All are welcome here, worship is every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. - get directions

The First Christians

Preached:  July 28, 2013
Scriptures:  Acts 11:21-30 & Excerpts from Acts 13 & 14

The geography in the book of Acts shifts north to Antioch, with Peter being left in Jerusalem. Antioch will soon become the staging area and springboard for missionary activity to other parts of the Roman Empire. Antioch is 300 miles N of Jerusalem; 20 miles inland from Mediterranean. SE corner of Turkey.

Antioch is an important commercial and economic center.  Culturally, it is a melting pot of Greek, Roman, Semitic, Arabic and Persian influences.  Hellenistic Jews from Jerusalem preached the gospel to other Jews and travel beyond the areas where Peter and Philip have been. But then some anonymous believers from Cyprus and Cyrene come to Antioch and begin to speak to Gentile Greeks, telling them the good news.  These are most likely Gentiles who already have an interest in Judaism.

The church in Jerusalem hears about the large number of Gentile converts in Antioch, and send Barnabas to check on the situation. This turn of events occurs without the presence of the apostles.  He encourages the missionaries and Gentile converts “to remain true to the Lord”.

Because of all the converts, Barnabas’ travels to Tarsus to find Paul.  He thinks Paul will be a good choice to help evangelize Antioch. They return to Antioch, and teach large numbers of people for a year.

Curiosity: Luke will sometimes mention Barnabus first in the pairing, and sometimes Paul.  There seems to be no consistency to this except that Luke balances the relationship. Each is listed first eight times.

During the time of church expansion at Antioch, outsiders begin to call the disciples by the term “Christian” (11:26). Cristianoi. This is a way of identifying a follower of a group. Those of the party of Herod are Herodianoi. The Caesariani are those who belong to the party of Caesar. Members of one of the major Jewish religious sects are the Pharisaioi.

“Christian” is not a term the disciples generally use for themselves. They prefer “brothers,” “disciples,” or “saints.”  They were also called followers of THE WAY. It appears the term Christian originated as a designation given by hostile observers.

The use of the name Christian indicates that people realize the church is not just another sect of Judaism; it now includes Gentiles, too. This realization is risky to the church. As long as it is just another variant of Judaism, the church can obtain protection from Rome as a legal religion.

Agabus prophesies  that a severe famine will spread over the entire Roman world (11:28).  The disciples at Antioch organize a relief fund for the mother-church in Jerusalem.  “As each one was able, they decided to provide help for those living in Judea” (11:29).   The new Gentile and Hellenistic Christians of Antioch prove their faith and unity with the mother church by responding generously and sharing their material possessions.

Chapter 12 focuses on Peter becoming imprisoned by Herod and his miraculous release, and then Herod being consumed by worms.  Feel free to read it on your own.  Quite fascinating end of Herod.  The end of Acts 12 picks up the story Barnabas and Paul traveling to Jerusalem to deliver the relief fund to the elders to offer it to the poor.  Then they return to Antioch. From this point Paul will use the Antioch church as his home base of operations.

This is a pivotal point in the growth of the church. Up till now, Jerusalem and Judea have been the center of his story. Peter has been the most prominent person in the narrative. Now, Luke shifts his interest to the church at Antioch.

Luke names five prophet/teachers in Antioch: Barnabas as the apostolic delegate & a leading figure in the Jerusalem church, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been raised with Herod) and Saul who will later be named Paul. Their names show they come from a wide variety of social/ethnic backgrounds.

Paul is mentioned last as he is a newcomer to Antioch. But he will soon take center stage, while the others will no longer be named in the story, except Barnabas.

Paul’s first missionary journey is to Cyprus, in the NE corner of Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus makes sense to begin the church’s outreach because it is Barnabas’ native land.

John Mark accompanies Barnabas & Paul on the journey as their assistant, but returns early, which will cause a rift between Barnabas & Paul.

In Acts 13:9 Luke tells us for the first time that Saul is “also called Paul”.  “Saul” is more appropriate in the Jewish world. But as he moves into the wider Gentile and Roman world, “Paul” is a more suitable name.  Paul also takes center stage – it’s no longer Barnabus and Saul, it’s Paul and his companions, indicating that Paul is now the leader of the group.   Paul has become the dominant partner in the missionary team.

Paul delivers a sermon in the synagogue in Antioch. The synagogue plays a major role in Jewish life. It serves as a meeting place, schoolhouse, library and court. The synagogue houses the Scriptures and other important writings, so it is a center of religious education and learning. And it is the place where Jews came to worship.  Gentile proselytes and God-fearers attend the synagogue as well as Jews.

Paul begins by addressing not only the Jews, but also “YOU Gentiles who worship God”.  After giving his message in the synagogue, Paul and Barnabas prepare to leave. But the crowd invites him to preach again.  Luke says “the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (13:44).

But conflict with the synagogue leaders looms. When they see the large crowd of Gentiles attempting to get into the synagogue to hear Paul, Luke says “they were filled with jealousy”. The strange ideas Paul is preaching sound attractive. The God-fearing Gentiles might leave the synagogue and no longer support it, wanting to hear about Jesus rather than Moses.

At some point, Paul turns to the unbelieving Jews and says: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (13:46). This is a pattern that will be repeated in city after city: Paul begins missionary work by preaching in the synagogue. Then he is rejected by leaders and Jewish worshipers, so he preaches to the Gentiles in that city.

Paul and Barnabas meet experience great success in the area around Antioch. Luke says, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (13:49). The Jewish leaders are angry and they get rid of Paul and Barnabas for expelled disturbing the Roman peace. Paul and Barnabas shake “the dust off their feet” in protest.  It was customary for Jews to shake off the dust of a pagan town from their feet when they returned to their own land, as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the impurity of sinners who did not worship God. For Jews to do this to their fellow Jews was like regarding them to be pagan Gentiles.

Paul and Barnabas establish a congregation of believers in Antioch. But are forced to move on, this time to Iconium.

Paul and Barnabas travel to Iconium  90 miles southeast of Antioch. They enter the Jewish synagogue to preach (14:1). They speak so effectively that large numbers of Jews and Gentiles believe the gospel and God performs miraculous wonders through them.  But the people remain divided about them. “Some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles” (14:4). Eventually the Jews are able to hatch a plot with some of the political leaders, and the Jews intend to gather a mob, and stone them to death (14:5).

Paul and Barnabas flee to “Lystra and Derbe” where they continue to preach.  Paul is drawn to a lame man, and interrupts his speech to heal the man: “Stand up on your feet!”  At Paul’s words, the man jumps up and begins to walk.         When the lame man jumps up and walks, the crowd shouts, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”  Barnabas is called Zeus, and Paul is thought to be Hermes, because he is the main speaker. Hermes is called the messenger of Zeus and the patron of orators.

The Lystrans think that they are experiencing a divine visitation.

Paul makes a speech to keep the Lystrans from worshiping the missionaries.  After this, the Jews are antagonistic to Paul and Barnabas. Those against them win the fickle crowd over (14:19).  At one time they are calling the missionaries gods. Now they call them charlatans and frauds.

The mob begins to stone Paul. After thinking he is dead, they drag his body away and dump it outside the city limits (14:19).  As a small group of converted Lystrans gather around Paul, he gets up, and of course, he goes “back into the city” (14:20).

Their preaching wins “a large number of disciples” (14:21). Paul and Barnabas leave the next day for Derbe.   Paul and Barnabas revisit each city on their way back to Antioch,. They keep a low profile and avoid public preaching. Their objective is not to make more converts, but to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith” (14:22).

Luke ends the account by saying that Paul and Barnabas “stayed there a long time with the disciples” (14:28).