#carmelprays – Acts 11:19-30
Opening Song: All Around The World
Read Scripture: Acts 11:19-30
(Read the above passage twice slowly before proceeding)
In previous chapters of Acts we have seen how persecution from the Jewish authorities led to the dispersion of the church in Jerusalem and the ironic spread of the Gospel. In today’s passage, another driver for the expansion of God’s kingdom is coming into play, and it starts in the highly cosmopolitan city of Antioch – the capital of the Roman province of Syria and the third largest city of the world at the time. Now, the Jews that had fled to Antioch, were spreading the Gospel, mostly to the Jews, but some, “men from Cyprus and Cyrene”, likely Jews, were also sharing the Gospel, this time with Greeks (v20). Luke doesn’t tell us who these Jewish Christians immigrants were, but suffice to say, they defied the kosher taboo the rest were observing and in their enthusiasm, also spoke with Gentiles. Unlike their conservative Palestinian Jewish brethren who had grown up in the cloistered Hebraic culture of Judea, these men crossed many cultural boundaries to reach Gentiles. They probably spoke Greek, not Aramaic and did not feel any anti-Gentile prejudice like Peter did. The pluralistic urban environment in big city Antioch probably helped.
The first application from this passage for today is the need for all Christians to always be ready to cross our zones of cultural social-economic comfort in speaking to others about God. Singapore is in many ways cosmopolitan like Antioch and the open economy brings many to our shores and let us use the hip “diversity and inclusion” trends to our advantage. When we spontaneously tell others of what God has done for us in our lives, surprising things can happen. I suspect that even these men from Cyprus and Cyrene must have been slightly taken aback by the scale of the response which their witness produced. “The Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v21).
The second point worth highlighting is that evangelism in Antioch was very much a grassroots affair. It was the personal witness of the Cypriot and Cyrenean Christians that brought about the “great number” who believed. There were no evangelism committees or formal training program. It was a spontaneous open sharing of their faith. That was a key ingredient in the expansion of the church at Antioch. Perhaps we as Christians, ought to think about evangelism in more “organic” ways. It’s not that programs are bad, but behind every program, there must be a genuine story of God reaching into our lives and how that has made an impact.
What happened at Antioch was very much new to the young and mostly Jewish church at the time. So novel was the concept that the mother Church at Jerusalem decided to send Barnabas to investigate what was going on in Antioch! It is not difficult to imagine that the Church at Antioch was very different from the one in Jerusalem. The number of Greeks likely exceeded Jews, and so for the first time we have a congregation predominantly Gentile in origin. The person that Jerusalem sent, Barnabas, turns out to be just the right person for the job, because when he saw “the evidence of the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v23). The Bible goes on to describe him as “ a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (v24). I suspect many of us when seeing a new congregation with huge numbers of people coming to the Lord would naturally feel jealous and even suspicious of the methods which caused the increase. We might frown on the new and unorthodox practices that the Antioch Church would invariably have been practicing e.g., Gentiles accepted without circumcision, loosening up of kosher food laws, and abandoning synagogue liturgy. Some of these issues in fact do turn out to be divisive later on.
But we do not hear a single “if” or “but” from Barnabas. He was no wet blanket. He recognized God’s hand and was a man of vision and generous of heart. In fact, he quickly looked for ways in which to help this young congregation grow and went to look for Saul to help with theological training (v25-26).
Perhaps this passage is a powerful reminder of the need to be open to opportunities to share God’s word, seizing the opportunity with natural enthusiasm and then being open to see what God does with our efforts however feeble they may be. We should strive to be like Barnabas, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” and see with spiritual eyes what God is doing in our midst and find ways of helping that growth.
Pray in Response
Lord, I pray today that you would restore our enthusiasm for You and the Gospel that we might be spontaneous like the men of Cyprus and Cyrene. Restore to us our spontaneity and give Mt Carmel a powerful grassroots-led evangelism that is directed by the Holy Spirit. Help us too, to be like Barnabas, to be generous of spirit and have open eyes to see the evidence of Your work in peoples’ lives and seek to find ways to help them grow. Help us reject the small mindedness of some parts of the church where pettiness and bickering have distracted us from the real work of evangelism. Amen.
Response Song: The Mission
By Loh Pin Chuan