Skip Heitzig - Acts 11
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Lord, You know the events of our day. You know the thoughts of our mind, those distractions or legitimate good thoughts that we've had, and how we process them. You know how we feel about You, about people around us. You know the kind of depth of relationship that we have with You. You know all things. So when we come to you when we pray, we're not pulling anything over your eyes. You see us clearly. And You know us better than we know ourselves. As the Psalmist said, You know our thoughts before we even think them in their origin. So we simply come, and humbly come, and ask you to give us insight through the next almost hour, as we sit, and we give ourselves to the teaching and the stories of the apostles in the early church. Help us, Lord, to know why the Holy Spirit preserved these stories, and what the importance is for us today. Here we are, after 2000 years, examining something that excites us, because Jesus Christ, the one that is the center of attention, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So we're thankful. And we commit this time to You, in Jesus' name. Amen.
If you were ever to go that way out of this building, toward the south entrance, the south doors, which, at one time, was the main ingress and egress to this building, before we reconfigured it and got property to the east. At one time, everybody entered and exited on the south part of this Osuna campus. In the courtyard, as you leave, inscribed on the walls, the only name that's inscribed in stone on this place, is Jesus' name. And it's a quote out of Mark, chapter 16, verse 15, where Jesus said, "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel." And the reason we put that up there is so that, when people, at one time, used to leave out that courtyard, they would look up, and that would be their reminder as they leave church.
They're leaving a place where we have gathered together, and we had good feelings and good instruction, and we've worshipped, but now, the salt shaker is being emptied, and we're going out. And as we go out, we're reminded of our mission, to go into all the world, and preach the gospel. So we have always looked at preaching the gospel as the family business. God the Father saved us through sending his Son, Jesus. He is now our Heavenly Father. It's His family, the Bible says, from which all of the family in heaven and earth is named. And the family has a family business. And the family business is the gospel. And our part in the family business is to preach the gospel to every creature.
And Paul, as we remarked on, this last weekend, saw that as a partnership. When he wrote to the Philippians, and he said, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you always, in every prayer of mine, making requests for you all with joy for your partnership." The NIV says, "your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now." So we're in a family business, and we have a partnership to preach the gospel. Now that happens to be the theme of the book, the book of Acts. In the first chapter of the book of Acts, the eighth verse, Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth." That's the theme of the book.
And we have seen the gospel go to Jerusalem. We have seen it go to Samaria through Philip. We have also seen, last week, in the previous chapter, chapter 10, how Peter went to Joppa. And when he was there, and on his way there, a couple of miraculous things happened. And while he was at Joppa, staying at the house of a guy named Simon the Tanner, it was lunch time, and he was up on the roof, just hanging out. They were cooking lunch for him, and he could smell the smells. He goes, "Man, that smells great." He's getting hungry. He fell into a trance.
And he saw this vision from heaven of a sheet being let down, with all sorts of unkosher critters, creeping things, all sorts of creeps on it. And the voice from heaven said, "Rise, Peter. Kill and eat." And Peter, being the compliant one that he always was, said, "Not so, Lord." And he rebuffed the idea of eating anything unkosher. And God said, "Whatever I have cleansed, don't you call common or unclean." Well, that happened three times. Until finally, he was instructed to go to Caesarea, right up the coast. And I always like to point out, and you'll see it, if you come to Israel with us, that's the first day of our tour. We start in Caesarea. That's the first stop.
And at Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, who is a centurion, who had been prepped, when an angel appeared to him in his own house, and told him to go get Peter who's at Joppa, at Simon the Tanner's house. So he brought him, and Peter shared the gospel with him. So, beginning in chapter 13, the focal point is going to be on Paul, the Apostle, Saul of Tarsus, who will become Paul, the Apostle. And the majority of the book centers on the exploits of Paul. However, as the gospel goes from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, it is now going to travel north. Now here's why this is important. Most people, most Christians, don't realize that the second most important city in the New Testament, after Jerusalem, is the city of Antioch, because that becomes the place for all of these internally-displaced believers from Jerusalem. Because of the persecution, they are forced northward.
Many had already gone to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus took them to task, or was planning to. There's still an enclave there, but they go up to Antioch. A lot of those persecuted believers will relocate to Antioch of Syria. And you'll see that mentioned in our text. And from there, that's where Paul and Barnabas, and then Paul and Silas, the missionary exploits of Paul, will be dispatched from, not Jerusalem, but from Antioch. So Antioch will become the second most important city, especially in this book of Acts.
