Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Acts 11:19-30

It's possible that up to ten years have passed since Stephen was murdered, and we find that the effects are still lingering. These Jesus-followers no doubt feared for their lives, but they also did not waste opportunities to share with others their stories of transformation.

Before going any farther, a brief recap...

Most scholars date Stephen's death and Saul's conversion at around 35 AD. At the time, the church in Jerusalem numbered at least 5000 people (Acts 4:4 mentions 5000 men, and Acts 5:14 says that multitudes more believed). It's possible that there were 10,000 followers of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time. When persecution broke out, Luke tells us that all but the apostles scattered. Let's say he meant the apostles and a few others. That's still a LOT of people leaving Jerusalem. In Acts 8:4 Luke informs us that all of them "went about preaching the word." Satan thought he had won a major victory when Stephen was killed and the people scattered, but it actually unleashed an army of missionaries!

If you remember, many of the people who were converted on the day of Pentecost had not been from Jerusalem, but when the Spirit fell and the Church was birthed, they didn't want to leave. Now that everyone was leaving Jerusalem, it would make sense that most would now return to their homes.

Luke tells us that some of them traveled up to 300 miles. Cyprus is 250 miles by sea from Jerusalem, and Antioch is 300 miles from Jerusalem by land. Those that traveled to these cities spoke about what the change they had experienced in Jerusalem, but they only spoke to fellow Jews. However, and this is a BIG however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and spoke to Hellenists (Greek-speaking non-Jews).

I've often wondered why the men from Cyprus and Cyrene didn't return to their homes like most of the others. Cyrene is 800 miles away from Jerusalem, so I guess it's possible that they were simply tired of traveling! However, I think there is something else at work here. Perhaps they were the first cross-cultural missionaries! All of us are called to go and make disciples, but most of us are called to people like ourselves. Some, though, are called by God to go to a people very different from themselves. Some call them missionaries. I don't, because I believe that we are all missionaries. I call them cross-cultural missionaries.

A bigger issue, though, is that these men, for some reason, felt the urge to tell not only fellow Jews, but also Gentiles. This must have happened around the same time as Peter's visit with Cornelius. God was definitely up to something here! Luke informs us that as these men preached Jesus to the Gentiles in Antioch, "the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord" (11:21).

The church in Jerusalem heard about this and sent Barnabas to get a report. Peter's news had no doubt hastened a response. Barnabas "saw the grace of God" in Antioch and "was glad" (11:22). He decided to stay, but first he went to Tarsus to look for Saul. We last saw Saul after he escaped death in Jerusalem and went to Tarsus years earlier. We are not exactly sure what he's been up to, but God is about to release him into the ministry that He called him into.

Once they were back in Antioch, they taught the church for a whole year. Luke points out that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

A new church in a new city was about to be birthed, but this one would look very different from the church in Jerusalem. This one would be made up of people from all over the world.

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