But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Isn’t it a wonder that the Christian faith has grown from the upper room to be international? Aren’t you amazed that the church has grown so greatly especially when there has been such a great persecution meted against her. Her followers have suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb 11:36-38). Yet the Christian faith has been producing converts from all parts of the world. The church has been subjected to the greatest of all pressures through the history. But God has prospered His church mightily.
From this passage we see that God’s work does not and cannot stand still. The Lord is mightily at work to make sinners believe and turn to Him, He is adding multitudes to Himself. He has given out His Spirit and sent out ministers of the gospel, he has equipped them with the power unto salvation – the gospel. He has made the gospel to be fruitful and this is why we are to know that we are on the winning side and no one is going to subdue us because the Lord is with us, in us, for us and will conquer kings and peasants by us.
Here Luke takes us back to the same point of Acts 8:4 which opens with the same words by reminding us the effects of Stephen’s stoning – dispersion of the believers throughout the region. Notice that when they were dispersed they did not go complaining about their predicaments but instead were glad and went far and wide – Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch preaching the good news.
We have three lessons to prove that God’s work does not, cannot and will not stand still because He is at work, and has appointed His representatives, His spokesmen and servants who He will use to proclaim the gospel to bring about conversions, and finally he makes the effects of the gospel very conspicuous.
1. GOD IS AT WORK
Clearly from this passage we discover that God is not passive, with His arms akimbo – He is working by the Holy Spirit. He is on the steering wheel directing the affairs of the world and of His church by His hand (John 5:7). What does it mean that His hand was upon them? This is to say that His hand was at work just like He had acted in order to show that He is indeed God by His power during His earthly ministry. The power meant here is spiritual power acting through the truth as propounded in the gospel that leads to conviction and conversion and might as well include the miraculous power. In the same manner He was using His powerful hand through the preachers to produce saving faith in the people. It was a proof that He was alive working powerfully and mightily for the salvation of men. So how can His work stand still when He is the One at the realm if His work?
When man fell into sin, God did not just shake His head in disapproval and resent that His creation had so sinned – He acted. He came with judgment and sent them packing from the Garden of Eden. He judged them but even better He promised the Seed of the Woman who would crush the head of the serpent. This redemption story is about God’s eternal redemption plan, by His Son so that at the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5). Jesus came on the earth and dwelt among men and manifested the glory of the Father so that through Him the fullness of Godhead was revealed. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Heb 1:3)
This shows how much the Son was willing to be involved actively and passively in the salvation of men. Actively by His death and passively by His obedience unto death – even death on the cross. He paid the ransom and secured our redemption by His vicarious death on the cross. By His resurrection on the third day, it was proved that His atoning sacrifice had been accepted and so He released His elect people from the dungeon of sin and misery of depravity.
But Jesus Himself said that he had come so that He would give us the Holy Spirit. This promise was fulfilled at the very beginning of the church because it is the Holy Spirit who is at work for the building of the church and for its growth. In this passage we read that
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord… And a great many people were added to the Lord.(vv21, 24). The point is that because was actively working, the endeavour met with instant success because the gentiles called the Hellenists or Greeks here are reported to have received the gospel message as the very thing that they had been waiting for, as something that exactly suited their case and so a great number of them believed, turning from their worthless idols to serve the true God (1Thess 1:3)
Surely who else can cause a sinful person to turn from His sins when it is his nature to sin except God? Who can cause a dead heart to come back alive to pump the spiritual blood except the Creator? Who can revive a dead person except Christ who comes with sufficient grace to cause the sinner to see and to be alive? Who except Christ, the Lord is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him? And so then I urge you to turn to Him and leave your worthless idols to believe in Him.
2. GOD SENDS OUT PREACHERS
Who caused these people to be scattered? And why were they scattered to the regions where they went? And how comes that wherever they went they did not keep quiet but spoke the word of God to the Jews for those who came from Jerusalem and Greeks for those who came from Cyprus and Cyrene? It was because the Hand of the Lord was upon them to guide them to these places to take the message of the gospel there.
