It Happened at Antioch

(I was off from preaching last week, but to keep up with our study from Acts, here is a bit of a devotional on last week’s Scripture passage.  Enjoy!)

Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. 27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

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The name “Christian” brings up all kinds of thoughts. To those who are Christian, it’s a title proudly embraced because it identifies us with our Savior and encourages us to follow Jesus Christ. To those outside the Christian community, however, it brings up all kinds of other thoughts. For some, the title Christian means we’re hypocrites and Bible-thumpers. To others, we’re the enemy of modern culture. We’re enforcers of rules. The morality police. The gnarled finger-pointers, always out there ruining everyone’s fun…or trying to. We’re the people they avoid at parties because we seem to be God-ordained buzz-kills.

Certainly our culture is presently engaged in an all-out war against Christianity because our God poses the biggest threat. Why? Because deep down, people who hate God all kind of know that our God is the One True God and they resent His existence.

Jesus said,  John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ 26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

No one is out there persecuting followers of Allah/the prophet Muhammad, except perhaps other followers of Allah/the prophet Muhammad (go figure!). No one is out there persecuting Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Buddhists or Hindus. But say the word Christian (or Jew), and suddenly the world is against you. Jews have been persecuted far longer than Christians, but we ought to belong to the same club, even if many of my Jewish friends don’t yet realize Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah.

But one thing we can say about genuine Christians is that we need to stick together and help each other. That’s how it’s been since Christians were first called Christian. And it happened first at Antioch.

In today’s passage of Scripture, there are a few notable things about that happening place called Antioch.

  1. Antioch was the place where Jews and Gentiles heard the Gospel preached with equal eagerness. And God grew their numbers for it, particularly among the Gentiles.
  2. It got the attention of the Church in Jerusalem since they began to see how God was expanding the Gospel to the Gentile world, literally the ends of their known earth. Just as Jesus said.
  3. Barnabas who had been an instrumental encourager of Paul/Saul was commissioned to check it out and make sure it was legit. And it was.
  4. Luke records for us that Christians were first called that at Antioch, and notably only after both Jews and Gentiles stood on level ground at the foot of the Cross. Gentiles were not called Christian while Jews were still Jews with a little Jesus accessorizing. They weren’t 2 co-equal but totally separate branches of God-fearers. Jews were not called Christian as a replacement for their Judaism. They were simultaneously fully Jewish by birth and as followers of Jesus, fully Christian, by being born again into a completed faith.
  5. Christians aren’t Christian in name only. They show their Christianity by what they do. In this case, Christians (having heard that a famine was coming) rallied together to provide for the neediest among them: those back in Judea whose Christianity may have cost them their livelihood or whose sheer numbers of widows and orphans were greatest. The persecution was real and the consequences for those in Judea were dire, especially since the scattering of the believing community left them without safety in numbers. The believers remaining in Judea were at the epicenter of persecution and needed help from the larger body.

Questions for further thought:

  1. So where are you today? Are you a Christian in name only or do you show your faith by what you do? (James 2:18)
  2. Divide and conquer is typically a sure-fire strategy for defeating the ones divided. Scattering geographically divided the Body of Christ by space and location.ordinary people sm Yet, those bold believers found a way to continually preach the Good News and that created new community wherever they went. (Luke 8:16)
  3. In our day and age, geography isn’t how we’re scattered. We’re alone in a crowd. Our faith has been driven inward—it has become privatized. How is this more effective at dividing and defeating us?  How does individualism (division by space and location) seek to destroy the idea of community (Hebrews 10:25)?  How does privatized Christianity disguise our numbers?
  4. Why do you think that the community of faith wasn’t called Christian until it was both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews)?




Categories Articles and Devotionals, Chapel Worship/News, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on May 30, 2015

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