Thursday, August 19, 2010

return to Antioch

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and 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.
Acts 11:25-26

There is a lot crammed into these two verses. Acts 11 is a turning point in the history of the church. It documents the overwhelming shift that took place when the church embraced the gospel mission to the gentiles. No longer was faith in Christ just an offshoot brand of Judaism limited to the synagogue. At this point, it took on the identity as a world religion by embracing the mission to the gentiles. And the flashpoint became the city of Antioch.

The church leaders in Jerusalem receive a report back from Peter and his party that gentiles have come to faith in the episode of Cornelius' conversion. Their conclusion is straightforward: "Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18). The church that scattered after Stephen's death began preaching the gospel to gentiles and greek-speakers with the result that a strong new church emerged in the gentile city of Antioch. Barnabus is sent by the apostles to investigate this new work. As Barnabus supported this new church, the gospel expanded and even more gentiles were coming to faith. The work of discipleship was more than one leader could manage. Barnabus remembered God's call on a man who has dropped off the scene. He travels to Tarsus (we don't know how long this took) and tracks down Saul. He brings him to Antioch and for the next year they faithfully teach the hungry new disciples.

The church at Antioch developed its own identity. The incredible response and growth in this new mission field, combined with the powerful teaching under Barnabus and Saul create a new distinction in the gentile world. The people of the city begun to take notice of these people who seem like "little Jesuses". The give them a nickname: Christians - "little Christs". And the church embraces this derisive title as a noble calling. The growing church in Antioch became the model of ministry for the advance of the gospel. And in the process the entire body of believers gained a new identity.

There is so much to unpack here, but in the interest of brevity I will just mention the powerful principles in these two verses. 1) The exponential power of the gospel is clearly demonstrated. If we preach it in the context of the Spirit's leading, lives can change, and sometimes the effect will be incredibly responsive in a short amount of time. Antioch was sort of an "instant church". 2) There is something to be said for team ministry here. Barnabus knew Saul was just the kind of man God had raised up for ministry among gentiles. He dropped everything, left Antioch, and did not return until he had Saul along with him to assist in the endeavors. Getting the team right was crucial to the success of the church. It was after that happened that the large church grew into a healthy and strong church that was noticed by its surrounding society. 3) Christianity gets noticed when it is authentically lived out in its culture. In the case of Antioch believers, it resulted in a new ridicule that the church embraced as a name that framed their mission! 4) There is witness to the strategic power of God. Saul was set on the back burner because of the controversy he had been causing. God led Barnabus to bring him back at just the right time for a task that built the church to a point that Saul was nearly ready to launch out in a dynamic ministry that would bring the gospel to the heart of Roman world. Like stages in a rocket, Antioch would take the gospel to the point where missions trips to the gentiles would create the modern church as we know it.

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

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