25/97 10.8.97 Scripture: Acts 11:1-30
RECENTLY, our six year old grand-daughter rang my wife and proudly announced on behalf of her parents, her younger brother and herself: "Granny, guess what? Mummy's going to have a baby." My wife expressed delight at the prospect and asked Cassie what she'd hope the baby would be. Cassie replied: "Mummy and me want a baby girl. Daddy wants a baby boy, and Jack wants a piglet!" Jack of course, has been influenced by the film "Babe" and talk of a new babe, led him to think his mother might deliver a piglet!
Unfortunately for Jack, we rather hope the baby will have the characteristics of his parents and maybe even of his grandparents. But certainly not the characteristics of a pig! We like to see family characteristics. Christians are to grow in the image of Christ, to become like Him, to possess Christian characteristics. In seeking to cultivate the Christian life, many of us pattern our lives on other Christians. We desire the qualities of the life of Christ to be in us, as we see them in others. There are not many of us who have the stuff of which Peter, the big fisherman, was made. There may be no one to equal the brilliance of mind and intellect as the missionary martyr, the Apostle Paul. But we can be like Barnabas, the encourager, whose story we read in Acts Chapter 11.
In 1952, Paul Newman starred in "The Silver Chalice" a film about the influence of the cup believed to have been used by Jesus in the first communion service in the Upper Room. In 1910, archaeologists working in Antioch, Turkey, near the border of Lebanon, made an astonishing discovery.
They found in the oldest church in the world, dating back 1900 years, some fine example of Christian art from the first and second centuries and what is called "The Silver Chalice of Antioch." On a solid silver base is a fine silver cup from the third century AD. On the outside there is engraved a likeness of Jesus Christ, twelve disciples, and winding around the cup, a vine and grapes. Inside the silver cup is a simple, plain cup. Some archaeologists believe this is the cup, the chalice used by Jesus, the Holy Grail, from which Jesus drank and Joseph of Aramathea caught some blood from His side. It was treasured and later surrounded by silver. It is on display in "The Cloisters" Museum, New York.
The church in Antioch was the first Christian church established outside of Palestine. It was the first church among Greek-speaking non-Jewish people. It was the first church established by direct missionary action. It was the mother church of the missionary movement. Missionaries were sent to North Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Italy, Spain, and Alexandria in North Africa. In 100 AD a school was established to train ministers which continued for hundreds of years. Among famous leaders is Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch. In 341 A.D. the first Ecumenical Council of the Church was held in Antioch.
The Antiochian Orthodox Church still exists faithfully today, despite 1500 years of Islamic persecution. Christians there today go back in an unbroken line to the time when disciples first carried the Gospel news to the city. Luke in 8:4 wrote about how the church grew in Samaria to the coast about Joppa. Now in 11:19 he turns to how the church spread to the far north up into Turkey.
(Acts 11:19-21) "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled 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." The significance of this cannot be exaggerated.
At Pentecost, Peter preached to Jews about faith in Christ. Then Philip spoke to a Gentile from Ethiopia, who responded to Jewish worship. Next Peter met Simon the tanner, a socially unacceptable man in Joppa. Then preached in the house of the Roman army captain, Cornelius. Now, in Antioch, the Christian believers stepped right outside their Jewish background. They were successful. Many responded to the gospel and the way was opened up for Greeks and Macedonians to become Christians, for Africans, Europeans, and, in time, Americans and Australians.
When the home church at Jerusalem heard of the happenings at Antioch, they became suspicious. They decided to send someone to check it out. They chose Barnabas. We have met Barnabas twice before. First in Acts 4, when at a time of great need, Barnabas sold some land and turned the proceeds over to the apostles. Then in Acts 9. Saul (later called Paul), after his conversion, went to Jerusalem to join the disciples. But he was rejected. The Christians did not believe Saul was now one of them. But Barnabas persuaded them that Saul was genuine. So Saul was accepted by all.
The name Barnabas means "encourager." Who better to send to Antioch, than this man whose own faith was tried and true and who was deeply respected by the whole church? In him we find four Christian characteristics we could cultivate.
