Sermon on Acts 11:19-30
Text: Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among 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 church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, 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, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
What would the perfect Christian church look like? Would it be in an idyllic country setting? Would it have a beautiful building with stained glass as far as the eye can see? Would it have a huge organ and choirs? Maybe, you would like to have more of a contemporary service. What if there were programs for all? Would any of these make up a perfect church for you? This morning, we are going to look at a congregation in the city of Antioch in Syria. As we do so, we will see THE CHURCH IN ANTIOCH – A MODEL CHURCH. It was 1. A Church With Good News For All, 2. A Church With A Ministry For All, and 3. A Church With A Heart For All.
Prior to our text, in Acts 7, we have recorded the martyrdom of Stephen, the first person who was put to death for believing in Jesus as their Savior and sharing this message with others. However, God used this tragedy for good. “Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.” (Verse 19) Some of the believers left Jerusalem for fear of their lives. However, this do not stop them from sharing the message about Jesus wherever they went. They spoke to the people they came into contact with. It says that some of them were only telling this message to fellow Jews. Some of them, however, realized that it was not just Jews that needed to hear this good news. “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.” (Verse 20) These people, who were in all likelihood Jews, saw that the gospel message needed to be shared with Greeks that were living in Antioch. They broke through their comfort zone and began to teach them about Jesus. God was gracious to them and blessed their efforts. “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” (Verse 21) Jew or Greek, it didn’t matter. The Lord worked through their message and many people were brought to faith. All needed to hear the message that Jesus sent them out with.
By God’s grace, you and I have also heard God’s Word. I would doubt that there are any here this morning with a Jewish heritage. Yet, God wanted you to know what he has done for you. As a result, he has given us his Word. In that Word, we have heard the law spoken to us in all of its force. We have seen how, time and again, we have failed to live up to God’s standards. We have been unloving toward other people. We have assumed the worst about people rather than the best. We have been lazy. God’s unblinking law points out those sins. It also tells us that, even if we had only sinned one time, we would have been guilty of breaking all of God’s commands. We are told that the penalty for these rebellions is an eternity in hell.
Yet, God, in his love for us, has also made sure that we heard the sweet message of the gospel. There we see our Savior and what he was willing to do for our salvation. He came to the earth to live perfectly in our place. He was always perfectly loving toward other people, even when they weren’t being loving to him. He went out of his way to help people in their hour of need. Jesus showed just how much he loved us as he went to the cross and faced God’s anger against our sins. He has paid the price in full. In God’s sight, we are perfect, because we have been forgiven. This fact is seen clearly in Jesus’ resurrection. By God’s grace, we have been brought to believe in Jesus as our Savior. God saw to it that his Word was shared with us.
Now, out of love, he gives us opportunities to show our thankfulness by the way that we live our lives. He wants us to share this message with all people. This might be a little easier to do with people who look and act like we do. If someone like that comes and hears God’s Word, we can be OK with that. However, what if the person looks different or acts different than what we do? What if, on Sunday morning, a person were to come into our church wearing torn jeans and was barefoot? How would we react to such a person? Would we make them feel welcome or would we all stop and stare at them? Would they be the topic of conversation after the service? May God remind us of his wonderful plan! It says in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “God our Savior . . . wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” May God help us to see all people as he sees them: Sinners, whom Jesus died for, just as he died for us. May God help us to remember that the main purpose of a Christian church is to share this good news with all people.
Things were going well in Antioch. Since the church in Jerusalem was really the mother church of the church in Antioch, they felt responsible for seeing to it that the work in Antioch had proper supervision. “News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” The church sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas was well-known in the church of Jerusalem as a godly man. In Acts 4, it is noted that Barnabas gave generously to the Christians that were in need in Jerusalem. When Saul, whom we know better as Paul, first came to Jerusalem following his conversion, it was Barnabas who welcomed him, helping to remove any suspicions that the believers there may have had. (Acts 9:26,27)
Barnabas was encouraged by the results that were happening in Antioch. No doubt, he pitched right in and was telling others about Jesus. He realized that there was more work than what he and the others could do. So, “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 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.” (Verses 25, 26) Saul had left Jerusalem, because his life had been threatened. The great persecutor of Christianity had become one of its greatest advocates. The Jewish authorities threatened his life, so he went to his hometown of Tarsus, which is in modern-day Turkey. Saul had been there for about eight years, when Barnabas came to get him and bring him back to Antioch to help with the gospel proclamation. God blessed their work. As a side note, it mentions, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Verse 26) God blessed the ministries of Barnabas and Saul.
