CATCHING GOD’S VISION FOR GENTILE CONVERSIONS LEADS TO EXPLODING CHURCH GROWTH
INTRODUCTION: John 4:35 – “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”
Stott: Expansion and Opposition
The inclusion of the Gentiles is to be Luke’s main theme in the rest of Acts, and with chapter 13 he begins to chronicle Paul’s missionary exploits. Before this, however, he gives his readers two vignettes, which form a transition between the conversion of the first Gentile (through Peter) and the systematic evangelization of Gentiles (by Paul). The first (11:19-30) depicts the expansion of the church northwards, as a result of evangelistic activity by anonymous missionaries. The scene is Antioch, and Paul figures in the story, although Barnabas is more prominent. The second (12:1-25) depicts opposition to the church by King Herod Agrippa I, who concentrates his attack on members of the apostolic circle. The scene is Jerusalem, and Peter occupies the centre of the stage. In fact, this is Luke’s final Peter-story before his leadership role is taken over by Paul, and Jerusalem is eclipsed by the goal of Rome.
(:19) OCCASION – By way of contrast – Most People are Slow to Embrace God’s Vision for the Moment (bogged down by traditional thinking)
“So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.”
Kent: This passage takes the reader back in time to the events of Acts 8:1, 4, and describes what was occurring in the north at the same time that the happenings in Samaria, Caesarea, and that general region were taking place. . . major cities of Phoenicia = Tyre and Sidon . . . Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at this time (after Rome and Alexandria).
Bruce: The city’s reputation for moral laxity was enhanced by the cult of Artemis and Apollo at Daphne, five miles distant, where the ancient Syrian worship of Astarte and her consort, with its ritual prostitution, was carried on
MacArthur: Antioch was gross to put it mildly. The people lived for their pleasures. One writer said that life there was a perpetual festival of vice revolving around the baths, brothels, the amphitheatre and the circus. And so it was an evil place.
Like the infield at the Preakness – the Kegasus marketing creature = drunken mascot
Deffinbaugh: For many of these saints were handicapped by their (one) language and culture, and even those who were not were brought up as saints to believe that the gospel was for the Jews alone. No wonder Luke portrays the prejudice of Peter and the Jerusalem apostles and saints just prior to this account of the “tight-lipped” saints who were scattered from Jerusalem.
CATCHING GOD’S VISION FOR GENTILE CONVERSIONS LEADS TO EXPLODING CHURCH GROWTH —
(HUGE NUMBERS OF NEW GENTILE BELIEVERS IN THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH)
3 STAGES OF EXPLODING GROWTH OF CHURCH AT ANTIOCH
I. (:20-21) INITIAL GROWTH – EVANGELISTIC MINISTRY OF UNNAMED PERSECUTED JEWS
A. (:20) Pioneer Evangelism Among the Gentiles
“But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
Constable: The Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius, who were both Gentiles, had taken the initiative in reaching out to Jews and had obtained salvation. Now believing Jews were taking the initiative in reaching out to Gentiles with the gospel.
Unknown heroes of evangelism and church planting – not the big names we have been used to hearing about in Acts
Deffinbaugh: Those who preached Christ to the Gentiles were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Barnabas, for example, was from the island of Cyprus (4:36). Simon, who carried the cross of our Lord (Luke 23:26) was a Cyrenian. Lucius too was a Cyrenian (Acts 13:1). There is one thing which we can safely and confidently conclude from what Luke has told us: those who proclaimed the gospel to the Gentiles were Hellenistic Jews. . .
THESE SAINTS SURPASSED THEIR PEERS, THEIR TEACHERS, AND EVEN THE APOSTLES, BECAUSE THEY DID NOT LET THE LIMITATIONS OF THEIR LEADERS BE THEIR OWN.
Cyprus = island not far from Antioch; Cyrene = city in N. Africa
Longenecker: it seems fair to say that Luke did not look on the Greeks in v.20 as simply Gentiles unaffected by the influence of Judaism and that he did not view the Hellenistic Christians’ approach to them as preempting the uniqueness of Paul’s later Gentile policy.
Antioch = strategic center of operations to launch future missionary journeys; development of church there – what it would look like – would be the template for a NT church that would be duplicated throughout the world
B. (:21a) Powerful Enablement of the Lord – His Providential Favor and Blessing
“And the hand of the Lord was with them,”
pictures God’s power (cf. Isa. 59:1; 66:14).
MacArthur: It means two things: first of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus 14:31, the Bible says, “And Israel saw that great work, which the Lord had done.” And the word work is the word hand. It expresses power and the Egyptians were shocked at what God had done. They said, “Look it is the finger of God.” His hand extended means power. But it always means power with blessing. There may be something happening in it, but ultimately He’s blessing. It may be something of an evil nature initially, but blessing is the end of it. And it’s more qualified in Ezra. Ezra 7:9, Ezra 8:18, Nehemiah 2: 2,8, 18. All of that in there you can read sometime not now. But in that passage you have the statement, “The good hand of the Lord.” And it’s repeated at least four or five times. The hand of the Lord then means blessing.
C. (:21b) Penetrating Effects of the Gospel – Huge Numbers of Converts
“and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Huge numbers involved – this is the emphasis in each of the three sections of this text; God is sovereignly by His Spirit doing something BIG here
Combination of Faith and Repentance
Tousssaint: The clause “believed and turned to the Lord” does not necessarily refer to two separate actions. The Greek construction (an aorist participle with an aorist finite verb) often indicates that the two actions are simultaneous. This clause, then, means, “in believing, they turned to the Lord.”
