July 7, 2019
Pastor Frank Bowden
I want to tell you about an experience that I had in elementary school that really changed the game for me. It was at lunch. I was eating a piece of wonderful public school square pizza with the little cubed pepperonis on it. You know what I’m talking about? And that was not an abnormal thing for me. I mean I’ve had pizza before in my life. That was a regular food item in our household growing up, but I noticed other students doing something with their pizza that I had never seen before, and like any young kid in that moment, I had to try and figure out, why on earth are these people doing this thing with that pizza? It made no sense to me, until I tried it.
Then, the moment that I dipped my pizza in that ranch dressing and tasted that goodness for the first time, it changed the game for me. It sent me on a quest to find out, what else does ranch dressing make better when you put it on it? -and the answer that we all know is, most everything, right? I mean, just everything.
Now, look. We all have little personal moments like that when we experience something that just changes things for us, right? And when we experience something that is so big that, say, it affects all of culture, or maybe all of our country, or maybe worldwide, we have a term for that kind of a thing. We call that a game changer.
Now, true game changers (-not ranch on pizza. Even though that’s great, I don’t really know if it qualifies for this example), but real game changers radically change the way that something is done. It changes the way people think about things. It may even change the way in which something is made. And game changers propel you forward, and when you had that moment when you experienced that thing, you never go backward to an old way of doing things.
All right, so I brought some examples of some game changers just to kind of get our minds all on the same page here. Think about this game changer: The wheel. -arguably the most important invention in human history, right? I mean, just think about all the little things that have wheels on them that are in this room right now. Game changer.
Or what about this next one? -the printing press. I’m talking about changing how we get information to people. Huge game changer. What about this next thing? We all appreciate the light bulb, right? I’m talking about changing how we live, not just during the daytime, but also at night. Thank goodness we’re not still in the days of candles and lanterns. What about this next game changer? -penicillin. Talk about propelling medical science forward, and that thing was an accident. That was an “oops” in 1928, and now it’s the most widely-used antibiotic in all the world. Game changer. Now, those are obvious. Those are the things that immediately come to mind. I’ve got some more game changers that are maybe a little less obvious, but no less significant.
How about the domestication of the horse? Keep in mind, those things used to be wild animals, and probably some redneck somewhere said, “I bet I can tame that.” -and then tried and did! It changed how we work. It changed how we live. It changed how we travel. It changed everything. Still today, across the world, we refer to the power output in our vehicles as “horsepower”. Game changer.
What about the three point line in basketball? I’m talking about something that fundamentally changed how the game is played or changed how it’s coached and the strategy behind it. I laugh when I’m with my students today, our middle schoolers and high schoolers. They’ve got no frame of reference of a game of basketball without a three point line. They just kind of grew up assuming it’s always been there, and it hasn’t. In fact, the NBA didn’t adopt that thing until 1979. That’s really not all that long ago when you think about how long basketball’s been around.
Or what about this next game changer? You guys know who this is. The Beatles. -not only changing how music sounded, but they also changing how music is produced. They changed music going forward. Like them or not, they changed the game of music. And then lastly, and my personal favorite right now to at least use. -Amazon. Talk about changing how people shop and how we get things. -and not just how we shop, but how other businesses do business. They are forcing other retailers to reconsider how they do business. These are all examples of game changers that affect us, I would say, globally. If it’s not globally, then most assuredly within our culture here.
And in our text today, in the Book of Acts, we’re going to witness a huge game changer in the life of the local church. In fact, what we’re going to see this morning from Acts chapter 11 sets the stage for how we get to experience church today, and we’re going to see this theme that’s repeated throughout our text this morning. It’s going to be in a variety of different ways as this game changer moment builds. In fact, it’s a combination of game changers that build throughout our text, and I’m just going to go ahead and give you the whole sermon and one sentence right out of the gate, because I feel like this is the lens through which we’re going to see everything take place this morning. It’s this:
The greatest game changer you’ll ever experience is the Gospel.
