Posts Tagged 'Revival'

Panic Podcast – Thessalonians, Part 6

On this Thanksgiving Eve, thanks for stopping by and spending some time with me in God’s Word.  We’ll be looking at 1 Thessalonians 2 and talking about things like the anointing, conditions for revival, and a whole bunch of other things.  Grab those Bibles and click away.

To my American brethren, I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving tomorrow.

 

Revival: Will It Ever Happen?

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WILL REVIVAL EVER HAPPEN?

Many Christians across America are disgusted with the cultural rot and decay that is taking place at an alarming rate. Abortions, Christian persecution, widespread spiritual indifference, political corruption, violence, and a seemingly impotent Church have made many of us see the desperate need for a spiritual revival. And soon!

In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that Christians all over the world are praying for the same thing. Sin and wickedness seem to be running rampant all over the world; God is seen mankind’s best hope.

It’s proper for Christians to pray for revival. But what exactly are we praying for? What is a spiritual revival? Would any of us even recognize it if it were to happen? More to the point, given the state of the modern Church across the world, is revival even possible?

The first thing we must note is that revivals are not man’s idea, but God’s. They are not caused by man, they are wholly a work of God. Technology, the media, education, and church programs do not bring about a revival. Nothing a man does can generate or guarantee a revival. All genuine spiritual revivals are the result of our Sovereign God’s work among dedicated and consecrated people.

In 1867, a young man heard these words preached by a traveling evangelist:

The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man or woman who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.

That young man, Dwight L. Moody, took those words to heart; they became a personal challenge to him, and he went on to preach the Gospel to an estimated 100 million people. He founded and built a Bible Institute that is still a force for God to this day. In the wake of his powerful preaching, great spiritual renewals broke out in two nations. Moody proved what God can do with, for, and through one man who is wholly consecrated to Him.  The revival was in HIM, and it motivated young moody to simply dedicate his life to the Lord.

So, do you think modern Christians have what it takes for God to use them as He used D.L. Moody? Do you think modern Christians are capable of that kind of intense and whole-hearted consecration these days? There are so many worldly, lackadaisical, fence-sitting Christians, we wonder if God can find even a single dedicated one to spark revival.

Let’s take a closer look at what God is looking for, not necessarily what we think He is looking for.

The Biblical Conditions for True Revival

2 Chronicles 7:14 is surely the most famous verse in all the historical books of the Old Testament. It’s almost always misused and misunderstood, but when we understand it in context, we’ll discover, without any doubt, what revival is and what conditions are necessary for revival to take place.

…then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 TLB)

We are not allowed to wrench this verse out of its historical context; to make it says things it’s not saying. We need to understand who “my people” are, what their “wicked ways” were, and why their land needed to be “healed.” In sum, this verse has nothing to do with Americans, America, or any of our societal problems, diseases or hurricanes.

Let’s look at the historical context of 2 Chronicles 7.

The Setting

In 2 Chronicles 6, we read about the dedication of Solomon’s temple.

“And now the Lord has done what he promised, for I have become king in my father’s place, and I have built the Temple for the name of the Lord God of Israel and placed the Ark there. And in the Ark is the Covenant between the Lord and his people Israel.” (2 Chronicles 6:10, 11 TLB)

The Lord’s temple in Jerusalem was a long time in coming. God would not permit King David to build it; that privilege was left to his son, Solomon. Verses 10 and 11 are his words during the great dedication service. It was a tremendous day; a day long remembered in the history of Jews. God finally had a home among His people.

As Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the sacrifices! And the glory of the Lord filled the Temple, so that the priests couldn’t enter! (2 Chronicles 7:1, 2 TLB)

Notice that the “glory of the Lord” filled Solomon’s temple, not because it was so beautiful, although it certainly was that. God’s glory fell only after the fire from heaven consumed the sacrifices. In other words, God’s presence came to His people after He judged their sin. Those sacrificial offerings were the basis of God’s abiding presence among His people. Of course, those sacrifices parallel and foreshadow the work of Christ on the Cross. He was judged in the sinner’s stead. The work of Jesus allowed God to live among His people, in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

All the people had been watching, and now they fell flat on the pavement and worshiped and thanked the Lord. “How good he is!” they exclaimed. “He is always so loving and kind.” (2 Chronicles 7:3 TLB)

In response to the radiant glory of the Lord—the Shekinah—the people rejoiced and fell before Him in praise and adoration. The sacrifices of burnt offerings and peace offerings that followed were so great that the the brazen altar couldn’t contain them. The great dedication feast lasted a total of seven days and concluded with a solemn assembly on the eighth day.

Then on October 7 he sent the people home, joyful and happy because the Lord had been so good to David and Solomon and to his people Israel. (2 Chronicles 7:10 TLB)

After the great ceremony was over, all the people went home and Solomon finished his work of building the rest of the Temple, as well as his own home.

God’s second appearance to Solomon

We don’t know how long the interval was between the Temple dedication ceremony and Lord’s second appearance to King Solomon, but apparently some time did elapse.

One night the Lord appeared to Solomon and told him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place where I want you to sacrifice to me. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust swarms to eat up all of your crops, or if I send an epidemic among you… (2 Chronicles 7:12, 13 TLB)

A word about God’s word to man: sometimes it’s good, other times…not so much. Here, much of God’s word to Solomon falls into the “no so much” category. All those “if’s” turned out to promises, or more accurately, prophecy. In fact, in the decades that followed this “golden age” in Israel, God did indeed cause droughts, locust infestations, and disease to fall on His people. Because of their penchant for sin and disobedience, God’s judgment came upon Israel time and time again, just as He told Solomon in these two verses.

The terrible thing about sin is how it effects, not only the one who commits the act of sin, but the whole Body of Christ. The sins of the people, if you notice, resulted in some profound problems for the whole nation: weather problems, insect problems, and even health problems!

God’s Cure

God didn’t leave Solomon hanging. First the bad news, then the good. There would be a remedy for the coming judgments:

…then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 TLB)

This is the verse so often associated with national revival. As we have seen, the context of Israel’s national revival was a realization of their sin and of a mass turning to God. Let’s look at the conditions God laid out for this national revival.

1. If my people…

Who exactly are “my people?” Clearly the context dictates that “my people” refers to the people Israel. God is talking to King Solomon about his subjects, the Israelites.

Now, we may certainly make a reasonable application of this verse to all of God’s people. Israel was indeed called out and set apart by God, but then so has the church. These two groups of people, Israel and the Church, are separate and distinct and they are dealt with differently throughout Scripture. It’s not for us, members of “the church,” to hijack promises made specifically to the Israel. But God has set the precedent here. His people belong to Him. Redeemed Israel belongs to Him, as do all redeemed sinners, Galatians 3:28. It is therefore reasonable to apply what follows to church. It may not have been spoken to the church directly, but it does apply to the church.

2. Humble themselves and pray…

Israel had forever had a problem with pride; specifically spiritual pride. This pride often blinded them to the sin in their nation. In order to experience healing on a personal and national scale, the people had to humble themselves; to admit their awful sinfulness and rebellion.

To apply this condition to all believers seems odd. We would normally think that the most important thing to do is to pray. But here, God’s word to Israel was to be humble. Do Christians today have a problem with pride? Of course we do! Now, we may not have the same kind of issues Israel did, but we most certainly struggle with pride, and that pride often keeps us from seeing not only the wrong in our lives but also the lack. There is not a Christian who doesn’t desperately need more of God, yet in our pride, we sometimes foolishly think “we’re ok,” that “we have it under control.” In fact, none of us is “ok” and none of us has anything “under control!”