Now, it was called Antioch of Syria, and in antiquity, it was in the country of Syria. Today, it's just over the border of Syria, and it's in the far southeastern corner of Turkey. So it's modern-day Turkey, and in antiquity, it was Syria. I'm bringing that up, because we're dealing with the very cradle of the Christian movement. And what's ironic is, today, in the cradle where Christianity began, especially in Syria, most Christians have been forced out, or put to death. And I'm talking about just in our lifetime, in the last few years.
So, you can find articles like this all over the place. But one article that I found said, up until recently, 30% of the Syrian population was Christian. That is, these are Christians who still speak the language of Jesus, Aramaic, that ancient language. Syrians who have fled as refugees are estimated to be at least 2.5 million, but many more, some 6.5 million, who have been displaced within the war-ravaged country. One of them speaks, "We, as Christians, don't have any impressions that we are guests in this part of the world. Christianity started in the Middle East, and so, Christians want to remain there. They don't want to leave their land."
One source put it this way, "We were founded by the apostles Paul and Barnabas", and you're going to read that, "in AD 42. It is considered the largest and most ancient Christian church in the east." That is, the Christians of this area, of Antioch of Syria, and the Syrian Christians. So, we're going to read about the founding of this church through Barnabas and Paul. He said, Paul and Barnabas. It was Barnabas first, and then, Paul. But, let's get into it. Chapter 11, verse 1. Now, the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.
Now stop right there. Wouldn't you think that the response would be, oh, hallelujah. That's awesome. Well, you should think that way. But unfortunately, many in the early church didn't think that way, which was never God's original plan, as I want to explain, even for the Jewish nation, that learned to see other nations, other nations, that is, non-Jewish people, Gentiles, as possible converts. That's how God wanted them to be seen.
They saw them as a nuisance. They regarded them as defiled, as worthless. You see, to ancient Jews, 2000 years ago, there were two types of people, Jews and Gentiles. Jews, chosen people. Gentiles, everybody else. Though God's original plan was that Israel become a light to the world, they became very closed over a period of time. And their rabbis taught things that were never part of the heart of God, or plan of God, or will of God, or word of God.
For example, if you're a Jewish person, and you walk down the street, you would hold your robes close to you, or your dress close you, lest you brush up against a Gentile. If you touched a Gentile, if your clothing just rubbed against a non-Jewish person, you were considered, not by the Bible, but by rabbinic tradition, to be defiled. And either your clothes had to be burned, or you had to go through ritual washings, just to get clean again. You were defiled.
So the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, were regarded as other than chosen, other than we are, marked by God, even, for destruction. Did you know that eventually, the rabbis used to say that the reason God created the Gentiles was just to keep the fires of hell burning hot? Just to keep hell hot, that's why they were made. You gotta put somebody there, and so it's not us, because we're sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So if you're a Gentile person, hell was created for you. That was their ideology.
Well, some of that ideology has filtered into the early church, because, after all, we are all products of our tradition, are we not? I would venture to say, in your life, if you grew up in a religious home, you have the traditions of your past. That can be good, but they can be bad. They can be baggage. And you have to get reoriented by the scripture.
One of the great things about my wife's upbringing is, she was raised an atheist. You say, well, how is that good? Because she had no weird, church-y baggage. When she got saved, she knew what darkness was. She knew she had been on her way to hell. Now, she's saved, and it was full-on, full bore, not dress it up with religious window dressing, just a fresh, clean start. Saved out of paganism, saved out of the world. But the early church had some adjustment to do. There are some legalists within it. It says, when Peter came to Jerusalem those of the circumcision, they're believers, but they're legalistic Jews, contended with him, saying, "You went into the uncircumcised men, and you ate with them."
Instead of going, "Hey, Peter, how'd it go? Man, did they open up their hearts? Did they receive Christ? Well, how did they take the sharing of the gospel?" All they worried about is, "You hung out with them. You got, like, defiled, and stuff. You got, like, Gentile cooties, man, all over you, Peter. You actually ate with them." There were, in Jerusalem, those of the circumcision, legalistic in their background, products of their tradition, not the heart of God, not the will of God, not the word of God, products of their tradition, who just saw this as taboo. You've got to keep something in mind, though, before we get too heavy on them. I mean, it was wrong, and they'll adjust. You'll see it.
But they didn't have the benefit, like you and I have. They didn't know the difference between God's plan for the Jew and the Gentile, the church and Israel, all the stuff that we know. They didn't have the book of Romans, the book of Hebrews, the book of Galatians, the book of Ephesians. We do. We've been trained. We get it now. They didn't have that. It was just brand new stuff to them.
So, many of the people of the circumcision were priests, levitical priests of the temple, because it says, many of the priests had come to Christ. But they're still priests, and they have that baggage, and that background, and all the years of training on what is defiling and what is not. So with that, they contended. Notice the word, verse 2, they contended with Peter. It's a very interesting word. It's the word diakrino, or dia krino, in Greek. And diakrino means to separate, to discern, to judge, or to make a difference.