The Church at Antioch…
1. Changed the Game of Evangelism
If you’re taking notes, if you’re into writing things down, I’d encourage you to jot this down, because it really is going to be the foundation in which we see everything play out. -that the greatest game changer you’ll ever experience is the Gospel. And we’re going to read this morning how the church at Antioch, through the power of the Gospel, changed the game for the church, and they changed the game for the church first in evangelism.
So, let’s go to Acts chapter 11. We’re going to start in verse 19. Let’s read this morning how the church of Antioch changed the game for us first in evangelism. This is what we read in verse 19:
19 Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
I think it’s really important for us to notice how events in the book of Acts are linked together, and if we’re not careful, we’ll read right over a significant link to a promise that Jesus made way back in Acts chapter one, verse eight. Remember what Jesus said there? “There you will receive power when the Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”
Just before his ascension, Jesus outlines the global reach of this mission. He says the Gospel is going to spread through the local churches, and it’s going to look like what happens when you chuck a rock into the middle of a pond. The Gospel is going to hit initially there in Jerusalem, but those ripples are going to spread quickly, and they’re going to go out to Judea and out to Samaria. They’re going to go out to the ends of the Earth.
But notice that Jesus didn’t say how it would travel. -meaning, what was going to be the cause or the reason of it going out? We get the answer to that a little bit later in Acts chapter eight, verse one. This is what we read. This is going back just a few weeks ago. “On that day [“That day” being the day that Stephen was stoned and martyred for his faith. That’s how Acts seven ends], a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.”
So here’s what we learn: It isn’t going to be a mission trip that gets the believers to leave the church in Jerusalem and to go out of the city and to go spread the Gospel to others. In fact, it was going to take persecution to drive them out of the comfort of their own city, and some of them traveled up to Phoenicia. Others went to this island nation of Cyprus about 100 miles off the coast. And then another group of people landed all the way up in Antioch, which is about 300 miles away. And what’s fascinating to me is, as we read about their scattering across the lands, they’re sharing the Gospel as they do that.
Now, it’s interesting; they’re not hiding from their faith. This persecution may be driving them out from their city, but it’s not shutting them up. So, they’re moving about, but they’re still talking about the Gospel. The Bible tells us here that most of them, though, are only sharing the Gospel with other Jews, and I want to cut them some slack here. I don’t think this is them trying to be ugly or trying to avoid telling a Gospel to other people. I think, really, they’re just so tunnel-visioned on what they’re doing, that it hadn’t even occurred to them that they maybe could and should be sharing the Gospel with everybody.
They’re trying to relocate. They’re trying to make connections with maybe family that they have somewhere else or maybe with work contacts, business contacts that they have somewhere else. And so, they’re doing the thing, right? They’re talking about their faith… but they’re really not doing the thing, because they’re only speaking to other Jews at this point. And it’s not until verse 20 that we see this first game changer moment, that something new is developing. Some people from Cyprus and Cyrene (that’s in northern Africa), they make it to Antioch, and they start speaking the Gospel to Greek-speaking Gentiles. Tim Keller calls these men mavericks, because they’re breaking through the cultural barriers and doing something that’s never been seen before here.
All right, so to fully appreciate what these men are doing an Antioch, we need to know a couple of things about this city. Antioch was a massive city in the Roman Empire. It’s the third largest at this time. There are over a half a million people living within its boundaries, and because it was a central hub for trade and commerce between Europe and Asia, it had this eclectic mix of culture, ethnicity and religions. In fact, by the time that Luke is writing this, there’s some 18 different ethnic groups living within the city. It’s incredibly diverse, and somewhere along the line in Antioch’s history, walls were built up to fence off these different groups from each other. It’s literally a city divided from the start up, where the Jews had their quarters, the Greeks had theirs, the Syrians theirs, and the Romans theirs.
