Summary: I want to make the illustration of what it means to go viral on the internet. This happens all the time because people of our generation practically live on the web. As we continue in Acts chapter 11 we see that the church had already grown very rapidly.
There’s a saying online when something gets really popular, that it goes “viral”. Not too long ago there a was 4 minute video posted on Youtube by a fellow named Jefferson Bethke. It was poem entitled, “Why I hate religion but Love Jesus”. In less than two years it was watched more than 26 million times. Something that would have been impossible even 20 years ago. And now there’s a book inspired by the poem. In our culture everything including Christianity becomes an industry.
I won’t get into the details of the poem but I want to make the illustration of what it means to go viral on the internet. This happens all the time because people of our generation practically live on the web.
As we continue in Acts chapter 11 we see that the church had already grown very rapidly, but now it is going to go viral in the first century.
The numbers we see of people getting saved and the growth of the church in a day when there wasn’t even much written material around, and it was carried by horse or boat at the fastest and farthest, I think these numbers probably would compete with what we see online with these kinds of things today.
Peter has just reported back to the Jerusalem church how he saw the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit just like they did at Pentcost. Peter’s last words to the Jerusalem group are found in verses 17 and 18 of chapter 11. “Since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way. When the others heard this they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Again I would note, there is no mention of them praying a salvation prayer, but repentance is mentioned.
Now here in verse 19 of chapter 11 we see the masterful design of God’s plan beginning to unfold. Remember when Stephen was stoned, it sparked an incredible persecution of believers to the extent that all the believers except the Apostles fled out of Jerusalem. Now here it tells us where they went – as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. Antioch being the farthest away at about 500 miles or about a ten to twenty day journey by their modes of transportation. So to put it into context, it would be like us going farther than from one end of this continent to the other by car.
Now it says they only spoke to the Jews about Jesus. No one expected that this gift of salvation was for anyone else besides the Jews, they were God’s chosen people, to whom the Messiah would be sent.
Now there were already Jewish settlements in Gentile lands from the pre-Christ Diaspora or dispersion of the Jews several centuries earlier, and for the most part these would have been Greek speaking, or Hellenist Jews.
Those coming from Jerusalem would have spoken primarily Aramaic.
So now we see the word of Jesus Christ going viral through the testimony of these people that had been dispersed, and in verse 21 it says a great many believed and turned to the Lord, another way of saying, repented.
Word of this got back to the now small but powerful group still left in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch to see what was happening. Barnabas saw what was going on and he encouraged them to keep the faith and the church continued to grow.
So Barnabas went further up the road to Tarsus to get Saul or Paul, and bring him back to Antioch. For a whole year they taught these new believers (and my friends, that would have been everyday), and it was here in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians, which literally means follower of Christ.
This is significant. These followers of Christ were becoming distinguished from the rest of the Jews and the unbelieving people who probably were the ones that called them by this title. That word Christian has really lost its meaning over the years, and gets thrown around a lot. At that point in time, it was a very distinguishing label of people who followed Jesus teachings at the risk of their own life. Really the only people who have a right to call themselves Christians in the biblical sense are those who sacrificially follow Jesus.
But today, over 70% of Americans anyway call themselves Christians, but over half of them don’t read the Bible or go to church of any kind, so are they really Christians? Are you really a democrat or republican if all you did was vote?