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God Builds His Church By His Grace & For His Glory

Antioch: A Mini-Series on the Mission  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  49:46
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Lets Pray
Introduction:
Good morning church family!
If you have your Bibles let me invite you to open with me to the book of Acts chapter 11.
That may be a little surprising to you If you have been attending our church for any length of time.
We have been working through the gospel of Mark verse by verse for about a year and a half now… but we are going to take a short four-week break from our normal rhythm of teaching and we are going to turn our attention to the book of Acts.
but more specifically we are going to give our attention to the church at Antioch in the book of Acts.
We do this for a couple reasons.
Firstly, this month marks 7 years since we had the joy and the privilege of starting St. Rose Community Church.
I want to reflect on what God has done… but I want us to do so through the lens of what we see God doing here in the the book of Acts.
Secondly, In four weeks, I will be taking my first ever Sabbatical. After 7 years of getting to pastor this church, the elders and the congregation have graciously extended an opportunity for me to rest, and pray, and prepare for the next season of ministry here at St. Rose.
I was 24 years old when we started gathering together at St. Rose Community Church.
In the last seven years, we have had two beautiful children,
Anne Marie and I just celebrated our 10 year anniversary.
by December, I will have Lord willing, completed my doctorate.
I have had the blessing of being on every mission trip we have every done to both Southeast Asia and South America.
And I have had the joy and privilege of pastoring through a pandemic, a building project, and a hurricane.
It has been an incredible 7 years, but I must admit, I am a little worn. I am little tired.
When the hurricane hit last year, our elders and many in our congregation recognized that I was burning the candle at both ends…
So from September 11th through December 11th, I will not be preaching, but rather I will be sitting under the preaching of other faithful elders and church members in our church. They will be completing the book of Mark over the course of three months. and then I will be returning to the pulpit in December.
I am not leaving the church.
I am not scoping out other job opportunities.
I am taking a short season to rest, reconnect with the Lord, and with my family… so that I can run hard for another 7 years without burning out.
And one of the reasons, I wanted to pause and do this mini-series, is so that I might remind myself and remind you of what God has done in our midst…, and what we are praying God will do over the next seven years.
I want my last four sermons before my Sabbatical… to be a wonderful reflection on the last 7 years and a launching pad into the next 7 years of mission together.
The church at Antioch will help us do that.
The church at Antioch was a church plant with humble beginnings.
It started as a result of the persecution happening in Jerusalem.
People ran for their lives and landed in Antioch where they began to tell people about Jesus.
In Acts chapter 11 through 13, we actually get to see a progression In the church at Antioch.
We get to see them go from being a small band of believers in a big city… to becoming a church planting church.
It was in Antioch where we see the first real blending of different ethnicities into one church.
It was in Antioch where the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians
It was from Antioch where we have the first recorded example of a church sending financial support to help another struggling church.
It was from Antioch where we have the first recorded example of a church intentionally sending out missionaries to unreached places.
It was Antioch who actually sent out the apostle Paul to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire.
So lets turn our attention to their beginnings recorded in Acts chapter 11 And then lets pray for understanding and application of what we see.
Acts 11:19–26 ESV
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.
Lets Pray
There is no pragmatic or practical reason that Christianity should have taken off in Antioch the way that it did.
Its not as if the cultural soil was good for the seed of the gospel to spread.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Greco-Roman world… behind only Alexandria and Rome.
Some estimate about six hundred thousand inhabitants.
It was an incredibly diverse city. It was a big blend of Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians and Indians.
In AD 350, one historian wrote that the city was , “the abode of the gods.”
One modern commentator describes Antioch as, “a cosmopolitan city full of gods”
Pagan religion permeated every aspect of life.
I don’t think we fully grasp how much pagan religion would have been a part of the culture.
Appeasing the pantheon of multiple gods was interwoven Into everything from funerals, to weddings, to medical care, to buying something in the market.
Nothing about Antioch made it easy ground or good soil for sharing the good news about Jesus.
The message of Jesus was unashamedly mono-theistic… which means the message of Christianity was that that there is only one God.
