Today we’re skipping ahead a few chapters because I want to show you how what God started in Antioch we continued as Paul and Barnabas were sent out from there to go and take the message of the gospel of Christ to the rest of the world. In every city, the initially preach the gospel among the Jews, but facing opposition from them, they turn their preaching to the Gentiles and find a hearing among the Gentiles. And so when their missionary efforts are concluded they return to Antioch, “14:7 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
The winds of change have blown in Antioch, and now those same winds of change have been blowing throughout the Roman world. Whenever there are winds of change, there is always blowback. And that’s what we have in Acts 15. there is going to be one last push against the idea that Gentiles can be included in the church as they are, and so I’m skipping ahead to this chapter as it is in a very real way, God’s final word on this issue of whether His Church is to be a church for all.
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. Who are we as the people of God? They question were are looking at this morning is what is unique about Antioch that the disciples would first be called Christians there?
Luke records the interesting note that “He became hungry and wanted something to eat” and then he has a vision about food. The entire ethnic makeup of the early church hinged on a hungry person’s daydream about food. How do we know this “vision” is from the Lord? And so a big part of Luke’s purpose in these chapters - and he takes at least three chapters to tell this one story - is to show, step by step, how the Holy Spirit led the church into the conclusion, confirming Peter’s vision.
Jesus saves unlikely people and he does so in spectacular ways, but in every unlikely conversion, there is a personal revelation of Jesus Christ, maybe not one that leaves you blind for three days, but one that makes you see the world through new eyes. Saul thought he was going up to Damascus to arrest these followers of Jesus, but he now it is revealed to him that he is persecuting the Lord himself.
When we say, a church for all, do we actually mean a church for all? The big idea of this section of the book of Acts is how the church goes from a mono-ethnic Jewish church located in Jerusalem, to a multi-ethnic church in Antioch. I had told you that along the way we’d be introduced to five groups of people: the Hebrews, Hellenists, Samaritans, “good” Gentiles, and “bad” Gentiles in this expansion. Yet in the passage today, we’re introduced us to someone who is not singled out because of his ethnic identity, but nevertheless his inclusion in the church is highlighted by Luke. And he is going to press the boundaries of the church even further as we ask the question: When we say, a church for all, do we actually mean a church for all?
The Bible describes each of these troubles in great detail: ignorance, guilt, and weakness. Isaiah 53 declares that when Messiah comes he will bring good news countering these troubles that plague us. The three major Christian holidays (Christmas, Good Friday and Easter) demonstrate that Jesus is the servant of whom Isaiah spoke.
Every once in a while I am asked as a pastor, what is my plan or strategy regarding how to reach ABC type of people, whether it’s university students, young adults, members of our community, high school students, whatever. My answer, I am sure, is always a bit disappointing. What do you mean, what’s my plan? I don’t have one. What I mean by that, is that I don’t have any answers, any program or any event by which we are try to manipulate or contrive the process of outreach. Yet that doesn’t mean that there is no strategy. As we are going to see in this text, there is indeed a very clear strategy for the spontaneous expansion of the church. I believe that if we as a church were to follow this strategy and understand our roles, then we would see people come to know Jesus.
We are being sent to a new mission field - does that mean that we need to change our message? You hear this a lot in ministry, "If we want to reach people, we need to adjust the message to match our modern sensibilities." They were saying this 100 years ago. "Modern man doesn’t believe in these myths." The german school of theology sought to de-mythologize the texts. Theological liberalism battled the fundamentalists in the early 1900’s but while they won some of the seminaries like Harvard and Princeton, they lost the pews. 20 years ago it was John Shelby Spong, “Why Christianity Must change or Die” meaning why we must rid ourselves of the surface meaning of the texts of Scripture and our tradition and find the deeper truer truths - which of course were the same ones of the theological liberals 100 years before. In the past decade you have Brian McClaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”. Today, you have calls for the church to change its sexual ethics, and emphasize the red-letter social justice-y parts of the Bible and not focus so much on the individual sin, and heaven and hell stuff. All of these movements sought to rebrand Christianity and repaint it in the image of the modern ethic. Amazingly, even though the stated motivation of each of these movements was to save the church for the next generation, each of these movements shared one thing in common, and that is … I’ll tell you at the end of the sermon.
Here in Acts 6, we see the first real internal tension in the Jerusalem church. And we’ll see that the tension arises, before the “bad” Gentile’s come in. Before the “good” Gentiles come in. Before the Samaritans come in. It’s a tension that arises between the Hebrew Jews and the Hellenistic Jews. Now, we don’t know how identifiable these two groups were in the church - we don’t know if they had separate services for different languages our churches does, but we do know that they were distinct enough that tensions at times did arise between the groups, and here in Acts six we see the heart of the issue is that one group is feeling neglected, not only feeling - they were being neglected - as if they were not fully part of the priorities of the church.