Possible to know the facts about Jesus are true but not to turn from your sin to put your confidence in Him
II. (:22-24) SUSTAINED GROWTH – ENCOURAGEMENT MINISTRY OF BARNABAS
A. (:22) Investigation of Gentile Conversions
“And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.”
Could not have chosen a better man for the job; had a large heart – inclusive rather than exclusive mindset; as indicated by his name, he excelled at encouraging others
Bruce: Barnabas himself was a Cypriote Jew by birth, like some of those who had begun to preach the gospel to the Antiochene Gentiles, and his sympathies would in any case be wider than those of Jewish Christians who had never set foot outside Judea.
Journey of over 300 miles to the north
B. (:23-24a) Verification and Encouragement of Gentile Conversions
1. Evidence of Grace of God in Transforming Gentiles
“Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God,”
How does the grace of God become visible so that you can witness it??
One thing to be back in Jerusalem and hear about it; another to come and personally witness it
2. Excitement Experienced Personally by Barnabas
different reaction than those who were skeptical; who wanted to question what was happening; who did not want to believe that Gentiles could be received into fellowship on an equal basis
3. Encouragement to New Converts to Persevere
“and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;”
Importance of Abiding in Christ; clinging to Christ – John 15; 1 John 2:24-28
Continue in the word of God
Wiersbe: The same grace that saves us can also keep us (1 Cor. 15:10; Heb. 13:9 “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace”).
4. Example of Godly Character = His Qualifications for this Ministry
a. His Overall Reputation
“for he was a good man,”
b. His Spiritual Dynamic
“and full of the Holy Spirit”
Stephen had been described in this same manner
c. His Orientation of Faith
“and of faith”
Piper: At the very beginning of the Christian life we receive the Holy Spirit by trusting in the truth of the gospel (Galatians 3:2). Then as the Christian life goes on and there is need again and again to be strengthened and filled with the Spirit, this too happens by faith in the word of God’s promise (Galatians 3:5). One of the practical fruits or products of this Spirit-filled faith is goodness (Galatians 5:22).
C. (:24b) Multiplication of Gentile Conversions – Huge Numbers of Converts
“And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.”
Guzik: This is the plan for church growth spoken of in Ephesians 4:11-16. Leaders in the church dedicate themselves to building strong, healthy Christians. As the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry, they grow into maturity, and do their ministry, and it causes growth of the body.
MacArthur: a giant multitude; a massive multitude
Stott: The verb for “added” in verse 24 has become for Luke an almost technical word for church growth. He used it twice in relation to the Day of Pentecost, first of the three thousand who were added that day (2:41) and then of the daily additions which followed (2:47). Later he wrote of “more and more men and women” believing in the Lord and being added to the church (5:14), while in Syrian Antioch “a great number of people” were added (11:24).
III. (:25-26) MATURING GROWTH – EDIFICATION MINISTRY OF BARNABAS AND SAUL
A. (:25-26a) New Partner in Ministry – Maturity Requires Effective Leadership
“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.”
Constable: Barnabas had earlier sponsored Saul in Jerusalem (9:27). Now Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch, a distance of about 90 miles, where they ministered together for a year teaching and leading the church. This was probably in A.D. 43, ten years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the day of Pentecost.
MacArthur: the original word “suggests a laborious search on Barnabas’ part.”
Bruce: Saul appears to have been disinherited for his Christian confession and could no longer be found at his ancestral home.
B. (:26b) New Program of Systematic Church Indoctrination – Huge Numbers – Maturity Feeds on Sound Doctrine
“And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers;”
What type of program does the church need to focus on?? Teaching, indoctrination – you can’t get too much of it – as long as you are applying it and living it out on the spiritual battlefield
What methods and programs are effective to disciple young believers and cause them to grow deep roots so that they will be fruitful??
C. (:26c) New Name – Maturity Creates Differentiation from Outsiders
“and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
Possibly term of derision initially; non believers can put up with believers who blend in and look like the world – they can’t stand those who look like Jesus Christ in how they live – but maybe not – Boice thinks it just was characteristic of the one whom they could not stop talking about
Kent: In all likelihood the name “Christians” was first coined by outsiders, inasmuch as the church called itself “brethren,” “disciples,” “those of the Way,” or “those who were believing.” . . . The name consists of the title “Christ” with the suffix “-ian” denoting an adherent.
Eusebius: [the famous early church historian] describes a believer named Sanctus from Lyons, France, who was tortured for Jesus. As they tortured him cruelly, they hoped to get him to say something evil or blasphemous. They asked his name, and he would only reply, “I am a Christian.” “What nation do you belong to?” He would answer, “I am a Christian.” “What city do you live in?” “I am a Christian.” His questioners began to get angry: “Are you a slave or a free man?” “I am a Christian” was the only reply. No matter what they asked about him, he would only answer, “I am a Christian.” This made his torturers all the more determined to break him, but they could not, and he died with the words “I am a Christian” on his lips. (Eusebius, Church History)
Toussaint: The significance of the name, emphasized by the word order in the Greek text, is that people recognized Christians as a distinct group. The church was more and more being separated from Judaism.
Deffinbaugh: But now we are dealing with Gentiles, pure pagans. They were not Jewish, and when they came to faith in the Lord Jesus they did not go to the synagogue nor did they associate with the Jews. They were very different and distinct from the Jews, and their faith did not make them Jewish. These people had no identity. What would you call this new group of people, this large body of people, who had been saved, but were not a part of any established religion? They needed a name, a name which depicted their essential uniqueness and which characterized them. The name which that city coined was the name “Christians.” The one thing which characterized every one of these new believers was their faith in Christ, their belonging to Him, and so they were appropriately named Christians.
What is God’s Vision for today? Are we catching God’s Vision for Today?