1.AN ENTHUSIASTIC ENCOURAGER
Every new movement needs encouragers. When Henry Ford developed what he called "the internal combustion engine," to be placed in cars that still bear his name, he described his concept to a group of influential men at a dinner party. He asked them for their reactions. The replies were negative. "It will never work." "You are way off beam." "Impossible." "Don't ask me to put any money in it." They rejected the concept. At the end of the table was an old man, Thomas Edison, the famous inventor. Despondent, Henry Ford waited for the final judgement. Edison thumped the table, "Young man, that's the thing! You've got it!" Henry Ford said later, "I didn't care what anybody else said. That thump on the table gave me enough encouragement to go ahead and build the internal gas combustion engine."
Young people need an encourager. That is a job for older Christians. You should say, "Young person, that's the thing. You've got it!" I am grateful I was greatly blessed when young by encouragers. Those who have grown older in years, and cannot do the things they once did, can still encourage others, as Barnabas did. "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." Barnabas was a true encourager.
2. A FAITHFUL WITNESS
We learn a little more about Barnabas: "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord." Like Barnabas we can be an enthusiastic encourager and a faithful witness. We can be persons of integrity, who are able to speak about our faith. The light of Jesus Christ can shine through us to others.
3. AN EFFECTIVE TEACHER
Barnabas had to teach the new Christians. When challenged to do something that tests our strength and ability and it is becoming too big for us, some of us collapse. But not Barnabas. He looked for help. When he was given this teaching job, "Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch." Saul had been preaching and teaching for the past thirteen years in central Turkey. There he had been beaten by Jews from hostile synagogues and suffered for his brave witness to Jesus. He had gone back to his home town of Tarsus, wrote his famous letter to the Galatians, and witnessed suffering the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. This meant his ancestral home and his standing in the community, because of his faith in Christ.
When Barnabas went to look for Saul, the Greek suggests he had difficulty finding him. But he did find him and took Saul back to Antioch. The next year the two of them taught new Christians. Here is team teaching in Scripture. "So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people." Barnabas was an effective teacher, but he needed someone else like Saul. So Barnabas brought Saul back into the mainstream.
"The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." "Christians" was, of course, a nickname. It was a typical Latin ending carried over into the Greek. Followers of Herod were called Herodians, a follower of Caesar was a Caesarian. Those who followed Christ were called Christians. It was a nickname the early believers carried with pride. The same kind of nickname was given to the Wesleys when they planned, prepared and timed their personal devotions. People scoffed at their method, and called them Methodists! Some nicknames we can wear with pride, and "Christian" is one.
4. A GENEROUS SUPPORTER
While Barnabas and Saul were teaching in Antioch "During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)" Claudius was Emperor from 41-54 AD. Suetonius and Tacitus, Roman historians, Josephus, the Jewish historian, and Luke, the Christian historian, speaks of it. There was immediate response. "The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." Barnabas earlier had made a generous contribution.
This Christian characteristic of generosity is one we can all copy. Thirty years ago I conducted an evangelistic campaign at the Chatswood Church of Christ. Bill and Mavis Graham there, supported me then as a young evangelist and ever since at Wesley Mission. Bill died in 1990, but Mavis still carries on their generous support of all we do.
Bill once sent an unusual letter to his employees. He was the Managing Director of Samuel Taylor Pty. Ltd. He developed the aerosol industry with "pressure pacs" of Mortein, Aerogard, and Gossamer and a whole host of insecticides and cleaners. In 1960, he put all of his workers on a 32 hour week, but paid them for forty hours! Here is a copy of a letter he once sent to every employee of the firm.
We do not wish to preach to you but we do want you to know that we believe this business has prospered, not because we seek wealth but because, having faith in God, we seek to serve to the best of our ability. Undoubtedly, we have been richly rewarded and by no means the least of our benefits is found in the calibre of our employees whose friendship and loyalty we esteem.
It may not always be easy to believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but this is as true today in business as when Jesus first told it to His disciples. It is because we know in our Company something of the joy of Christian giving, that I now desire to inform you that I have increased your wages by 10%. I only make one request, that you refrain from thanking us. If you find it in your heart to do so, you should thank God from whom all good gifts really come. Yours sincerely,
(signed) Bill Graham. (Managing Director)."
Bill was an enthusiastic encourager, a faithful witness, an effective teacher and a generous supporter. Barnabas would have been proud of Bill Graham! We all need to cultivate these Christian characteristics. We grow like Christ when we first believe and are re-born as a new Christian.
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