And that really is the heart of the meaning here. They made a difference when they looked at people. If you were Jewish, you were very different than if you were non-Jewish. If you were Gentile, whole different set of parameters than if you were Jewish. That whole ethnicity thing had them make a difference, clean and unclean, right?
But Peter had been learning a lesson, from that vision. He's about to tell them the vision, and what God has learned is that voice came from heaven and said, "Peter, whatever I've cleansed, don't call common or unclean." And then he meets Cornelius, as if to say, whoever I have cleansed, you cannot call common or unclean. If I cleansed food, and said, "Eat it," eat it. If I cleansed a Gentile, then you can't call that Gentile common or unclean any longer. But in Jerusalem, they didn't have that vision. They didn't have the experience Peter had just had. Peter, himself, was reticent to change. But now, he's back home. They contend with him. They make a difference with him. And so, it says in verse 4, Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning.
Now he's just going to tell them the story that we had read last time. He says, I was in the city of Joppa, praying. And in a trance, I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet. It was let down from heaven by four corners, and it came to me. When I observed it intently, and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeps or creeping things, and birds of the air, and I heard a voice saying to me, "Rise, Peter, kill, and eat." But I said, "Not so, Lord", at least he's honest with them, "for nothing common or unclean has, at any time, entered my mouth." But the voice answered me, again, from heaven, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." Now this was done three times. And all were drawn up again into heaven.
At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Then, the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Now, he conveniently leaves out the fact that he goes, "Who are you guys? Why do you want me to come?" His doubting. He just said, "The Lord told me not to doubt." Moreover, these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. And he told me how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, "Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter."
Now, just a little clarification. Simon is his Hebrew name. Shimon. Shimon means to listen or to hear. Funny that was his birth name, because he wasn't really good at listening or hearing. He was good at talking. He was good at jumping to conclusions. But he didn't really live up to his Hebrew birth name. Jesus renamed him Petros, the Greek word for a small, little stone. So, he took his birth name, but gave him a nickname, Jesus-like nickname. "I'm calling you Rocky." So Shimon, whose surname was Petros, whose surname was Peter, will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.
Now, he's just telling them the story. Here's a guy who wants to be saved. He saw an angel, sent for me. And so, yeah, you heard that I went into unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles, and ate with them, but let me fill you in on why. Because an angel spoke to this guy, and a voice from heaven spoke to me. And he says this, "As I began to speak", verse 15, "the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning." The beginning being the day of Pentecost, the birth of the church, the Holy Spirit descending, the speaking in tongues, the utterance in tongues, the praising God.
"Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John, indeed, baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" Notice, in retelling the story to the critics in Jerusalem, he brings three lines of evidence. First of all, in verses 5 through 11, the vision that he saw from God. I got a vision from God. I didn't just go into somebody's house. I got a vision from God, and a voice spoke to me.
Second line of evidence, the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was doing something. The Holy Spirit actually came upon them. They were different people. Man, they were powerful people. We heard, we saw. So, his own personal experience and his vision from God, the witness of the Spirit, and then, finally, in verse 16, the witness of the word. This is what Jesus said. "John baptized with water. You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So Jesus predicted it, the Holy Spirit gave witness to it, and I experienced it. Those are his three lines of evidence that he brings to them.
If, therefore, verse 17, his conclusion, if, therefore, God gave them the same gift as he gave us, when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could withstand God? In other words, look, I know how you feel, guys. I'm Jewish too. I was reluctant. I was reticent. I was hesitant. I wanted to withstand God. I wasn't into this. I kept saying, this is not cool. I even told the guy, it's unlawful for me to even be in your house or to eat with you. But he said, if the Lord did this, then who am I to fight against what God was doing, to withstand God?
Now, look at this. When they heard these things, they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then, God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." So, yes, they were legalistic. Yes, you could say they were narrow-minded. Yes, they were products of their past tradition. But, they were reasonable men. In hearing the evidence, given by Peter, they go, "Well, OK. I didn't think it's possible. But", and this, I've underlined this part, "God," verse 18, "has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."
I wonder if you realize what a shocking admission this is in Jewish history. For a Jewish priest, the hierarchy of the temple, a legalistic, a law, Torah-minded Jewish person to say, "Wow. My admission is, I am now admitting, that God has given eternal life to non-Jewish, non-chosen people based on their faith," is an incredible and shocking admission.