Not only that… The morality of Christianity was diametrically opposed to the cultic prostitution, and the loose sexual ethic, and the drunken parties of the Antioch culture.
In a heavily Roman society that lived for pride, and honor, and for social standing… Christianity worshipped a God who humbled himself to the point of death on a Roman cross and furthermore taught that humility was a desirable virtue.
The message of Jesus was totally and entirely an alien theology in the whole thought world of Antioch.
Yet something incredible began to take place in the city of Antioch.
Christians landed in Antioch who were fleeing the persecution in Jerusalem. And when they landed in Antioch… they began to share the good news of Jesus… and people miraculously listened.
There is a lot to highlight in this passage but the first sentence that I want to jump out at you is verse 21.
I want you to understand the whole passage through the lens of this verse.
In fact, I want you to understand our church past, present and future, through the lens of this verse.
Acts 11:21 ESV
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
the author of Acts is very clear throughout the whole book… that
- the planting of churches,
- the conversion of the lost,
- and the expansion of God’s kingdom…
- is something that God himself accomplishes through his people.
He is playing an active role, but he’s not just playing an active role.… he plays the primary role.
This is the truth made plane in this text and throughout Acts…

Truth #1 God Builds His Church by His Grace (v.21)

It was the hand of the Lord with his people that caused a great number to believe and turn to the Lord.
In fact Peter describes the salvation of the Gentiles in this way…
Acts 11:18 ESV
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Notice how they give the credit to God for the salvation of the gentiles.
Even the act of repentance is actually a good undeserved gift flowing from God to the people for his glory.
From the very first verse of the book of Acts we are meant to see God as the one carrying out a plan.
Acts 1:1 ESV
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,
Luke sets up the whole book of Acts from the beginning with this emphasis. His previous book was about what Jesus began to do and teach.... the implication is that this book is about what all Jesus continues to do and teach.
And Luke continues to emphasize this throughout.
Listen to the description of the first Christian church.
Acts 2:47 ESV
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
when the church was frightened by the threat of persecution listen to what happened in Acts 4.
Acts 4:31 ESV
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Even the persecutors of the disciples in Acts 5 recognized that if this movement was God’s doing.. it could not be stopped.
Acts 5:38–39 ESV
38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
God has a plan that he is carrying out in the world… and he is active in placing his hand on his people for the work of building his church.
In fact, when Barnabas sees the great number of new Christians now joining together in Antioch, he describes what he is seeing in this way…
Acts 11:22–23 (ESV)
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,
Barnabas recognized that what he was seeing in the salvation and the drawing together of all these Antioch Christians was none other then a work of God’s saving grace.
God was being unnecessarily kind…
he was showing favor to the undeserving..
he was saving people who could not save themselves…
he was accomplishing something in a city that was impossible for any man to accomplish…and to think it all started with what seemed like a bad thing.
The Jews in Jerusalem were trying to squash Christianity out.
They stoned Stephen to death for preaching Jesus.
They persisted to arrest and beat Christians thinking that it would slow down this religion… but in their attempts to stop what God was doing…, they only exasperated the spread of Christianity.
This is what God does… God builds his church…
This is what we see in the book of Acts…
This is what we have experienced here in St. Rose Community Church....
I have here with me the minutes from the final business meeting of First Baptist Church of Saint Rose, on August 5th, 2015.
7 years ago the last remaining members of FBC St. Rose gathered together to make an extremely difficult decision.
The church had dwindled to just a handful of people.
They were few, they were weary, and their resources were running out.
In the summer of 2014, I had come here as a guest speaker and there were only 8 people here fore worship.
In the summer of 2015, I came again as a guest speaker and only four people were here for worship.
On August 5th…, they voted to donate their property to the church I was serving at in a last effort to see a thriving Christian community develop here in St. Rose.
That vote on August 5th, seven years ago set into motion a chain of events.
What looked like the death of a Christian witness in this community… actually became the avenue of new life in this community.
I was given the opportunity to help recruit a small team who began to pray and plan weekly for God to start a new church here in an old church building.
