This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia by Pastor Paul Mims on January 20, 2013.
The title of this sermon is intended to be a question that each one of us should ask of himself or herself. Ask yourself, “Why should I be called a Christian?” As others observe your life would they come to the conclusion that you are a Christian? As you examine yourself do you qualify to bear his name?
We have before us the exciting story of how the early believers were first given the name, “Christians.”
It all started against the background of persecution. After Stephen was stoned to death as the first martyr of the faith, there was a dispersion of believers from Jerusalem to other areas of the Mediterranean world. They had such a passion about their faith that they told others about the good news of the Lord Jesus. In so doing it was the first time that the gospel was deliberately preached to the Gentiles. Previously, Philip had preached to the Samaritans, but they were half Jewish. Then Peter had been told of God to accept Cornelius, but he was a God-fearer and was on the fringes of the Jewish faith. But here in Antioch the church did not limit their ministry to only Jews, but deliberately and spontaneously they witnessed to the Gentiles. This is of great significance for in so doing they launched the Christian message on its world – wide mission. Like them:
I. WE CAN BE CALLED “CHRISTIANS” IF WE WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW ABOUT THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. (vs.20-21) “Some of them, however, 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.”
We don’t even know their names. These men who changed history came from the Island of Cyprus and Cyrene to Antioch and spoke to the Greeks about their faith in the Lord Jesus. Heaven’s history will tell us that the major work of the Kingdom will have been done by men and women who did it out of love for their Lord and were not recognized in this life for their good deeds.
This event takes on meaning when we realize what Antioch was like. It was the third greatest city in the world after Rome and Alexandria. It was the capital of Syria. The Roman government had four legions of soldiers stationed there to maintain order. The city was fifteen miles from the Mediterranean Sea at the mouth of the Orontes River. Antioch was a byword for immorality. It was the “sin city” of the day. The city had a population of over 500,000 with a main street of four miles in length. The Jewish population was believed to be about 50,000. It was famous for chariot races and the pursuit of pleasure day and night. The main religion was the worship of Daphne. Her temple stood five miles out of the city in the laurel groves. In Greek mythology, the legend said that Daphne was a girl with whom Apollo fell in love. He pursued her and changed her into a laurel bush. The Temple of Daphne was filled with priestesses who served as sacred prostitutes. So the worship involved the men re-enacting the pursuit of Daphne by Apollo with the sacred priestesses day and night in the temple.
It was in this setting that Christianity burst out of Judaism and its adherents were first called “Christians” at Antioch.
Can’t you see the believers with their hearts aflame for the way that Jesus had fulfilled their lives speaking to the Greeks and telling them that they too could experience the thrill of a spiritual transformation by faith in the Lord Jesus? They wanted those who believed in Greek mythology to know of the true God who came to earth in the person of his Son to redeem them and satisfy the deepest longings of their hearts. The scripture says that “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
One of the major characteristics of the church in Antioch was that they wanted everyone to know what they knew. They were “gossiping the gospel.” One of the surest evidences that we are authentic believers is that we want others in our families, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and our world to know about the Lord Jesus. Would your activity in being a witness for our Lord qualify you to be called a Christ-ian. Christian is a Greek word with a Latin ending. The “ian” means “to the party of.” There is speculation that the early Christians were named by their enemies and that the term was one of derision. I don’t think so. The record says that they communicated “the Lord Jesus.” Who could have gotten “Christian” out of that but Jewish converts who understood that the believers were understanding that Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah? The believers called themselves, “disciples” “brethren” and “followers of The Way.” So the name was likely given by Jewish believers in Christ and it stuck and described what was to become the vast world-wide movement of people attaching themselves to Jesus and bearing his name – the Christ. We understand that he is the fulfillment of over 300 Jewish prophecies and is the completion of God’s work among Israel in the Old Testament. This is not a new religion. It is the fulfillment of the messianic hope of Israel.
II. WE CAN BE CALLED “CHRISTIANS” BECAUSE OF THE GRACE OF GOD IN OUR LIVES. (vs.23) “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.”
When the Jerusalem church heard of what was happening in Antioch, they sent Barnabas up there to evaluate it. When he saw the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, he knew that the conversions of the Gentiles was real. He agreed that an authentic church of the Lord Jesus was being formed. What was the evidence that he saw? It is the same that we see today in the life of a believer and that is the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is what makes you and me authentic Christians. The Holy Spirit indwells us to cause the character of Christ to be formed in us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22). This is over against “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy: drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21).