However, something I mentioned at the beginning of this study, it was God's plan all along. God didn't create the nation of Israel, so that they could be closed, and just hoard their blessings, and just secure themselves in their own little blessing, being under the spout where the glory comes out, but to share it. God said, I've ordained you to be a light to the Gentiles, a light to the world.
Way back, when God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, he said, leave your family, leave your house, leave your people, leave your country, and go to the land that I'm going to show you, for I'm going to bless you. I'm going to make you a great nation. And in you, Genesis 12 says, in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.
You see, I'm bringing you out of your country, and I'm planting you in a land, and I'm going to make you great. But the purpose for which I am making you great, the purpose for which I am choosing you, Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob, and then 12 tribes, and then the thousands and millions of the people of Israel, the reason I'm doing that, is for a greater purpose. So that, in you, all the families of the earth, not just your family, not just Jewish families, not just Israeli families, but all the families, all the nations, will be blessed.
Ultimately, that's a promise that speaks of Jesus. Because any person, in any family, in any country, with any language, with any background, for the last 2000 years since the Messiah came, anyone who believes in Jesus, will receive the blessing of God. They'll receive the salvation from God. They'll receive the forgiveness of their sins. They'll be given a free ticket to heaven. The whole package. A package deal.
So in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed. That was always his intention. Now they're waking up to the reality that this was God's plan all along. God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life. Verse 19. Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cypress, and Antioch, preaching the word, notice this, to no one, but the Jews only. You remember the persecution that we saw back in chapter 8, chapter 7? Stephen preached. He was killed, martyred. Chapter 8, a wave of persecution brought on by Saul of Tarsus. He went up to Damascus. But all those people in Jerusalem were stirred up.
And so, the theme of the book of Acts is Acts, chapter 1, verse 8. You'll be filled with the Holy Spirit. You'll be my witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth. That's the theme. But, if you decide to practice Acts chapter 1, verse 8, the result in your life will be Acts, chapter 8, verse 1, which says, at that time, a great persecution came against the church, and all who were in Jerusalem were scattered, except the apostles.
So, if you obey Acts 1:8, you can expect Acts 8:1. That's the formula. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer, anybody know it, persecution. That's a promise. You like to underline the promises of God? Underline that one. Live godly, suffer the consequences. Not everybody is going to like it. You'll get persecuted. You'll get laughed at. You'll be marginalized.
So that's the persecution that it refers to. That's the theme. Those who were scattered after the persecution that rose over Stephen, now watch this, they traveled as far as Phoenicia. Now, Phoenicia is the Lebanese coast. Lebanon is ancient Phoenicia. Cyprus is that island out in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Israel, off the coast of ancient Syria and Phoenicia. And Antioch, that's the Antioch of Syria that I just mentioned, that second important city in Christendom, the birthplace of the journeys of Paul, that's Antioch.
So, get this. What was at one time a small group of believers in Jerusalem had grown to a little bit larger, but still a small group that went up to Damascus. And Saul of Tarsus thought, I can nip this in the bud. I can stop this movement now. It's early enough. The cancer hasn't spread. I can kill it off in Damascus before it spreads any further. And I'll leave my brothers down here in Jerusalem to do the dirty work here. We can stop this thing. And, at one time, they thought they could contain it and stop it, but now, it's become uncontrollable.
Now, it's just everywhere, all these other places. So, here's what's cool. And this is what persecution, this is what happens. Persecution is like a guy trying to stomp out a fire with his foot. Let's say you have a campfire, and so, it's time for you to go. And you just put your foot in it, and go like this, like a big lug. Well, if you do that, your foot could create a draft. And some of those little embers of the fire could be launched upward and outward, and other fires could start. You could start a forest fire by trying to put out a fire the wrong way.
So here is Saul of Tarsus trying to stomp out the movement with his foot, and so little fires start here, and now, on-fire Christians are everywhere. It's burning bigger. It's out of control. But notice, they preached to no one but the Jews only. He says, "But some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus."
Now, let me tell you a little bit about Antioch. And I have to explain this now, because later on, you could get confused. There wasn't one Antioch. There's another Antioch you're going to read about in a couple of chapters. It says Antioch, but it's a different Antioch. You go, well, why would people do that? Well, there is a Cuba that's an island off the coast of Florida. But if you come here to New Mexico, there's a Cuba. Why did they do that? Or, you go west to Nevada, and you go to Las Vegas. But if you come here, you could go to Las Vegas. So, it's not unusual to have a couple different places named the same thing.