I remember very vividly kneeling right here with just a few friends and crying out to God that if it be his will we move to St. Rose and plant this church… he make it very clear to us.
The last 7 years have been a wild ride… And I can say just as Luke describes the movement in Antioch...… the hand of the Lord has been with us.
We have seen over 50 people publicly profess their faith through baptism.
We have seen the church grow from a small group sitting in a circle to what it is today.
In the last seven years.…the message of the Bible has been preached from this pulpit.... We have studied in their entirety the books of Jonah, Habakkuk, Malachi, Haggai, Colossians, Titus, portions of Luke, Isaiah, the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, the book of Acts…. And may we never forget 98 sermons in the book of Romans.
In our community group bible studies we have worked through: Ephesians, Philippians, John, Exodus, Hebrews, 1,2,3 John, 1 Peter, and 1, 2 Thessalonians.
We have added several pastors And a couple staff members.
This semester we have 10 different community group bible studies meeting and working through the book of Galatians in different neighborhoods this fall… some of these neighborhoods we have been praying for for years.
I encourage you at the end of this service to sign up for one of them.
We have been pouring out our resources and time for the mission not just in St. Rose, but in South America, and Southeast Asia as well as here locally.
And, Lord willing, its not going to slow down next year.
Next year, for the first time in our churches history…, long term missionaries, will be commissioned out of our church to Southeast Asia… with hopefully more to come Not long after.
In fact, we will pray for Julio and Becky as they prepare to leave for Southeast Asia this Tuesday and will be gone for a few months as Julio gets passports and visas in order to come back and finish his last semester of seminary before moving full time to help pastor and plant churches in East Timor.
I think that in the next two years, we will be having more serious conversations and putting together timelines and training plans for planting another church here in the metro New Orleans area…
And if we get that opportunity....
If the Lord is to continue to grow us here in St. Rose and our ability to send out disciple-makers to the nations.… we are going to need to remember who to attribute any and all progress to…
Our mission statement here at St. Rose is simple.. We exist to Love the Lord, Make Disciples, and Plant Churches by His Grace and for His Glory.
That “by his grace and for his glory” part is not just throwaway theological words to tack on at the end.
Its the paradigm through which we see our lives and ministry
God gives us undeserved favor.
There is not a single person in Antioch who deserved to be saved.
There was not a single unnamed Christian fleeing from persecution in Antioch who deserved to be used by the Lord.
But because of his great love for us… he saves us.. and he uses us in the salvation of others.
St. Rose Community Church… the hand of the Lord has been on us… he has poured out his grace and he has done things only God can do…
If you are a Christian here this morning.. the hand of the Lord has been on you.
And as we stand as receivers of his great grace… we want to be a community who in turn gives him all the glory.
The church at Antioch has come into being through the preaching of no-name converts running from persecution.
But the movement that God started through them rocked the community so much that word actually got back to the church in Jerusalem.
It was such a report, that the church in Jerusalem wanted to send someone to check things out and to make sure that the movement was legit.
So they sent Barnabas.…
and again what does Barnabas see?
Acts 11:22–23 ESV
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,
Luke says that Barnabas “SAW” the grace of God And he was glad.
How do you SEE the “grace” of God?
How does God’s grace go visible So that it provokes gladness?
Well I believe this is actually exactly what a church is supposed to be.

#2 God Builds His Church for His Glory

or to put it another way.
The church is Grace on Display
It is a community of people that God builds by pouring grace upon upon people in such a way that others see what he has done and is doing… and they in turn give him praise.
We get the grace, he gets the glory.
But how?
What exactly was Barnabas seeing with his own eyes when it says he “saw the grace of God.”
here are at least three ways grace was on display in the lives of the Antioch Christian’s.
Grace was on display in their relationship to God
Barnabas arrived to a city that was previously known for false god worship and immorality.
Antioch was full of people who were enemies of God.
But when Barnabas arrives he found a people whom God had forgiven…
a people who forsook their false gods and now had a real relationship with the one true God.
Verse 21 says that a great many people had turned to the Lord.…
rather than allow these people to keep running to their own destruction.. God had turned them to himself.
