A Great Church In A Great City
Antioch in Syria was a great city. If you look at the famous and huge cities in the United States you would see New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In the Roman Empire you had Alexandria, Rome and then Antioch. Antioch was a prosperous city. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria. Antioch was known as a very hedonistic city. When a person is devoted to hedonism they are dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification. Everything is about pleasure; whether it eating, playing, sex, work, you name it. Their world revolves around feeding their desires and their wish. Oh, but that sounds like the United States today! It is estimated that, at the time Paul was there, Antioch could have been a city of some 500,000 people. When Luke wrote the book of Acts he did not seem to be concerned about the size of the city, nor the scope of its greatness. He was concerned about the Lord’s church in that city. The church in Antioch was a great church and it had qualities that the church everywhere should possess. It was a church that challenges the best that there is within us. There are a lot of things we do not know about the church in Antioch. We do not know how many they were in number or if they had their own building, but Luke did tell us what kind of people these Christians were and the kind of influence they had for God.
The gospel was both preached and accepted in Antioch. After the death of Stephen the church was scattered. (Acts 8:1-4) As these Christians were scattered they preached the word everywhere. Believers, who were scattered, preached the Good News of gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went. “Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” (Acts 11:19) Even though Jesus had said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” the Jewish Christians still did not understand that the Gentiles were included in the Gospel. It took the events of Cornelius and Peter to convince them that no one is unclean and that everyone needs the gospel. (Acts 10-11) Prejudice is a difficult thing for people to deal with. As the persecution caused the Christians to move to other cities Luke recorded, “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 11:20) So now the gospel was beginning to spread among the Gentiles. Antioch was the first city where the gospel was preached willingly and directly to Gentiles. The gospel was not only preached, but it was accepted in Antioch. “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) Even in this godless city the powerful gospel had its effect.
God’s graces reached all kinds of people. The Church had its beginning in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-3, Acts 2) The apostles were the first members of the church and Jerusalem was the place from which they worked. The church in Jerusalem learned that wonderful things were happening in Antioch so they sent Barnabas to help. “Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.” (Acts 11:22) Barnabas was a good and godly Christian man. “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:24) He was a Levite from Cyprus. “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.” (Acts 4:36-37) He was an encourager, a comforter and he was apparently a very kind, wise, and loving man. When Barnabas actually saw what was going on at Antioch through the gospel he knew that God’s grace was at work there. God’s grace reaches all kinds of people. Just observe the first words of Acts13, “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.” (Acts 13:1) These men were very different, but the grace of God had reached them and many others also. It would be hard to find a more diverse group but now they are all in one body. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) So it was the gospel that was preached by the grace of God that brought all these people together in this one body.
At Antioch the brethren remembered who they were. The brothers and sisters in the church at Antioch were the first to wear the new name that had been promised by God. The new name was given after the Gentiles had seen God’s righteousness. “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.” (Isaiah 62:2) The new name was the name Christian. “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26) The word “Christian” comes from the word Christ which means the Anointed Savoir. Each time these people heard that beautiful name Christian they were reminded of who they were. “The church at Syrian Antioch had a number of firsts. It was the first area where Gentiles were evangelized, it was the first place that followers of Christ were called Christians, and it was the first recorded church to render aid to other churches. It was also the first recorded time that Paul preached to the Gentiles for in Damascus and Jerusalem, he had preached only to Jews and we are not aware of his actions while he was in Tarsus.”
Here at Antioch were people who heard and obeyed the gospel; they understood that they were saved by the grace of God. They had great respect for the word of God and were ready to proclaim the word of God to others. They shared a common love with each other and they had a wonderful influence in their world! Every congregation of the Lord's people ought to want to be just like the church in Antioch. A strong church like this can do much to glorify God and to bring salvation to others. Will you accept God's wonderful good news that Jesus died for your sins? Will you be baptized into Christ to put on Christ so that your sins can be forgiven by His blood? (Galatians 3:26-27) The grace of God and His great gift to us demands our cheerful and loving surrender to Him. Are you faithful in God's service? “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
By Charles Box, Walnut Street Church of Christ, 306 Walnut Street, Greenville, Alabama 36037