Antioch was a city in Syria named by one of the four generals of Alexander the Great, named Seleucus, who named it after his father, Antiochus. So it was named after him. Antioch was positioned on a river called the Orantes River, which communicated with the ocean, so it was a perfect trade route, and it ran on a main highway, as well, that connected ancient kingdoms together, as well as the waterways. So it was a very metropolitan, cosmopolitan city. The population, at the time of Paul, was about 500,000 people, with a mixed population of Greek, Roman, Jew, and some from the Orient. They all lived in Antioch. It was just a place where, it was a melting pot of different cultures. So that's Antioch of Syria. There would be another Antioch later on called Antioch of Pisidia. We'll make reference to the difference again.
But, verse 20, it says, "But some 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."
Now, if you just read through this, you go, yeah, yeah, OK. But, there is an in-house debate among believers about the word Hellenists, in verse 20. See the word Hellenists? Now the debate is, was Luke, here, referring to Greek-speaking Jews, or was he referring to non-Jewish Greeks? You see, the word Hellenistas in Greek could refer, and has referred, in ancient literature, to either Greek-speaking Jews or non-Jewish Greeks, just plain Gentiles. It would seem that though Luke has used the word Hellenists before to refer to Greek-speaking Jews, in chapter 7, here, he uses the term differently to speak of non-Jewish Greeks. Why? Because of that little word "but."
Now, notice at the end of verse 19, they spoke to no one but the Jews only, but some came from Cyprus and Cyrene, and when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists. I believe he's speaking to, not Greek-speaking Jews, but non-Jewish Greeks, just Gentiles, complete unbelievers with no Jewish background whatsoever. Why do I believe this? For this reason. if the word "Hellenists" here meant Greek-speaking Jews, like it did in chapter 7, it wouldn't be a big deal. So what? That already happened. It happened in Jerusalem with Stephen. Stephen preached in the synagogue of Hellenists. It wouldn't be that big of a deal to bring up.
Number two, they're going to send investigators from Jerusalem to check what happened out, just to make sure these people, whoever they are, are OK. If they were Greek-speaking Jews, like in Acts, chapter 7, they wouldn't have brought investigators, because there were many Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem, Hellenistic Jews who were in Jerusalem who were saved. You don't have to send somebody to check that out.
But the fact they sent somebody up there, just to make sure these guys are kosher, well, OK, and to nurture them, leads me to believe that, here's another change. He's not just speaking to Jewish people of a Greek background, but complete pagans, complete Gentiles, with no Jewish background at all. So, just keep that in mind, as we follow along.
Verse 22. 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 he 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 faith, and a great many people were added to the Lord.
They sent Barnabas all the way up to Syria, all the way up to Antioch. They sent him up there, though he was not an apostle. When the gospel went to Samaria, they would send an apostle up to check it out. They sent Barnabas up, who was not an apostle, had no apostolic credentials at all, but he was a generous, big-hearted believer.
And you know of him. I'll just refresh your memory. Back in Acts, chapter four. His name wasn't Barnabas originally. That's a nickname. His name was Joses, J-O-S-E-S, like Joseph. But it says, the early church named him Barnabas, which means the son of encouragement. Why? Because in Acts, chapter 4, he had land, he was a Cypriot, he was from Cyprus, he had land in Cyprus, he sold the property, and gave the money, and laid it at the apostles feet. So he encouraged the church with finances. They called him son of encouragement. What an encouragement this guy, Barney, is, man. He sold that land in Cyprus. That's going to really help us out, and especially, the poor brethren here in Jerusalem. He was an encouragement with his finances. Financial encouragement.
In Acts, chapter 9, he provides encouragement again. By this time, they call him Barnabas, not Joses. They just refer to him as the new name, Barney. And in Acts, chapter 9, he was an encouragement to Saul of Tarsus, because, you remember, Saul of Tarsus, he was saved on the way to Damascus. He was in the city of Damascus. He left Damascus. He went down to Arabia. Three years later, he comes back to Damascus, preaches boldly, gets in trouble. They let them down over a wall in a basket.
He goes to Jerusalem, but it says, he tried to join to the church, to the brethren in Jerusalem. But they did not believe that he was saved. They wouldn't let him come into their assembly. But it says, Barnabas took Paul and brought him to the apostles, and testified how boldly he had proclaimed Yeshua, Jesus, up in Damascus, that he was, indeed, saved. He stood for him. So, he encouraged, in chapter 4, with his finances. Now, he is encouraging, a second time, with his friendship. Man, I'm his friend. I was with him. I'll stand up for him.