This is what the church is… we are a people whom have turned to the Lord… we are walking billboards to the grace of God.
Every time we have a baptism… we are seeing grace on display.
Every time we take the Lord’s Supper and we look around at our fellow brothers and sisters we are seeing grace on display.
If you want to be encouraged this morning, grab a church member you don’t know and ask them.. how did God turn you to himself.
In doing so you will “See the Grace of God” and you will be made glad.
I want you to see the grace of God this morning and be glad.
I have here an excerpt from a facebook message I received from Kelsi Garcia at 8:54 AM on June 8th 2016, j
I finished John yesterday! I was thinking about everything Jesus was doing and all he wanted was to have the people trust him and have faith!....I never fully understood all the sacrifices Jesus made for us to be saved.
I knew he died for us but I didn’t know that a lot of people hated hime, and made fun of him. He didn’t give up, he took the ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross and then raising to prove to everybody that he is who he said he is.
The verse in chapter 15 that says “greater love is no more than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” he was willing to die for us, and all he wants in return is for us to have faith and trust him and his father.... And I do! I have never felt so happy and excited about something like this before, this past week I have just prayed because I was just so happy and I was filled with joy and I just had to pray to God and thank him. - Kelsi Garcia, June 8th, 2016
I also have here an excerpt from an email from Kaleigh Guidry at 9:03 AM on November 23rd, 2016.
She had visited our church one time and sat under a sermon from the book of Acts actually… and this is what she sent me.
I came home and spoke with my partner about how much it moved me and gave me a new purpose, he has decided that if this has changed me to see the light so much, that he wants to join us next time.
I have been open to the message of God for a few months now and have been becoming more spiritual through library books and internet articles. I have gained the belief in God, these past few months,but was unsure what he needed me to do, my purpose. But after coming to church, I found it. And it was simply to follow Him. To keep his praise ever on my lips. To read the Bible and follow him. To not read it as a fairytale. But read it because it is REAL.
These events really happened. It was as if you were talking to me, and only me the entire time. And then I looked around, and every person in that room, felt the same thing. As if you were speaking to only each one of them. That is when I realized, God was talking to me. Straight through you, to me. I was so moved, I couldn't stop the tears. I tried and tried, but they just flowed. A co-worker explained to me that was the Holy Spirit - Kaleigh Guidry, November 23rd 2016
This is grace on display through new relationships with the Lord. Be glad.
But thats not all… the grace receiving and the glory giving doesn’t stop at conversion.
Grace was on display in their relationship to difficulties
Those who went to Antioch with the name of Jesus on their lips… did not go there on a cushy short term trip, take some pictures for instagram, and head back home.
They had no home to return to.
They were fleeing persecution.
Their whole world Had been turned upside down.
The life they had built for themselves was gone.
So how does a Christian respond to that kind of loss?
How does a Christian respond to a new city, with no plan, and no where to stay?
These Christians according to verse 20… went on preaching the Lord Jesus.
There is a particular and a peculiar kind of grace made visible here that Barnabas was witnessing upon his arrival…
The grace God gives to Christians so that they might persevere through difficulties.
Its the kind of grace that flows from the Spirit of God to Christians when nothing is going as planned.
There is an eternal perspective that only God can make possible in the heart of a believers so that even when they have lost everything… they can see the kingdom of God and its expansion to the ends of the earth as the primary objective… and perhaps even the reason for the suffering.
a lot of good things have happened in our church over the last seven years.…but as is true with any ministry and with any life there are always hard things happening as well.
- Church life through the pandemic was not easy.
- Church life through the political and social turmoil of the last two years in our country has not been easy.
- Our church building project during a pandemic was not easy… only to be slammed by a major hurricane and thrust into a year of disaster relief that was not easy.
-Many church members faced loss and difficulty last year with Hurricane Ida that they are still to this day trying to recover from.
Over the last 7 years.
- We have seen people walk away from the faith.
- We have seen loved ones refuse to follow Jesus.
