Acts 11:19 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.
This whole sermon series has been building toward the formulation of this church in Antioch: A Church For All, and we finally here come to the start of this church. This is not so much about a label, as it is about an identity. This leads to our next issue that I call the The Second Struggle for Emerging Next-Gen Ministries: Identity. The first struggle was legitimacy, we’ve gained the right to exist, but now, who are we? What do we exist for?
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Lots of different types of causes for things: Why did the Senators win last night. Because they scored more goals than the other team. Because the defended the power play well, Because they are the team of destiny this year, could be all. The point is that something can have a number of different causes when looking at it form different perspectives. Why were they first called Christians at Antioch?
They were Called Christians … Because People Didn’t Wait for Permission to Speak
Acts 11:19 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.
Notice that, although Luke is placing this incident after Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, verse 19 signals to us that he has messed with the chronology a little to make a point. Luke introduced the movement toward the Gentiles through Peter, because Peter was a key authority in the church, but we find here that Peter was probably not the first to go to the Gentiles with the Gospel. People just went out and told people about Jesus. People went out and told Gentiles about Jesus. The word “Hellenists” in verse 20 is contrasted with the “Jews” in verse 19, so we’re pretty sure that Luke is using it here to refer to actual Greek Greek, Gentiles. They didn’t wait for permission, they wen’t out and found people and told them about Jesus.
And even more, these were “bad” Gentiles. These are the bad Gentiles was talking about a few weeks ago. Cornelius was a good Gentile, a God fearer, donated to the synagogues, well spoken of by all the Jews. Antioch however, was a different story:
The city was proverbial for sexual immorality. Five miles outside of town was the grove of Daphne, where worshipers of Artemis and Apollo pursued their religion of pleasure with temple prostitutes. The Roman satirist Juvenal criticized the moral pollution of Rome by saying that the sewage of the Orontes (a river flowing through Antioch) had for too long been discharged into the Tiber (flowing through Rome). He “meant that Antioch was so corrupt that it was impacting Rome, more than 1,300 miles away”
I remember a few years ago, I was studying these scriptures and thinking about good Gentiles and bad Genitles. Now up till then, OCBC had good gentiles like me. A few non-Chinese who loved and were interested in Chinese culture. Yet Ottawa is not very Chinese. The members of our English congregation do not go to school with or work with only Chinese, the neighbourhood is not. So I asked our Chinese pastor, are we ready for bad Gentiles? His answer was: I think we are, but don’t tell anybody, just preach the gospel to whoever comes in the doors.
They were Called Christians in Antioch … Because God Blessed the Work
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them,
Simply put, unless the Lord builds the house, he who labours on it labours in vain, or as Paul the apostle spoke of the work in Corinth, “I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth. Unless the hand of the Lord was upon their evangelistic efforts, there would b no conversion in Antioch, no Church in Antioch, and nobody to receive this name “Christian”. We need to pray that God’s hand be with us. The great fear of my ministry, the great fear of our church, would be that God’s hand no longer be upon us.
They were Called Christians in Antioch … Because They Were a New People
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Why are they called Christians? Because before this they were called Jews. They were Jews who believed that Jesus is Messiah. Their movement was a Jewish movement. But now, that they have emerged as a multi-ethnic movement, well you needed a new name for them. You can’t just call them Jews any more. Commentator C.K. Barrett ‘the new designation was probably needed when it first became apparent that the believers, who had left their old Gentile way of life, were no more Jews than heathen — in fact, a third race, Christians.’ They are called a new name; “Christian”.
They were Called Christians in Antioch … Because Grace Gathered Them Together
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.
Many commentators, sense that there was a note of concern behind the Jerusalem church’s sending Barnabas to Antioch. Word had gotten back to Jerusalem, “Have you heard what’s going on in Antioch?” “No, what?” “A bunch of laymen are sharing Christ with the pagans, and they’re all meeting together, Jews and Gentiles, as one church!” Alarms went off! Red lights started flashing! It was one thing when the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius, had become a Christian through the preaching of the leading apostle, Peter. That stretched the limit. But when raw pagans from a notoriously immoral place like Antioch started coming into the church through the witness of a bunch of laymen, it was time for the mother church to check things out! So they sent Barnabas. Some of the circumcision crowd might have said, “Make sure that Barnabas gets that Antioch situation under control!”
And so Barabas went and saw the grace of God - he saw that grace of God that had gathered them together, and he exhorted them ALL to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. That’s important. One person does not a movement make. You go to school and there’s only one of you - they are not going to call you Christian, they are going to call you: Dylan, or Candace. Get a few of you together, and you start praying, you start sharing, you start disrupting things on Campus, and suddenly, we’ve got to do something about these people, these Christians.
So Barnabas does the same ministry that we saw Peter doing before, travels to the city, gathering the believers together, affirming them, encouraging them, organizing them. barnabas, the son of encouragement - a good person to go - the church was made of of Jewish people and people from Cyprus, well, Barnabas happened to be a Jewish person who are up in Cyprus. God’s training ground is perfect.
They were Called Christians in Antioch … Because They Were Taught the Way of Christ
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.
They are called Christians because they are taught the way of Christ. The word Christian’s “liitle Christ” or “those belonging to Christ” - “They must have taught about Christ, making sure that the converts knew both the facts and the significance of his life, death, resurrection, exaltation, Spirit-gift, present reign and future coming. Is it because the word ‘Christ’ was constantly on their lips that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. It at least emphasized the Christ-centred nature of discipleship. When we speak of the Way of Christ; we mean at least two things:
- Christ is the Way to the Father: john 14:6 I am the Way the truth the Life, no one come to the Father but by me.
- Christ is the Teacher of a New Way of Life:
Would they call you Christian?
- Do you know jesus as the Way to Life?
- Are you following jesus as the Way of Life?
- Are you living your identity out loud with others?
Would they call you Christian?