Now those who’d been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem, traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch in Syria, spreading the Word – but only among Jews. Some of those scattered, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Gentiles 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 got back to the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. And, when he arrived and saw what God’s grace had accomplished, he was glad - and he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord, wholeheartedly. (Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, full of faith.) Because such a great number of people were being brought to the Lord, Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The first time that Jesus’ disciples were called ‘Christians’ was at Antioch.
There’s so much in the news today about Syria, and as many churches are privileged to have a part in sponsoring a refugee family, I want to remind us that much of what has come down to us in terms of the Gospel and our own life of faith – birthed by the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem and a great scattering. The Gospel squeezed through (and beyond) the open door of Antioch in Syria. Non-Jewish believers (Gentiles) and soon Jewish believers too were all called Christians
Talk about a ‘grass roots movement! The people who were dispersed from Jerusalem shared the Gospel wherever they went. So, the mother church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check out what was happening in Antioch. What was going on? Was it of God? Was this ‘kosher?’ And, if so, how to pastor it? Barnabas was a good man, a godly man - God’s Man. He was full of the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit’s help He was wisely able to bridge the old and new covenants, economies and cultures. He interpreted to the new believers the former things of God and He explained to the older, established church and leaders in Jerusalem that God was doing a new thing. He worked, no doubt, to teach and bring up to speed the new converts, those coming to faith who were not of Jewish background and who knew little if anything about the true God’s ways, His covenants and promises of old, His special love and care for His People Israel. As we begin the New Year, and as we consider our mission and the Message we have to show and tell, I would offer in three parts: - A call to Humility, a call to Hear - to Listen to God; and a call to Help – and to understand the help we’ve been graciously given by God so that we may fufill our creaturely tasks as Jesus-followers.
1. A call to Humility. God sets a premium on humility. God resists the proud, but lifts up the humble. Says II Chronicles 7:14 - If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves,pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
When he was asked about why a gender-equal cabinet was important to him, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau responded: “Because It’s 2015.” Said Macleans magazine: - “It was a statement that signaled a lot in three short words. This was an expectation of something that has long been overdue.” Prominent Canadians from various backgrounds by Macleans to tell what else they thought was overdue in Canada. Then, readers too were invite to submit theirs ideas to #BecauseIts2016: What else is longoverdue?
Rightly so. We do right to celebrate humankind coming of age, regarding the Rights of Women. We wonder now it took so long before there was a women’s movement in Western society – including that suffrage moment when Emily Davison threw herself in front of King George V’s race-horse, at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913 - dying as a result of her protest. We can scarcely believe that in the time of Christ, women were considered as chattel, as property – that even until near the beginning of the last century, women could not vote even in so-called enlightened, civilized countries.
We rightly express abhorrence at the ancient and not long ago practices of slavery and apartheid. I watch PBS’s ‘Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. where are depicted the histories and genealogies of both ‘people of colour’ and those of ‘white’ background’ who are shocked, sickened and saddened to discover that their ancestors were recipients or perpetrators of slavery and its evils and abuse. And it still happens today in our world – human trafficking, too. Black lives matter: - all lives matter!
We must not think that we have advanced and come of age, that we are ourselves evolved into these wonderful days of existence, in every way, that we’ve fully figured out how best to live – better than ever before in history. For, to do so is to miss the light and wisdom of many ancient ways that have sustained and given life of humankind flourishing on this planet.
There can be a certain kind of arrogance and ignorance in statements that may seem to imply that everything before us, before our time, was short sighted, bigoted, and just plain wrong: that we have arrived . . . that our ancestors, poor souls, were unwise, ignorant, short-sighted. They didn’t have our marvelous technology, the wonders of our scientific prowess and advance; they had outhouses instead of marvelous toilets and indoor washrooms. They had no electricity or central heating, or fasts cars, or the ability to go to the moon or to Mars.
They were wiser than us, in some ways. I mean - talk about advances! Some ancient civilizations were astonishing in what they built: huge and elaborate ziggurats, cities and pyramids, exquisite works of gold, inlaid with jade and turquoise. Oh yes, they had human sacrifice – how primitive! We just blew Nagasaki and Hiroshima to smithereens. They had crude weapons: stone axes, then iron, then bronze and steel. We’ve ‘advanced’ so far as to be able to nuke the whole world at the push of a button.
Our abilities have advanced. Our morals? – not so much, unless God by His Spirit curbs and subdues our basely natural, human, selfish instincts and replaces them with the new Life from the next age that Jesus came to bring. Our knowledge, prowess has increased – wonderfully so, and our can-do technology advances have been enormous, but we lag far behind in our wisdom in how to use the rich gifts of God’s good earth.
Because it’s 2016! . . .? That’s a good thing to say and a wonderful way to look at some great advances in human history. But also, it can also be a not-so-good, a not-so-helpful way of looking at and appreciating things from God’s perspective and from the telescope views of Scripture. The godly perspective and counsel of prophet Jeremiah in ancient Israel should be ours. (6:16 –) ‘This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’
For 'Evangelism' Part Two, see Hearing God's Word
For Evangelism' Part Three, see In Word and Deed