Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 The People Called Christians
Acts 11:19-26

Introduction

“Christian” is one of the most abused words in our language.  It is often used to signify people who are non-Jewish, non-Muslim, or nonheathen.  It doesn’t necessarily mean, “Those who profess to believe in Christ.”  All you have to do to have this hit home is to watch a news broadcast.  For instance, just recently on the Today Show the lead story on the national news was that the Miss World pageant was being moved from Nigeria to a safer location in London, England.  The move was the result of days of fighting between Christians and Moslems.  The Moslems were rioting because a commentator had said that if Mohammed was alive he would have taken a wife from among the beautiful contestants.  Also, they objected to the way that contestants dressed to display their figures.  Several hundred died before the pageant was moved.  The pictures of rioting and dead bodies were accompanied by the dialog where the combatants were described as Christians and Moslems.  Actually, Nigeria is a country with very few Christians.  The fighting was more accurately between Moslems and non-Moslems. 

To be a Christian means much, much more than to believe in one God, to live in a so-called Christian nation, to have a King James Bible on your coffee table, or to attend one of the main stream Christian churches.  Well then, what is a Christian?  Let me define a Christian for you. He or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which comes from faith.  They have received the Holy Spirit and been baptized into the church of Jesus Christ at the moment they believed.  That is a Christian, but we can’t stop there, because there is also Christian living, which is the visible indication that change has taken place in the life of the individual. 

Christian living is obedience and love: obedience to the will of God, which is found in the Word of God; and love for God and for others. 

A Christian will most likely be a member of a local Church and will partake of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The individual Christians are the Church and they will do everything in their power to bring others into the Church so that they can also experience Salvation and Christian living. 

Now, I hope that I don’t shock you with what I am going to say next.  Many Churches have no right to the name Christian.  I have read that 60% of the ministers in one of the largest denominations state that they do not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.  To deny the virgin birth is to deny what Christ said about Himself, and to deny the biblical record and it destroys the very foundation of Christian faith.  The virgin birth is an absolute essential to being a true believer. 

There are also many other things being taught from pulpits that are false.  Here are just a few:
First: Salvation is by faith plus baptism, or by faith plus church membership, or by faith plus good works.

Second: The Bible is the Word of God, but so are other books such as the Book of Mormon or the Koran.

Third: There is new revelation from God.  God has spoken to me or I have had a vision from God.

Forth: I have been given special powers or abilities from God.  You don’t need to go to God, just come to me for blessings and healing.

Fifth: Send me an offering and you are sowing a seed that will come back to you many-fold.

Sixth: The preachers or priests of our denomination are given insight from God that normal people never get.

Seventh: Jesus was a prophet, but He wasn’t God.

Eighth: It doesn’t make any difference what church you go to; they are all the same.

Have you ever heard these statements or maybe some like them?  They cause confusion and they detract from the true mission of the church, which is to proclaim the Gospel.  Many non-Christians look at what the churches are doing and saying and they conclude that Christianity is nothing more than a social club.  What a sad, sad state of affairs!  They have observed moral weakness in some who call themselves Christians.  I am not saying that Christians should live perfect lives, because I know that’s not possible.  But, if they aren’t taught the truth, what hope do they have to express the truth.  The problem is that they have been subjected to a weak belief that is no different from the non-Christian world, except in name.

In Acts, we are observing the New Testament church; it was strong, alive, confident and different from other religions.  Our text today is Acts 11:19-26.  There we read:

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.
20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.
23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.
24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.
26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

This is the first time that the believers were called Christians. 

So it is a good time for us to consider two questions:
1. WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?
2. WHAT ARE CHRISTIANS LIKE?

Let’s begin our look at WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN, by eliminating some of the things that are not Christian.

First, any organization that denies Jesus’ deity, His Resurrection, or the validity of the Bible is not Christian.  These are issues that we can not compromise on.  They are basic and foundational to our faith.  Jesus was God, He died and three days later He rose from the dead, and the Bible is the Word of God. 

Second, just keeping a set of rules is not Christian.  One person may say, “I live by the Sermon on the Mount”; and another says, “I live by the Golden Rule”; and some say, “I keep the Ten Commandments.”  These are all good teachings, but they are not what define a Christian.  The abundant life and freedom that Jesus brought do not come from keeping a set of rules, no matter how good the rules are.

Third, just being a sincere person is not Christian.  I know many sincere people who are wrong.  Let me say that I believe that most Moslems, Buddhists and even atheists are sincere; but they are wrong.

What is a Christian then?  Let me give you some simple answers:

First, Wesley said, “It is one who so believes in Christ; that sin has no more dominion over him.”  Sin cannot rule the life of any Christian who is living close to God.  That doesn’t mean that we do not sin.  But when we sin we are sorry and we repent and our sins are forgiven.  The Christian isn’t sinless; he is forgiven and he has the Holy Spirit and the righteousness of Christ to check the domination of sin in his life.

Second, a Christian has been defined as one who has a living attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.  We are attached to Him by our faith.  It is a living and growing relationship, which is nurtured by Christ.

Third, it has also been defined as one who seeks first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and finds to his or her surprise that everything in his or her life falls into place.  John the Baptist said, “I must decrease, so that He can increase.”  Placing God first frees us from the hold that the things of the world can have on us.  It produces a peace and joy that only a Christian can experience. 

Forth, whatever else we may say, a Christian is a person who believes in and follows Jesus Christ.  He is, “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Remember, up until this time believers were called, “The Way.”

