Does the Grace of God make you Glad and Encourage You?
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the Good News about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the ears of the Church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:19-26)
The book of Acts, which we find between the 4 Gospels and the epistles, tells us some very interesting things about how the Church began, following the Ascension of Jesus to heaven (chapter 1) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (chapter 2) which saw 3000 added to the Church in one day following the Spirit anointed sermon given by Peter!
Written most probably by Luke, “The Acts of the Apostles” as it is known, should perhaps be renamed as “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” as we find that all the events which happened were a direct result of the grace of God working in the hearts of mere men, giving them the courage to speak out the Good News of the Lord Jesus. The apostles, who had actually seen the ministry of Jesus in action, as they followed Him for about three years, had the privilege of receiving probably the best teaching and training in pastoral work and evangelism that anyone has ever received, without having access to the New Testament, which they later had to write themselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We are privileged to have these writings widely available to us and together with the Old Testament they should be the only basis on which any new Church is founded, because within them we find all that is needed for equipping us as followers of Jesus, as we allow the Holy Spirit to work within our hearts and interpret God’s Word in our individual lives and our lives together.
The short passage I have just read tells us specifically about the events which happened amongst the Christians at the Church in Antioch. First, we learn that many of the people involved are those who were scattered a long way from Jerusalem, to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. following the persecution after the stoning to death of Stephen, which we read about in Acts chapter 7, verses 54-59. This is a pattern we see repeatedly through the history of the Church from the Day of Pentecost until now, God’s persecuted people being sent to new regions of the world where they can live out and preach the Gospel of God’s grace, revealed through Jesus Christ.
There were also men there who came from Cyprus and Cyrene and they were led by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel to Greeks as well, resulting in many people becoming followers of Jesus. We read that the Lord’s hand was with them, which is obviously why there was such blessing. When we reach out to the people God wants us to share His word with, we will also experience blessing in our personal ministry and when we work effectively as teams, submitting to God and to one another.
It always amazes me how news traveled in early Church times, but somehow the news of the conversion of people at Antioch got all the way back to Jerusalem where the Church decided to send out Barnabas to check out what was going on. Barnabas is an interesting character, his name meaning “Son of Encouragement,” and from the things we read about him, he certainly knew how to encourage others. I pray that God will raise up many Barnabas-like characters in our Churches and Ministries in these times, particularly by being a good example and training others to teach and spread the Gospel to so many who are still in need of receiving it.
When Barnabas arrived at Antioch, we read this exciting passage. When he …saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. I think that we can gather from this that Barnabas was first of all glad when He saw the evidence of the grace of God at work, and then was able to freely minister further encouragement to God’s people. Yes, even encouraging people need to receive encouragement themselves, sometimes we may receive it directly from the grace of God at work in our hearts and lives!
The grace of God at work in our lives constantly reminds us, that as His children, we are constantly loved, approved of by our heavenly Father, not because of anything we have done or earned, but just because of who we are. For those wrestling with addictions, relationship problems, illness, temptation and all the many other things that life throws at us, this is important to remember every day. Once the truth of it really takes hold of our lives we will want others to experience it also. Barnabas was so excited when he saw the grace of God at work, to the extent that he wanted to call his friend Saul over to see the great things that were happening and share in it. Yes, he had a very important friend, Saul of Tarsus, who was later named Paul and wrote about half of the New Testament!
Saul must have been very excited and seen the potential of the young Church at Antioch, because he stayed with Barnabas, teaching the followers of Jesus for a whole year. I think that what was going on at Antioch would have been amazing to experience, and that it is played down a bit by Luke in this passage. The interesting thing is that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” at Antioch, a name which has remained for some 2000 years and isn’t likely to go away before Jesus returns. I think that this also highlights the importance of the foundations laid by Saul and Barnabas at Antioch.
What a joy it would have been to sit under their teaching about the grace of God and answering the questions people asked them. They made an awesome team. I believe that God is calling us in these days to strengthen the things which remain, specifically the Grace of God which is always here and always available to each one of us! Incidentally, the Church at Antioch later became the headquarters from which the Gospel was spread further out to the Gentile world through Paul’s later missionary journeys.