Summary: Christian missions at its most basic level is one BEGGAR telling another BEGGAR where to find BREAD.
A Church Of Maximum Impact
Several years ago Time magazine carried a story about a controversy that once raged in a Waterloo, Iowa courthouse over a perplexing question. The question at hand was this: “What is a Christian?” It all started when a local doctor who had been very wealthy died, and when his will was read it was discovered that he had left a large sum of money to be distributed to the Christians in town, specifically—and I quote, “...to persons who believe in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion, and in the Bible, and who are endeavoring to propagate the same.”
Well, when the doctor's will became public, a dispute grew over exactly who in town were Christians and therefore worthy of a share of the doctor’s estate. Suits and countersuits were filed, and eventually the court was given the responsibility of settling the issue. Each of the ministers in town who had staked a claim was called in to testify before the judge to be in order to see if they were all in agreement when it came to exactly what, “Christianity’s fundamental principles” include. There were representatives of all the various denominations, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists. In fact, even a few Unitarians showed up. So, as you can imagine, there was a great difference of opinion in that courtroom about what it means to be a “Christian.”
And today, there is STILL quite a variety of opinion as to what a CHRISTIAN is or is not. Many people say being a Christian has something to do with the country you were born in. Others seem to think the political party you choose determines whether or not you are a Christian. Some people even seem to refer to themselves as Christians by default — they’re not Buddhist or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu—so they must be Christian.
This morning we return to our study in the book of Acts and we’re going to learn about the church in Antioch. Our text that we’ll read in a moment tells us that it was here in Antioch where disciples of Jesus were first called “Christians.” So what was it about these disciples that caused them to be called “Christian?” What was it about this church that those who belonged to this church were known as Christians? The bottom line is that this church was a church of maximum impact. They impacted their community, their city, and their world in a powerful way – so much so that outside observers attached to them the very name of Christ – Christian.
Let’s read our passage and then we’ll discover three identifying characteristics of a church of maximum impact.
11:19Now 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. 20But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When 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, 24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and 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.
Luke first introduces us to the church in Antioch here in chapter 11 of Acts. He will return to talking about this church in chapters 13, 14, 15, and 18. What we will discover in the coming weeks is that it was from the Antioch church - not the Jerusalem church - that the great missionary movement of the 1st century finds it's genesis. They were without a doubt a church on mission. So we would do well to understand the makeup and character of this church if we are going to be a church on mission as well.
First a little bit about the actual city of Antioch. Antioch was 300 miles north of Jerusalem. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire - behind only Rome and Alexandria. It had an estimated population at this time of approximately 500,000 people. A mid-sized city in our day, but an absolute mega-city in Ancient times. Situated on the Orontes River which gave it easy access to the Mediterranean Sea. This made it a major trade city, yet it was far enough inland that it was able to serve as a military outpost for the rule of Syria by the Romans. Antioch was strong commercial city.