Fifth, A Christian is a person who has a positive acceptance of Jesus and an allegiance to Him born of deep love.  We love Him, because He first loved us.  We love Him because He left heaven’s glory and came to earth to live as a man.  We love Him, because he went willingly to Calvary and gave His life to ransom our souls.  We love Him because we are justified to God by the blood He shed.  We love him, because He has prepared a place for us in heaven, where we will spend eternity.  We love Him, because no one can pluck us out of His hand.  We love Him, because He is our mediator, and He is at God’s side interceding for us.  We love Him, because His Spirit is within us; we feel His presence, and have His care.

The other question that we asked was, WHAT ARE CHRISTIANS LIKE? 

Let’s begin by looking at the people in Antioch who were first called Christians.  The result of the fierce persecution which arose when Stephen was stoned was that the believing Jews of Jerusalem were scattered as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.  Antioch was the capital of the Greek kingdom of Syria.  It was founded by Seleucus Nicator in 300 B.C. in honor of his father Antiochus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals.  Antioch was made a free city in 64 B.C. when Syria was incorporated into the Roman Empire. 

The ministry of persecuted Jews who fled north and westward to these areas was characterized by “preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.”  However, there were some bold men who dared to speak “unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.” 

Men had actually begun to preach the gospel to Gentiles at Antioch.  Since the hand of the Lord was on these efforts, “a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” 

Although an Ethiopian eunuch and a Roman centurion have already been saved, this preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles is beginning to be on a far broader scale than the Jews had ever seen before.  It was only a short time until the events which had taken place in Antioch were made known unto the church at Jerusalem. 

As had been the situation when Peter and John were dispatched to Samaria to investigate the missionary activity of Philip there, the Jerusalem church must send someone to Antioch to do the same.  Therefore, Barnabas was sent there by the Jerusalem church. Whatever report Barnabas returned with could be trusted, for Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith.”  Consequently, upon arrival at Antioch, when Barnabas viewed the situation there and saw that at Antioch a great number of Gentiles had been saved by the grace of God, he “was glad, and exhorted them all.” 

Apparently, Barnabas was to do more than just observe the activities of the Antioch Christians.  He must have become the advisor to them from the mother church in Jerusalem.  But Barnabas quickly realized that the job was too big for one man, for Antioch was a large city, with a population at this time of perhaps five hundred thousand or more.  Therefore, he began to consider those who might assist him in this task.  He needed someone who was of indisputable quality and character, and yet someone who could sympathize with both the Jews and the Gentiles who were being saved.  There was no question in the mind of Barnabas; there was only one man. 

We read, “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul.”  Some years earlier Saul of Tarsus had been escorted to Caesarea by the Christians of Jerusalem, and from there he took a ship to his native Tarsus.  Now, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus in order to seek out Saul, who probably had been disinherited for his commitment to Christ (Phil 3:8) and was undoubtedly buried in the mass of humanity at Tarsus, engaged in tent making.  All this time Saul was being prepared by the Lord for a greater work and he was patiently waiting for the time of the initiation of that work to come. 

Apparently Barnabas did not immediately locate Saul.  But it says, “when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.”  The next year in Antioch proved to be one of great accomplishment.  Under the ministry of Barnabas and Saul, the Christians of Antioch grew both in spiritual strength and in number.  Then in the last verse of our text we read, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” 

The people in Antioch called those who had claimed Jesus as Messiah the “Christ-ones.”  As an accurate historian, Luke did not hesitate to record that the followers of the Lord first came to be popularly known as Christians at Antioch.So that leads us to ask, “What were the characteristics of the Antioch Christians?”

First, They were people who had a personal experience with Jesus. 

Second, They were people who displayed the presence of Jesus in their lives. 

Verse 23 said, “When he came and had seen the grace of God...”  The grace of God was on display in the life of these men and women.  They were different form others and they were changed so that they were different than they once were. 

Third, They were people of prayer.

Forth, they were people who were interested in others. 

In says in verse 29 of this chapter, “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.”  The home church was in trouble from the persecution.  The members were denied food and jobs, and the new believers in Antioch responded to their need by taking up an offering for them.  They were Gentiles, but they wanted to help their Jewish brothers.That was 2000 years ago, but true Christianity has not changed. 

Today, I believe that a Christian is a person who has been exposed to Jesus and because of that has allowed His image to become a part of his or her life. 

A Christian possesses Christ likeness.  We are to follow His directions, as He taught in the Gospels.  We say it almost every week; let others see Jesus in you.  A good illustration of this is Kodak film.  The film reveals the image of what it is exposed to.  So do we. 

Finally, Christians are people who have learned to make the most of their life in their world.  They want to do good and they want to help others because that will draw attention to Christ.  They want to proclaim to the world that God is good and that He always does the right thing.  He can be trusted, and He can be trusted to do what He says in His word.  The Christian wants everyone to hear the Gospel and to have the opportunity to receive Christ.

Conclusion

People called Christians are those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and live like Him.  He is not only Savior; He is Lord.  Because of their lifestyles, they experience the fulfillment of John 10:10 in their lives.  That verse says, “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” 

Let me be very candid with you.  If God did not exist; if Jesus didn’t die for my sins, I would still be a Christian.  The abundant life that I have had, the life that Christ gave to me is more wonderful than anything that this world could ever make available.  The relationship that I have with Jesus Christ is better than anything else that life can offer.  What a privilege to be called a Christian.  There’s something in that name.  The Hymn says it like this:

Ask ye what great thing I know
That delights and stirs me so?
What is the high reward I win?
Who’s the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ the crucified.

Let’s pray and thank God that we can be called Christians.

 

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