LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WORLD’S MOST WICKED CITY WHEN THESE GUYS TURNED UP
At our recent evangelism conference, Dr. Malcolm Gill, from the Sydney Anglican Cathedral, shared how the early Christians targeted the most vile, evil, cities in the world as places where the gospel needed to be taken. The three largest cities in the world during the time when the Church being birthed were: Rome, Alexandria (in Egypt), and Antioch. Of these three, Antioch was among the most vile, dangerous, evil, debauched cities at that time. It was a violent, promiscuous city where every imaginable form of sexual immorality was common. To make matters worse, Antioch was one of the world’s major slave trading centres. I wonder how many Christians today would choose to move to such a city in order to raise their families? Not many I suggest. But in the first century, several brave Christians moved to Antioch to share the gospel and what happened as a result literally changed the course of human history! And what they did should encourage us to see how God might use the gospel through us to transform our cities!
¶ Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen
traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.
Dr. Gill explained in his conference session that in order to understand what happened to Antioch after the gospel arrived, it was necessary to understand what this ‘gospel’ was. To do this he unpacked Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord
From the opening four verses of Romans Dr. Gill highlighted that this epistle was an explanation of the gospel. At the heart of the gospel is Jesus Christ. The gospel is not merely a collection of ideas or just a wonderful story; it is a miraculous and supernatural message that has been invested with divine power. This, Dr. Gill stated, made God “the Prime Evangelist”. It is a message that invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform spiritually dead people into new-life-infused believers. The proof of its divine power and spiritually transformative outworking was evidenced by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ who was revealed to be the Lord. Paul goes on to describe how all people wilfully stand alienated and estranged from God in their rebellion to God’s will (Rom. 3:10; 23). Despite this enmity with God, God initiated a rescue plan to redeem every sinner (Rom. 5:10). God now offers forgiveness, spiritual cleansing, reconciliation, and divine adoption to all those who accept His gracious offer (Rom. 6:23). But only those who confess their sinfulness, seek and accept God’s offer of salvation, and confess that Christ is their Lord will enter into the blessing of the gospel (Rom. 10:9-10).
THE REDEMPTIFICATION OF ANTIOCH
After Dr. Gill described the historical background of the city of Antioch, he drew on the account in Acts 11 where it describes how the persecution of Christians increased which led to many believers “being scattered”. What Dr. Gill highlighted was that it was ‘some men’ who went to Antioch and shared with Jews and ‘Hellenists’.
¶ Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
‘Some of those who were scattered’ where just ordinary people. They were not apostles. They were not pastors. They were not Bible College trained. They were simply ordinary people who knew Jesus and obediently shared the gospel with others. As people accepted the gospel they turned to Christ and they too shared with their friends and family about Jesus. This was the result-
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
As these ordinary believers testified to the Antiochians, the Holy Spirit did what only the Holy Spirit can do and miraculously began to transform people. The Holy Spirit then oversaw the strengthening of the work in Antioch by sending one of the world’s most encouraging men – Barnabas – to establish these new believers into a church.
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Barnabas may not have been an evangelist. We know from Acts 4:36 that Barnabas was actually his nickname. His name was Joseph. He was a Levite from Cyprus. He was the perfect choice to go to Antioch to encourage his unnamed fellow countrymen who had found success in their evangelism. Barnabas’s role in the transformation of Antioch was critical. God may not have equipped you to preach or minister as an evangelist, Dr. Gill pointed out, but He may have enabled you to strengthen those who do. Barnabas my not have felt like he was anyone special or that he was doing anything particular special, but as he encouraged the believers to continue in their outreach, he also encouraged those who had recently to the Lord. Note what happened as a result –
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
We see from Barnabas’s observation of what was happening in Antioch that it wasn’t because these unnamed believers were anything special or particularly gifted individuals. The reason these few ordinary believers had been able to lead so many Antiochians to Christ was “the grace of God” (Acts 11:23). It’s a fair assumption that when these believers arrived in Antioch and saw how dark and hard this city was that they turned their faces to the Lord in prayer and beseeched Him to turn the heart of the Antiochians to Christ. The fact that God did answer their prayers was an act of His grace. Based on James 4:2 (“You do not have, because you do not ask”) one biblical scholar has noted, “You have a far greater chance of having your prayers answered if you actually pray!”
THE TRANSFORMATION OF ANTIOCH BEGAN WITH EVANGELISM
Evangelism begins with prayer. Evangelism leads to discipleship – helping someone committed to learning about God and His Word and living it, Dr. Gill said. But Barnabas couldn’t do it all by himself. He needed help so he took a calculated risk –
So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.
Despite the darkness, despite the spiritual hardness, despite the lack of fellow believers – the few Cyprian Christians who dared to tell someone about Jesus experienced the grace of God and saw hundreds of people, who were previously seemingly a million miles away from God, surrender to Christ and be utterly transformed. The result was that Antioch itself was transformed. So profound was the change in the spiritual climate of Antioch that it was in Antioch that followers of Christ first became known as Christians –
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Dr. Gill concluded his session at our Evangelism Conference by reminding us of two important truths drawn from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and the account of the church at Antioch being planted. Firstly, it is God who saves people! He is the “Prime Evangelist”. We can therefore trust God whenever we share with someone about Jesus. Secondly, God uses ordinary people – you don’t have to know all the words — you just have to know the Saviour!
As we read through Acts we realise just how special the church at Antioch must have been. It became the Apostle Paul’s home church. It became the first church to send out missionaries and, as a result, all of the churches addressed in the New Testament were planted! And it all start because some unnamed ordinary guys prayed and shared and saw God do what only God can do. Perhaps we can too!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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