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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.
Acts 11:19

Dr. Malcolm Gill being interviewed by Dr. Andrew Corbett

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
Romans 1:1-4

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.
Acts 11:19-20

Dr. Malcom Gill sharing at the Launceston Billy Graham Evangelism conference

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.
Acts 11:21

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.
Acts 11:22

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.
Acts 11:23-24

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.
Acts 11:25-26a

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.
Acts 11:26b

Dr. Malcolm Gill sharingDr. 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! 

Your Pastor,

Andrew

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.

1 Comment

  1. LYDIA

    Thank you Ps Andrew. This was very helpful! As the birds were waking up I decided to listen to a YouTube clip by Dr Daniel Shayesteh which he made 10 years ago. I was prompted to listen, because not that many weeks prior to this I discovered that there were a number of mosques in Tasmania and the mainland. Quite a number, over 340. Even though I have met a Muslim or two in the past it made me sit up and listen to this amazing speaker even more so. That speech touched me incredibly as he explained his former life, the way the Koran expresses itself by way of fear and anger, to who Jesus was and is and what He did for him personally. By reading the New Testament Jesus transformed his entire conscious world, his life and that of his family. Now almost three months ago he had another short clip, where in gentleness and reasoning and love for the Saviour of mankind he made it just so simple, as simple as we can make it too. This Jesus who walked this earth for some 33 years transformed lives, and is still transforming lives, mine included. There will come a time, which could be today, when we will need to know what to say and when to say it and prayerfully speak the truth of the Scriptures in love to those around us. The Will Graham Celebration is but a foretaste of things to come. I appreciate this Andrew where you quoted one of the speakers at the Evangelism Conference the other week: Quote: “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!” end of quote. So, there we are then…

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.