Now, he is encouraging the church with follow-up. He's going to go up there and fellowship with them, and follow up on the decision that they've made, and make sure that they stay that way. So, notice what it says that he told them to do. He encouraged them, there's that word, that they all, with purpose of heart, should continue with the Lord. His message was basically, don't quit. Don't give up. You made the right choice. Life's going to get hard around here. It's not going to be easy following Jesus. I just want to warn you now. It's sort of like Winston Churchill. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
And they needed to hear that. Because, any relationship, even a relationship with the Lord himself, can have issues, can have problems, can be tested, can have difficulties. You know, a relationship with the Lord is sort of like a relationship between a husband and a wife. At first, they're overcome by emotion. It's all feeling. And oh, the sun's brighter, and the colors are more awesome. But, if you expect to feel exactly the same way that you did on your wedding day, you're in for a surprise. Am I right? I feel wonderfully toward my wife. I'm more maturely in love with her today, but it's different. It's better, but it's different.
And so, if you think that your walk with the Lord is always going to wake up feeling, "Wow, man." And sometimes, you see others getting all excited, and you go, "I don't feel all that excited about the Lord." Don't be surprised by that. Don't be shocked by that. Don't think that you're less of a believer than that. At first, it could just be pure feeling. Wow, this is awesome. Following Jesus is amazing. But you're not always going to have that peak level of emotional output or feeling. That's where you need to hear the commitment message. Stay with it, man. Don't give up. Don't quit. With purpose of heart, follow the Lord. Keep watch. Keep at it.
Because some people will say, "Yeah, yeah, I'm just, sort of, not into Jesus anymore. I used to come to church and read the Bible, but it's, like, the feelings have waned." Oh, really? And you thought they would never wane? That's like a husband and wife saying, "Yeah, you know we were so madly in love. But, you know, I've lost the feeling."
So, get it back. Be committed. Watch what happens when you live by commitment. And watch how the feelings will follow the commitment that you make. This is where the gift of encouragement is needed. Now, the old King James says that he exhorted them. The new King James, that I'm reading from, says, he encouraged them. That's a better translation. It could be translated, either/or. But when you hear the word "exhortation", he exhorted him, it conjures up the idea of the gift of exhortation, which can be to stimulate a person into action. But encouragement is a little bit different than just telling a person, stay with it, get right. Encouragement, it can take you all the way through.
So, here's an example. I had a friend who was an expert outdoorsman. He became a forest ranger. He went to school for it, and he loved the outdoors. And he loved to backpack. And one day, Jerry was his name, he talked me into backpacking into Death Valley, California. And I loved it. I had a great time. But, his idea of hiking was to start at the base and climb up to the peak. So, in theory, that was good. In theory, good, I'll do that. I like that. I put a backpack on. I started following. Jerry was not only an expert backpacker. He was an expert encourager. Because just a few steps, and I'm already complaining. Hey, are we going to camp here? Oh, no, no, no. We keep walking.
Well, to where? Up to the top. Top? Oh, man. This is hard already. And then, as minutes went by, and hours went by, and the legs are burning, and I'm huffing and puffing, Jerry just poured on. You can do it, man. It's not that much further. We'll take a rest just right up here, up at that little area, but just keep, and he just encouraged me all the way up to the top. So, you encouragers, if you have that gift, if you're that person, keep at it. We need you desperately. Find those brothers and sisters whose hands are hanging down and knees are weak, and get behind him, and give him a second wind. Encourage them that, with purpose of heart, they should continue with the Lord.
It says, he was a good man. He was full of the Holy Spirit. That was his gift. And he was full 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 at Antioch." OK, so picture this. In Tarsus, there's a man waiting. In Antioch, there's a man thinking.
In Tarsus, the waiting man is Saul. He's thinking thoughts like, OK. The first prophecy I ever got, in Damascus, was from Ananias, who told me that I'm going to be a witness before kings, Gentiles, and the children of Israel. That was 10 years ago. I've been waiting 10 years. I spent three years in Arabia, tried to go to Jerusalem, got kicked out. I'm here in Tarsus. I've been waiting for a decade. Nothing. That's the waiting man. In Antioch, is a thinking, praying man, Barnabas. Barnabas is thinking thoughts like, huh, this is a very unusual city. We have a mix of Jewish people, Greek people, and Roman people. Who would be the best leader to bring to this city? He thought, I know. That guy, Saul, who's over in Tarsus, not far away.
Because Saul, you see, was Jewish, Hebrew, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, knew all the traditions and rituals of rabbinic Judaism. But he was also Greek by culture, being a Hellenistic Jew, Greek-speaking, Greek-culture Jew, in that part of the world. In fact, when he will stand on the areopagus in Athens, he will quote Epiminedes, a Greek writer, a Greek scholar, and Aratus of Soli, another Greek writer. He'll just quote them. He knows Greek thinking, Greek speaking, Greek literature. So he's Jewish, and trained in rabbinic Judaism. He's also Greek by culture, but he's also, third, a Roman citizen. And you know how he will pull out his Roman citizenship, and say, I'm free born. I was born. I didn't buy this. My father was a Roman citizen and passed it on to me. So Jew, Greek, and Roman. Saul of Tarsus, perfect guy.
