Acts 11:19-30 | "Power in Partnership"
Public Reading of Scripture [Acts 11:19-30]
Public Reading of Scripture [Acts 11:19-30]
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Introduction to Text
Introduction to Text
23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
What is “the grace of God”?
The grace of God is the favor of God. The blessing of God. The gift of God.
And this grace of God is observable! You can see it! You can see where God is doing a work that only God can do!
Where is the grace of God most visible to the world? The grace of God is most visible to the world as it is seen in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Not the church as an organization, but the church as an organism — The body of people who are collectively known as followers of Jesus, who have been recipients of God’s saving grace, and make the grace of God visible to the world!
Barnabas saw the grace of God, and he saw God’s grace in the salvation that came to a city named Antioch, in a church that the Lord was planting as the message of Jesus was preached there.
Antioch was a strategic city, and in Antioch God planted a strategic church!
How does a church make the grace of God visible to the world?
How is a church known as a place where God is working?
What can we learn by observing the way God worked in and through the planting of the church in Antioch?
I. Evangelizing (Acts 11:19-21)
I. Evangelizing (Acts 11:19-21)
Acts 11:19 shows the grace of God in first getting people to Antioch!
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.
The Lord is continuing a work that began with Stephen. A work that saw the Hellenists, the Greeks, being cared for and ministered to, not only the Jews.
Stephen is mentioned yet again, to remind us that what God begins in Jesus Christ, God will complete in Him. Stephen was murdered because of his testimony about Jesus, but his murder was not in vain.
The persecution that arose because of Stephen became a missions-sending force, because as the people scattered, they scattered the word of God wherever they went! This persecution was a way of God mobilizing His people, and thereby mobilizing the Gospel.
By this time, they travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch.
Antioch was a city in Syria about 300 miles away from Jerusalem.
Rome was the largest city at the time. Alexandria was the second largest. Then, there was Antioch, which gives an idea of how important of a city it was then.
Like many big cities, Antioch was well connected for travel, which made its population very diverse culturally, which also brought a multitude of religions to Antioch.
For the same reasons that the Gospel could easily enter Antioch, made it a perfect place to plant a church and send the Gospel out of Antioch!
The Church in Antioch was formed as a result of evangelism. It wasn’t that these who scattered moved from Jerusalem to Antioch and started a new church there. It wasn’t that the Jerusalem church created a new evangelism program and sent them out for this purpose.
They evangelized — a word that means “they proclaimed the good news” — and they did it as they went, naturally. Because that is what followers of Jesus do! They “go into all the world making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This evangelism is the work of “going” — as you go, making Jesus known.
First, verse 19 tells us, they were proclaiming the gospel only to Jews. Making Jesus known as the Christ, the Messiah!
And this was a natural thing to do, for there was a large Jewish population in Antioch, and those that were forced out of Jerusalem who were Jews would naturally speak with other Jews about Jesus — but their witness was limited only to Jews.
There is a hint of disapproval in verse 19 as the text highlights that they spoke the word to “no one except Jews.”
But Jesus is opening the eyes of his disciples to know that salvation is for more than the Jews, but for all people who would believe in Him.
20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Some who were Greeks, from Cyprus and Cyrene, spoke to the Greeks also. And they spoke about Jesus in a way the Greeks could understand — calling Jesus “Lord.” The Jews understood the word Messiah, or Christ — the Greeks understood the word “Lord.”
The method of speaking about Jesus was adapted to the audience.
Believing that Jesus is Lord is the basic statement of faith. Believing that Jesus is “Lord” means that Jesus is divine — that Jesus is God in human flesh (Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory).
Notice that these men are not named. They do not receive any recognition for what they have done by name. They were like us, ordinary people, but God used them in an an extraordinary way.
They were not seeking to make much of themselves, but to make much of the “Lord Jesus.”
A song by Kari Jobe captures this motive well, a song called “The Cause of Christ.”
