The Church in Antioch
19 Some of the Lord's followers had been scattered because of the terrible trouble that started when Stephen was killed. They went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but they told the message only to the Jews.
20Some of the followers from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and started telling Gentiles the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord's power was with them, and many people turned to the Lord and put their faith in him. 22News of what was happening reached the church in Jerusalem. Then they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
23When Barnabas got there and saw how God had blessed them with undeserved grace, he was very glad. So he begged them to remain faithful to the Lord with all their hearts. 24Barnabas was a good man of great faith, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Many more people turned to the Lord.
25Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26He found Saul and brought him to Antioch, where they met with the church for a whole year and taught many of its people. There in Antioch the Lord's followers were first called Christians.
27During this time some prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch. 28 One of them was Agabus. Then with the help of the Spirit, he told that there would be a terrible famine everywhere in the world. And it happened when Claudius was Emperor. 29The followers in Antioch decided to send whatever help they could to the followers in Judea. 30So they appointed Barnabas and Saul to take their gifts to the church leaders in Jerusalem.
From the beginning, the spread of the faith came at God’s initiative, and although the church leaders have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the signs of God’s leading precede and exceed their plans. Just as was the case at the cross, it is clearly evident that as the faith spreads, the work of the gospel remains God’s work.
And he is doing his own work. Sometimes God graciously uses his disciples, but he is not limited by the limitations of his people, and it remains God’s gift. As the apostle Peter noted, “God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (v 17).
The special revelation that Peter was given, that there are no longer any national or ethnic barriers to the Gospel, is now being witnessed in the fact that some followers appear to be making decisions outside the knowledge (or approval) of the Apostles. Killing and scattering Jesus’ followers by persecution is not only failing to stop the good news from spreading, it is advancing the spread of the kingdom. Some followers are even preaching the good news to the Gentiles and finding that God is graciously giving them the Holy Spirit. A “policy” towards the Gentiles wasn`t formulated until the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, but it`s clear that God had led them to it.
This should give us encouragement today. The book of Acts is filled with famous figures like Saul and Barnabus, and even Agabus, a prophet. But God is working no less personally through figures whose names we do not even know. And his power is just as effective for them, because it is his power.
All of these extraordinary events that bear witness to God’s grace and power have caught the church leaders’ attention. The church must, as ever, be moving where the Holy Spirit is at work.
He still is, and we should rejoice and be glad as his disciples.
We praise you that the work of the kingdom is your work not ours,
That the victory of the cross has already been won,
And that nothing can stop the advance of your kingdom.
May we be faithful workers until that glorious day comes
When the Lord Jesus Christ returns and finally puts death to death.