Through the Bible in One Year

Day 209

Acts 11:19-30

This section introduces the foundation of the church at Antioch.  It describes an influx of Gentiles into the church as well as Barnabas’s stabilizing influence.  The scattering that happened because of Stephen’s death did not lead the believers to go underground.  They were, however, speaking only to Jews until some of them from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch preaching to non-Jews (as well as to Jews) with great success.  Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem (possibly because he was from Cyprus) to investigate the success.  He is described in Acts 4:36-37 as a generous man.  Here he is further described as a man filled with the Spirit and faith (11:24).  Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch, staging the larger Gentile mission.  At Antioch, believers were first called “Christians” (v. 26).

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.—11:19-26

The New Testament believers did not assume that those who received God’s gifts of forgiveness, spiritual salvation and the baptism in the Holy Spirit would automatically remain true to the Lord.  Temptations and worldly influences could still persuade new believers to turn from their faith and devotion to Christ.  Barnabas gives us an example of how mature believers ought to treat those who are still new in their faith: they should constantly encourage and help them to grow in faith, love and personal friendship with Christ and others in his Church.

During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.—11:27-30

Agabus and some other prophets predicted a great famine.  A great deal of evidence supports such a famine in the reign of Claudius.  Prophets were foundational to the church (Ephesians 2:20) and were more than merely foretellers (1 Corinthians 14:1-3).  Barnabas and Saul carried their gifts to Jerusalem.

Prophets in the New Testament were those spiritual leaders who were uniquely gifted in receiving and communicating direct revelation from God by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  One of their main concerns was the spiritual life and purity of the church.  Under the new covenant (God’s plan of spiritual salvation and a renewed relationship with people through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ), prophets were chosen by God and given power by the Holy Spirit to bring a message from God to his people.

To finish up today we are going to be focusing on the title “Christian” and what it should mean.  At that time, Antioch was perhaps the largest and most important city in the eastern region of the Roman Empire.  As a result of the persecution and scattering of Christians, the gospel message had spread to this city and a strong church had arisen there.  Barnabas and Paul spent s significant amount of time in Antioch teaching and training the believers there.

Up to this point in time, Christ’s followers in the early church called themselves: “believers,” “disciples,” those belonging to “the Way,” “saints,” and the “church.”  Not until the message of Christ spread to Antioch were Jesus’ followers called “Christians”—most likely by people outside the church.  And this term probably originated as an insult to Christ’s followers, but they considered this name as a mark of honor because it directly identified them with Christ.

The word “Christian” (“christianos” in Greek is literally translated as “little Christ”) occurs only three times in the New Testament.  It originally was a term describing devoted servants and followers of Christ who were not afraid to separate themselves from the ungodliness, corruption and immorality in society in order to identify with Christ.  Today the term has become a general name applied to almost anyone who claims to believe in Jesus.  As a result, the term has been nearly emptied of the original New Testament meaning.  It should suggest the name of our Redeemer/Savior or spiritual rescuer and restorer and the idea of our deep personal relationship and devotion to Christ.  It should suggest that we serve and obey him without reservation as our eternal Lord and Savior.  To claim the name “Christian” should be statement that Christ and his Word have become our supreme authority in life and that our aim is to be more like Jesus.  It should also suggest that he is our only source of future hope.  And that is where we will pick up tomorrow as we once again see Peter come to the center of the action.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

2 Chronicles 24-25, Romans 12, Psalm 22:19-31 and Proverbs 20:8-10

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