Acts 11:19-24 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

So much is contained in these few verses that literally a relevant book could be written about them. These verses document a major shift in sharing the resurrected Jesus Christ.

For a while Jesus' resurrection was declared exclusively to Jews. God promised Israel a Messiah. God's intent: the Messiah would be God's fulfillment of His ultimate accomplishment through Israel. Israel had many expectations about the Messiah's impact on Israel. What could be more natural than an intense discussion about Jesus' identity among Jews? After all, they were certain the Messiah was promised to them to meet their expectations. They did not understand God's original promise to Abraham, their ancestor: "... in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).

For a while, Jesus' resurrection was discussed only among Jews. Then some Jewish converts from Cyprus and Cyrene taught people in Syrian Antioch who were not Israelites. "The hand of the Lord" was with them. The result: "many who believed turned to the Lord."

This startling news reached converted Jews in Jerusalem where the teaching about Jesus' resurrection began. Naturally, the question was, "What is going on?" They selected a Jewish convert, Barnabas, to travel to Antioch to examine the situation. This is the same man whose name was changed from Joseph to Barnabas (son of encouragement) by the apostles, who sold some land and gave the money to the apostles to help the needy (Acts 4:36, 37), and who saw spiritual potential in Saul (Paul) the man previously violent against Jewish Christians (Acts 9:26-28).

Few Jewish Christians could visit a Gentile city and be elated about God's work among people who were not Jews! In Antioch Barnabas continued doing what he did among Jerusalem converts: "he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord." He was not jealous because God's grace worked among these people! He did not feel threatened on behalf of Jewish converts! He saw God's grace and rejoiced! Why? "He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."

If your congregation wondered, "What is going on?" would they send you to investigate because you are an encourager with godly attitudes, filled with faith and God's presence?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 9 May 2004

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