1. The Lord is with the preachers of the gospel
When the church in Jerusalem was scattered because of the persecution, only the apostles were left there, but the effect was what no one had expected. For it was just as a store full of grains would send the seeds into different directions after an explosion, sending the seed to germinate in different soils in order to bring about harvest. The gospel which had been restricted only within the walls of Jerusalem was now propagated to different regions in Palestine as well as the Africa and Europe because the Lord was with these people. This perfectly fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘destruction had overflowed into righteousness (Isa. 10:22). Were it not for the dispersion of the many believers in different directions, regions of Judea, Samaria, Joppa, Lydda, Damascus, Caesarea, Cyrene, Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, would have been hitherto unreached with the gospel – without God and hope.
But God sent out these believers to minister the Good News of Christ to them. And on this account we are to rejoice that the Living God that we serve will turn Satan’s evil devices and tactics into blessings for us. God will procure victories for Himself out of the cross and persecution, He will weave blessings for us out of trials so that His church may grow better out of its dispersion.
The resilience and perseverance of these people is worthy to be praised. Although they were snatched as from the flames of death yet they gave themselves to carrying out the duty God had given them even when they were endangered. If one would want to know the source of confidence in these visitors from Africa and Greece, who would have been kicked out by the Jews, I would say it was because of the extraordinary influence of God, and that they made the use of every opportunity for the advancement of the kingdom.
2. The Lord has appointed preachers of the gospel
Who appoints the preachers of the gospel? There are normally the preachers who are appointed by God like Barnabas who was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. How anyone have the Spirit of God without belonging to God. How the Holy Spirit fill a person when the Lord has not sanctioned it and appointed Him.
You notice that because it was the work of the Lord, He appointed some to go to the Jews only – those who were from Jerusalem. It might be that these feared for their lives that they preached to the Jews only. Though I don’t think that they first of all inquired if one was a Jew before proclaiming the gospel. You remember that by now there were no restrictions like there were in the time of the Lord whereby it could have been that they were throwing bread to the dogs when the children had not eaten. This was the time when the Lord has said that the gospel was to be preached to the outermost parts of the world.
But He also chose others from Cyprus and Cyrene to speak only to the Hellenists or Greeks who were in Antioch. Note that Hellenists here does not refer to the usual rendering of the Greek-speaking Jews as in v.19 but the Gentiles. Let it be on record that those who are self-appointed preachers are not able to deliver the genuine gospel that they are purport to preach but preach adulterated gospel which Paul calls another gospel and it cannot save anyone.
3. The Lord has equipped preachers of the gospel
It is clear that the presence of the hand of the Lord with these preachers is an indication that God equips those He calls for particular tasks as He well did in this case. Since it clears appears that it was the will of the Lord for the Gentiles to be called to the Kingdom, the Lord had to send people and those He sent He equipped them that they may be able to discharge the duties for which they were called.
If this is the case let no true preacher of the Word attempt to put his own skills and abilities or experience but wait upon the Lord to give abilities. All that is required by the Lord is diligence and availability on the part of the one appointed. We are supposed to commend our work to the Lord to bless it and make it profitable. Our grace to minister depends on the grace given us by God on whose service we are.
Look at the manner in which God equipped those He wanted for the specific task. The leaders of the Jerusalem church must have well sought the Lord and the Lord must have answered their answered their prayers abundantly for the man to send to the Gentiles in Antioch. These Jerusalem brethren felt under obligation to provide oversight to the new proliferation of work. In God’s providence they chose the best man for the moment – Barnabas. He is described “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Who would better qualified for this task? He was a Levite from Cyprus who had sold everything to follow Christ and had given himself to encourage others. Some commentators have suggested that he must have offered his services freely for the mission and the offer was readily accepted.
As a result when he arrived at Antioch, he had the fullness of joy at the work of grace that he saw. The grace that brings salvation was at work bringing the wonderful blessing of salvation to all men – both Jews and Greeks! The new converts were clearly converted and he encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.
