Summary: Believers were called Christians first at Antioch. What are the characteristics that made this church great.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 22
“Living Up to the Name”
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. (20) But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. (21) And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. (22) Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. (23) When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. (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) Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. (26) And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (27) And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. (28) Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. (29)Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. (30) This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul”. (NKJV)
Prior to this believers had been called several things. The first word used to describe them was “disciples.” They were disciples of their Master. They were disciples or “learners” after their master Jesus. That name prevailed throughout the ministry of Jesus.
Afterward they were called “saints.” Jesus gave them this word, calling them literally “the holy ones, or the set apart ones.” A saint is not one who is perfect. Not one who has been credited with so many miracles as in the Catholic understanding of the word. A saint is one who is committed to or devoted to God, which are all the followers of Jesus Christ.
They were called “believers.” This does not refer only to an intellectual adherence to a set of facts, but to a joyous reception to the gospel.
They were called “witnesses.” Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses..” (Acts 1:8). They were to be witnesses of what they had seen and heard, of the truth about Jesus Christ to the rest of the world.
It is in Antioch that for the first time the followers of Jesus are called “Christians.” The word means “Christ’s ones’ or “Christ’s people” or “belonging to Christ.” Some believe that it was intended as a sneer, an insult. But once given to them, it was felt to be too appropriate, too beautiful, too dear, to be ever allowed to die.
Here for the very first time these, disciples, saints, believers, witnesses, are called Christians. No longer is the church considered a sect of Judaism. The church is recognized as being distinct from Israel
It is somewhat amazing to recognize that it is the city of Antioch where the disciples are first called Christians. Antioch was a city that was noted for it depravity and wickedness. But it was Antioch, which was chosen to be the birthplace of foreign missions. Antioch was to have some of the greatest preachers who ever lived for over four hundred years, in the first century, Barnabas, Paul, Peter; in the second century, Ignatius and Theophilus; in the third and fourth, Lucian, Theodore, Chrysostom, and Theordoret. God’s light often shines brightest against a dark background.
I. THE EVANGELISM OF THE CHURCH vv 19-21
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. (20) But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. (21) And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
A. THE MEANS OF THE SPREAD OF THE GOSPEL
In this passage three different Greek words are used for witnessing and sharing the Gospel. They show us as believers how to go about sharing the Word.
1. There is the word translated “preaching” in verse 19 (lalountes). This word really means “speaking” as in simple sharing of conversation with people. As the believers were scattered by the persecution they “spoke the word,” shared Christ in their ordinary conversation. Although seem to have confined themselves to people like themselves. This could have been the result of a cultural block or it may have been as simple as a language barrier.