I don’t know why they did this. Maybe it was to keep peace. Maybe this was to preserve culture. I’m not really sure why they built it up in a grid with walls like this, but we know from history that Antioch had this reputation of being a wicked, wicked city. -incredibly corrupt, incredibly immoral, second only probably to the city of Corinth. It was a wicked city, even with all the walls that they had segregating everybody. And yet, Acts is telling us that the Gospel flourished in this environment. We would think it might have the opposite effect, but instead, it flourished. Why? I encourage you to write this down:
– Gospel fluency is a relational game changer
Why did the Gospel spread like a wildfire in a wicked city like Antioch? -because these men were doing something different. We don’t know a lot about these men. In fact, we don’t even know their names, but we do know that they spoke the Good News about the Lord. The Greek word for “speak” that’s used here in verses 19 and verse 20 is the word that’s used for normal conversation. -meaning that they weren’t preaching when they went to Antioch. It was, rather, as they were going and having their normal, everyday interaction with people, they were just talking about the Gospel as they went. This is the picture of Gospel conversations that we talk about here at Calvary, and that is Gospel fluency. -being able to articulate the Gospel as you’re just going about everyday life.
That’s what these men were doing. And these men, they were just being faithful to Jesus. They had no plan. They had no program. They had no ministry budget, right? They just had this overwhelming zeal for the Lord. Verse 21 tells us that the Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. The church of Antioch got started because so-called “nobody’s” witnessed to their neighbors. It’s literally birthed from effective evangelism.
Church, we can’t underestimate the power and the significance and the impact that just speaking the Gospel to our friends and neighbors. We can’t under-sell that. It still works. It’s still impactful. It’s still the way things are done, where we speak the Good News about Jesus in everyday life. The church at Antioch changed the game of evangelism. They showed us today how to be involved with people who are far from God in their sin, who have different cultures from ours, who have different religious beliefs than we do, and how we’re to learn to live faithfully and graciously and wisely among them as we just go about speaking the Gospel to them in normal conversation.
2. Changed the Game of Discipleship
The takeaway from this whole section here is a four-word statement about this thing: The Gospel requires engagement. It’s not something that you can avoid. You have to be engaged with the lost around you. The church at Antioch changed the game of evangelism. They also change the game of discipleship. Let’s continue reading this narrative in verse 22 about how they did that.
22 News about them reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added to the Lord. 25 Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26 and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
Can you imagine the shock and concern that went through the minds of the church leaders back in Jerusalem when they heard that these laymen were sharing the Gospel with pagans in Antioch? And now they were all meeting together, Jews and Gentiles, in the same church as one church at the same time. Talk about sounding the alarms! And I get it. Maybe it’s because of the reputation that Antioch had that some of these leaders in the Jerusalem church were a little bit skeptical. Maybe they were a little bit suspicious at the news that they were hearing of this new church up in Antioch, and in some effort, maybe of “quality control”, they were thinking, “Man, we’ve got to get somebody up there. We’ve got to send somebody. We’ve got to get somebody in and see this thing just to make sure everything’s in order. We don’t want to go and just change it all, but we just want to make sure they’re doing things ‘right’.”
So they sent Barnabas. Now, verse 24 gives us a bit of a spiritual profile of Barnabas, and from what we read here and what we know about him from throughout Scripture is, he’s the kind of Christian that you would point someone to and say, “Hey, go and be like him.” You want somebody to copy? You want somebody to become? Be like Barnabas. We’re told that he was a good man.
Now, good doesn’t mean not bad here. Good means that he was righteous, that he was obedient to God’s Word so consistently that his character was blameless. We’re also told in verse 24 that he was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was full of faith. The focus here isn’t his skills. It’s not his gifts. It’s not his talents. It’s not his resources. I’m sure he had all of that. Like many of us, we’re all gifted and talented in certain ways. The focus of the text isn’t on those things. Instead, it’s focused more on his great faith that he has in the Lord. And it’s because of that faith that the Lord fills him with His Spirit to go and to do good.
