Summary: This is the second sermon in the series "Becoming A Contagious Congregation, A Study of the Church at Antioch".
There was something special about the church at Antioch. We’ve already seen (in the first sermon in this series) that God’s hand was on them because they were a praying, Spirit-filled congregation.
Notice what Luke says about the way Barnabas perceived the church at Antioch. In Acts 11:23 it says that Barnabas saw evidence of the grace of God there.
In the first sermon of this series we learned about God’s power being an essential ingredient for "Becoming A Contagious Congregation". In this sermon let’s look at the essential of God’s grace.
The word "grace" appears 170 times in scripture. From it’s first mention in Genesis 6:8 when "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord", to John’s benediction, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen", in Revelation 22:21, grace is a special word in the Bible.
The word has to do with favor, specifically, God’s favor. The church at Antioch had God’s favor. That’s why they were contagious. Acts 11:24 indicates that at Antioch, "a great many people were added to the Lord". (NKJV)
So I want to talk about grace in this sermon, and how it makes us contagious. It takes God’s grace to draw people to Christ. I want us to see that any church can become a church God favors.
How did Barnabas "see the grace of God" at Antioch?
Up to this time the gospel was being shared mainly with "the Jews only". (v. 19) Now, in Antioch, men outside the circle of official leaders begin to share the gospel - and to share it with Greeks!
For me, that’s a two-fold indication of why God’s grace was imparted to this church. The church members didn’t leave the work of witnessing to the "ordained", and when they did share the gospel, it wasn’t exclusive.
A contagious congregation is built on teamwork. It’s not about pastors and their staffs winning everybody to Christ, its about every-member evangelism.
Research has shown that people no longer primarily attend church for the worship, instruction, and spiritual help they need. They attend for the most part if there’s something in it for them. That "something" often takes the form of caring relationships. Of course, if we can get them here through caring relationships we will then provide avenues for worship, instruction, and the spritual care they need - but we must first get them here!
If you will complete a study of the people Jesus helped during His public ministry you will notice that 95% of them were brought to Jesus or influenced to go to Jesus by someone else! Remarkable! Friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, bringing their friends to Jesus! The formula hasn’t changed. It worked in the gospels, worked at Antioch, and it will work in the 21st Century!
God will favor a church with individual members who make it a priority to share the Good News - especially if they share it inclusively. The Christians at Antioch didn’t share the Good News only with Jews, although that had been the norm up until then. Since I just preached about this a month ago from Acts 10 and the incident with Simon Peter I won’t go into again here. But don’t forget what we learned from the sermon "Table Manners".
Now let me make another observation about why God favored the church at Antioch. They persevered in times of persecution. The church at Antioch was initially formed by folks fleeing persecution. (Acts 11:19)
Marshall Shelley, editor of Leadership magazine tells of a conversation with a government official of the country of Jordan in the Middle East. He asked the government minister if the people of his nation would ever be free to change their religion.
"People are free to convert," the diplomat said.
"But it’s illegal for a Muslim to become a Christian," one of the journalists traveling with Shelley objected.
"People are free to convert, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences," he said, evenly. "If you want to convert to a new faith, and it’s that important to you, shouldn’t you be willing to suffer and even to die for that faith?"
Shelley comments, "The logic was breathtaking. I’d just never heard anyone put it quite so directly. Freedom - to die."
Well the Christians at Antioch were free to die also. They could have left Jerusalem licking their wounds and determined not to get caught in that bind again. They could have decided never to mention the name of Jesus. But they did quite the contrary!
I believe it is evident in church history that God blesses the church that will persevere despite obstacles.
Here in America we have freedom of worship. But even now those rights are gradually eroding. Churches in some locations have to put up with unbelievable pressures from city hall to confirm to unreasonable zoning demands. Christians are told by some employers they dare not share their faith in Christ on the job. School children are increasingly facing an atmosphere of anti-Chrisitan rhetoric.