The thing about humility is this: Nobody can make us humble. Other people may humiliate us, but only we can humble ourselves. In other words, if we are not humble, it’s not because we cannot be; it’s because we don’t want to be. The thing that keeps us from being humble before God is pride; the notion that we don’t really need help; that we can make it on our own.

The very first step, before even prayer, is humility. Anybody who thinks they “aren’t that bad” or “don’t need God’s help,” will never experience any kind of “spiritual revival.”

3. Search for me and turn from their wicked ways…

The requirement for Israel’s revival just got ratcheted up! The people needed to see themselves with clarity—they were sick, both physically and spiritually—before they could come to God in honest prayer. But they had to do more. They had to actively search for God. What does that mean? Israel was guilty of looking for a god; they were obsessed with idolatry. God told them they must look for HIM, the only true God, and in the process, they would be turning from their wicked ways.

The same thing holds true today for the Body of Christ. We are guilty of being just like the Israelites to one degree or another. We may not race after idols and statues, but we certainly put a premium on career and comfort, on money and fame, on friends and family. Anything that takes God’s place on the throne of our hearts leads us away from God and into “wicked ways.”

If we want to experience spiritual revival, we must first get back to looking for God where He may be found. We must get back to the Word; to obedience to that Word and a commitment to the church of Jesus Christ. God will not be mocked! He is not impressed with our songs of praise if our hearts are far from Him. He doesn’t like it when appear to be Godly on the outside but on the inside we’re full of sin and corruption. And He especially hates the hypocrisy of believers who talk constantly about their blessings while they live in reckless disobedience to His will.

God’s promise

Now, if Israel met those conditions, God would act on their behalf and restore the nation. And He did, on more than one occasion. Specifically, if God’s people (Israel and, by application, the church) fulfilled their part, God would fulfill His:

1. I will hear them from heaven…

The implication here is that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the disobedient. Only those whose hearts are right and “in tune” with His Word, does God pay any attention to. This was true of Israel; it is certainly true of Christians today. We’re good at playing games with God, but God takes things like prayer seriously. If your heart is full of sin and rebellion and you make no attempt to make your relationship with Him right, then how could you expect God to hear one of our prayers? 1 John 3:21, 22 has more to say on this subject:

But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trust, and get whatever we ask for because we are obeying him and doing the things that please him. (TLB)

2. Forgive their sins…

This act of God was purely conditional as far as Israel was concerned. He would do nothing for them until they did what He required of them. Many of God’s promises are like that.

Forgiveness follows repentance. It always does. Even for the born again Christian, we still need forgiveness, and God’s forgiveness always follows repentance. Sin is what disrupts our intimate relationship with God and that can only be restored when we repent and are forgiven.

3. And heal their land.

Here is the only part of 2 Chronicles 7:14 that doesn’t really apply to us today. The land of Israel needed to be healed because God had cursed the land in judgment. He has not done that to America today. There is no such promise made anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, in the New Testament, God has not promised to bless any believer in any way except spiritually.

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 TLB)

The fact is, as Christians, we are only living on this earth temporarily. Our home, and our citizenship, is in heaven! Once we were God’s enemies. Once we were destined for eternal deamnation. But thanks to the work of Christ, we have been forgiven and redeemed and adopted into God’s family. These are our blessings.

True revival comes when we begin to take our faith seriously:

So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to. (Matthew 6:31—33 TLB)

True revival results when a believer does just that: he gives God first place in hhis life. Are you willing to do that?  Before you answer, understand what that means:  The Lord must come before your job, your spouse, your children, or anything and anybody else. And this is why “revival” seems so elusive. Most Christians aren’t really interested in putting God first. They want God, along with everything else.

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 3

Ezra: The Man

Between chapters 6 and 7, there is a period of some 60 years during which we have no record of any event that may have happened in Palestine. Historians think that Zephaniah 1:9—14 and the prophecy of Malachi belong to this period. The events in the book of Esther belong to this silent period, as well.

