Our study takes us this morning to the 11th Chapter of Acts. We’re continuing in a study of the book of Acts coming to Chapter 11. We have been studying in Chapter 10 four weeks in a row, that one chapter, dealing with salvation to the Gentiles. We know that originally in the book of Acts Jesus said, “After the Spirit of God has come upon you, you shall be witnesses, My witnesses, and you shall be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.” And the plan of the evangelization of man began at Jerusalem and then it just spread. The last great link in that spread of evangelism was taking the gospel to pagans, to Gentiles. As we come to Chapter 11, the gospel has already been taken to Jews in Jerusalem and outside Jerusalem. It has been taken to Samaritans, half-breeds, and in Chapter 10 it was taken to the first group of Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and Peter was the messenger. And you’ll remember that Cornelius was wonderfully saved and as was his household.
Now it is time for Peter to go back to Jerusalem, as we come to Chapter 11, and he must report to the Jews in Jerusalem, his brothers in Christ, what has happened. And he realizes that it is not going to be easy for them to handle. Now he found it even difficult to allow Gentiles into the church and God had to give him a special vision to prepare his heart. They have had no such vision. They are still locked into the typical prejudice, to the nationalistic spirit, to a separatistic view, and they have not had the benefit of what he has seen and so it’s going to be very difficult and he well knows it. He returns beginning in verse 1 of Chapter 11, and this is the record of what occurs. And I’m going to read through verse 18, and we’re going to say very little about those verses because they are simply a verbatim recitation of what we’ve already studied in Chapter 10.
Verse 1, “And the apostles and brethren that were in Judea, heard that the Gentiles had also received the Word of God.” And it’s interesting, you see, that they had heard about this. Apparently the word flew from Caesarea back to Jerusalem of what had happened, and before Peter could ever get there to defend himself, they had already formed their preconceived notions. It’s amazing how people will do that. Before you get a chance to defend your case, they’ll already have summed it up. And so in this case they had already decided what had gone on, and the word got back to them before Peter got there. “And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision” – and you probably ought to put quotation marks around “the circumcision.” That’s the name of a party. That’s the name of a group. That was a group of Jews who believed the only way to become a Christian was to become a Jew first. And in Chapter 15 and verse 5 of the book of Acts, on the occasion of the church council in Jerusalem they acknowledged that nobody in effect could become a Christian until he had been circumcised. The physical act of circumcision was a prelude to salvation. You had to get into Judaism by going through the vestibule of – or get into Christianity by going through the vestibule of Judaism. And so, “The circumcision contended with him.” The word contended means to have a dispute including doubts. They didn’t believe this in the first place, so they argued. Contended is in the imperfect tense, which means it was a prolonged thing.
So Peter got back and what it means is the legalists hassled him continually. And their hassle came about in these words, verse 3 – and they were really irate, believe me. They were outraged. “You went into men uncircumcised and” – worse – “you ate with them.” Now you see that was totally taboo. Peter just smashed the taboos. You didn’t have fellowship with uncircumcised people and eat with them, least of all, God forbid, would you ever include them on an equal basis in the church. And he did both, and so they just really laid in – they were infuriated. “But Peter reviewed the matter from the beginning and expounded it in order unto them saying,” – he just recites the facts – “I was in the city of Joppa praying and in a trance I saw a vision. A certain vessel descending as it had been a great sheet let down from heaven by four corners and it came even to me.” Now you remember we studied this in detail. A sheet came out of heaven in his vision. The sheet represents the church. “Upon which when I had fastened mine eyes I considered and saw four footed beasts of the earth and wild beasts and creeping things and fowls of the air.”
Now you’ll remember that in Israel certain animals were clean, certain were unclean, and they could never be mixed. The Jew in his diet could only eat clean things. Unclean animals were also a picture of Gentiles. So he saw this vision. “I heard a voice say unto me, ‘Arise Peter. Slay and eat,’” which is like wiping out the ceremonial diet laws. It’s also like saying there’s no difference any more between Jew and Gentile. They’re all the same in the same sheet, the church. “And I said,” verse 8, “No, not so Lord. For nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.” I’ve been a strict Jew from the beginning. “But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God hath cleansed did that call not thou common.’” Don’t argue with Me Peter. I say they’re clean. “And this was done three times.” That’ll show you how stubborn Peter was. “And all were drawn up into heaven again.”
Well God gave him this vision, very clear, Jew and Gentile included in the church. Something brand new – whole fantastic new concept. All the ceremonial laws also we can include by implication were wiped out in terms of diet, and Jews no longer had to restrict their diet to a very specific kind of thing. That whole time was over with. Well immediately God gave them a chance to react. Verse 11, “Behold immediately there were three men already come to the house where I was” – they were Gentiles – “sent from Caesarea unto me.” Cornelius had sent them. “And the Spirit bade me go with them nothing doubting.” He was going to meet these Gentiles, Cornelius household. “Moreover these six brethren accompanied me and we entered into the man’s house.” Here he goes. He’s got six Jewish friends and they all go and they go into a Gentile’s house. “And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house.” He had a vision too. “Who stood and said unto him, ‘Send men to Joppa and call for Simon whose name is Peter.’” You go get Peter.
So the Spirit says, Peter, you go to Cornelius and the Spirit says, Cornelius, you go get Peter, and the Spirit’s pulling the thing together. “And he will tell you words by which you and all your house shall be saved.” Cornelius was a ready heart. He was a prepared man, so was his household, and Peter was the instrument to bring the message they waited to hear. Peter says, “And I began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning.” In effect he’s saying, I just was talking folks and it happened. “Then remembered I the word of the Lord how that He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” He said, I looked at it and it fit scripture. “And for as much then as God gave them the same gift as He did unto us who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, what was I that I could withstand God?” I mean what am I going to argue with. It was scriptural. God promised and God did it. What can I say? “And when they heard these things they held their peace.” That ended the argument – “And glorified God saying, ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’”
Now this is a most important passage. You say, well why is it so important? It says exactly what we said in Chapter 10. You’re right. It’s verbatim. It’s just a repetition of Chapter 10. Now you know I can honestly say in my study of scripture that I can’t think in my mind of one other place in scripture where you have the same thing repeated twice in a row, one time immediately after the other. Interesting thing enough that is, but one other additional point, after all that description of Cornelius’ vision, when Peter got to his house Cornelius described the whole thing back again, and the Holy Spirit put all that in there again. So part of this thing is three times in the same two chapters. That means that it’s very, very important. When God says something it’s important. When He repeats it, it is very important. I mean it’s assumed that if God wrote it down in the Bible you could read it a hundred times if you wanted to, if He bothers to repeat it two or three times then He’s really got a message that we ought to hear.