You can see that in a city like Antioch the contrast would be very revealing. If there had been no difference in the lifestyles they would not have borne the name of Christ. If there is no difference between us and the wicked world around us we cannot bear his name. The tragedy is that what is known as modern Christianity is a blending with the culture in a violation of biblical tenants so that people do not see the truth of God’s revelation. The political pressures are so strong some church leaders have caved in to the popular mindset. Our National Cathedral in Washington announced last week that they would perform same sex marriages. The Church of England also announced that they will allow gay bishops. Churches are forming under the title “Lesbian churches” or “Gay churches.” What would the church at Antioch think of this? Will the surrounding pagan community identify these “churches” with Jesus? When the church is changed by the culture rather than changing the culture there is no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. These compromises are the “out front” ones that dominate our news today. But there are the more subtle ones that undermine the authority of scripture and the person of Christ that are robbing modern Christianity of its authentic relationship with Jesus. What is left is a form and structure of Christianity without its authenticity and power. It is both beliefs and lifestyles that would cause contemporary culture to call us “Christians.” There are so many “wacky” and crazy extreme churches that even the authentic gospel cannot fit into them.
But the question is, “Is there evidence of God’s grace in our lives administered by the Holy Spirit?”
III. WE CAN BE CALLED “CHRISTIANS” BECAUSE WE ARE STUDENT-LEARNERS OF THE WAYS OF CHRIST. (vs.26) “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.”
The fellowship of believers needed a leader and Barnabas immediately thought of a man who could bridge the gap between the Jewish and Gentile believers. That man was Paul. He had not been heard from for nine years, but was preaching and teaching around his home town of Tarsus. Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought him to Antioch. Together, they taught the people about the faith. An authentic Christian is a student-learner of the faith. When the Holy Spirit is active in our lives we go from revelation to revelation, from understanding to understanding. Think about the value of being under the teaching of Paul and Barnabas for a whole year. No wonder the Holy Spirit was so present that “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hand on them and sent them off.” Thus was born the missionary enterprise that would take the gospel to the then known world.
When we know – we will do. That is why we have Bible study in Sunday School, Bible study on Wednesday nights, and Bible expositions from the pulpit in worship. But that is not enough. Believers must read the Bible for themselves. The Holy Spirit must interpret it for us personally and apply it to our lives. If you read the Bible daily you will feed your soul on heavenly and practical truths that will cause you to be a true student of the Word.
By these definitions taken from the church at Antioch which caused them to be called Christians, could you be called a Christian? First, do you want everyone to know about your Lord Jesus Christ? Do you give evidence of the grace of God in your life through the working of the Holy Spirit? Are you a student-learner of Christ that grows you into a disciple?
Many a man or woman has borne eloquent witness to the Christian faith by an unobtrusive, consecrated life. A relative of Robert Ingersoll, known in that family as Aunt Sarah, was a devout bible student and a beautiful Christian. One day she received in the mail a package which proved to be a copy of one of Ingersoll’s books which was an attack on the Bible. On the flyleaf he wrote these words to her, “If all Christians had lived like Aunt Sarah, perhaps this book would never have been written.” Her consistent Christian life was more troubling to this renown atheist than anything else.
What is the world expecting when they look at us Christians?
“In the home, it is kindness. In business, it is honesty. In society it is courtesy. In work, it is fairness. Toward the unfortunate, it is compassion. Toward the weak, it is help. Toward the wicked, it is resistance. Toward the strong, it is trust. Toward the fortunate, it is congratulations. Toward the Penitent, it is forgiveness. Toward God, it is reverence and love.” (Christian Digest).
What does the world want us to do as Christians?
They want to see Jesus in us. In the Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Dr. Russell Conwell had placed on the back of the pulpit, the simple words, “We would see Jesus.” These words visible only to the preacher reminded him of what the congregation wanted to see and hear every time he rose to preach. The people of Philadelphia in recognition of his Christ-like character and the breath of the philanthropies that he led the church to perform in the founding of Temple University for the education of the poor and the founding of Temple Hospital elected him “First Citizen.”
Jesus gained followers by helping people and doing good. The church must be so Christ-centered that we naturally do the works that he would do and present his way of life so that those who are broken can be mended – those who are lost can be saved – and those who are saved can grow into such devout disciples that the world will call us “Christians!”
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!