The first six chapters of the book of Ezra tell of the first 50,000 Jews who left Babylon to return home, led by Ezra. The Jews had gone into captivity 70 years earlier because they continually rebelled against God and fell into idolatry. The cure for their idolatry was a forced vacation in Babylon. God truly gave them the “desire of their hearts.” These Jews wanted to worship false gods, so Yahweh gave them what wanted so much: to live among heathens and pagans.

There was a second wave of Jews that returned home, also under Ezra’s leadership. In the last four chapters, we meet the man Ezra. He wrote the whole book, but the first seven chapters are all about the remnant’s return home, the revivals, the reconstruction and so on. Chapters 7—10 tell the story of the second return under Ezra and the reformation led by Ezra. They tell the personal story of this man Ezra.

We may learn a lot about the kind of people God uses to do His work. When it comes to the character and life of this man Ezra, let’s consider the following points:

1. His preparation, 7:10

Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)

God may call a person to His service, but how that person gets ready to work for God is entirely up to him.

To human beings belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. (Proverbs 16:1)

Ezra had prepared his heart for the day he would and his people would return to Jerusalem. Ezra had faith; he knew that day was coming because He had faith in God and His Word.

We hear a lot about “revivals” these days. The fact is, when one person determines in his heart to seek God, to study the Word, to obey it and teach it, then a revival has already begun! A person’s heart must first be right with God before his life can be of any use to God. What did Ezra study? All he had were the books of Moses (the first five books of the Old Testament) and Joshua. No wonder Ezra was the man God chose to lead his people home! Look at what he was reading; look at the examples he had to follow. Ezra not only studied the Word of God, but he did what it said. Anybody can study the Bible, but it takes a committed, determined believer with the right heart to obey it.

The beautiful thing about the Bible is that when a person studies it, they can’t keep it to themselves. Ezra couldn’t; he taught what he had learned. This is what the Word of God does to a believer; it makes him want to share it with others. Preparations for service belong to man—he has to put forth the effort to study the Bible, to prepare both his heart and his mind to do the work of God—but the revelation of God’s Word comes from God Himself.

Ezra couldn’t have done what he did without the hours of preparation he spent. Modern Christians wonder why they live such impotent lives. They wonder why the Lord never seems to choose them for some great work. Maybe it’s because they aren’t ready for God to use them because they are ill-prepared because they have never seriously studied the Word of God.

2. His qualifications, 7:6

Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

Because Ezra was faithful in his preparations while living in Babylon, an invisible and powerful force was behind him. Remember, Ezra spent years in preparation for something he had no proof was going to happen. He simply believed God was going to allow His people to go home and he wanted to be the one leading the way. Ezra was so devoted to his God that his king was completely taken with him! Imagine the irony: a godless king so impressed with a godly man that he gave that godly man whatever he wanted!

There are some Christians who think God will simply use any believer; that because God is “no respecter of persons” that means in God’s eyes all Christians are the same. Not so! God has always been jealous of the character and qualifications of those who serve Him in positions of leadership. Consider Moses; he was no schlump. He was highly educated and perfectly suited to deliver his people notwithstanding what he thought of himself. Consider Paul; he was no theological lightweight. God needed a man who could put into words the doctrines and theology of the Christian faith; Paul was perfectly suited to do just that.

Are you ready to work for the Lord? Do you know what your particular gift or talent is? Are you honing your ability to share the Word with the lost? You say, “Ezra was a special case.” Ezra was not a special case! He was just a man, a priest without place to practice his profession, who wanted to do the best job he could for his God. He had no guarantee that he would even live long enough to lead his people back home. Ezra wanted to be ready with his call came.

All believers who, like Ezra, take their faith seriously, study the Word, practice the Word, and live in readiness to serve Him, have the unseen Hand of God with them. You will live a life of excellence, as Ezra did, when you finally decide to put God first. If you dither and play games with God and do your own thing, you will never experience the fullness of God’s power, anointing, or blessing.