You know it’s interesting too that the average papyri that they used – there was a papyrus plant, a kind of a bulrush plant from which they made a long scroll, which they used to write on. This was before book form had come into vogue. And the longest ones that we could ever find, assuming that this would be about the maximum, was 35 feet. Now that’s a good-sized scroll, 35-foot scroll. But on a 35-foot scroll you could probably crowd about the content of the book of Acts, 28 chapters to 30 chapters, but that would be pushing it. So Luke had a limited amount of space. He was going to put the whole thing on this scroll. He also had a tremendous amount of things to select from just from a human standpoint. There were many incidents in the church that had happened. There were many miracles. There were many signs and wonders done by the apostles and prophets. I imagine there were some fantastic conversion experiences. I just think about all the three thousand saved on the day of Pentecost. Just imagine what their testimonies could have been like. And all of the other thousands that were being saved all over the place, they could have been included. There were so many fabulous things yet he spends all this space saying the same thing three times just filling a whole chunk of that scroll with this Cornelius account.
You say, why are you making a point of that? Just because I think God made a point of it. I think it’s very important for us to understand how important this is. You see from our standpoint we can’t see how very easily Christianity could have become another sect of Judaism. Just a little segment of Judaism because the Jews were locked in on the fact that that’s what it was, in fact. And this whole concept of getting it out to the world, getting it out to the Gentiles was a monumental crisis in the life of the church and in the plan of God. The whole group of first Christians were Jews, and they tended to grind kind of inwardly. You know? So Luke just continuously repeats this whole thing that you might understand what a milestone this is along the road of the church to evangelize the world.
I’m also reminded of one other footnote and that is the fact that God knows we have a terrible problem with prejudice or He wouldn’t make such an issue out of it. Usually our life patterns are determined a great deal by our prejudice. Prejudice controls and dominates the lives of most people. If you think about it long enough, you’ll understand that that’s a true statement. But all that had gone on in the house of Cornelius was designed to shatter prejudice. It was designed to crush any kind of cherished belief of the Hebrews that the Gentiles were second-class people. That had to go. And it didn’t go easy. The battle for Gentile acceptance had to be fought strenuously and the ground was conquered a step at a time. It came slow, believe me.
Now I’m not going to take time to go over those 18 verses because you know all that if you’ve been here. We’ve gone through that, every bit of it, in great detail. I just want you to pick up a few points. Keep in mind that as Peter comes back to report, the word has already beaten him there, and so they’ve already made up their preconceived ideas. That’s verse 1. They’ve already heard and Peter’s going back into a storm. The ultra-conservative Jews, particularly of the circumcision party, those former Pharisees who were now Christians who thought that Judaism was all in all and wanted everybody to become a Jew and get circumcised before he could become a Christian, they had already made up their mind that Peter made a wholesale sell out. Peter was probably on the outs because, he’d even gone into Samaria; and he’d preached all over Samaria, and people got saved when the Holy Spirit came. So he was probably in trouble already and this was a wholesale washout on the part of Peter. So when he came back, they started a big argument. They really hassled him badly and they hassled him repeatedly.
And you know orthodoxy can get mad. I remember when I was in Jerusalem, they said don’t drive your car through the orthodox section on the Sabbath unless you want it to get stoned. They get upset when someone violates the law, and I mean they got upset then too. And Peter had done exactly what their ceremonial law forbade, and they were really upset that he would have anything to do with these Gentiles.
Now what’s his spirit going to be? He can come back, and he’s got all kinds of options. He can pull rank. He can say, “Hey you guys, cut it out. Don’t you know who I am? Peter’s the name. I was given the keys to the kingdom. What I open nobody shuts.” He could have pulled rank and he had rank to pull. But you know what that does? It only irritates people, so he just recited the facts. I love this. Verse 4, “Peter reviewed the matter from the beginning expounded it in order unto them saying,” and he goes just like a little tape recorder right down the whole deal. You know why? Because the issue explained itself. If the facts are on your side you don’t have to pull rank, just recite the facts. He could have pulled spiritual rank. He could have said, “I was led of the Spirit,” you know which is a common statement for crackpots to make. You know, they get out on some bazaar weirdo deal and they say, “Well God told me to do it.” If you ever come to me and say that you’re in trouble. I tend to tune you out immediately. “Well God sent me to say this.” After I said this in the early service about ten people came up and said, “John, God sent me to say,” and then they took off on something.
Anyway, Peter didn’t say that. He didn’t say, “Well God did” – he just right down the line. Now Peter knew it was the Spirit’s leading but he tested it two ways. This is very important. Here’s a principle that you can grab a handle on and use. Number one, he didn’t act alone. He took six people with him. Why? Because he didn’t want to be mistaken in what was going on. He wanted the testimony of six others to confirm his own. The Jews knew well Egyptian law and Egyptian law said that where there are seven witnesses the case is closed. And Roman law said that on any will or any testament there had to be seven seals, so seven became a kind of a number of sealing the authoritativeness of something. So Peter had six guys go along with him and that made seven and he was verifying in his own mind from the testimony of others that this thing in fact was true. Now one way that you can verify the leading of the Spirit of God is if the Spirit of God is doing the same thing in other lives at the same time at the same place. But that’s not all, my friend, because you can run amuck on that point. And I want to show you a salient point that you must never forget, and that is the point that is made so clearly in this chapter down in verse 16.
In verse 15 he said, “I saw the Holy Spirit fell on them and then I remembered” – and what did I remember? – “the Word of the Lord and He had said, ‘John indeed baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’” Peter said, “You know why I know this testimony is true? Number one six other guys saw what I saw. Number two, it squares with revelation.” Did you get that? My friend, don’t ever evaluate your experience on your experience alone. Make sure it stands the test of scripture. He says, “Jesus said that the Spirit would come and baptize them, and He did.” Now that is verification scripturally. That is always needed to verify anybody’s experience or any of the so-called leading of the Lord. Mark it. The scriptures are ever your checkpoint for the validity of your experience. Peter said, “Sure, it happened. Seven of us were there. More than that I remembered that Jesus said this is how it is.” And it was.