-We have seen new believers persecuted for their faith from their own family members
- We have walked through physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational loss In the lives of church members.
- We have seen beloved church members die of cancer, and COVID, and others walk through dark valleys of depression, and anxiety, and miscarriages, and and divorces.
But through those things… we have also seen a gracious God carry us along.
He has made himself known.
He has made his presence felt in our midst.
The church is grace on display not despite the difficulties… but especially in the difficulties.
Its the difficult things that showcase the supernatural strength that only God can provide to his children.
Together we gain a whole new perspective on our suffering in this world just as the Christians in Acts have.
When the Christians in Acts were beaten down for their faith…, listen to their response.
Acts 5:41–42 ESV
41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
Paul articulates this miracle of grace in the book of Romans.
Romans 5:1–5 ESV
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The church is grace gone visible… not because we are protected from all hardship… but because of the way we miraculous endure hardships for the glory of the Lord.
And that grace is not just shown in individuals… but its shown in how the community bears things together.
One of the things that Barnabas would have immediately noticed… and one of the reasons he was sent to Antioch in the first place… was the report that both Jews and Gentiles had come to faith and were now gathering together in one church.
This leads us to a third way God is glorified in the church.
Grace was on display in their relationship to each other
The big sort of shocking thing about this whole Antioch Christian movement was that some Christians preached not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles in Antioch and they believed.
The racial, ethnic, cultural divide between Jews and Gentiles cannot be overstated… but here in Antioch something broke the barrier.
Something brought people together whom would otherwise never be brought together, and that something was the one Lord Jesus Christ.
Barnabas SAW the grace of God in the supernatural unity of very different people coming together into one church…
and so it is with us today.
Some of my deepest and dearest relationships I have in this church would have never come into being if it were not for the one Lord Jesus who brought us together and binds us together by his great love.
I pray that one of the ways in which God validates his glorious existence in St. Rose is through the robust diverse ,web of relationships that occur in this church between young and old, and black and white, and rich and poor, and single and married, those who are new to Christianity and those who have been Christians since they were 8 years old.
I pray that the diversity of backgrounds in this church is such that it would cause the outside world to scratch their heads at the community life of our church.
We display the genuine power of a saving God for this community…, when we break social and cultural norms to unite around the same Jesus.
If you have been coming to this church for the last several years think about the relationships you have built that would not have been possible without the Lord Jesus.
Think about the people whom you love who are not like you, and are in very different stages of life then you.
That reality is grace made visible to you.
You are not alone, but rather you are surrounded by a diverse web of relationships who not only love you, but you have promised to bear burdens with you and share joys with you.
Again Paul articulates the experience of Christian community between even Jews and Gentiles…
Romans 15:1–7 ESV
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Recap:
God Builds His Church By His Grace
God Builds His Church for His Glory
Grace goes visible in our relationship to God
Grace goes visible in our relationship to our difficulties
Grace goes visible in our relationship to each other.
The God of the universe aims to put himself on display in a broken world by pouring his grace on to local churches like this one.
Ephesians 3:8–13 ESV
8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
We exist by his grace and for his glory.
So how should you respond to this reminder this morning:
Well how did Barnabas urge the Antioch Christians to respond?
Acts 11:23 ESV
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,
Two takeaways:
Be Thankful
I want you to take some time this morning to simply reflect on all of the evidence of God in your life.
Reflect on the ways in which Grace has gone visible.
Repent of the ways you have been discontent, grumbling, and ungrateful…
Ask God that he would help you to see the grace of God in your life and then pray he would make you glad in him.
Be faithful with steadfast purpose
Its such a striking way for Barnabas to exhort this new church.
Its almost as if he anticipates the temptation to lose focus on the primary purpose of the church.
Its almost as if he anticipates a tendency toward distraction.
A proclivity toward discouragement.
And he urges them to be faithful specifically by keeping before them their unchanging purpose.
And as we will see in the coming weeks… that purpose could be summarized in this way.
They existed to Love the Lord… to make disciples… to plant churches… and it was all by his grace and it was all for his glory..
Lets pray that we too would be faithful with steadfast purpose.
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