Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 37 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Acts 11 today and our focus is on the most important church in history. We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Northern Ireland, U.K., Assam, India, Chicago, Illinois, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Tampa, Florida. Thanks for listening! Our goal this year is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our new web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more – Click here for our reading plan!

Today we a discussing how the gospel jumped ship from the Jewish people and went to Gentiles/Greeks like you and me, and the church that was a big springboard for that jump. Sometimes we humans can be SLOWWWW to get things, right? It seems to me that the Great Commission of Jesus is fairly clear, though that may be hindsight talking. Let’s read the GC for review, and as I read it, ask yourself this question: Does it sound like Jesus wants the disciples to go to every nationality, or just the Jewish people?

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Call me crazy, but ALL NATIONS sort of sounds like Jesus is telling the disciples to go beyond just Jewish people. Maybe its more clear in Acts 1:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

It just seems like ‘all nations’ and ‘ends of the earth,’ seems a bit more than just share the gospel with all of the Jewish people you see, and ignore the rest. BUT, interestingly – this seems to be the default ministry paradigm of the disciples, pretty much right up to Acts 10-11. In Acts 10, Peter is told beyond a shadow of a doubt not to consider people of other nations and ethnicities as unclean, so he goes and proclaims Jesus to them, as we talked about yesterday. And when he returns to the other disciples, they throw a party and celebrate the new Greek/Gentile believers, right – they celebrate the first steps in the successful completion of the Great Commission, right? Actually…no they don’t. Peter is called to task by some of the Christians, for the crime of sharing the good news with non-Jewish people. We read that in vs. 2 of  today’s reading:

When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Acts 11:2 

Now, to be fair, after Peter explained the situation to them, they relented and rejoiced, as we see in vs. 18, “1When they heard this they became silent. And they glorified God, saying, “So then, God has given repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.

It’s just interesting that it caught them off guard. They must have heard the Great Commission with Jewish ears to say something like, “Go and make disciples of the Jews in all nations, being witnesses to the jews in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the Jews to the ends of the earth, but only the Jews.” But, that is quite clearly NOT what Jesus said. It shows us how bias can cloud our hearing and our actions. We also see this bias impact the evangelism of the church even after the persecution spread the church outside the bounds of Jerusalem – the early Christians spread all throughout the Roman empire, sharing the gospel with Jews in all the cities, and pretty much ignoring everybody else. Except for Antioch…because something quite amazing and wonderful happened in Antioch! Let’s read about it.

Here’s the passage:

19 Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. Acts 11:19-20

WOW – the ramifications of this happening can’t be understated. Antioch represented a complete strategy change for the church. How about we NOT ONLY share Jesus with Jews, but with EVERYBODY?  That is why I think I can say, without exaggerating, that the church at Antioch is the most important church in history. It was at Antioch – a large (250,000 people) city in modern day Turkey – that the early church’s missions effort really began at earnest. It was here that God called Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries, and it was at Antioch that the early Jesus-followers were first labeled with the name, “Christian.” Why is it important that followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch? Let’s ask pastor Tim Keller, who has some great wisdom for us in closing:

For the very first time in history, we’re told here in verse 20, “Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks …” The word there is Hellenist, which means polytheists, people who were ancient pagans. They did not believe the Scriptures at all. They were given the gospel message, and many of them became Christians.
The result of this you can actually see in 13:1–3, which was the very first church in Antioch. Look at who the leaders were. It says they were prophets and teachers, and they list them: Barnabas, who was a Cypriot Jew, a bicultural Jew. Simeon called Niger. The word niger means black. This man was a black African.
Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was in North Africa, but the North Africans were not black; they were more like what we would call Arabic. Manaen we don’t know much about except he was brought up with Herod, which means he was an upper-crust person. And then Saul, who we know was not only Jewish but a professor, essentially, an academic. So we have the first multiethnic, multinational, multiclass Christian church in history.
That’s the reason why it was in Antioch the believers in Christ were first called Christians. Up until now, every nationality had their own religion. You were Roman, and they had the Roman religion. If you were Greek, you had the Greek religion. However, for the first time, we have a religion that is not based on race. It brings in people from different races, and that’s why they had to come up with a name. They were called Christians.

Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013 (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).


End of the Show: Bible memory verse for FEBRUARY: Acts 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

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