Well with all of that evidence how could they argue? They couldn’t argue with the testimony of seven reputable witnesses. They couldn’t argue with the testimony of Jesus Christ. Peter built his foundation on the Word of Christ. And so they had nothing to say. Verse 17, Peter says, “For as much then as God gave them the same gift as He did unto us,” there’s a little theology of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift. Not only that it’s the same gift, not any different. Everybody gets the same Holy Spirit in the same way. Who gets the Holy Spirit? “Who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What do you have to do to receive the Holy Spirit? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what it says. Nothing else. There’s a little theology right there of the Holy Spirit. He’s a gift. He’s given. He is not earned. Secondly, He’s the same gift. Every believer has the same Holy Spirit. Thirdly, He comes to those who believe. And so Peter says, “There I was guys, what could I do?” I mean it was a tough nut for him to crack too. He couldn’t handle the whole thing.
He goes on, and I like the statement that he makes at the end of verse 17, “What was I that can withstand God,” which kind of implies I’d like to have. What was I going to do? There I was, Gentiles, right, they were Gentiles getting baptized in the Spirit. What could I do? See? Don’t blame me, guys. If you don’t like this, call up heaven. I didn’t do anything. “Now when they heard these things they held their peace and glorified God saying, ‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.’” I want you to know people, that statement right there is one of the most shocking statements in Jewish history. That’s a statement for which Jonah – the failure for Jonah really in his whole life was the fact that he wasn’t willing to make that statement. And there weren’t very many Jews who were in the history of Judaism. What was the statement? Simply this: God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Shocking for a Jew to make that admission. Gentiles can get saved, guys. I mean, how can we argue? Look at what happened up there. It’s a fantastic admission and people I want you to know that the importance of that statement is hardly able to be measured. You say, why? Because until the Jews who were Christians made that statement they could never begin the work of evangelizing the Gentiles. Do you see? They had to come to that.
So the whole thing with Cornelius and Peter finally comes back to Jerusalem and they make the great admission that was really the firing of the trigger that shot the church out to reach pagans, and you and I are the products. They had to go and before they’d ever go to the Gentiles they’d have to believe that salvation was for the Gentiles. Peter convinced them because Peter had been convinced by God. And so what you want to say is this: From Chapter 10 verse 1 through Chapter 11 verse 18 is point one in the outline – groundwork. God gets the groundwork done.
Before the foundation can ever be laid for that church the ground had to be prepared, the right kind of leveling and grading and fixing it all up so that the foundation could be put down. The groundwork was preparation. And what preparation was needed? Well you can’t evangelize the Gentiles if you don’t have some evangelists and you can’t get some evangelists who are willing to do it unless they break their prejudice, right? And so there had to be time for all these prejudices to come crumbling down so they would move out with the gospel. And this was it. The fantastic admission. You ought to just make an asterisk or put a circle around verse 18. It’s a catalyst verse in the history of the church. They finally admitted that Gentiles could be saved. Years God has been waiting for this, century after century, and it came finally. Well you know it had been – and some historians tell us, at least seven years from Pentecost to the founding of the church at Antioch. So almost seven years has gone by until this statement is finally made. And then from here the groundwork is done and – wham – they move out. They begin the work of evangelizing Gentiles. You say, well why does it have to take so long? Why couldn’t God just save them and shoot them out. Well there was a sense in which they did move around talking about Christ, but let me just give you some points.
I believe that it took a long time, number one – and get this because I think it’s very important, and I want to translate it into Grace Church in a minute. Number one, apostolic authority had to be established. Now when God spoke to the early church through whom did He speak? The apostles, right? They were the teachers. They were the ones who were the spokesmen for God. And they were the ones who laid out the doctrine. It’s says that in 2:42 that they spent their time in the study of the apostle’s doctrine. God spoke to them and they spoke. They had no Bibles. They had no New Testaments. They hadn’t been written yet. So when the early church came together what was their standard? I mean, how did they know whether this is right and this is wrong? How did they know how to do this, how to do that? What are God’s standards? What are these things? They had to listen to the apostles through whom God spoke. And so there needed to be time for the apostles to lay down a solid doctrinal base. Can you imagine if they all got saved and then just shot out all over the world without any foundation? They’d run into problems they wouldn’t be able to answer because they wouldn’t know what their own theology was. They wouldn’t have a Bible. Now a Christian can get saved and run around now and share Christ and he can run into problems and he can go back to the Word and say let me find that, there’s an answer here. But the guy in those days who ran out and ran into a problem was stuck. There was no New Testament.
So they had to be a foundation planted and rooted firmly. A strong doctrinal basis, and the apostles were the key. What happened was, for seven years, the apostles laid that doctrinal foundation. They spoke, they taught, and these things were compiled and collected in the minds and hearts of men and the framework of doctrine was based as a foundation. And once that foundation was firm then somebody could start the building of the Gentile church on it. But they had to be able to run into a problem and turn around and say, “Hey, there’s an answer because the apostles have thus said.” You see? In other words doctrinal purity, friends, is at the very basis of a church. If it goes, the whole building crumbles. Right? And so we teach doctrine. That’s everything at the base and so there had to be doctrine and there wasn’t any Bible for everybody to read so they had to hang in there and learn from the apostles. And then once it was in them in total, they could move out and teach it to somebody else until such a time as the scripture was completed. There were absolutes that had to be learned and they had to come to the apostles from God and the process was slow and it took time.
The second reason I believe there was a delay of many years before they moved out was because the right instruments had to be prepared. Nothing worse than sending out an unprepared person to do a job. It took time to mature these people. Do you realize that when the church was formed everybody was a baby? It’s tough enough in a church dealing with a group of spiritual babes. Can you imagine having a congregation all saved the same day? I mean, it’s something like our nursery. They were telling me on Easter Sunday they had 150 babies under one. Well you can imagine having 3,000 like that, one day old trying to get around to all of them and teach them the basics. Well here they had to have time to mature, to grow, to see their exhibited so that they would know who could do what. How do they know who to send where if they don’t have any idea from seeing them operate, from seeing them mature, from seeing them grow, from seeing them learn doctrine, and seeing them minister faithfully. It’s important to have a good foundation, but if you have a terrific foundation and you have guys building the walls that don’t know what they’re doing the thing will fall down too. So they needed time for preparation.
So the third thing you might add to that is that they needed time for prejudice to come down. And so for these reasons the Spirit of God delayed and at least seven years went by before they ever began to move toward Antioch, but believe me when the groundwork was done, it was done right. And when that church moved out to build, they really built. They really built.
