They were called Christians first in Antioch.
Text: Acts 11:19-30
Verse. 19, “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.”
At the beginning of Acts 8, we learned that Stephen’s martyrdom and the persecution against the Jerusalem church caused many Jews to scatter. Now, we discover in chapter 11 that many of those Jews traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch.
Verse 19 tells us that some of them only shared the gospel with the Jews; and verse 20 tells us that some of them began sharing the Gospel among the Gentiles: “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
In verse 26, we find these words, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” THESE PEOPLE EXEMPLIFIED CHRIST SO MUCH THAT THEY WERE CALLED CHRISTIANS HERE AT ANTIOCH!
It’s worthwhile for us to examine what qualities they possessed that caused those in the region to label them as Christians.
1. They PREACHED the gospel!
What did they do when they got to Antioch? Did they have a pity party? Did they sit around and talk about how bad CNN and the fake news outlets were? Did they get offended that Jerusalem had kicked God our of its city?
They started a church and started spreading the gospel! Do you know what the answer for our country and the world is? It is the gospel! We need to be obedient to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
Look at Acts 11:21 with me, “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.”
Isn’t that wonderful? God’s Word was on their lips and God’s hand was on their work!
The book of Acts is God’s church growth manual! What is God’s plan? Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered preaching and evangelism are his means of bringing people into the kingdom.
It is also interesting to note that these disciples did not have access to an enormous amount of money, or any status in the culture, or clever marketing techniques.
These Christians were harassed and under constant threat of persecution, yet God blessed their efforts to simply and clearly communicate the gospel to their friends and neighbors and anyone they met. Let us never doubt God’s power to save through the simple means of gospel preaching.
True story: September 1985 a celebration at a New Orleans municipal pool. The party around the pool was held to celebrate the first summer in memory without a drowning at any New Orleans city pool. In honor of the occasion, two hundred people gathered, including one hundred certified lifeguards.
As the party was breaking up and the four lifeguards on duty began to clear the pool, they found a fully dressed body in the deep end. They tried to revive Jerome Moody, thirty-one, but it was too late. He had drowned surrounded by lifeguards.
2. They DISCIPLED the converts.
After these men and women believed the gospel, reports of their conversions began filtering back to the church in Jerusalem.
Acts 11:22-23, “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.”
Barnabus spends some time rejoicing with these new believers. I love that the Bible says he was glad when he had seen the grace of God. There should not be anything that brings more joy than seeing God reach down and save someone by His grace.
Acts 11:25-26, “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
Once again, Barnabus is a great example for us. Barnabus is not merely satisfied with seeing conversions; he wants to see the converted become disciples. After all, Jesus commanded all believers to “make disciples” not just converts.
Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
3. They GAVE generously.
The final verses in Acts 11 record an interesting and instructive story that highlights the generosity and compassion of the early church. These believers were not just people of words, but they put their money where their mouth was.
Acts 11:27-30, “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
The famine relief ministry of the church at Antioch reveals a great deal about the character of the early church. These Christians were enormously generous.
The Jerusalem church did not even need to ask them for money; the Antioch Christians simply determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea.
Now think about this! There was wonderful unity in the church. The church in Antioch was predominately Gentile. The church in Jerusalem was Jewish, but both were Christian. And as brothers and sisters in Christ, they supported one another.
Faith always precedes works, but genuine faith always produces good works.