So, once again, Barnabas the son of encouragement, risks life and limb to find Saul in Tarsus, and bring him to Antioch for a year. You know what? Had he not done this, half the New Testament would not have been written. That's how important Barnabas is, just took that finding him, encouraging him. He was the perfect guy to find him and encourage him. Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle, will go on to write 13 of the 27 New Testament books. If you count Hebrews, as some do, there's dispute, that's 14 out of the 27. So about half the New Testament books, he wrote. What Saul of Tarsus is discovering, after a decade, is the power of applause, an applause. It goes so far. One of my favorite stories from Newsweek magazine is an editorial by Deborah Shouse.
She said, "When I was growing up, I envied Sally Culver. Though she was five years younger, she had somehow managed to get herself a fan club. It began one summer evening, when Mrs. Culver brought her one-year-old daughter, Sally, to our house. 'I want to show you the most remarkable thing,' Mrs. Culver told my mother. She set the baby down on our driveway, and Sally, diaper rustling, took a step. 'Bravo!' Mrs. Culver said, clapping. 'Wasn't that just marvelous?' she asked, turning to me. I was standing back, my jump rope in hand, wondering why anyone would make such a big deal over walking. 'Weren't her legs just the straightest things you've ever seen?' Mrs. Culver gushed to my mother. 'Her posture is exceptional,' my mother said. I took a breath and stood up straighter. My mother didn't notice. Sally took two steps before she plopped down. Again, applause. This time, my mother joined in. I untangled my rope and jumped 10 times in a row without missing. No one noticed. My mother was too busy clapping and cheering for Sally. It was my first experience with the power of applause."
It is powerful, when it's appropriate. It's powerful to come and encourage someone in the Lord. You can do it, man. I'm with you. I'll stand with you. I'll stand next to you. We'll do it together. And that's what I see here. So, for a whole year, they taught many people. That's where Saul cut his teeth in ministry. It says, "And the disciples", now this is one of the most important verses in the book, "the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." The word "Christian" was not a friendly term. It was not a term used by Jesus. It was not a term used by the early church. It was not a term used by Jewish people. It was a term used by unbelievers in Antioch first.
Now, it's not a common term in the New Testament. It's used three times, I believe. The other time it shows up in the book of Acts, I can read it to you, is in Acts, chapter 26. Paul is in Caesarea. He's standing trial. He goes through three trials. And he's standing before King Agrippa, Herod Agrippa, and Paul says, in Acts 22, I'm reading out of verse 26, "For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner." Paul goes on and he says, "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do believe." And King Agrippa said, "Paul, you almost persuade me to become a Christian." Now, the better translation is, "Do you think, in such a short time, that you would be able to persuade me to be a Christian?"
"And Paul said, I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether, such as I am, except for these chains." So, the term "Christian" shows up twice, on the mouth of unbelievers. Jesus called his followers disciples. He called them friends. He called them, my children. The early church referred to Christians, not as Christians, but as believers, as saints, as beloved. The Jews would never use the term "Christian," because Christ means Messiah, and they did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. So that would not be a term they would be favorable to use. But it was a term used in Antioch, and what's interesting, is that Antioch, I mentioned nicknames, Jesus used nicknames, the early church used them, Antioch was sort of famous for names, and coming up with nicknames for people.
For example, it was in Antioch, where the emperor Julian was nicknamed "the goat." And that's because he had a goatee. He had a long beard that came to a point, so they just nicknamed him, fondly, our emperor, the goat. And so, it's interesting that the term "Christian" shows up on the lips of unbelievers, in a city fond of coming up with names, nicknames especially, and they were first called Christians in Antioch. Now the last time it is used, it is used by Peter, and by now, it has become a very standard, common term to call believers "Christians," even by believers.
So this, now, is in 1 Peter, chapter 4, where he says, "If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part, He is blasphemed, but on your part, He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, or an evil doer, or as a busy body in other people's matters. Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter."
Now, let me tell you about the word Christian. "Christianos" is the Greek term. Christianos. And that little suffix, -ianos, was a common suffix, to refer to, first of all, a slave in a household. For instance, if you were a slave in the household of Caesar, they would call you Caesarinos, a slave in the household of Caesar. Or, if you were a follower of a leader or a political party, they would use the suffix, -ianos. So, if you were of the Herodian party, they'd call you, Herodianos. So it meant a slave or a follower.