I want to translate that for just a minute into our church situation here. If the people who are listening at some unrelated time in some unrelated place to this tape will excuse me, I want to personalize the text for just a moment. I believe in Grace Church that this is what we’re seeing here. I pray God it’s so. For four years, plus, I have endeavored basically to do one thing and that is to teach doctrine. Now we teach through the Bible verse after verse after verse, but really what we’re doing is taking scripture and framing a doctrine, framing a principle. Doctrine is just principles. And we’ve endeavored for four plus years to build a strong doctrinal base. I believe in my heart for all the time I’ve been here this has been my goal and my one single desire. And I really think that God in His wonderful providence has blessed His Word here. It’s not me. I’m the first one to know that. It’s the Word of God. But as you teach the Word of God, strength is built. Doctrine becomes firm and strong. That’s the very basis. The Word is established and my commitment has been to do just that, to spend the time establishing with the Word.
During that same time I feel God has prepared instruments and I prayed this would happen. I prayed that we wouldn’t just have a good theology on paper, but that we’d have a lot of people who had grown up with that theology and who were a part of it, and who lived it, and who would mature, and I prayed that this would happen. And I’ll tell you something. The thing that I feared most, and the thing that would make me leave Grace Church and go somewhere else would be to see people get spiritually fat, become what I call the – rather crudely – doctrinal slobs, people who are overdosed and in an orthodox stupor. That would drive me away. I would say I had failed in my ministry, because I have not been able to translate doctrine into life, and that’s the one thing that I must do.
And so all along for the four years it has been my prayer and my hope and my desire, even though in the back of my mind there’s always the fear that it might not happen, that at some point in time somebody here would get excited about taking this stuff on this basis that we’ve built and taking it somewhere else and beginning to move out. And I’ve prayed for it. Some of you have too. In the last two months I have been deluged with people who are at that very point. I think the last two months have been one of the most exciting times in my life. I couldn’t begin to remember the names or even count the people who come to me and say, “John, I’ve had enough. I’m full. I’ve learned. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to take it somewhere. What can I do?” You wouldn’t believe how many people have been coming and telling me this. Every day I hear this. Sat down last night – playing basketball. Guy on the basketball team says to me, “I think God wants me to go on the mission field. I never dreamed this could even happen. I just feel in my heart I have to go on the mission field. I got to share. I got to get out.” That’s just one in a long chain.
A lady came in my office the other day and she says, “Is there a place for me in this church? I just want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to evangelize women.” I can count on my hand five people I can think of who told me they’ve got to go to the mission field soon. God’s just leading them. God’s calling them. People come to me and say, “I got to start a work of evangelism. I want to do this. Can I work here?” We trust God by the time fall comes around we’re going to have a campus evangelist on almost every high school campus in the Valley, people establishing Bible studies and winning people to Christ and nurturing Christians. We’re going to do the same thing on every college campus and I haven’t generated any of it, haven’t invented a program, haven’t done one single thing, just keep teaching and praying that God will raise some people up. You know what they do, they knock my door down and finally I just tell them, “Go ahead and do it.” Shows you what kind of an administrator I am. But anyway, that’s the way everything works around here. Just wait till people get excited about it. They’ll do it. Get them praying about it. A guy prays long enough the Lord will shoot him out and that’s the supreme joy for me I’m telling you.
Somebody told me the other day that by next semester we have 24 young men at seminary, Calvin Seminary. You don’t know what a joy that is. That’s reproduction. See? That’s reproduction. Those men are going to affect thousands of people in their lifetime. Now that’s what I hoped would happen, and I praise God that we’re beginning to see the little murmurings of it beginning to happen. People are coming to me and saying, “I feel God’s calling me to begin a work over here and over there. Will you help support us?” I think our church is going to have to catch a vision, people, because we’ve come to the place now where we’ve got prepared people and they’re going to demand, by the Spirit of God, that we turn them loose on this world. And we’re going to have to be ready to handle it and it’s going to mean sacrifice to do it, financially. But oh the dividends are eternal. Amen? We got to be ready. It’s coming. Believe you me if I come up here in the next month and tell you there’s ten new staff members, you’d better be ready to handle that. Don’t laugh, it might be. The way God’s working right now, I’m just drowning in them. You don’t know what a joy this is.
I think it’s a similar thing right here in this situation in this text. The groundwork was laid and it took seven years. For us it’s been four years of teaching and teaching and teaching and teaching, and we’ll keep doing that because there’s new people coming all the time, and we’ll just keep flip flopping them over. Somebody says, “Do you want more people in your church?” I want more people in here for a little while so I can send more people out of here. That’s what I want. I don’t people want to just come here and stay. I want people to come here and leave.
Now some of you can stay because we need some of you here to train the people to leave. Don’t everybody go so next Sunday I’m here alone, right? Where were you? I was at the park sharing. Well what do you – but we need some of you here. We’re going to be here involved in teaching. I see myself in that ministry. We got to produce disciples at all the levels and there’s just as many unsaved people in Panorama City as anywhere else and in our Valley. But I think God is doing a wonderful thing. I’m so excited about it. Some people have talked to me about beginning pastorates, about outreach on campuses, about adult evangelism mobilizing people for reaching out, all kinds of things. I’m just thrilled and I think we’re seeing a phase like we see here in the 11th chapter of Acts. As a church, when the groundwork is laid, begins to move out. And you know it’s not something you have to generate. Amazingly the Spirit of God does it. He does it.
Well the groundwork was down. That’s enough on the groundwork. Let’s go to the genesis. Second point – genesis means birth or beginning. Once the groundwork was laid, they were ready to move out and they fired out and God blessed their work. It was down well because the preparation was right. Verse 19 – verse 19, incidentally, picks up right where chapter 8 verse 4 left off. The middle part is kind of like a parenthesis. He goes right back to the persecution that broke out at the time of Stephen, which was conducted primarily by Saul. And he picks that point up again. There’s a little interlude with Cornelius and then he comes back. “Now they who were scattered abroad, upon the persecution that arose about Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, preaching the Word to none but unto the Jews only.” There you have their hang up again.
