A Blessing to the City. – Acts 11
This message is a part of our Rethinking Church Sermon Series.
In the first message in this series I showed you the most common type of image that comes up when you search for “church.” This type of image of a little white church in the middle of a field. The common conception of church is that it is a rural and suburban mainstay. The common stereotype is that churches aren’t a big deal in the city because church is something that conservative country folks do…Part of this misconception comes from the fact that cities have grown incredibly fast over the past 150 years and churches haven’t been planted anywhere near fast enough to keep up with the growth…Urban sprawl changes so rapidly, many churches that are in the suburbs started in the city, but found their congregant living out in the suburbs, and when it came time to expand land was more affordable in the outskirts…However, the idea that church is only something that people do in the country is wrongheaded, and hopefully this passage that we are going to look at today will turn that misconception on it’s head…
What we see in this passage is what we see happening all over with the early church, the early church flourished in large cities.
In fact, church historians have found that the larger the city was, the higher the conversion rate was within that city. In the early church, the cities were where the church flourished most. We are going to look at the 2nd city that the church flourished in, the first greek city.
Let’s look at Acts 11:19-25
There’s so much great stuff happening in this passage, that I just want to throw it all out there, but I’m going to refrain myself and take us through it piece by piece The very first principle that I want you to see is that
God takes the evil meant for the church and uses it to bring about greater good.
Let’s start with the introduction to this section which tells us that Jews were scattered because of the persecution that arose after Stephen. Stephen was the first deacon of the church and he was used of God mightily. The officials in Jerusalem arrested Stephen and brought him to trial. In the trial He preached the gospel unto them, which they didn’t like and then He said that he could see Jesus at the right hand of the Father. So they stoned Him. When this happened, the Jewish leaders had declared war on the church of Jesus and started arresting believers. Many fled for their lives, but as they did they continued to share the gospel everywhere they went.
Anniversary Sunday is coming up, and we’ll celebrate 36 years…. I’ve always loved the story of how we ended up here. God was up to something. He knew. God had specific purpose for us being here…
We are not merely in Chandler, we are FOR Chandler. -Faith Church Values –
Many fled for their lives, but as they did they continued to share the gospel everywhere they went with Jews. Something you need to grab a hold of which will help you in your reading of the New Testament. The New Testament uses the terms Jew and Gentiles interchangeably for ethnic and religious reasons
Jew – Ethnically Jewish, a descendant of Abraham
Gentile – Not Ethnically Jewish, not a descendant of Abraham
Jew – Religious, a follower of the God of Abraham
Gentile – Irreligious, a follower of idols, pagan rituals
Acts 11:20 tells us that some of these followers of Jesus were men from Cyprus and Cyrene. Now, on the page that might sound like saying they were men from Chandler and Boonville, as if they were neighboring towns. They were not, Cyprus was on an island in the Mediterranean, Cyrene was down on the coast of Africa in what is Modern day Libya. The believers that showed up in Antioch were religious men, who had probably immigrated to Jerusalem, but when the persecution starts they flee up to Antioch. They were already accustomed to speaking with Greeks, so they didn’t think anything about talking to Greeks about Jesus. Previously the believers had only been taking the message to the religious, this was a big deal because it was the message not only crossing lines of ethnicity but also lines of morality, class, education, etc. The believers had been starting with the religious because they already had a perspective on the teachings of the Old Testament that pointed to Jesus’ arrival.
Even after this, when Paul would arrive in a new city he would start in the synagogue preaching to the Jews, the religious. He would show them that Jesus was the fulfillment of all they had been studying, he’d stay there till they ran him out and then he would take that core group and establish a church which he would then use to reach the city full of irreligious people. And the gospel would spread like wildfire!