My question, Christian, is, does that describe your life? Are you a slave of Jesus Christ, one that follows Jesus Christ, personally? Not just, I think there's a God up there somewhere, and I hang out at church once in a while. Are you a slave of Jesus, and a follower of Him? That would imply that you follow Him, and you take orders from Him. He is the Lord. You are not. You are the servant.
And somebody once said, some folks have a hard time obeying Jesus Christ, because they have a hard time taking orders from a stranger. It could be that Jesus, personally, is a stranger to you. And though the term Christian is widely used, to label anybody who has any kind of affiliation with the church, are you a slave of, and a follower, of Christ? Because that's the original term that was used, Christianos. They were first called Christians at Antioch.
Well, let's finish out the chapter, and the evening. Verse 27, "In these days, prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. And 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." A prophet was either a forth-teller, that is, spoke predictively about the future, or a foreteller of God's word, spoke forth the word of God. He was a forth-teller, spoke forth, or a foreteller, spoke in advance. A prophet could have the gift of anticipating the future, predicting the future, or simply, proclaiming truth. Both of them were seen, in the first couple of hundred years, as having a prophetic gift.
Now, there was a problem that happened with prophets. Agabus was a prophet that could predict the future, and he does here, and he does later on, with Paul. You'll see, he'll show up again. So he predicted that there would be a famine, which, by the way, happened. Antiquity shows there were four famines throughout this time, two in Rome, one in Greece, and one in Judea. Judea was the most affected. It was the worst of all the famines. And that is the one he predicted. So ancient records bear testimony that there was a famine during this time.
Here was the problem with the prophets. The prophets would travel around, and they would speak forth, or they would foretell the future. But because they were unattached to any one particular assembly, they lacked a rooted accountability. Just like somebody comes to you, the Lord sent me to give you a message. Well, how do you test that? I mean, what group do you belong to? I don't belong to any group, just me and Jesus. Well, you could be a fruitcake and say that. And many fruitcakes are in abundance, by the way. I could write books, just on the fruitcakes of my life. They seem to be unending. There's an unending supply of weirdness in the name of God.
So because it became a problem in the early church, around 100 AD, there was circulated what was called the Didache, the teaching of the apostles on church order, including, what's a true prophet and a false prophet. That aside, Agabus was a true prophet, predicted something would happen, a famine, and it did. It says, "Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to their brethren dwelling in Judea." That's that worse famine in antiquity, from 41 to 54 AD. That's the reign of Claudius Caesar. "This, they also did, and sent it to the elders, by the hands of Barnabas and Saul."
Now, note that. Mark that, as we close this chapter, and close the evening. It's Barnabas mentioned first, and Saul, mentioned second. You'll see that for awhile. But you'll also read, soon enough, in the chapters ahead, where that changes to Paul and Barnabas. And the leader becomes subservient to one that he has trained and encouraged, and Paul will take the lead. I love the story of Barnabas, and as we leave, just let that ministry sink into your hearts. Because when we think of great people, we fail to think of what's behind the great person.
You think of Charles Lindbergh, what a great person to make that long flight across the Atlantic in 1927. But nobody speaks about Claude. Who? His mechanic, who made sure that his airplane, called the Spirit of St. Louis, was in working condition. He couldn't have made that flight without Claude. We all know Martin Luther, and the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg door in 1517. Martin Luther, the Reformer. But nobody mentions Melanchthon, his assistant, who helped translate the New Testament for Luther. People know of Billy Graham, but nobody talks much about T.W. Wilson, or Grady Wilson. Those great friends and encouragers who, in the dark moments, pushed him onward.
So, in God's sovereignty, the gift of encouragement, is so needed. Now, again, King James says, "exhortation." But I know a lot of people who go, I have the gift of exhortation. And what they mean is, I have the gift of condemnation. There is no such thing as that gift. It ain't a gift, not on any list. Well, I have the gift of pointing fingers at people, telling them where they err, and they're wrong. Now, there's a gift of discernment. But that gift of condemnation and finger pointing, it's not in the text. The gift of encouragement, however, is. You say, well, maybe I'm not so soft spoken.
Think of it this way. A kick in the pants, though just a few vertebrae removed from a pat on the back, is miles ahead in results. So, a pat on the back. That's what I meant to say. A pat on the back, though it's a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, is miles ahead in results. So a few more pats on the back, a few less kicks in the pants. Some need it, I understand it, but maybe not as much as you think. Let's be gracious. Let's understand the grace that God was trying to get through to Peter when He said, "What I have cleansed, don't call common." Let's be gracious with each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as Christ has forgiven us.
Father, thank you for this time. Thank you for the instruction from your Word through your Spirit, through a flawed human instrument, to our hearts. May we take it to heart, and may we be Christianos, slaves and followers of the most worthy one in the universe. It's in His name we pray. Amen.