Now let’s pick it up right here. In verse 19 they went to Phoenicia. Now Phoenicia is the coastal plain of Palestine right along the Mediterranean Sea. Two famous cities there, Tyre and Sidon. And from either of those port cities you could catch a ship and go west and you’d come to the island of Cyprus, so that’s what they did. They went up to Phoenicia, Tyre and Sidon, and some of them got on a ship and west to Cyprus. Some of them didn’t go west they just kept going north. If you keep going north on the coast you come to Antioch. Antioch became the capital of Syria, and Antioch was then a strategic place and some folks came there. But notice this, that they were preaching to Jews only. Why? Because they still believed that salvation was for the Jews, and they were still hung up on a nationalistic view of salvation. But God was about to bust them out of the shell.
And it’s interesting too, that they apparently – these who were scattered, because you see, in verse 19 it says they had been scattered in the persecution of Stephen, which means they got scattered and then the Cornelius incident happened while they were scattered, which means they hadn’t heard of it. They very likely had no idea of what had happened to Cornelius so they had no precedent for Gentile evangelism. They were still hung in on Jews. They were still locked into Jewish evangelism. And they’d go into towns and they’d find the Greek speaking Jews, the displaced Jews, the Hellenist Jews, and they would share Christ with them and they would start a little group of believers.
But you know, I praise God for free spirits, for anti-establishment adventurous types, Holy Spirit motivated, who kind of bust the slats. There were a few of them and they pop up in verse 20. “Some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene,” and that alone was important because they were Jewish, but they had a Gentile orientation, which made them a little more ready to reach a Gentile. Well, “When they come to Antioch” – watch this shocker – “spoke under the Greeks preaching the Lord Jesus.” They actually preached to the pagans, uncircumcised pagans, they preached to them. Shocking. These were men from Cyprus and Cyrene. They were set out in the scattering. They obviously have the gifts of preaching and they preached and people got saved. And they did it in a city called Antioch.
Now Antioch is a very interesting city, 15 miles or so from the mouth of the Orontes River, founded in about 300 B.C. Later it was made a free city, and when it was made a free city under the Roman government in 64 A.D., it has its own self-government. It became the capital of the Province of Syria. It became very famous, grew like crazy. It was the third largest city in the world. First was Rome, then was Alexandria, then was Antioch, had 600,000 people at least. It was famous for culture, it was famous for business. It was just a very, very, very large city. The network of Roman roads crisscrossed Antioch so it was a place where all the caravans of the East unloaded their wares in all the wharves and warehouses of Antioch. Cicero said it was a land of most learned men and liberal studies. But with all this good thing, it was basically known as an evil city. In fact, Juvenal, a Roman writer said that the Orontes River spilled its garbage into the Tiber, and what he meant was that Antioch corrupted Rome.
Now if Rome was rotten, you can get an idea about how rotten that which corrupted Rome must have been. 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 amphitheater and the circus. And so it was an evil place. There was a goddess by the name Daphne, who was supposed to be the lover of Apollo and they built a garden that was so big it was 10 miles in circumference and it was populated by prostitutes and you went in and indulged yourself in the garden and the prostitute activity and all kinds of sick immoralities. That was worship in the city of Antioch. When they wanted to extend their religious opportunities, they hired magicians, sorcerers, charlatans, and Babylonian astrologers made a fortune off the people of Antioch. So it was a vile place. But you know God so many times finds that the most lovely rose grows amidst the most ugly weeds, and so he designed to plant the first church in Antioch. He wanted to reach a city with a lot of people and indeed He did.
Notice one other thing in verse 20. It says, “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene.” Here were the two guys who were the founders of the first church – if there were two, maybe there were more – the first Gentile church. Do you know their names? Nobody does. Their names are never given. It’s almost a positive omission by the Spirit of God. Why? I’m sure they were more preoccupied with people finding out about the name of Jesus Christ than they were their names. Their names don’t even appear. I love that kind of faceless commitment. I’m going to find out who they are in heaven, though. Verse 21, notice they didn’t preach Christ, which means Messiah. That wouldn’t relate to Gentiles. So they preached the Lord Jesus. They preached Him as Savior and Lord. Verse 21, “And the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” Notice that first phrase, “And the hand of the Lord was with them.” That would make a great Bible study for you sometime. It means two things: First of all it means power. The hand of the Lord means power. In Exodus chapter 14 verse 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, and 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 2:18. 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. So the hand of the Lord, if we put it together, is power for blessing. And so the hand of the Lord moved into Antioch with power that resulted in salvation, power with blessing. And look at the harvest. A great number believed. That’s good, you know, but a lot of people believe it doesn’t do them any good.
What’s the next phrase? “And” – what? – “turned to the Lord.” Do you know some people who believe it’s true but haven’t turned to Christ? I do. I know plenty of them. But these people believed it was true and turned to the Lord. See that’s necessary – real salvation. A church began in Antioch. Fantastic, there’s the genesis. It’s a birth of the first Gentile church. We don’t even know the guys’ names. God knows their names. Someday we’re going to know.
Well, if it wasn’t bad enough that the Jews in Jerusalem had to deal with the case of Cornelius, they now have another one. We come to point three in the outline – the growth. I want to show you the growth, but let’s begin in verse 22. “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church, which was in Jerusalem.” Oh no, they’re getting rained on by Gentiles getting saved. How are they going to handle this thing? More Gentiles getting saved in Antioch. You see how the Spirit of God just kind of takes over and makes almost a victim out of them? Well they had a good response. They sent forth a good man, Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Now here’s a beloved guy. He must have been just a beloved character in the early church. He, back in Chapter 4, had sold a piece of land and got all the money for it and had given it to the needs of other believers.
Chapter 9, you remember when Saul got saved and Saul came to Jerusalem and said, “Hey, I’m your friend now. I’m saved. I’m converted.” And they said, “Sure, sure, get him out. He’s a Christian killer.” “No, no, I’m different.” “Uh-huh, sure, right, tell us about it. Wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And Barnabas went out and put his arm around Paul and says, “Come on I’ll take you.” He leads him in and says, “I want you to meet him. He’s a good guy. He’s for real. He’s on the up and up.” Barnabas was that kind of a loving person. He was giving, condescending, generous. His name means son of encouragement.
Here was old Barney and he was in the church, and I don’t know if they called him that then. That’s what he would have been called today. But the church said, “That’s the guy to send to Antioch, Barnabas.” Now you know it’s amazing but we come to a very, very important point in a very obscure way just to read a little statement like that, and yet isn’t that the Spirit of God so amazingly can pour so much truth. You know one of the biggest problems the church has, and I know this from my own experience as well as from churches all over anywhere and any mission board anybody can tell you this, is matching the right man to the right job. That is a headache that never ends in any kind of ministries. How do you get the right guy for the right job?
