Summary: EASTER 6(B) - May 5, 2002 - God’s church is called Christian because it is given good news for all and it is given a ministry for all.
GOD’S CHURCH IS CALLED CHRISTIAN
Acts 11:19-26 - May 6, 2002
19Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20Some 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. 21The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and 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.
Dearest Fellow-Redeemed and Saints in the Lord:
In the church of God the early believers were called disciples; and the men whom God had chosen to carry out His message were first called apostles, ones who were sent out. We go back to the term disciples and we find the meaning of that term to be a learner or a scholar. So it was that the early Christians were scholars, or they were people who studied God’s Word. Yet, if you noticed in our text, it made no difference what they called themselves or how much they studied God’s Word or listened to it; but what would determine their title and what they were called would be by their actions. It has not changed over the centuries. People look at what people do and often give them a title or a name or something else because of what they see them do.
So it was at the very end of our text. In the city of Antioch we find that the people of God were first called Christians, not because they were scholars, not because they were learners; but because of their actions--that they had followed Christ, the Teacher of the Way. It reminds us of Matthew when he writes: "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven"(MATTHEW 5:16). So here it happened that as these people had lived according to the teachings of Jesus, as they had followed Him and believed in Him because of His resurrection, they were called Christians.
That is our theme--God’s Church, His people, are called Christians. What does that mean? It means a number of things: I. The Christian church is given and provided with good news for all; and II. The Christian church is also provided with a ministry for all.
I. The Church is given good news for all
We learn how the church of God spread. Our text began by saying: "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled." Stephen was the first person, at least that the Bible records for us, put to death because of his faith in Christ. He wasn’t called a Christian yet, but that comes a little later. But he was a disciple, a learner, and a studier of God’s Word. Because he spoke about Jesus’ death and resurrection and accused the crowd of putting Jesus to death, he too was put to death. Because of that, the church faced great persecution; and they left. Jerusalem and the surrounding area wasn’t a pleasant place to live anymore. They left behind their families and their friends. We are told, because of their persecution, they trav-eled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, Phoenicia to the northwest, Cyprus (an island) even farther away, and Antioch (a great town of civilization). Antioch was second only to Rome and Antioch in size, wealth, and power.
What did they do? They left behind their families and friends and traveled that far telling the message only to the Jews. They took with them the message of salvation. These Jews, these believers now, had been in Jerusalem. They saw Jesus come in on Palm Sunday, and the crowds shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" They saw Jesus before Pilate. They saw Jesus on the cross, and they saw Him laid to rest in the grave. More importantly, they saw Him come back to life. Now they were able to go to those places, to places where the believers had not been in Jerusalem, and tell them all these things, the good news that was for them.