by Roger McCay
27 October 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 11:19-30
Link to Audio Version
In a conversation last Sunday concerning a question as to why so few people come to Sunday School, the words of a sage friend came to mind.
In Iraq, I was friends with our Battalion Maintenance Tech, Chief Alexander. We’d sit, drink coffee, and talk about motorcycles and other various things, but what has stuck with me over the years was the insight of his practical wisdom. He once said,
“Lots of people say they want to do something, but find every reason in the world not to do it. Like quitting smoking – They say they are quitting smoking, but something stressful happens, like mortars landing, or they get yelled at, and that gives them a reason to take up smoking again. Or like working out – People say they want to get in the gym and get fit, but end up finding every reason in the world not to get in there (working late; it’s too early; I’m tired; too busy), but really it’s just being lazy.”
And then chief said:
“It’s just a matter of deciding once and for all to do a certain thing, or live a certain way and doing it without letting any excuse get in the way.”
I think this has great application in living the Christian life, don’t you?
Disciples of Christ, “Christians,” are by definition followers of Christ Jesus. He is our first and foremost love in life and lead in all things. Yet, there are so many Christians, maybe even disciples, that don’t really engage, don’t really commit to a lifelong journey of being discipled (much less getting to the point of discipling others or expressing their discipleship in extraordinary loving self-sacrifice). Hence, the Fallen Condition Focus for today—disciples without discipleship.
This is a real problem. It reminds me of the warning of the Lord to the church in Rev. 3:15-17, “You are neither cold nor hot.” Disciples disciple. We receive discipling; we disciple others; we tangibly express our discipleship in the world by deeds of love. There is no in-between on this. The Christian life is a forward moving thing. It is not a static place of “I’ve arrived,” “This is far enough,” or “I’m in a comfortable place and don’t want to mess that up.”
As many of you know, we here at MPC have embraced that concept, as defined in our vision and mission statement.
Vision Statement: “Disciples of Christ glorifying God in word and deed.”
Mission Statement: “Make and equip disciples unified in the service, love, joy, and peace of God.”
All the church leadership came up with these statements together, so we are on the same page here. Yet it is easy to get comfortable. Easy to rest on our laurels. We must resist that that temptation.
In our passage today, the message of Acts is moved along, as part of the transition from a strictly Jewish Christianity to a Christianity of both Jews and Gentiles. We also are moving from a focus on Peter to a focus on Paul. Barnabas, interestingly, is one of the main constants as we transition from one phase to another. Acts 11:19 begins the account telling us about some important events that occurred around and are tied into the Cornelius and Peter event, which we looked at last week.
After Stephen’s murder and open persecution of the church in Jerusalem, the diaspora of the disciples of Christ spread from there, and kept on spreading. Some even made their way all the way all the way up to Antioch, which was about 300 miles north of Jerusalem and about 30 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea.
Antioch was, at the time, the third largest city in the world, behind Rome and Alexandria, with an estimated 500,000 people. There, at least five cultures came together—Greek, Roman, Semitic, Arab, and Persian. The Jewish population was also quite large, making up one-seventh of the city’s population. The city was known for chariot racing and the pursuit of pleasure. There was a plurality of religions, yet the worship of Daphne was its most famous (they had a temple there), whose priestesses were ritual prostitutes. It was a city of sensuality and immorality, and it was there that a small band of Christians arrived, having fled from persecution in Jerusalem.
20 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. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
While others were still operating according to a mindset of partiality against Gentiles, the men of Cyprus and Cyrene (Hellenist Jewish Christians), naturally associated with their fellow Greek speakers with whom they shared cultural commonalities—“the Hellenists.” These men were on fire for the gospel, totally in love with Jesus, and they couldn’t help but tell folks about him.