For the most part the church is in the business of selecting wrong people for right tasks with disastrous consequences. We are so guilty of doing exactly what the Bible forbids us to do. It says lay hands suddenly on – what? – on no man. When you choose a man for a job be sure you’ve looked well and chosen well. This is important stuff. If they send a legalistic, Pharisaical, structured Jew up there to Antioch he’ll blow the lid off that thing. He’d have wiped that thing out. He may have been a spiritual guy, may have been pious. He may have been the most pious one. He may have been open for the first vacancy in the Trinity, holy Joe and all that. But if they sent the wrong guy up there they’re going to mess up everything. They’ve got to choose well.
And they did choose well. You say, well what qualified Barnabas? Well let me give you two things, and I think these are principles that we can translate into any kind of ministry that we ever get into. Number one, he had the spiritual qualifications. Very basic! You look at his life in the past, he was a warm loving, condescending, giving person. That’s exactly the kind of guy they needed for that job. Right? Somebody who could open up to a Gentile, somebody who wasn’t structured in with the walls of Judaism but who was loose and loving. That was the man. He had the right spiritual attitudes – love.
The second thing about him was he had the right spiritual qualities. Verse 24 – look at it – he was a righteous man. He was good, in the sense that the deeds that he did were good – agathos – it just means he did good things. He was a good man. Toward others he was good. And he was full of the Holy Spirit – he was led of God – and of faith. He believed God. There it is. Have you ever put those three things together in your mind: Righteous, full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit? Those three things would really describe the three necessary attributes of a really plugged in Christian. One, righteous – that’s my testimony to others isn’t it? Isn’t that what the world is looking at me to see, whether I’m as good as my faith says I should be? Righteous, that’s basic. That’s my testimony to others. Full of faith – that’s my testimony to myself. Right? I want to know that I really believe God. I’m no good to God if I don’t believe Him. Right? He was so full of faith he’d do anything that God led him to do. He believed God. Third – full of the Holy Spirit. That’s my testimony to God. I’m available. Righteous, testimony to men; faith, testimony to myself; full of the Spirit, testimony to God. So every which way, going every direction he was there. Spiritual attitudes? Right on – loving. Spiritual qualities? Right toward men, toward himself, toward God.
But there was something else. Did you know that it’s good when you check a man out to find out his physical qualifications? Sometimes a guy will have all the right spiritual things – and incidentally Barnabas had the right spiritual gifts. What do new Christians need? Exhortation. He had the gift of exhortation. We’ll see that in a minute. What else do they need? Teaching. He had the gift of teaching. What else do they need? They need to be led in evangelism. He had the gift of preaching. He had the three right gifts. You might say he had the right attitudes, the right qualities, and the right gifts, spiritually. But then physical. Do you know where he was from? Cyprus. Do you know where the guys who founded the church in Antioch were from? Cyprus. You say, what’s so important about that? The important thing about that is that he’s not an intruder. He’s one of them. It may have been that those guys he had actually led to Christ himself. He is going up there and it’s going to be old homecoming. What does that mean? That means that they know what he can do. They know his gifts. They already love him. They already know him. Believe me, people, I think there is so much accomplished in ministries when we work with those we know and love already and that’s my commitment. So very often now that’s not always possible, but in this case, initially, it was.
Barnabas knew these guys. He wouldn’t be an intruder stepping in on their territory, taking over their work. He’d be one of them. So he had the qualifications. He was the man. Believe me God wants right men for right missions. He wants right women for the right work and the church’s business is to match the man to the mission, the person to the place. And he was right. Pray for us, would you, that we would have the wisdom to see that, to know the right person for the right job. Pray that you would be the right person to be available for the right place.
Verse 23, “When he came, he had seen the grace of God, he was happy.” Boy, he saw what God had done up there and it was terrific. I mean all these Gentiles were saved and he was glad. You know there could have been some Jews who would have been anything but glad, bewildered at best, angry at worst. “He was glad and he exhorted them.” What gift did I say he had? The gift of exhortation. The first thing he did was exhort. What does exhortation mean? It means positive encouragement. He began his ministry. He got there, didn’t fool around, didn’t mess around, just began exhorting. Positive encouragement. It’s not the idea of browbeating. There are some people who think they’re exhorting when all they’re doing is browbeating, crushing people. This is positive encouragement.
And what does he encourage them to do? And I want you to grab this, a most important point. “That they with purpose of heart” – that means a firm resolution, a fixed spirit. That you would purpose in your heart that you “would cling unto the Lord.” Now this is very important. Here’s a pattern that you can follow in your ministry all your life. What does he tell them first thing? You’ve got a handful of new Christians. Right? What do you do with them? What is your approach with a handful of new Christians? Which direction do you go? First thing, he exhorted them to cling to the Lord. That’s the first thing necessary, I think, in dealing with a new Christian. You’ve led somebody to Christ, what’s the thing that concerns you the most? That they hold on to Christ. Right? That their faith be real. You always say, “I hope you mean this.” And then you begin to think, “Oh I hope they read the Word.” Right? “And I hope they pray, and I hope it’s real.” Isn’t that what you think, always? Sure. That’s your first reaction when you lead somebody to Christ. I hope it’s real. I hope they hang onto to Christ and that they secure that faith by – they secure that salvation by real faith.
A lady called me on the phone the other night. She said, “I’m just upset. I’m really upset.” I said, “Well how can I help you?” She said, “Well I just became a Christian a week ago and it’s been worse since then. My whole life has been worse and I’m right now at the point where I’m going to chunk the whole thing. I’m just going to forget every bit of it. I’m going back the way I was.” And I said, “No, no, don’t do that. Don’t do that. Hold on to the Lord. Let me explain what’s happening.” And I described to her how Satan always moves in.
But you see this is a problem so many times with people who come, maybe they don’t really come to salvation. They come all the way to Christ and then they get discouraged – and this was Hebrews wasn’t it, the book of Hebrews. And then they say, “Oh, I don’t know if I can hack it.” And then they’re threatening to go away and we’re saying, “Hold on, come all the way to Christ. Be an abiding branch.” So maybe in the first place He’s talking to people who are right on the edge and saying, “Come on make your salvation real.” Maybe He’s also saying to people who are already saved, “Hold tightly to Christ. Stay in that tight communion.” Either way it’s a good point, isn’t it? Cling to the Lord. Be real, number one.