It is not fame that I desire Nor stature in my brother's eye I pray it's said about my life That I lived more to build Your name than mine
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
God approved of what these men did. Not speaking of Jesus only to the Jews, but speaking also to the Greeks. And God graced them with his hand.
The “hand of the Lord” is a reference not only to the approval and presence of the Lord, but also to the power of the Lord.
The LORD brought Israel out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders.” (Deut 26:8).
The hand of the Lord brought power to the word of their testimony about Jesus, and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.
Turning to the Lord means turning away from self and all that is not God--Turning away from the idols and false religions to Jesus as Lord.
It is like a magnet that turns and attracts metal pieces to it.
Believing is not merely agreeing with the testimony of Jesus, but believing translates into a turning to the Lord.
Many people say they believe in Jesus, but they have not turned to the Lord. Perhaps we should be careful when we use that word “believers” only to describe those who are in Christ. Believing that Jesus is Lord believes that God raised Jesus from the dead in power, and believes that same power dwells in you by the Holy Spirit, so that you are empowered to turn to the Lord, and follow Him, and worship Him and make His grace known.
This believing and turning is a response to the gospel message.
How can we be a church with an effective gospel witness?
How can we be a church that God blesses?
It is not something we can program or manufacture. Everything that happened so far in the gospel advancing to Antioch was completely out of the disciples’ control.
David Garland points out that:
“the sudden coming of the Spirit, the hostile persecution, the angel’s appearance to a gentile centurion” (Cornelius) was all out of the believer’s control. Just like the Christian message being spread through unnamed, individual Christians traveling across the Roman empire and sharing the Gospel in natural, informal ways. “The church experienced amazing growth without the benefit of impressive buildings or programs and while experiencing harsh persecution. We can learn from their example. The church grows when every believer becomes a gospel-teller.” (Teaching the Text).
This was the grace of God evident in the evangelism of the disciples as they traveled into Antioch, speaking of the Lord Jesus, to Jews and also to Greeks, with a great many believing and turning to the Lord.
II. (Acts 22-24)
II. (Acts 22-24)
22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Jerusalem was the first hub of Gospel advancement, and there was a large church there. They dispatched Barnabas to investigate what they were hearing.
Barnabas himself was from Cyprus by nationality. His name was Joseph but the apostles called him Barnabas which means (son of encouragement). It was Barnabas that sold a field and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4).
The church in Jerusalem sent a man that God had equipped with the gift of encouragement to encourage the new church that was being formed in Antioch.
23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
Barnabas was glad at what he saw. He rejoiced! And he encouraged them.
This word “encouraged” has the meaning of “exhorted.” Exhortation and encouragement go hand-in-hand. He’s “pleading with them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
This “exhortation” is a gift of grace that God gives to some in the body of Christ. (Romans 12:8). It is one thing to teach God’s word, but exhortation urges people to live by it.
Exhortation is part of preaching.
One scripture that helps guide my prayers as I prepare to preach is 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul’s instruction to Timothy:
13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
We begin each sermon by hearing first from God with a public reading of Scripture. Then my work is to not only teach you want God’s word says, but to also exhort you to live by it! To remain faithful to the Lord! This is what I hope to accomplish in my preaching.
My primary audience in my preaching is to you — the church — to remind you of the gospel which we received, in which we stand, and by which we are being saved (1 Cor 15:1-2).
This was what Barnabas did —
“for he was a good man” (Acts 11:24).
What does it man that Barnabas was good?
What makes a person “good”? Only God.
Barnabas was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”
A way of saying that God was present with Him.
Acts 11:24 (ESV)
“…And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
At this point, Barnabas knew that he needed help. He had a gift from God to encourage or exhort the people, but the people needed discipleship. They needed teaching. And Barnabas knew just the person called to help better teach the Gentiles. Saul.
When Saul first came to Jerusalem after Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, and the disciples were afraid of him not believing he was a disciple, it was Barnabas who took Saul and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:27-28).
