REAL. WORKING. CHURCH.
THEME: Luke describes a truly working church in Antioch. The church is engaged in worship, prayer, giving, evangelism, teaching and learning, living out their faith, listening to the Holy Spirit, obeying God, and fellowship with all believers. Today’s church would do well to be sincerely engaged as these early Christians were. Then we could wear the name “Christian” proudly.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 11: 19-30 and Acts 12: 24 through 13: 3.
I. The Word of God moves out of Palestine.
A. At the time of the persecution (tribulation) after the death of Stephen, believers were scattered all over the eastern Mediterranean. Some wound up in Antioch, where they took the Gospel to the Jews first, then to Gentiles.
1. It is not that the evangelization of the Jews must stop, but that the evangelization of the Gentiles must begin.
2. When the Jerusalem church heard of this, they sent Barnabas to both check on things, and to encourage the believers.
3. Jerusalem harbored concerns about Gentile expansion, and so sent someone they trusted, Barnabas to check on things and welcome the new converts. Jerusalem’s reservations will not be completely resolved until the great conference in Acts 15.
B. Antioch proves to be a great church fellowship, and would become the leading church after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD until Rome assumed the leadership late in the 2nd century.
1. Antioch was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s surviving generals in about 300 BC.
2. It was the 3rd largest Roman Empire city, behind Rome and Alexandria, Egypt.
3. It was known for its moral laxity, including religious cult prostitution at several sites.
4. Antioch reflected a marriage of oriental and Hellenistic life and cultural styles.
5. It was a city full of many different “gods.”
6. It was a cosmopolitan and commercial hub.
7. The Antioch Christian church, with its practice and doctrine, represented a distinctly countercultural way of life.
II. Antioch is the example of a vibrant, alive, and dedicated early church.
It is a great example of good Christian practices and virtues, suitable for imitation by all churches, especially those of today.
A. 1st of all, Antioch was a faithfully obedient church.
1. They lived their faith in an open manner, continuously evangelizing their neighbors and friends. With Christ continuously on their lips, no wonder the believers were labeled “Christians.”
2. They obeyed the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. (sending missionaries and witnessing)
3. Note the similarity of their faith to Abraham’s:
a. (Genesis 12: 1, 4) “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. . . So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.”
b. (Acts 13: 2b-3) “The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
c. The command in both cases was very vague and non-specific. Both Abraham and Antioch responded in the same way: They obeyed!
d. Neither Abraham nor Antioch knew where to go or what they would do when they got there, but they both did exactly what they needed to do.
e. Antioch showed their complete support for Barnabas and Saul by the laying on of hands. The church also probably gave them money for the trip, although no one could have foreseen the mission would last for about 2 years.
B. 2nd, Antioch was a teaching and learning church.
1. Barnabas and Paul spent their time with that church in teaching the new converts. What did they teach them?
2. They must have taught about Christ, making sure that the converts knew both the facts and the significance of His life, death, resurrection, exaltation, Spirit-gifts, present reign in heaven, and future coming.
3. The name “Christian” implies and emphasizes the Christ-centered nature of discipleship.
4. There were other leaders in the church who taught along with Barnabas and Paul.
C. 3rd, Antioch was a witnessing church.
1. They took the Gospel with them when they were first dispersed because of tribulation.
2. They told the Jews first (Antioch had a very large Jewish population) about Jesus.
3. They did not stop there, but also took the message to the Gentiles, maybe even before Peter officially opened the door to Cornelius and his family and friends.
4. It was not just the conversations they had with Jews and Gentiles that made them successful, it was also the life they were living.
5. We can see they were successful, because of (Acts 11: 21) “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
D. 4th, Antioch was a worshipping church.
1. It was only while they were worshipping did the Holy Spirit speak to them – and the context shows that He spoke to all the believers who were worshipping at that time. Context also tells us that their actions involving the sending of missionaries was done by the entire church.
2. When Paul and Barnabas returned from their journey, their report surely caused joy and worship.
3. When the Jerusalem council sent the “Gentile Policy Message” of Acts 15, it caused gladness of the congregation, which surely resulted in worship.
E. 5th, Antioch was a praying church.
1. They not only prayed, but they also fasted to allow for fewer distractions and more time to pray and worship.
2. Just as important as praying, they spent time listening for God’s instructions through His Holy Spirit to them.
3. They prayed to intercede and support their missionaries.
F. 6th, Antioch was a giving church.
1. It is certain that the church gave Barnabas and Saul money for their support while on the missionary journey.
2. With a totally free choice out of the goodness of their hearts, when Antioch heard of the coming famine, they immediately started setting aside money to be sent as a gift to their fellow believers in Jerusalem.
3. No one asked them to give – they just did it.
G. Finally, Antioch was a church of fellowship.
1. This is proof that they were obeying Jesus’ second great command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
2. This was a mixed Jewish and Gentile church, yet they ate together and worked together. (Galatians 2: 12-13) “Before certain men came from James, [Jerusalem] he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”
3. It was no accident that the Jerusalem recipients of the Antioch relief offering are called “brothers.”
4. The Antioch church was very glad with the results of the Jerusalem council’s decision and letter on Jewish and Gentile inter-relations (Acts 15).
III. The Antioch church is a great example for the church of today.
A. We see in Antioch the emergence of a key Christ-following community. Word and Deed are side by side.
1. These passages show a truly vibrant church, performing the essential tasks of Christianity so visibly and sincerely that outsiders note who its members are.
2. Responsiveness to divine direction and vision leads to effective ministry.
3. Some of the most significant work for the kingdom has been done by unknown witnesses who are obedient to Christ right where they are and where they do not attract much attention or notoriety.
4. Character and encouragement have the capacity to bring others on board and let them serve because there is no jealousy.
5. Today many churches are interested only in their own ministry or in using their facilities and resources only for their own efforts. It is sad to see churches that give very little to missions or do very little for other believing communities in need in their own area when they easily could.
6. In a world where everyone looks out for number one, selflessness is a great testimony to the power and witness of the Gospel to change people.
7. Antioch shows us people involved in ministry, not spectators who merely show up one day a week to watch others do God’s work.
Christians in Antioch were serious about being REAL. WORKING. CHRISTIANS in a REAL. WORKING. CHURCH. ARE YOU???