The Expository Files

Preaching The Gospel In Antioch

 Acts 11:19-20

Disciples who are passionate about sharing the gospel with others take seriously the words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Why do disciples consider these verses to be important? These verses are important because they highlight several key concepts that aid, motivate, and instruct followers of Jesus in their work for the Lord. Authority is a key concept in Jesus' instructions to his disciples. Disciples acknowledge that every ounce of authority in the universe belongs to Jesus. When he says “go”, disciples go! Jesus' words also highlight the work his disciples are to be involved in. Followers of Jesus Christ do not get distracted from their work of disciple making, baptizing, and teaching. Finally, Jesus' instructions to his disciples remind them that He is with them in their efforts. How could anyone neglect or not be passionate about sharing the gospel with others? Our King has told us to go. He has given instructions concerning what we are to do. And He has told us that he will be with us. Matthew 28:18-20 sets the stage for the work the church is to do.

The church in Jerusalem took the words of Jesus to heart. They boldly spoke the word in spite of prison, beatings, and threats. Their response was to preach Jesus as the Christ in the temple and from house to house (Acts 5:42). In fact, they went throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria preaching the word when they were forced to flee Jerusalem because of persecution (Acts 8:1, 4). Nothing stopped their enthusiasm. They simply continued to do what Jesus instructed them to do. Do we have the same enthusiasm they had? Do we consider the words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 28:18-20 to be important?

Many Christians recognize the importance of Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20 and understand that being a follower of Jesus Christ is more than just sitting on a pew for a couple of hours during the week. Many Christians recognize the need to share the gospel with others and understand that they have been instructed by the Lord to “go.” However, “going” can be quite scary and unsettling. Sharing the gospel with a complete stranger sometimes requires us to step outside our comfort zone. Sometimes we avoid certain people. Sometimes we go blank. Sometimes we lose our focus. What can help us here? What should we keep in mind when we share the gospel with others? A close look at some “old” friends will set us on the right path.

We are reintroduced to some familiar friends in Acts 11:19. We first met them in Acts 8:1, 4. Those who were scattered because of the persecution in Jerusalem arrived in the city of Antioch. They preached the Lord Jesus as soon as they got there. Their time in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26) provides us with three important lessons that will help us in our work of sharing the gospel with others.

Branch out. The gospel had been primarily preached to Jews in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2-7). Acts 8 through 10, however, records an explosion of the gospel in terms of geography and the diversity of people who heard it. The gospel spread through the villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:25). It was preached on a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8:26). The gospel was proclaimed in Damascus (Acts 9:19b-20). Peter proclaimed the good news in Caesarea (Acts 10:24, 34ff). A diverse group of people in these areas heard the gospel. Samaritans, an Ethiopian, a zealous Jew, and a devout Gentile all heard the good news.

Luke, in Acts 11:19-20, continued to record the remarkable spread of the gospel. He wrote, “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 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.” It seems, at first, that only the Jews in Antioch were the recipients of the gospel. However, certain men from Cyprus (Barnabas' home) and Cyrene branched out and preached to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking non-Jews).

Their example reminds us that the gospel is for all. Sometimes we only share the gospel with people we are comfortable with; people that look like us and talk like us. Sometimes we discriminate in our preaching. Those who are passionate about sharing the gospel with others, like the men from Cyprus and Cyrene, are able to branch out. They are able to see past gender, race, and economic status. Disciples who are passionate about sharing the good news go to the greatest of lengths to teach others about Jesus. We should not be content with just sharing the gospel with only a certain portion of the population. Knowing this can help us step outside of our comfort zones and branch out.

Stay focused. The men of Cyprus and Cyrene were focused. They preached “the Lord Jesus” when they arrived in Antioch (Acts 11:20). What was the result? Luke wrote, “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Luke emphasized what was being preached throughout the book of Acts. Jesus was at the center of every message (Acts 2:22; 3:13-15; 8:5, 12, 35; 9:20, 22). This should not be surprise us. The disciples were simply doing what Jesus instructed them to do. They were converting people to Jesus.

It is easy to get sidetracked and distracted when sharing the gospel with others. Some people try to change the subject. Some people bring up questions that can be answered later. We might be the problem. Are we guilty of trying to convert others to our local congregation? Are we guilty of trying to convert others to our way of thinking? The wise disciple never gets distracted from the goal of sharing the good news about Jesus with others. Wise disciples are locked in and focused!

Do you find yourself struggling for what to say when speaking to others? Have you ever wondered where you should begin? The example of those who went to Antioch provides us with the answer. They preached Jesus!

Stay connected. News had its way of traveling even in the ancient world. Luke wrote, “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...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” (Acts 11:22-23, 25-26). What should we do when people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we baptize them and then forget about them? Do we move on? We should move on in one sense. We must always be on the lookout for new opportunities to share the gospel with others. However, in the process of moving forward, we must always keep our eyes focused on those who have responded to the gospel.

Barnabas was sent to Antioch and exhorted these new Christians to remain faithful to the Lord. That is part of our work too. Babes in Christ need our constant attention, so we must be ever willing to tend to their needs while we share the gospel with others. Staying connected leads to spiritual growth and it strengthens the church. Disciples who are passionate about sharing the gospel with others focus keep in mind what Jesus said about making disciples – teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. Barnabas, Saul, and others remind us that part of the Great Commission is about staying connected with the ones we teach.

Jesus wants his disciples to share his word with others. The Christians we read about in the book of Acts were committed to this mission and the results were amazing. The efforts of a group of men in Antioch should motivate us to do better. They branched out to others, they were focused on preaching Jesus, and they continued to work with new Christians. Let us be truly committed to what Jesus wants us to do and follow the example of our brethren in Antioch. The results will be amazing!

By  Jay Taylor
From Expository Files 20.3; March 2013