking about Christ. They talked so much about Jesus because they loved him. I once had a girl in my form called Lucy. Her younger sister said to me, "Lucy likes you, Mr Reed, she is always talking about you at home." If our love for Jesus was measured in terms of how much we talked about him I wonder what value would be set upon it.
'Christian' is a grand nickname. The Palestinian Jewish Christians did not want a distinctive name. They were reluctant to break with Judaism. The followers of Jesus were 'of the Way.' It was in danger of becoming just one way to God within Judaism. When the Gentile believers in Antioch were called Christians this did signify a clear break from Judaism. They had a new name.
'Christian' is a grand nickname because it indicates that Christ is central to the new Faith. The believers in Antioch loved Jesus, they wanted to know more about him, they wished to please him and tell others about him. They weren't Grace Baptists with a distinctive doctrinal position, Anglicans with their special link to the state or Roman Catholics - proud of their history and tradition. No, they were Christians because Christ was everything to them.
(E) The Greek mission is authenticated by good works.
Agabus, a prophet, forecasts a famine in the reign of Claudius. So the Antioch Church takes up a collection to help the fellowship in Jerusalem to buy food during a period of high prices brought about by the shortage.
The Jerusalem Church was poor. This dates back to the time when its members sold up all their possessions and distributed to people according to their need. It is clear that such a policy is unsustainable.
However, as we have seen in Acts2v42to47 the practice of having all things in common was vital to prepare the new converts before they were scattered by persecution all over the Roman Empire. So, it is only right that the dispersed church supports their brothers at Jerusalem in their need. The appropriate way of giving is recorded here: The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. v29.
Warren Wiersbe stresses that an important principle is illustrated by the action of the church at Antioch: If people have been a spiritual blessing to us, we should minister to them out of our material possessions. Jewish believers from Jerusalem brought the gospel to Antioch. The church in Jerusalem also sent Barnabas to assist the new cause. The Christians in Antioch had a debt to discharge to their brothers in Jerusalem.
Warren Wiersbe also writes: It is unfortunate when individual Christians ..... forget those who have been a spiritual blessing to them. Yet they do.... The Grace Baptist Churches in Suffolk have lost numerous young people who came to faith through the witness of those causes. The young Christians go to college - get jobs elsewhere - join other fellowships. Do they ever think of going back to the churches of their childhood? Do they care about what becomes of those churches that have haemorrhaged so badly for so long. Many don't!
I am invited to spend every New Year's Eve with John Eley and his wife Janet. John has never forgotten that God used my ministry, many years ago at Pioneer Camp, to bring him to Christ. Mr Peter Chaffey always made a fuss of my poor, old father in the Brockley Prayer Meeting. My father, bent and dribbling - ravaged by Parkinson's disease - couldn't hold a conversation - but Peter was able to make him laugh or smile. Peter never forgot that my father was used by the Holy Spirit to open his eyes and awaken belief in the blessed Saviour.