And we get to see the overflowing of Barnabas’ faith and how he encourages these new believers when he gets to Antioch. The Bible tells us that he rejoiced at what he saw when he arrived, because (get this) worshipping with Gentiles, for him, that was a whole new experience, right? That was a game changer moment for him personally. -to experience church with Gentiles. And yet, he was open to what the Lord was doing. He wasn’t critical of what he saw. He wasn’t trying to make that church be the Jerusalem church. Instead, what we see is that he was committed to helping these new believers grow in their faith. He was committed to teach and to encourage them in what it means to remain in the Lord, what it means to be faithful.
Let’s be honest. To abide in Christ the way that John 15 tells us to, that doesn’t happen by accident, right? That is hard. -to abide consistently, to remain in Christ. Jesus even tells us in Luke chapter nine, verse 23 to deny ourselves daily. It is something that you have to be disciplined with. It’s something that you learn and that you purpose each day to do. And that’s what Barnabas was teaching these new believers.
As he’s serving there in Antioch, the game of discipleship starts to change. Verse 24 tells us that a large number of people were being added to the Lord, and as they became more grounded in The Word, their witness to the lost increased, and people were responding. This is what it looks like when we say around here “disciples who make disciples”. This is that phrase in action. This church was exploding in growth, and Barnabas realized, I might need some help in this thing. I need to have another discipler come along and help these people move a little bit deeper into their walk.
Barnabas had some choices. He could have gone back to the church in Jerusalem and gotten some men from there, sure. But he didn’t. Instead, he sought now to find where Saul was, and he found Saul. The Bible doesn’t tell us that God told him to do this. It just tells us that he did it. And I think this makes sense as a helper. Barnabas remembers Saul from their time together in Jerusalem. So he knows him; he trusts him. He knows that Saul has been set apart to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He knows that and would thrive in this very diverse environment in Antioch. And for the next year, verse 26 says, Saul and Barnabas taught the church.
I want to help some of you this morning ease some personal anxiety and kind of lift a burden off of you. If you want to write this down, you can: Personal discipleship doesn’t happen overnight. Some of us try to do the whole thing in one day. You just can’t do it. Personal discipleship doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes dedication. Ease some of that pressure on yourself, and stop trying to do the whole process in one day. What we do know, in the course of the year (that may seem like a long time in some situations. I think in this situation it seems really fast), this new church, these new believers, are radically changing how their city looks.
We know that because of verse 26, how it ends. It says that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. All right, this is the turning point in Christianity for us right here. -because they were so different from the culture that was around them, they didn’t fit in any pre-existing box. And remember, Antioch is a city of boxes, where everybody stays in their own section, right? “Here’s yours, and here’s yours.” No one blended together. No one crossed the boundaries.
Everybody stayed where they’re supposed to, and these Christians here were breaking all the rules. They defied all the boxes as people were literally climbing over walls and crossing boundaries to meet together and to worship together. And the locals there didn’t know what to call them. They see this thing happening, and they see it gaining momentum and getting bigger and larger, and they didn’t know what to call them.
“Well, they don’t fit in this box, and they don’t fit in that box. And none of them makes sense in this box. What are we going to call these people?” And so they looked at how they were acting and how they were living there. “I guess we’ll call them Christians.” And they created this whole new classifications of people. This hadn’t existed before like this. -the merging of cultures and peoples from different parts of the world worshipping together like this.
The church in Antioch is giving us a picture, giving us a glimpse of what Jesus’ Kingdom is going to look like when it’s fully consummated, when every nation and every tribe and every tongue is going to be worshipping together at His throne. It’s going to be an awesome day, and Antioch has given us a picture of what that looks like. Barnabas and Saul and the Antioch believers there, they model for us that to be a disciple of Jesus is to make disciples of Jesus.
