1. Did you ever play the relay game where you run to the other end, put your forehead down on the handle of a bat, circle it seven or eight times, then run back? It leads to some hilarious sights (for those watching, not for the runner)! Like the participants in such a race, there are times when we need to be able to get our bearings.

  2. At such a time, few things can help us as much as having a positive model of where we are headed. When we can look at someone and say, "If we will do like they did, the Lord can help us and we will do some good," it gives us a sense of direction and strength which is really encouraging.

  3. There is a church in the middle of Acts which can serve that purpose for us. We are given snapshots of it in several scenes from chapters 11 through 15, but its influence reach much farther than that. It was a new work at a place in Syria some 300 miles north from Jerusalem, about 15 miles inland from the northwest corner of the Mediterranean on the Orontes River.

    1. Antioch: a place where the atmosphere was as different as it could be from Jerusalem

      1. Massive in size - Antioch was one of he major cities of the world. In fact, it had grown and prospered to the point that it was the third city of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria.

      2. Very materialistic in outlook - It was a beautiful city, a "busy northern capital, a commercial city where European and Asiatic met, where Greek civilization touched the Syrian desert..." (New Bib. Com., p. 986).

      3. Ungodly to the core - David Roper explained, "Just south of the city was the shrine of Daphne, where so-called worshipers re-enacted the legend of the Greek god Apollos' chasing Daphne by chasing and committing fornication with so-called priestesses. According to the myth, Daphne personally escaped that fate by turning into a laurel bush. The depravity of Antioch was so well known that when the morals of Rome collapsed, one poet said that the sewage of the Orontes had flowed into the Tiber...the river on which Rome was located." (Acts, Vol. 1, p.423)

    2. The church: as effective a congregation blossomed in that new place as could be found anywhere

      1. First preaching the Lord Jesus to Gentiles - Those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose over Stephen (cf. 8:4) had gone everywhere talking to Jews about Christ, but when they got as far as Antioch some of them began to preach the Lord Jesus to Greek-speakers, too (11:20). After all, the Lord himself had sent Peter to the household of Cornelius to show that he had granted repentance that leads to life to the Gentiles. At Antioch, "a great number who believed turned to the Lord" (11:21). It became the first place where Jews and Gentiles sat side by side in Christ on a large scale.

      2. First to be called Christians - It was in Antioch where "the disciples were first called Christians." The term meant "belongs to Christ," and Peter was later to say that it was a name of which none are to be ashamed, and in which God is to be glorified (1 Pet. 4:16).

      3. First to send relief and good news - The congregation at Antioch became the first, as far as we know, to send benevolent help to other congregations, and the first to purposefully send out missionaries to other places. How could so many important firsts occur at such an unlikely place?

    3. The explanation: "the hand of the Lord was with them!" (v. 21)

      1. The phrase indicates his divine approval and blessing of their efforts, and that he was working with them.

      2. It means the Lord had a place for the church at Antioch in his providential plans to take the good news on to Asia Minor and Europe.

      3. We, too, need to know the Lord is with us and that he has a place for us in his plans for good. In fact, we're in a place where we definitely need to know that the hand of the Lord is with us.

  4. That leads me to ask, what kinds of things did they do to cooperate with the hand of the Lord? From the snapshots of this church we have at various junctures through the middle of Acts, what can we learn about the qualities which make the church successful in a new place?

    1. The people have heard the preaching of the Lord Jesus and responded to it by believing and then turning to the Lord. (Acts 11:20-21)

      1. Notice that this is the same as being "added to the Lord" (v. 24). It fits with Cornelius having been baptized in the name of Christ (10:48), and with those who received the word and were baptized on Pentecost and were added (2:41).

      2. People who did this became "disciples." They were called "Christians." They made up "the church at Antioch" (13:1).

      3. Our first step to where we're headed is to be people who are united by our common response to the Lord Jesus.

    2. There is glad recognition of good things that happen and constant encouragement to keep it up. (Acts 11:22-24)

      1. It takes good people to see, and encourage, good things. That's why Barnabas was sent. "He was a good man" (v. 24).

      2. What he saw when he got there was not Greek-speakers from poor backgrounds who were going to mess up the church, but "the grace of God," and he gladly "exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose" (v. 23).