Number two, if you are real, stay close to Jesus Christ. Practice His presence. You know the greatest joy for me when I lead somebody to Jesus Christ to see that person really getting involved with Jesus Christ. Isn’t that your joy? How many times have you led somebody to Christ and you can’t find them? Just discourages and breaks your heart. They’ve wandered off somewhere and you don’t know where they are. You try to track them down, it’s a sad thing. And so the first thing he does is come on, “Continue, continue,” he says. “Hold on to the Lord with all your strength.” Now, how do you hold on? Well, this was obviously a problem with Barnabas and Paul, because over in Chapter 13, he did it again. “When the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes” – verse 43 – “followed Paul and Barnabas, who speaking to them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” He says, hang in there people, hang in there. Chapter 14:22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples,” Paul and Barnabas again, “exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom.” Sure you’re going to have trouble, but come on, hold on to the Lord, live in close communion.
Paul and Barnabas made this a part of their ministry. Every time they got a new group of believers they exhorted them to do what? What did I just tell you? Continue, hang on, continue, cling to Christ. You say all right, MacArthur, that’s the first thing you tell a new Christian, but how do you do that? How do you cling? The seed is planted in the life. And the Bible says that Jesus says, “The seed is the Word.” Right? And Satan wants to come and do what? Snatch the Word away. So if you’re telling somebody to continue, what are you telling them then to do? To take the Word and to hold on to the Word. Right? That’s the key. And what’s the thing you always tell a new convert to do immediately? Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Everybody I ever led to Christ in my life I’ve said, now here’s what you need to do. Immediately read the Bible. And I see them again sometime and I say, “Are you in the Word? Are you in the Word? Are you in the Word?” You see the first thing a new Christian needs to know is that he needs to hold tightly to Christ. There’s only one way you can hold tightly to Christ and that’s cling to the Word.
Now let me take you to 1 John 2 and show you something that’s very, very interesting. 1 John 2:24 – I’m going to read now. Verse 24 of 1 John 2, “Let that therefore abide in you, which you have” – what’s the next word? – “heard from the beginning.” What did you hear? The Word. He says, let it abide. Watch – “If” – conditional – “If” – get this now, it’s so important – “If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you ye also shall” – what’s the next word? – “continue” – how you going to continue? Give it to me. How you going to continue? Hold on to what? To the Word! So if Barnabas said, “People cling to the Lord.” What was he saying in effect? People listen to what God says. Right? They didn’t have a New Testament. They had an Old Testament and they had the words of the apostles. Clinging to the Lord was to continue in the Word, which they had heard.
Now if a guy does that, verse 25, “This is the promise that He hath promised us, even” – what? – “eternal life.” But you know what Satan will always do to somebody when they get saved? Verse 26, “These things have I written unto you concerning them that” – do what? – “seduce you.” What does that mean? Pull you away into evil. Now watch verse 27. Here’s the climax. “But the anointing, which you have received of Him abideth in you. You need not that any man teach you, but the same anointing teaches you all things and is truth and is no lie, even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” What abides in us and teaches us? Who is it? Holy Spirit. He’s the anointing. One of the first two things you tell a new believer? Number one, study the Word. Number two, the Spirit’s your teacher. Right? In my own pattern I do this. When somebody’s saved, immediately I tell them the Spirit of God is a resident teacher and He’ll teach them through the Word. Those are the first two things any Christians needs to know. And how are you going to continue to cling to the Lord, by doing what? Opening the Book and letting the Spirit of God teach you. That’s where you need to begin.
Barnabas, back in Chapter 11, says, “Hey folks, cling to the Lord.” What do you mean Barnabas? “I mean take the Word which you’ve heard, the Word which is available, as taught by the Spirit, and saturate yourself with it.” That, my friend, is the safeguard against drifting away. That’s why the greatest fear that I have in leading someone to Christ is that they wouldn’t faithfully study the Bible, because it’s the anchor, it’s the safeguard.
Well Barnabas picked a good direction to go when he spoke. He sure did. The end of verse 24 takes us a step further. We’ve already seen he was a righteous man full of the Spirit and faith, and many people were added unto the Lord. Those Christians were productive and Barnabas was productive. And Barnabas must have been out doing a little preaching too, evangelizing, exercising the gift of preaching. The term many people – so interesting – it’s the term ochlos hikanos, it means a giant multitude, a massive multitude. People were really being saved. Well the work got too much. He said, I’ve got to have another man, can’t handle this. Every minister realizes sooner or later, when things get going, that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to find the right man, and so Barnabas had the same dilemma that every guy in Christian service has, that I have continuously, to find the right guy for the right task. He says, “I know the guy I want,” verse 25. He picked a goodie. “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus to seek” – who? – “Saul.” Oh, he got a winner – Saul of Tarsus. He knew the man he wanted.
Now in the meantime years had passed. They kicked Saul out of Jerusalem quite a while ago because he was stirring up more trouble than they could handle. They sent him back home to Tarsus in Cilicia. You know what he did? He went all over Cilicia starting churches. Well in the meantime according to what 2 Corinthians 11 says, he was being beaten up mercilessly and all the things that he suffered in 2 Corinthians 11, probably many of them or most of them even occurred in these years we don’t know about, the quiet years of Paul. But during that time he had really been working for the Lord and he was not easy to find. The word seek in the English doesn’t help you at all. What it means in the Greek is to search for something with difficulty. He couldn’t find him. Why? He’d probably been long ago kicked out of Tarsus and long ago kicked out of every other town that he traced him to. He finally caught up with him. He was so busy preaching. He might have been glad to get out of there by now and the Lord knew that and the timing was right.
Verse 26, “And when he had found him,” isn’t it amazing that he went himself to do the job? Found him – “He brought him to Antioch.” What a team! How would you like to have for the pastor of your church, Paul and Barnabas? Now don’t think about that too long you’ll get discontented. They’re not around, so. Anyway they got him at Antioch and what a terrific thing that was. Now watch what they did. I want you to know, here we go friends, we’ve got a massive multitude of believers here and we’ve got them trying to cling to the Lord, and we got a church established in this big city. We’ve got a city to reach that’s pagan and vile and immoral. We’ve got a job to do, friends, now what are we going to do? Here come the two biggest guys available of the Spirit of God, Paul and Barnabas, shining lights in the history of leadership, great men of God. What are we going to do? Let’s see what they do? What kind of program they had? Boy I want to know because I got a church too. I want to find out what kind of program you need to get that thing going. “And it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves together with the church, and” – had a lot of soup suppers, and had several contests, and lots of musical extravaganzas. Is that what it says? You say, it doesn’t say that. No, no. It says they assembled them together with the church and for one year and together they did what? Taught. You want to know what the church is for? It’s for teaching. It’s for teaching. If you never learn anything else about the church, if you learn that you’ve learned enough. The church is for teaching.