– Question to consider: Is the life of Christ in you being multiplied through you in your community?
I’ll give you a question to consider. This is just something for you to give yourself a personal evaluation, and it’s this question: Is the life of Christ in you being multiplied through you in your community? Is the life of Christ in you actually being multiplied through you into others? -maybe people that you work with, maybe folks that you live in the same neighborhood with, maybe people that you just are around, kind of naturally, in the marketplace, or maybe with teams that you travel with or maybe in your school, depending on who you are. Is the life of Christ being multiplied through you?
The evangelist Dawson Trotman is known for asking this question: “Men, where’s your man? Women, where is your woman?” And he’s asking, “Hey, show me the person that you’ve led to Christ and who is now living faithfully for Jesus. Show me that person. I want to know who that person is.” I feel like that question is worth asking of ourselves. -that this life of Christ that we have isn’t meant just to remain in us. it is meant for us to go and tell.
The church here in Antioch is changing what personal discipleship looks like, and as a result of their reach and of Barnabas’ and Saul’s building them up in their faith, they’re also going to change the game of personal ministry. They’re going to change how the local church ministers and serves and cares for other people.
3. Changed the Game of Ministry
Let’s wrap this up in Verse 27, how this Antioch church does that.
27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 Each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers and sisters who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.
I think it’s fitting how this passage ends today, with us getting to see full circle the work of the Gospel in the life of this new local church. -how they started off as pagans. Then they heard the Gospel, and from hearing the Gospel, they became new believers. From there, they became active in sharing their faith. Then they grew in their understanding of the Word of the Lord. And now, they’re determined to show fruit of their salvation through good works.
This prophet from Jerusalem, Agabus, comes and tells about a famine that’s going to hit, and this is something that you can read about in history books. Josephus even writes about how significant this famine was for years, especially in the region of Judea. And while most believers in Antioch would probably start stockpiling stuff for themselves, and if they had anything extra, if they had any remainder, they would send that out as relief to other people, these new disciples do something completely different. They do the exact opposite. They went into this spontaneous action of collecting goods and funds and relief to send ahead to the believers in Judea.
So we learned a couple of things that changed the game from ministry based on their actions. First, what the disciples did in Antioch was selfless. Famine hadn’t even started yet, and these new believers were just determined to go ahead and get relief. -not stored up for themselves, but to send that ahead to the believers in Judea. They were selfless. They demonstrated for us, others before self. Secondly, it was generous. Verse 29 tells us that each of the disciples gave according to his ability, which means they no doubt were tapping into some of their reserves, and they just had enough faith and trust that God would take care of them if that famine reached up into Antioch. I love their “just do something” mentality here.
Look, this church knew that they couldn’t reach or they couldn’t feed or help everybody that was going to be affected by this famine, and they didn’t let that stop them from doing something. They were committed to doing something. They weren’t trying to do everything. I think that’s something notable for us to keep in mind.
And thirdly, their ministry was corporate, and this is a game changer. The Antioch church was caring for another group of believers who were different from them culturally different from them, ethnicity and geographically not even close to them. And it was probably really humbling for those Jewish believers to get aid and get support from the Gentiles. But isn’t that a beautiful demonstration of God’s love and unity in Christ? -that both churches belong to Jesus and that in Christ, we are brother and sisters, and now we get to experience the joy of serving one another.
I’ll never forget the impact that a local church had on my family years and years ago. I’ll try to be quick with this story. My mom was nine months pregnant with me at this time. I was due at any moment. I was ready to make my entrance into the world, and my dad got kicked by a horse. So Men, if your spouse is nine months pregnant, I encourage you not to do anything risky like go mess around with horses. My dad got kicked, and it actually punctured his small intestine. My dad got really, really sick, and the family didn’t know this until he got really, really sick. He’s now rushed to the hospital. He had open stomach surgery then to fix this hole in his intestine.
