The People God Uses

Acts 11:19-30     |     Sermon Resources      10 May 2020


We all want to be used by God.  This is not just the itch of pastors but the earnest desire of all who take seriously Jesus’ final words instructing us to make disciples of all nations.  And while it is true that we each have a different role to play, all believers everywhere, without exception, are called to participate in the building of his kingdom.  And yet there are certain people whom God particularly delights in using.  There are certain people who seem to consistently bear great fruit for the kingdom.  The question is – what is it about those people?  What attitude do they have?  What actions are they taking that God so delights to use them?  As it is the desire of all Christ followers to be used greatly by Jesus, these are worthwhile questions, and it is with this spirit that we turn to our passage this week.


#1 Those Who Take Risks

Jesus had commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Those first believers, however, were confined to Jerusalem until a great persecution broke out, driving them from the city.  It is to this event that Luke alludes telling us that those who were scattered because of the persecution had traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch (v.19).  And it is this last location Antioch, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, which will now occupy his attention.  Antioch was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria and the third most populated city in the empire, behind only Rome and Alexandria.  While the city was home to a small Jewish population, it was mostly inhabited by Gentiles.

We’ve noted before that the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem became a great catalyst for church growth.  As the Christians were scattered, they shared the hope they had found in the Messiah who had come.  Indeed, this is exactly what we see happening here as we are told the scattered Christians went about speaking the word (v.19).  But there is an important qualification that Luke notes – they shared the word with no one except the Jews (v.19).

Coming on the heels of Peter’s Spirit-wrought realization that the good news of Jesus was for Jew and Gentile alike, we can’t help but wonder why these Christians were still excluding Gentiles.  The best answer to this, is that very likely news of the Gentile Pentecost had not yet spread very far.  However, it is possible that the overlooking of the Gentiles sprung from an active or even passive prejudice against them.  Or perhaps these scattered Christians were simply “playing the odds.”  After all, who would be more likely to hear about the Messiah, then their fellow Jews?

This explains why the decision made by certain men of Cyprus and Cyrene to speak to the Hellenists also (v.20) was so radical – even risky.  At best it was a waste of time to share the gospel with Gentiles; at worst it was a dangerous move which threatened the unity of the church.  But God blessed their efforts – the hand of the Lord was with them (v.21).  And the result was remarkable – a great number of Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord (v.21).

There was nothing noteworthy enough about the men of Cyprus and Cyrene that Luke bothered to tell us.  We don’t know their names.  We don’t know why they chose to share with the Gentiles.  They stand out simply because they took a risk.  They made the effort to swim upstream, rather than float along with the current of their day, and the result was an astonishing revival.  Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus!


#2 Those Who Ask for Help

News of these Gentile conversions in Antioch traveled all the way back to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was at this time the mother city of the newly forming church and headquarters, at least for the time being, of the apostles (c.f. Acts 8:1).  The church in Jerusalem decided to send Barnabas to Antioch (v.22) to further investigate what was going on.  There is no hint here of suspicion on behalf the Jerusalem church, and in fact this investigative work had become a pattern of the early church.  As the gospel spread geographically and culturally, the apostles sought to confirm the authenticity of those coming to faith (c.f Acts 8:14).  This was important for the unity of the church to avoid the emergence of a distinctly Jewish church or Gentile church or Samaritan church.  The apostles want to see one church, unified under one Savior, pursuing one mission.

We see in this passage how Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, earned his name (c.f. as well Acts 4:36).  When he arrived in Antioch, he saw the unmistakable evidence of the grace of God at work in the lives of the new Gentile believers, and rather than be full of envy, he was glad (v.23) for it.  He then exhorted them (i.e. encouraged them) to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose (v.23).  The Lord continued to add new believers to the church as we are told that a great many people were added to the Lord (v.24).

Barnabas, however, was not content to simply count a profession of faith as the end of his pastoral work.  He saw the great need to disciple these new believers in order to build them up in their faith.  And what an overwhelming task this would have been!  He quickly realized that he could not do this on his own.  It was for good reason that Jesus frequently sent his disciples out two by two.  Barnabas needed help.  And so, he went to Tarsus to look for Saul (v.25).

We are told that for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a great many people (v.26).  What would have happened if Barnabas attempted to pastor the church all by himself?  Besides the fact that he may have burn out, an incredible opportunity would have been missed.  Saul’s presence in Antioch was not only a blessing for the church, it was a blessing for Saul.  He was being prepared for all that God had for him in the future.  How sad it would have been, if Barnabas did not have the vision, the courage, and the humility to ask for help.


#3 Those Who See the Needs of Others

Our passage finishes by recounting how the new church of Antioch was used by God to be a blessing to others.  Certain prophets had come down from Jerusalem to Antioch (v.27).  This is the first of four times prophets will be specifically mentioned by Luke (c.f Acts 13:1, 15:32, 21:9).  On this occasion it was Agabus who foretold by the Spirit the coming for a great famine over all the world (v.28).  Historians tell us this phrase “all the world” referred to the Roman empire not to the entire globe.  Luke inserts here that the prophecy was fulfilled during the days of Claudius (v.28), who reigned from AD 41 to 54.   

In response to this prophecy the disciples (v.29) took action.  They decided to send relief to the brothers (that is to the church) living in Judea (that is the larger area surrounding Jerusalem) according to their own ability to do so (v.29).  What was most remarkable about this episode is that they decided to meet a need that their Judean brothers did not even know they had!  The collection was taken up in response to a prophecy of a famine, before the famine had taken place.  Such was the willingness of the believers in Antioch to be used by God to be a blessing to others!

As we seek to be used by God, we too should look to the needs of others.  Like the saints in Antioch we should be ready to anticipate what those needs might be.  And notice two priorities within this text.  First, they gave according to their ability, which is to say rather than being paralyzed with the enormity of the task, they did what they could.  Secondly, notice they sent their gift to the brothers of Judea.  Their priority was on helping those within the household of faith (c.f. Galatians 6:10).


Discussion Questions

  1. REVIEW: What does it mean that there are no second-class citizens in God’s kingdom?
  2. What were the scattered Christians doing as they spread out from Jerusalem? In what way are they a good model for us in our current situation?  In what way are they not a good model for us?
  3. Why was it a potentially risky move for the men of Cyprus and Cyrene to share the gospel with the Gentiles?
  4. What is the difference between taking a risk and being foolish?
  5. What role does Barnabas play in the building up of the church in Antioch?
  6. Why is it so difficult for us to ask for help? What might happen in our lives if we were more willing to seek help?
  7. What was so remarkable about the generosity of the believers in Antioch?
  8. How are you doing with being aware of (and doing something about) the needs of others?
  9. In which of these 3 areas do you most desire to grow: (1) taking risks (2) asking for help (3) seeing the needs of others?


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