      3. Glad encouragement where good things are happening becomes an atmosphere which enables people to remain steady and true to their purpose!

    3. There is a vision of what new workers could do, and a welcoming acceptance of their efforts. (Acts 11:25-26)

      1. Maybe this is a reflection of the diverse backgrounds of the members of the church at Antioch themselves, but it certainly is a hallmark of their congregation.

      2. Barnabas came from Jerusalem after the work had already started, and he was welcomed.

      3. "A great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul..." (v. 25)

        1. Remember Saul's situation the last time he was seen in Acts a few years earlier (9:29, 30)...There might have been reason to be afraid.

        2. But when Barnabas made the hundred mile trip and found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. (v. 26)

      4. That church also welcomed Agabus (11:28), John Mark (12:25), Silas and Judas (15:32), and others.

      5. There was a culture in the church at Antioch which allowed and encouraged responsible service by brothers and sisters who were new to them.

    4. In fact, that very quality becomes the impetus for new work: There is a voluntary and shared response to opportunities to do good which arises from within the membership. (Acts 11:27-30)

      1. They heard from Agabus the prophet that there would be a famine over all the world. Luke explains that it actually happened in the days of Claudius.

      2. So they determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to their brothers and sisters living in Judea. And they did so.

      3. Notice that this was not a program designed for them by preachers or decreed to them by elders, it was an act of goodness decided upon voluntarily by the people themselves. They recognized a need which presented them an opportunity to do good. They were thoughtful enough to realize what they could do to meet that need effectively and wisely. It seemed the natural thing for them.

    5. There is an appreciation for the fact that the existence of a strong local church is what makes efforts to be a blessing elsewhere possible. (Acts 11:26; 13:2; 14:28)

      1. Benevolent efforts or mission works grew out of the fact that the church met at Antioch.

      2. They were regularly teaching, worshiping and praying. It was because they were doing these things that they could do the others. In fact, it was while they were doing these things that the others were set in motion!

      3. And, it is instructive that after their first mission trip, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and "remained no little time with the disciples." There has to be a solid home base for lasting work.

    6. There is in the heart of the church an ability to follow through in their work, then to see it as what God has done. (Acts 11:21; 13:2-3; 14:26-27)

      1. If they wanted the hand of the Lord to be with them at the start, it makes sense that they would have to recognize it as his work as they went along.

      2. So when he said to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which he had called them, they prayed and showed their support for them, and sent them off.

      3. And, when they returned to Antioch, "where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled," they "gathered the church together" and "and declared all that God had done with them..." Their attitude was that their work was God's work. Any good done was his doing.

    7. The issues which have the attention of the people are big issues, and they are pursued to a healthy conclusion. (Acts 15:1-3, 30-35)

      1. It's not that they never faced conflict or controversy; it's what those things were about when they did arise, and how they were resolved.

      2. Some came down from Judea teaching that unless these new Christians submitted to the requirements of the law of Moses they could not be saved.

      3. Notice carefully the gravity of this point. This teaching had to do with how one becomes a part of the people of God. It would have meant that the faith of Christ is only a stepping-stone to Judaism.

      4. The church at Antioch didn't act as if this did not matter. They sent Paul and Barnabas and some of the others to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. It wasn't to get new truth; it was to resolve the conflict caused by these teachers who were going beyond the truth.

      5. When the issue was settled on the basis of what the Lord wants, the news was brought back to Antioch, and it produced joy, strength and encouragement in the church. Fellowship allowed for further teaching and preaching of the word.

  5. Here are the qualities which allow a congregation to cooperate with the hand of the Lord: conversion to Christ, encouragement to remain faithful, welcoming acceptance of workers, personal action in response to need, valuing the local church, recognition of God's work, and a focus on big issues resolved in a healthy way.

  6. The church at Antioch will be forever associated with an open door of faith because, in the pictures we have of their life together, they were people who were at home with the hand of the Lord.

  7. Let's get our bearings by fixing our own eyes on an opened door of faith and moving steadfastly toward it, taking everyone we can with us!