There is also ministry that is carried out in our congregation, as well. Normally, when we think of ministry, we think of the gospel ministry, that is the full-time work of preaching and teaching the Word of God. That is, indeed, a ministry here. However, it is not the only ministry that is carried out here. The word “ministry” means service to others. There are many ways that we can serve one another. God gives to each one of us different abilities. No one person has all of them. We can use the abilities that God gives for the good of the church. Maybe, we have been given the gift of being a good leader. We can use that in various ways. For example, that gift might be used on the church council. Some have been given mechanical abilities. Those gifts can be used in the upkeep of our facilities. We might have the gift of singing. We can use that in various choirs. If we have been given the gift of teaching, there is Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Perhaps our gift is being a good listener. Are there people who could use someone to be there for them? The fact remains that each of us have been given different abilities by our God. One way that we can thank God for all that he has done for us is to use these gifts in service to one another. May God help us to see the various ministry opportunities that he places in front us and use those talents that he has given us to carry them out.
In the latter part of our text, we have some prophets who came from Jerusalem to Antioch. These men were blessed with having the ability to receive direct communications from God about future events. One of their prophecies caused the group in Antioch to put their faith into action. “One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.” (Verse 28) This famine was going to affect everyone. The believers in Antioch knew that it would affect them. However, they were not only concerned about themselves. They knew that their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem would also be affected by the famine. This would be in addition to the persecution that the believers in Jerusalem were going through. So, moved by the love of Jesus, they did something about it. “The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Verses 29, 30) No one was forced to give something for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem. Their love for Jesus moved them to help out others who were in need.
Love is an earmark of Christianity. John reminded us of this in our epistle lesson, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11) God has loved you and me so much that he was willing to do whatever it took so that we would be with him forever in heaven. One of the ways that we can say “Thank you” to God for the love that he has shown to us is to love those around us.
There are so many ways that we can do this. We can do this within our congregation. Is there someone who can use our help? It may be with a physical thing. Are they having difficulty doing something around the house? How can I help? It may be an emotional thing. Who needs some encouragement? How can I be there for them? Who needs a friend? There are so many ways that we can reflect the love of Jesus to our brothers and sisters in the faith. What about in the community? While it may not be the main purpose of the church to help someone out when they are facing difficulties, it certainly is one way that we can show the love of Jesus to them. There are other opportunities that we have within our church body, such as Christian Aid and Relief. This group exists to help people in need, whether in the United States or around the world. The people in need may have been hit with a horrible storm. They may have no drinking water available to them. We can help this group share the love of Jesus as we support them. The fact is, God gives us many opportunities to show the love that we have for him by having a big heart for others.
In order to be successful, it often helps to have someone that you can study and learn to do what you do better. The athlete may find someone in their chosen sport and study them to see what made them successful. The businessman looks at others in their field and looks for ways to emulate them in their business dealings. God, also, gives us models in his Word that we can learn from. We might study Job and see how we can deal with things when life isn’t going so well for us. We might study the apostle Peter to see an example of a rock-solid faith. This morning, we have the model of the church in Antioch. To be sure, the church was made up of sinners. They didn’t do everything perfectly. However, we can also use them as a model for ourselves. We see them as a church that had a big heart for those who were in need. They were a church that used the people in it to carry out the ministry entrusted to them. Most importantly, we see them as a church that realized that the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ was one that needed to be shared with all. May the Lord bless our study of them and may he help us to use the things that we learn. Amen.
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