By being an encourager, Barnabas was also an equipper, going to get Saul to equip him with an opportunity to do what God had gifted him to do.
III. (Acts 25-26)
III. (Acts 25-26)
25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Tarsus was only about 100 miles away from Antioch, whereas Jerusalem was over 300 miles away (Keener). It made sense geographically to search out Saul, whom Barnabas would know was chosen by God to be an instrument for carrying the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Several years have passed since Saul met the Lord until he appears again. It is safe to assume Saul was preaching Jesus in Tarsus and carrying on his ministry work.
Never be impatient with God’s calling. For in the right time, God positioned Saul to be in Tarsus as the Gospel was advancing to Antioch and Barnabas went and found Saul when at a time he was needed in Antioch.
26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
This process of discipleship involved teaching the church, and it went on for a whole year! Planting a church takes time. Discipleship takes time. It is an investment and a process that God blesses.
And it obviously produced fruit. The people in Antioch gave these followers of Jesus a name — “Christians.” The “Christ-people.” Because their way of life was so obviously representative of being followers of Jesus.
IV. (Acts 11:27-30)
IV. (Acts 11:27-30)
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
The many gifts and callings of God are on display in this passage.
The work of unnamed evangelists, the work of an encourager (or exhortation), the work of an apostle and teaching, and now God sends prophets.
Prophets speak God’s message and edify the people. Most often, they gave clear instruction and exhortation based on Scripture so that God’s people could live holy lives and worship the Lord in spirit and truth. At times, prophets would tell of what will happen in the future (Allen Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory).
Agabus appears twice in Acts with a message from God about the future. The first time is here:
28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
Famines were often associated with God’s judgment or tests, and Jesus spoke of times of famine as an opportunity to bear witness for him (Luke 21:13).
This famine was no different. Luke tells us that it took place in the days of Claudius, the Roman Emperor, to confirm that this famine did take place. Agabus is not a false prophet. And the church that God formed in Antioch was the true Church in their witness as a response.
29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Each disciple determined “according to his ability” or “to the degree that anyone was prospering financially” to send relief (or financial aid).
Jesus links a person’s treasure to the heart — and the generosity of a person shows the work on a heart of a person — so in the sending of financial aid, God gives us a way to see the work of His grace on their hearts that they gave.
And they gave willingly to help others in need.
The word “relief” is the same word διακονος, the word for “service” that is used to describe the service of the ministry of the word and the service of prayer, and even the service of waiting tables by the servants (or deacons).
You can see why worship is a service to God and how we can serve in many different ways.
How has God gifted you to serve? In what areas are you prospering that you might serve others?
The new church in Antioch quickly acquired a “missionary spirit” and began sending out — first financial aid, and later missionaries would launch from Antioch. (See NIVAC, 351, 353).
30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
This is the first mention of a group of people called “elders” in the book of Acts. The word for “elder” is πρεσβύτερος, and elders are an important group of people in a local church which Paul will later expound upon along with the roles of deacons.
Just as deacons were delegated duties of service, elders were delegated duties of oversight, and they were the ones entrusted to oversee and manage the funds that were given for the time of need.
Antioch presents several points for us to pray through as a church as we discern what kind of church the Lord would have us to be going forward:
What strategy of evangelism was employed? — A strategy of proclaiming Jesus, as they went, by ordinary people, including all in the hearing of the good news about Jesus.
What strategy of discipleship was employed? — A strategy that made use of God’s gifting — that needed an encouragers to exhort, teachers, prophets, and givers. It was a model of partnership — not only with Barnabas and Saul, but with the Antioch church and the Jerusalem church.
What fruit was observed? — The grace of God. Lives by those who believed the message about Jesus, turned to the Lord, and obeyed what they were taught — generously giving to support those in need, and becoming a church that sent out aid and later missionaries.
Antioch was a strategic city, and there God formed a strategic church.
And it was truly the church in Antioch, that God used to change the world. (see Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary).