The Hand of the Lord-Part II
The wonderful truths of Scripture teach us that God is the one who will build His church. We Jesus Christ is the central portion of the preaching of the gospel God will grow his church. The beautiful truth of this is, the hand of the Lord Grows His church, not the preachers hand or the congregations hand but God’s hand. He is the One who saves and He is the One who adds members to His kingdom and we are His servants in His work. The Hand of the Lord has been Growing His Church and even today He is growing His Church. Something we need to keep in mind behind this reality that God’s hand is growing the church is the fact that He is the One working and we as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ need to respond to this work of the Lord through celebration and encouragement. We will see how this works in our study this morning as we look at The hand of the Lord in Growing His Church.
The Hand of the Lord in Growing His Church
The Hand of the Lord in Growing His Church
If your have your Bibles turn with me to Acts 11:19-30.
So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 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. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. 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. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
Now we are in the city of Antioch and we found last week that this is the third largest city in the Roman Empire. The gospel is spreading out of Israel’s boarders and it is going to the Gentiles. The church is growing by leaps and bounds and all of this is due to God’s Sovereign work.
The hand of the Lord was also with those who were to confirm this was God's work. In verse 22, "The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch." The church was not growing in a vacuum. People were not just out doing their own thing. Word of the gospel spreading through Antioch reached the hub of the Christian church, in Jerusalem. When they heard about this they sent Barnabas out to Antioch to investigate and corroborate what was happening in the city of Antioch. Barnabas was a likely candidate because he was from Cyprus. He was more then likely familiar with the area seeing as how he was from the Island of Cyprus and when they would go to the main land Antioch would have been the port of choose since it was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was pretty much a strait shot to Antioch from Cyprus so why wouldn't he have gone there when he came to the main land.
When Barnabas arrived and he witnessed or saw with his own eyes what God was doing in this city he rejoiced. He was overjoyed to see these large numbers of people trusting in the Lord. The Hand of the Lord at Work in a pagan city like Antioch sparked a celebration.
The Hand of Lord Sparks Celebration
The Hand of Lord Sparks Celebration
Witnessing the Hand of the Lord at work in people being saved from Hell should be a time of rejoicing it should be a time to celebrate. This is the proper attitude when God is at work. In fact the Scripture teaches there should be rejoicing over those sinner who repent of their sin. This is the Hand of the Lord at work, this is amazing grace. There is nothing greater then knowing someone has been plucked out of the fiery pits of hell. Especially those who have already experienced this same grace. What is unique here is that Barnabas is rejoicing not just over sinners being saved by God's grace but the Gentiles were being saved from damnation. Luke seems to have a deep understanding of the joy that is sparked by a sinner coming to repentance. In his gospel he is the only one who records the parables of the lost things that we find in Luke 15.
Luke 15 is the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. Each of these were told masterfully be The Master. There are some similarities in each of the parables. Each person in the parable lost something but it was something valuable to the owner. The first parable, was a rhetorical question directed at the audience for the purpose of making them think about their own livelihood. Jesus asks them in verse 4, "what man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing." There is joy in finding what is lost. Not only is their joy in finding what is lost but verse 6 Jesus says the one with the lost sheep celebrates and calls his neighbors to come celebrate with him. The same goes for the coin the woman loses in verse 8-10. She lights a lamp and searches thoroughly until she finds it. Now this is not just loosing a penny here it is misplacing a weeks salary. It hurts when it is missing. What does she do when she finds it, celebrates and calls her friends and neighbors together to celebrate with her. Verse 7 and 10 give us the comparison, verse 7 tells us, "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." And verse 10, "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Repentance leads to rejoicing, Salvation is reason to celebrate.
The Prodigal Son, the one who asked his father for his inheritance while his father was alive pretty much telling his father I wish you were dead. Took the inheritance and blew it all on loose living, chasing after the decadence of this dark and cruel world following after the lusts of his heart until he hit rock bottom and found himself in the most foul of places for an Israelite, feeding pigs and starving to the point that he would have gladly eaten the pigs slop until he came to his senses and returned home to his father begging forgiveness and asking to be a hired hand. What did his father do when he saw him coming. Verse 20, "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." His father didn't even wait for the son to speak, he didn't wait on the speech the son had planned and the proposal the son had for the father. The father through mercy and grace provide for the son what he didn't deserve, reinstatement in to the family again and he kicked it off with a celebration. This is a beautiful picture of what God does for us and what happens when a sinner repents. If this is how God reacts to a sinners repentance than so should we. That is what Barnabas does when he enters the city of Antioch and witnesses with his own eyes how the hand of the Lord is bringing considerable numbers to the church. This is an amazing event to witness.
We need to have this same mentality this same attitude when it comes to the salvation of the lost and even if those who are saved are people we don't like. We should be encouraged by God’s work in and through these people. Barnabas was encouraged by it that is why he rejoiced that is why he celebrated. It was because he witnessed God at work in a people outside the boarders of Israel and to a people group that were at one point considered unclean by the Israelites.
I am always struck by the stories of people who's family members were murdered and the family members of the deceased go to the murderer and they forgive the person without the person even asking for it or demonstrating any remorse. Their only intention is to see the murder saved. They desire what God desires the repentance of sinners which is followed by a celebration. It is truly self-righteous to think a person doesn't deserve to be saved, it is self-righteous to think you wouldn't give the gospel to someone because of their lifestyle. Or to think after someone you have had issues with comes to you and says guess what, Jesus has changed my heart, I am no longer the sinner I once was now I am going to Heaven because He is my King and Savior. You smile and walk away thinking why him or her. That is not the attitude any believer should ever have when a sinner comes to repentance, the attitude we are to have is one of rejoicing and celebration.
This is what the hand of the Lord has done in the 1 century church and that is still what God is doing today in His Church. He is growing His church bringing people to repentance and this should spark a celebration in our lives and in the lives of those who God has brought in to His family. In a sense we do this when it comes to Baptism. Baptism is a physical display of a persons trust in Christ. The going underwater and coming back out is symbolic of the believer being buried and rising out of the water he or she is symbolically clean. You identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and when you come up it is a sign of the hope you have in Christ that you have eternal life in Him. It is a celebration.
The Hand of the Lord Sparks a Celebration in the growth of His Church His hand is also seen in Encouragement.
The Hand of the Lord seen in Encouragement
The Hand of the Lord seen in Encouragement
Once Barnabas noticed what God was doing in Antioch not only did he rejoice but he also went right into action and began to encourage these believers and it wasn’t just an add-a-boy and a slap on the back but a persuasion to stay the course they have just begun. Now look these people are in Antioch, a big city with a lot that can sway them from trusting God. As well as their family and friends ridiculing them for not continuing to go to the Daphnae temple or not being involved in all the horrific entertainment they are involved in. Barnabas saw that these people came to know the Lord and with strong determination he told them to stick with the Lord.
Now look these people are new believers in Antioch. This is new to them, all they have ever known is the sin and debauchery of the old ways and the ways of the heathens of the city. Now all of a sudden they become a part of this new sect of Judaism that is sweeping their city which is different even for the Jews. So they need to be encouraged not to fall back and not to be scared off by the persecution that can and probably has arisen from both non-believing Greeks as well as the Judaizers.
This is the key to encouragement, Barnabas is not just going to them and saying buck up things will get better, or don't listen to their negativity, think positive thoughts and positive things will happen to you and for you. No, what he is doing is he is examining how they are living and he sees that they are living by faith and they are trusting in the Lord. He is encouraging them in the realm of look you put that old life away for this new one continue living in it.
The Greek word here for encourage means, "to strongly support someone in their actions or in their response."
These people knowing the little that they do about the Scripture, know enough on what is godly and what isn't. They have moved away from going to the brothels and the temple of Daphnae and put away the spectacles that are the gladiator fights and instead they began to meet for church services. They began to worship God and Jesus Christ. This is what Barnabas is seeing. These Greeks who knew nothing of God and Jesus Christ trusting Him completely.
Paul provides the same kind of encouragement, he tells the Ephesian church;
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The word implore same Greek word, it is encouragement. What is the encouragement for; "walking in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." All to often people think of encouragement as just lifting someone up out of depressed state. People at times are looking for attention and purposefully put themselves in this kind of state just for the encouragement of don't worry things will get better. That is not the encouragement Barnabas is stating and Paul mentions it is an encouragement to continue on your path. It doesn't necessarily have to come when hard times hit, it should come before then. Mature believers need this because there are times things seems like they are getting rough but we need to hear from Scripture and from others, "keep fighting the good fight, keep running the race."
These are Paul’s words to his protege Timothy. Both letters Paul writes to Timothy are for encouragement and instruction. Timothy is a pastor in the church in Ephesus and Timothy need encouragement because he has a tough task ahead, false teaching is entering the church. So Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18-20
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.
So Paul is providing encouragement to Timothy by telling him to fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience. He doesn’t want Timothy to go the path of those like Hymenaeus and Alexander but to stay true to God. He says this in Chapter 1 and again in chapter 6 Paul reminds Timothy in 6:12
Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Paul also tells his protege Timothy in his last letter to him and one of his last letters before his execution;
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Paul provides a charge to Timothy and this charge goes out to any and all ministers of the Gospel, "preach the word." I love it, and he is to be ready in season and out of season. Whether in the pulpit or on the street or around the dinner table, preach it. And here is the purpose of the preaching, there are three words here but they all have one purpose. Reprove, is to point out someones guilt or sin, to rebuke is to strongly warn someone of what they are doing is sin, and to exhort is to point the person to an action in respect to godliness. Now the end of this verse is important, 'with great patience and instruction. This means it is not easy to do but this is what people need to hear and how Timothy is to proclaim the truth of God's Word, reprove, rebuke, and exhort enduring the hardships that come with that. This is an encouragement for Timothy himself. Keep on going and fulfill you ministry.
Paul before his lengthy close to the letter writes this to Timothy,
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Paul sees his life as one that honored God and chased after his holiness and now as an encouragement to his true child in the faith he tells him, imitate me and just as I have fought the good fight and kept the faith you to do the same. We need to be encouraged in our walk with the Lord. New believers need that support system and even pastors need it as well. That is why I enjoy the pastors prayer every month, it is a time when we can pray for one another and encourage one another to keep fighting the good fight.
Barnabas was encouraging the people in Antioch to continue to fight the good fight and to keep running the race. The purpose for his encouragement is spelled out at the end of verse 23, 'with resolute heart' that is with determination, 'to remain true to the Lord.' These people are faithful to God, and Barnabas wants them to continue in their faithfulness to God because there is so much in this world that can turn a new convert or even a seasoned convert from staying faithful. So Barnabas wants them to remain in God to be determined to stay there, we all need this kind of encouragement.
Now we have found that God's hand is at work in all that is going on in Antioch and even in the celebration and encouragement of the believers, now we will look at how the hand of the Lord Motivates this work.
The Hand of the Lord Motivates
The Hand of the Lord Motivates
In verse 24 Luke writes, "for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord." So we see Barnabas' character here, he is a good man, this was not just how he was this was because of two important elements, first he was full of the Holy Spirit. This means he was fully under the control of the Holy Spirit. He yielded himself up to God completely and was not chasing after his own desires and his own exaltation. When a person is full of the Holy Spirit this means all that they do is not of their own control.
Paul provides a great explanation of this filling in Ephesians 5:15-21
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Here is the point of verse 18, when you are drunk with wine you are under the influence of alcohol, it is an act of excessive sinfulness. What is the contrast here to be filled with the Holy Spirit, do not be under the influence of sin, controlled by your sin but be under the control of the Holy Spirit. I love the last of these three verse, the way to express this is not through the things of the world, worldly entertainment and worldly thinking or even being engulfed in the things of the world. The way to do this and when you filled with the Holy Spirit, when we speak to one another this is what comes our, psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Keep that in mind God knows your heart so if you are just doing things before men for men to see them your are not hiding anything. Your also not being filled with the Holy Spirit if you do that because the Holy Spirit is the One who moves your heart to praise God.
If you are truly filled with the Spirit you will also find yourself thanking God, verse 20, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;" Are you a thankful person, always giving thanks to the Lord for all things. Before you answer I have another question for you, Does anyone complain, what do you complain about? Is your complaining directed to God? If you are continuously complaining about how unfair this is or how unfair that is, how can you come to God being filled with the Spirit and thanking Him for all things. It doesn't work? So are you filled with the Spirit and thankful to God in all things.
Are you subject to one another in the fear of Christ. This means we are subject to Christ, in Submission to Him as King and because we are subject to Him we also naturally are subject to one another. We don't serve ourselves but we serve Him in our serves to one another. The only way this is genuine is if we are filled with the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to direct and guide us. He does this work and Barnabas had this filling, that is how he had the character that was viewed by those in Antioch, he was a good man, and the deeds of the Spirit were evident in him and his faith was on display. What motivated him wasn't man's exaltation, it wasn't money, it wasn't being respected by all or even having a following. His motivation was Jesus Christ, through the power or the Holy Spirit who worked mightily in and through him.
His life was also an encouragement. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and faith was God working in him and this motivation was seen by these new converts and they were encouraged by his life and faith. Because he was lead by the Holy Spirit and it was evident to those he was working with. You don’t have to be gifted in encouragement to encourage someone all you need is to be filled with the Holy Sprit and faith, that is motivation enough to encourage others.
This is the hand of the Lord in Antioch and the hand of the Lord in Barnabas, how is the hand of the Lord working in your life now.