Let’s look back at the passage in verse 26… At this point Paul and Barnabas have come to help disciple these many people who are coming to the Lord and we’ll get there in just a second, but I want you to see that at the end of the verse we are told that the believers are first called Christians in Antioch. I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s Center Church and he talks at length about the gospel’s impact in cities. He says that in his research of Antioch he found that it was really a city of cities, or a fortress or fortresses. Have you ever noticed that big cities will have little boroughs or neighborhoods that are made up of a single ethnic group? This was true of Antioch, but when Silliius who built Antioch designed the city, he designed it with this in mind and built high walls dividing the neighborhoods, so that when the city fell into a panic or riots, they could cloister themselves with “their people” with others like them and be protected from race wars and riots… But in Antioch, these people of all Nationalities start worshipping together- in fact look at 13:1
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
You know what that is? That’s a listing of the elders of the church of Antioch and it’s made up of 4 different ethnic groups representing 3 different continents. Tim Keller says, the reason that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch was that for the first time, the people were coming out of their neighborhoods, outside their walls and worshipping together… Before you could refer to the group as Jews, Greeks, Africans, Indians, Asians, but now, to refer to the group you needed a new term, Christians….
The new a term “Christian” developed because old terms no longer fit.
Did you know that by 197 AD, Much of the Roman world had come to Faith and it was predominantly because of the cities. Tertullian wrote of the large numbers of believers, saying that many cities were nearly completely converted to the Christian faith. Because the message was not just something that would reach the religious, but also the irreligious. Not just the Jews, but the Greeks also.
We welcome everyone because Jesus can rescue anyone. -Faith Church Values –
When I moved to Chandler, I thought I was moving to Mayberry. I really did. I thought it’s small town USA, everyone isn’t a Christian but they have morals and values, and I thought my mission here would be to stir a revival among the religious. Not so. I thought I was going to Jerusalem when in reality I was coming to Antioch.
The gospel is powerful enough to transform the most broken of places.
In fact, some of our most effective ministry has been among the most broken among us… When the gospel begins to take off in Antioch, the church fathers sent Barnabas and he begins to disciple these people, then he realizes that he needs help and he thinks of someone who knows the Jewish texts, has a greek background, and knows Jesus and he has just the guy who is perfect for the job. Paul.
25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.
Why were these believers in Antioch? The persecution of Stephen… You know who was there while the stones were being thrown at Stephen? Paul. Acts 7 tells us that he held everyone’s cloaks so they’d have freedom of motion in their throwing arms. You know who led the charge to arrest people after that? Paul. When it comes time to disciple these people and take the church at Antioch to the next level in reaching and blessing the city, God brings in Paul….
We know the gospel changes everything because it’s changing us. – Faith Church Values –
Can I tell you a secret- I’ve been trying to keep it from you, but you know what God wants to do with some of you guys that God saved in the jail? Reach guys in the jail… You know what God wants to do with some of you that grew up in broken Chandler? What wants to do with some of you that were part of the problem in this city? Make you part of the solution… God’s been working on me the past few weeks. In the midst of all that I stumbled across this sermon on John 4. The passage I read to you earlier. The preacher was talking about the fact that we quote that passage of Jesus saying look unto the fields for they are ripe unto harvest, without even thinking about the moment that Jesus was saying it…
Do you remember?
Jesus had told the woman that he knew her heart, she ran back to town and she told the people and they all headed out of the town to see Jesus… the verse says MEANWHILE Jesus is having this conversation with the disciples… He says look unto the fields, and they say okay Jesus, we’ll look at the fields because the fields are beautiful at harvest time, rolling waves of grain, that’s beautiful, but right now we can’t see it because here come all these Samaritans, so we’re gonna have to get out of here or send these troublemaking Samaritans away first… Jesus says, look unto the fields… they are ready for Harvest….
The preacher said, your harvest looks a lot like a problem….When I moved here from the city I thought small towns were like Mayberry and I thought harvest was all fun and corn mazes and carved pumpkins… When I moved out here in the middle of all these corn and soybean fields, I saw that the Harvest is work… I used to think that the plowing and the planting was work, then the harvest came and that’s when you got to sit back and enjoy the reward for your labor, but now I know it’s work. Jesus did the work of planting the gospel seed in the life of this woman, then she went back and told them and they came out to hear because of what she said…Here’s the deal. There are people all over this city that they don’t know me, they don’t care what I have to say, but when they see the difference it’s made in your life, they’ll come see….
Another one of our values here at Faith is
We pray bold, work hard, praise God, and repeat. -Faith Church Values-
Like farmers planting a big crop in spring and working hard to then bring in the harvest, we’ve been praying big prayers, working hard, and I believe that we are on the brink of another harvest season. It’s been a tough year, but it’s also been a year of plowing, planting, and harvesting…