“The Church in Antioch – A Model Church”
(Acts 11:19-30 – Easter 6 – May 6, 2018)
Acts 11:19-30 – 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. 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. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. 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. 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. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 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. And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
Many people are looking for the ideal church. What should a person look for? Is it the church with the most entertaining worship style? Is it the church with the most magnetic pastor who can work up emotions and make you feel high on Sunday morning? Is it the church with the best worship times or closest to home, so you don’t have to get up too early or travel too far? Many people look for the ideal church based on such outward and even worldly considerations.
But what is church about? What is the mission Christ has given His Church on earth? After dying on the cross to take away the sins of the world and rising again, Jesus defined the mission of His Church in Luke 24:46-48: “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” Church is all about the Gospel of salvation in the name of our crucified and risen Savior. It is all about faithfulness to His Word and Sacrament ministry. For this is how Jesus brings the forgiveness and eternal life He won to weary and burdened souls to this day.
In our text, we get a glimpse of the life of a congregation in the early church. It was not ideal in the sense of worldly expectations. But as we examine their mission, we find “The Church in Antioch – A Model Church”: 1) A church with a Christ-centered Gospel for all, 2) A church with a faithful ministry for all, 3) A church with a loving heart for all.
1) A church with a Christ-centered Gospel for all
First, their mission was to preach a Christ centered Gospel for all. This was seen at the very founding of the congregation, as it says: “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. 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.” So we see a major theme in the book of Acts, that Jesus is preached as the Savior for all – Jews and Gentiles alike.
We hear of the persecution in connection with Stephen earlier in Acts. After Pentecost, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and preached boldly beginning in Jerusalem. They proclaimed that Jesus, who was crucified for the sins of the world, rose again and ascended to His Father. They called everyone to repent and believe and be saved. Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), had given such bold witness; and for this, he shed his blood as a martyr. The Sanhedrin condemned him and had him stoned to death outside the city. Acts 8:1 reports: “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Yet through such tribulation, the mission of the church and work of the Holy Spirit was only fanned into fire. Act 8:4 says: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” Thus they preached a Christ centered Gospel for all, wherever they went.
Our text brings us north of Jerusalem 300 miles, as far as Antioch, near the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea. Antioch was rated the third major city in the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. This large pagan city would become an important early center of Christianity. But who would have known it at the time? It started with humble beginnings, with a simple witness of the Gospel by believers scattered in time of persecution.
The Christian fugitives from Jerusalem began in a most familiar way: “preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.” There was a sizable population of Jews in Antioch. It was natural for Jewish Christians to visit synagogues and evangelize people of their own blood. They shared the good news that Jesus Christ was the long-awaited Messiah, whom God had promised to the Jews. He was the Savior for all, who had come to take away the sins of the world.
Our text goes on to say: “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.” These Christians came from pagan areas – from the island of Cyprus up in the northern Mediterranean, to Cyrene down south in Libya. Who was their target audience? Not the Jews, but the Greeks in Antioch.
As the Gospel was shared with Jews and Gentiles alike, it says: “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” This is a recurring theme in the book of Acts, and it is true to this day. When the Church fulfills its true mission – preaching repentance and forgiveness in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus – by that Gospel, the Lord Himself converts hearts and brings people into His Church by faith. For this reason, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
So we follow the example of the apostolic church – beginning at Jerusalem, modeled at Antioch, continuing to the ends of the earth. Here at Christ Lutheran Church in Klamath Falls, we proclaim a Christ-centered Gospel for all. We preach the good news that, while all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death, God sent His Son to the cross to shed His blood and die for the sins of all; and so, the gift of God is eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-25; 6:23). And we entrust the results of the Gospel to Him.
2) A church with a faithful ministry for all
Second, we see in the model church at Antioch a faithful ministry for all. That is, in addition to reaching out with the Gospel and receiving believers into the congregation, it was a priority to continue to instruct them in the truth of God’s Word, that their faith might continue to grow.
We see this important concern as we read on: “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. 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. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” The church at Jerusalem sent this well-qualified man to oversee the ministry at Antioch. Barnabas was glad to find the grace of God at work in the faithful teaching of God’s Word. So he encouraged them to continue with such united purpose of heart. That is, he encouraged them to continue in the true unity given by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:3) in the truth of God’s Word.
Many churches today, in the spirit of the ecumenical movement, want everyone to come together and express outward unity, while overlooking differences in what they actually teach. They say: “All that is important is the central Gospel; why let insignificant doctrines divide us?”
But this is not the true unity of the Spirit Christ wants for His Church. If you lose His truth – the truth given through His apostles and prophets in Scripture, the truth His Church is built on – then you lose His mission. In giving the Great Commission, Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). “All things,” He said. He wants His church to teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. His truth alone saves sinners through faith and continues to strengthen faith.
When the lies of Satan and false teachings of men are given equal place in churches, they only steal away true faith and salvation. They undercut the true Gospel. This is why the apostle John warned the early church in 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
It is the will of the Lord that His people be ministered to faithfully in His truth. We see this at Antioch, as they continued in “all things” taught by Christ through His apostles. In fact, an apostle is brought among them, as it says: “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 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.” Saul was once a persecutor of the church. But in Acts 9 we read how the Lord had converted and called him to be the apostle Saul (later renamed Paul). So under such faithful oversight, the model church at Antioch continued to be both defended from falsehood and built up in the true teachings of Christ’s Word.
In this, we follow the example of the apostolic church, modeled at Antioch. At Christ Lutheran Church, we seek to bring Christ’s faithful ministry to all, knowing that in this the hand of the Lord is with us. We teach His Word in all its truth in worship, Bible class, Sunday school, Catechism, and devotional reading. We administer Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as He taught us. In this way, from infancy to old age the Lord Himself is with us, ministering to us His forgiveness, faith, and salvation through His Word and Sacraments.
3) A church with a loving heart for all
Third, we see in the model church at Antioch a loving heart for all. What would our outreach and ministry in the Word of Christ amount to if it were not accompanied by His love for souls?
We see this love expressed by the church in Antioch, as they reached out to help those in need. It says: “And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 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. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” The need was expressed, and the church of believers shared the love of Christ as a response of faith.
Consider all the ways we can reach out to those in need with the loving heart of Christ. Isn’t His love what moves us to support His Gospel mission, both here at home and abroad, through our prayers, offerings, and service? Isn’t His love what moves us to support our Christian Services fund, through which we provide for those in need? Isn’t His love what moves us, in our daily vocations, to serve the needs of others through the gifts and abilities God has given us?
“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). His love for us translates into our love for others. Jesus said in John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” We confess that our love for God or each other will not be perfect this side of heaven. That is why our faith is not in our own works of love, but only in Christ’s works of love for us. There is no greater love than His that responded to our desperate need – not merely in physical needs like famine and suffering – but as spiritually hungry and perishing sinners. Jesus saw us bound by Satan’s lies, facing eternal death. While we were still His enemies in our sin, He came all the way from heaven to lay down His life for us as friends. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
“The love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Like the model church at Antioch, may this always be at the heart of our church. The hand of the Lord is with us as we reach out with a Christ-centered Gospel for all, His faithful ministry for all, and His loving heart for all.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.