So he’s there healing. Mom’s nine months pregnant, and she goes to visit my dad in the hospital on Sunday morning. Dad reminds Mom, “Tammy, don’t forget you need to put the tithe check in the offering plate today. Today’s the day that we give our tithe. And Mom, who was the bookkeeper in our family (still is today), she said, “Paul, there isn’t anything there. If we give this money, I know you’re telling me that we should, there’s not going to be anything left for us, and right now our resources are about dry. Between you being here and me being pregnant and everything else, our expenses are through the roof right now. Paul, we can’t do it.”
And my dad very lovingly and I’m sure very emphatically told her, “Tammy, write the check. Put it in the plate.” And I love how my mom tells the story because she says, “Well, I left the hospital. I reluctantly went to church that morning. I reluctantly wrote a check that morning, and then when it came down to get the offering, I reluctantly put that check in the offering plate.” But my mom did that. They were new believers at this time. They’re very young in their faith, and so they’re trying to instill this discipline and this practice of giving back to Lord what’s already His.
And my mom walked out the church that morning, walks down the front steps, and a gentleman from the church across the street a few blocks up comes running over and meets her. “Hey, are you Mrs. Bowden? Are you the family that has someone in the hospital? You guys are going through a tough time right now. He had an accident. Is that you? Is that your family?” Mom said, “Yeah, that’s us.” He said, “Great! Our church this morning took up in offering for your family, and we wanted to make sure that we could get it to you today and just hope that this blesses you and helps you get back on your feet.”
And the way mom describes it is, when he reached out and handed her this envelope that was full of cash, she said, “It was way more than we ever considered putting in the offering plate that morning.” This was not the church family that my mom and dad were members of at this time. This was a church a few blocks up the road that just heard about a family that was in need and spontaneously went into action on that Sunday morning.
Man! That’s what the church in Antioch was doing for the believers in Judea, and this moment for my mom and dad is seared into their memory as young believers, at how people care for other people in times of need, right? They didn’t know my folks; they had just heard of us. And what that did for their faith as young believers, they will never fully understand.
– Every member is a minister and every minister has a ministry
We have a phrase that we use here around Calvary. -that every member is a minister, and every minister has a ministry. We’re unapologetic here that we have this expectation of serving one another and being served. Whether it’s within this building and these ministries on this campus or in our community. And that comes from our being made new in Christ. -that when Christ reconciled us to himself, we’re a new creation. The old and broken ways in which we found fulfillment and purpose and meaning in life are now gone. Now we have adopted this new life in Christ where we find true fulfillment, true identity, and real purpose. And we live as a community of disciples devoted to Him, to one another, and also to our community here in the Valley.
I love with the church of Antioch models for us and how they change the game of evangelism, how they change how people would disciple one another, and how they changed the game of ministry. And all of that paved the way for churches like ours, Calvary, to exist the way that it does here on this campus and in this community. -doing the kind of reaching, building and sending that we’re getting to do here. It is awesome to be a part of. I am so proud of this church and being able to serve with you all as we reach this community for the Gospel of Jesus.
- Today I understand my need for a Savior and surrender my life to Jesus for the first time.
- I commit this week to live on mission and share the Gospel with someone new.
- I want to be a part of a LifeGroup to help me grow more in my faith. Please send me information about Calvary LifeGroups.
- What does the Bible tell us about the result of persecution?
- What “game changer” moment does Acts 11:20-21 tell us about?
- What happens when persecution and the Holy Spirit take hold of a place? (See Acts 11:22-25)
- When in a difficult situation how does the Body of Christ respond? (See Acts 11:29-30)
- The Church of Antioch teaches an example of seeking those who need to hear and those who are in need. How can we use this example in our daily lives?
- How has the Gospel changed your life? Share that story this week!
- Pray for discipleship opportunities to present themselves that could be “game changers” for the Chattahoochee Valley!