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That Wall’s Broken

June 24, 2011

Sometimes Jesus skips the part where he gives His people a command, or issues some form of mandate, or even makes a suggestion…and He just gives us a guarantee of what’s coming.  So, in Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  You see…that’s not a case of Him saying, “Go do this, or I hope you will do this.”  This is Jesus telling His disciples what is coming…this is not a command…it’s a guarantee…and there is a difference.

 I don’t know if you will…but I hope you will…take a moment and read through Acts 11:19-30.

 So…Antioch, the city on the Orontes River, was a big deal.  During the time period that we are looking at, it was probably the third most important city in the Roman Empire…behind Rome and Alexandria.  It was also one of the most culturally diverse cities that existed.  It was a cosmopolitan city…a place where business was done…and a place where promiscuity was a way of life.  Legend tells of one senator who in speaking poetically of the decline of Rome said, “The Orontes has flowed into the Tiber.”  In a very real way, Antioch, while not terribly far from Jerusalem, is the ends of the earth…a city so set against the Light, that one might think it never had a chance.

 But this is exactly what the Holy Spirit does.  The Spirit moves and flexes to bring to completion the will of the Father…even when it doesn’t make sense to us.  So the church sends Barnabas, a man “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” to see what is happening in this city that had such a sour reputation.  And I love what it says he saw when he arrived.  Verse 23 says, “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad.”  Don’t miss that.  We tend to make much of the mighty deeds of men and miss the reality that the only way something like this surge of the Gospel happens, particularly in this dark environment, is by the grace of God.  This is how salvation comes…not by our great work ethic, or the inherent desire to find it…salvation comes by grace alone.  Barnabas saw this and his reaction testifies to that truth.

 We’re told in verse 26, “And in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.”  This is literally, “Christ-One.”  In this context, a prophet named Agabus tells them that a famine is coming.  We have no reason to believe he told them what to do about it.  Yet, these people, these Christians, took up an offering to send back to Judea.  The ironic thing is that those brothers living in Judea were the same ones who traveled to Antioch but only spoke with Jews, and the ones sending the offering were the ignored Hellenists.  Here we see what the Gospel does.  Despite our prejudices, despite our hesitations, our fears, and our doubts…the Gospel breaks down dividing walls.  This is what Jesus came to do…to break down the wall…not line it with more troops.  In John 13:34-35, Jesus tells His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  This is what the believers in Antioch displayed.  This is why they were labeled as Christians, Christ-Ones, Jesus-men.  Let our lives be worthy of such a name.  Paul writes to the Philippians in 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Let that be our aim.

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