And I want to give you another salient point that I think here you need to understand. “When it came to pass that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church.” The word with is en in the Greek. It’s in. They assembled in the church. Apparently they had a large place where they all came together. The word assemble means they were all brought together. This idea that you can only teach in little groups isn’t so. Here in Antioch they had a big mass meeting where Paul and Barnabas taught them all the time for a year, that was their ministry. You say, well – I’ll never forget one guy said to me one time, he says, “What makes your church grow?” I said, “It’s just the teaching.” He says, “Oh that’ll never do it. I tried that. You got to do more than just teaching.” Well they spent a year teaching and the results are still going on. That’s my whole commitment. I don’t think the church really needs to set itself to do much else but teach. Teach. Teach. Teach. At every level, in every way, through every avenue, teach the Word of God.
The apostles had said in Acts 6, “We will give ourselves continually to the ministry of the Word and prayer.” Teach. Teach. Teach. For one year they just taught and the fruit of their teaching – oh, beloved fruit – verse 1 of Chapter 13, “There was in the church at Antioch certain prophets and teachers.” You know what they did? They made teachers. Barnabas and Simeon called Niger, Lucius, Manaen, and so forth. They taught men who became teachers of other men. That’s what the church is about. What fruit they had. Listen friends, the calling of this church, Grace Community Church, and the calling of every other church, whether they know it or not, is to teach and make disciples, not to entertain the saints, not to placate the saints, not to create recreation for the saints but to teach the saints. All the other things we do may be avenues and outlets. Teaching is the goal and the design of the church.
Well the end of verse 26, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” They had never been called Christians before. That’s a new name and it was a term of derision, iani, i-a-n-i had to do with the party of. A Caesariani would have to do with Caesar. Christiani would be of the party of Christ, and this was a derisive mocking term. Oh he’s a Christian. He’s one of those Christ-party ones. In fact Agrippa said, “Huh, persuadeth thou me to become a Christian.” See? And Peter says in 1 Peter 4, “If any of you suffer for being a Christian don’t be ashamed.” That was a term of derision. Those blessed people turned it into something courageous or something lovely, didn’t they? And you know something people, you and I bear the name that they died to preserve in purity. You know so many people call themselves Christians so glibly. Listen, if you’re a Christian, my friend, wear it well. It was given to the finest. And let me tell you something else, beloved. It’s the name of Christ, Christ one. If you’re a Christian and you wear the name of Christ, wear it well, deserve it or don’t claim it. Eusebius described Sanctus trial. They had tortured him and told him they were going to kill him and record says he steeled himself so firmly against them that he would not so much as tell his name. All his answers to their inquiries was, “I am a Christian.”
So the church grew. Growth – first groundwork, then genesis, then growth. That’s the biblical pattern. There was one other thing, and I’m just going to read it and close. Generosity. You know the church not only needed to be sound in doctrine, but they needed to have love. I’ve always said two things make a solid church, sound doctrine and love, and they had it. The Spirit of God just stops in verses 27 to 30 and says I want you to know that Antioch wasn’t just doctrinal, they were loving. There’s always the need for that balance, people. Always a need for that balance. Verse 27, “And in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.” The Jerusalem church sent up some prophets. There were prophets in the New Testament. They were foundational like apostles Ephesians 2:20 tells us. And they spoke for God, and they preached, and their preaching is described in 1 Corinthians 14, if you want to check it out. But they preached and also spoke and sometimes predicted the future for God. They have ceased as an office. The gift of prophecy still goes on, which is preaching. But the office of a prophet is ceased.
But then it hadn’t and so some prophets came to Antioch, “And there stood up one of them” – come to speak for God and tell the church at Antioch some things they needed to know – “And his name was Agabus and he signified by the Spirit that there should be great famine throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” Incidentally, history says Claudius ruled from 41 to 54 and during the year 45 and 46 there were great famines in Israel. No crops came through; they all failed. Terrible famines are recorded by Tacitus, Josephus, Eusebius, Cassius, and there were times of famine, so this was a verified thing. He says there’s coming a famine. “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability determined to send relief unto the brethren who dwelt in Judea.” They said, hey if there’s going to be a famine down there we got to send our money to those people. Here are Gentiles showing their love to the Jews who have so long hated them. What a beautiful picture of love.
And I love this fact, too. It says they sent according to his ability. Every man maximized his gift. Every man gave – it means according to the potential that he had. I get so weary of Christians who tip God. It doesn’t affect me. It just affects them. You know dollar-a-week people who just think they can tip God. These people showed real love because they gave according to their ability to give. If they had a lot, they gave a lot. If they had a very little they gave a little. But they gave in proportion to what they had and they supplied the need of those Jews in Jerusalem who had a hard time loving them. And verse 30 says, “Which also they did and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” You want to hear something else? They not only sent money, they sent men. And which men did they send? Their best.
Listen friends, I hope our church not only had the right groundwork, listen to me, not only the right genesis and beginning and the right growth, but I hope we’re generous enough to send money and men around the world. Do you hope that? That’s the only thing we can offer isn’t it? We can offer the Lord Jesus Christ two things. Number one, in this little record money. What you give, you don’t give to John MacArthur. You don’t give to Grace Community Church. You give to the Lord Jesus Christ for His work. I pray God will send money. We need money to do what God wants us to do. Secondly, I pray God will send men, our best men, to do God’s work. And I pray God, overall, that Grace Community Church will follow the pattern of Antioch and have the same kind of effect on the world. Let’s pray.
Father we do thank You this morning that we have spent the time in Your Word and been refreshed and we’ve learned. Thank You for the patience of these people as I have shared my heart. Father, now dismiss us with Thy blessing. If some desire to slip into the Prayer Room, Father, let them do that, lead them to do it. Let no one go away who is still dealing with issues in their lives. Some Christians are open to Your will and Your speaking, may they spend the time in prayer needed to hear Your voice clearly. If others are desirous of joining Grace Church and serving here with us, we need so many here at home to train and to work and to carry on ministries right in our own area. Speak to us Father. Translate what we’ve heard in our heads to the pattern of our lives. Dismiss us now with Thy grace and blessing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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