He then realized that the work of grace was too great for him and so he went out looking for a man who had been saved from Tarsus called Saul. He wanted to be of ministry to this man as they served the Lord. He brought him and for a long period they were teaching the Word of God to people. May I tell you that it is not easy to do the work of the Lord single-handedly. This was the reason why Barnabas went to look for Paul that they may serve the Lord together. It is for this reason we believe that a church should be governed by multiple elders rather than one man. Because God has equipped His servants to serve in His church.
We also notice that there were some prophets who had come from Jerusalem one of them being Agabus. They were equipped by the Lord to be His spokesmen, bring His Word to the people. They were not speaking what pleased them but spoke on behalf of God to the people. The role of the prophets here involved edification and encouragement as they spoke what the Holy Spirit had revealed to them. Sometimes the prophets foretell the future as Agabus did in this case so that he could forewarn the saints of the impending natural danger of lack of sufficient provision. This was especially relevant for the poor brethren left in Jerusalem, poor because of the persecution.
3. THE EFFECTS OF THE GOSPEL ARE VISIBLE
It is clear that the work of the Lord cannot and will never stall because there is very evident effects of the gospel. The gospel is conspicuous. It cannot be hidden because it is light which cannot be hidden. Because of the results it produces many people are made aware of it and in the process others seek it.
So what were the effects of the gospel in this case?
Twice here there is reference to the conversions of people. It is described in terms of inward transformation as well as outward. When the gospel was brought to them, they believed. This was an inward change and it normally precedes the external. Their hearts were made to be spiritual because of this faith. They were made new in their minds and in their hearts. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit works in one’s heart to produce faith and the faith produces graces which are so evident in the life of a person. This is what Luke means when he records that Barnabbas saw the grace of God in them. This is what Paul means when he records in Titus 2:11 that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared.
2) Love and care for one another and for others
As a result of a genuine faith we have visible grace of God in the lives of people who have been saved. This grace is of the Spirit and makes one to be godly something that attracts other people. In this case we see the grace of God in the brethren who came from various places to preach the gospel to the people. We see it in Barnabas in his description and as he looks for Saul of Tarsus in order to both encourage him and enrol him in the work of the ministry. We see it in the people of Antioch as they submitted under the teaching of the gospel daily by these brethren. It is for this reasons that they are called Christians because they were Christ-like. They were truly converted as it was conspicuous to the residents of Antioch who called them by Christ’s Name.
It is because of the visibility of the gospel that when the Spirit enabled Agabus to predict the famine the brethren gave their property to support them. They gave each according to his ability cheerfully, without grumbling. They sent their relief by the reliable hand of Barnabas who himself had sold all the property in Cyprus and left his country to serve the Lord. Like Elisha, he had burnt the bridges that would have taken him back to his secular employment. He had put aside every weight that could easily entangle him and had laid hold of the cross.
We need to ask ourselves a few questions:
Have we in any way made the work of the work of the Lord to stall in any way at any point? The work of the Lord cannot stand still but the ministry the Lord gave you can stand still. The Lord has thoroughly equipped you for every good work in order to serve His church. What are you doing in His church? If you are not doing anything for the Lord in propagation of the gospel then your are neglecting your great salvation and the question is, how can you escape if you neglect such a great salvation? Not doing anything is neglect of your Christian duty. And it doesn’t edify you or the church.
How visible is your Christianity? Do your colleagues at work or in school know that you are saved? Do you make your Christianity visible by seeking to help others in coming to Christ or in their poverty? Do you have a person that you ought to help in need and yet you have been postponing every other day?
We are to praise the Lord that though sometimes it might look as if there is nothing happening but the truth of the matter is the work of the Lord is like a mustard seed that grows silently to a big tree to the benefit of many other creation. It is like the leaven that works in the dough unnoticed yet making the dough to expand. When next to it you might not notice the difference but if you are gone for a long time you would know. Praise the Lord who under singular care looks after His church.