3. His Provisions, 7:21, 22

Now I, King Artaxerxes, decree that all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates are to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you— up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit.

What a remarkable couple of verses! Artaxerxes, who had his own religion and his own god, was so impressed with Ezra that he made sure Ezra had everything he needed to get his people home in style. Ezra had prepared his heart, and God supplied his needs through the unlikeliest of sources. In other words, for the modern believer, if you do your part, God will do His part. God never sends His workers out ill-prepared. When you’ve done all you can do to prepare your heart for service, God comes through for you in ways unimagined.

Why do we fear stepping out in faith and working for the Lord so much? Do we think we are not good enough? Not smart enough? When you prepare you heart to work for God, you are automatically qualified to work for Him! And God doesn’t send you out like an orphan to engage in the greatest work of all. There is no greater work a Christian can be engaged in than that of sharing the Gospel and the love of Jesus with the lost. You bet God will make sure you have the “supplies” you need to get the job done.

4. His commission, 7:25

And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them.

If you have the Word in you, you will become God’s messenger.

For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. (Malachi 2:7)

Ezra’s commission came from God, but Artaxerxes articulated it to him. Sometimes that happens; God is sovereign and will use a variety of ways to call a believer into service for Him. But any believer who has God’s wisdom in his heart will, necessarily, will recognize that call when it comes and will become a messenger of the Lord.

This heathen king gave Ezra quite a task to perform! Were you in Ezra’s shoes, how would you feel? Would you be quaking in those shoes? Or would you be ready, willing, and able to perform that task? The fact is, if the Church of Jesus Christ is to gain any ground in winning those who don’t know Him, His Word must be clearly taught by those who know it and have experienced His presence and power in their own lives.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

The thing that stirs up a sinners heart are not the thoughts and opinions of a mere man, but the Word of God; how will they hear the Word of God unless those who possess it give it to them?

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

You, who know the Word have a responsibility to share it.

5. His Single-Mindedness, 8:21, 22

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.”

The normal thing for a person to do is to ask for help when they need it. Ezra, as he was about lead his people across the dangerous Palestinian wasteland, looked at the throngs of men, women, and children, and realized he needed help! But what did he do? Did he ask the king? No, he did not, because had he asked for help, he would shown the king that he really didn’t trust God after all. Ezra had to practice what he preached.

A great many Christians today say all the right things. They can quote all the good Bible verses, they know the proper cliched sayings, but when the rubber hits the road, they don’t really trust Him; they turn to the world for advice, counsel, and help. Ezra, though, was not like that. Now, Ezra was human, though, and we get the impression that the thought did cross his mind, but he dismissed it because to ask for help after proclaiming his faith would have embarrassed him. What did Ezra do instead? He called for a fast. Instead of tucking-tail and crawling back to the king, he knew to Whom he had to turn.

Do you? What is the first thing YOU do when you are faced with a challenge? Do you “call for a fast?” Do you shut the door, get on your knees, and get ready to have a serious conversation with God? Or do you betray your faith and your God by begging the world for help? These are serious questions for people who claim to be serous about their faith. God wants people who are serious; He wants single-minded servants who will trust in Him.

6. His Offense, 9:2—3

They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.

Ezra was hurt and offended because his people had, once again, disobeyed the Lord. What kind of people could be exiled for 70 years and still not get it? This intermarrying was a clear violation of God’s Law:

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons… (Deuteronomy 7:3)

The offense was against God, but their contempt for God’s Word offended him. When a believer is full of that Word; when a believer is in love with God and completely devoted to God’s Word, whenever anybody goes against that Word, it offends them. True believers are hurt and offended for God when they are around those who live rebelliously and recklessly.

The depth of our sorrow over the sins of others will be according to the depth and reality of our devotion to the cause of God. The Church needs more people like Ezra, who are righteously angered by sin. We need more people like Jeremiah:

Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. (Jeremiah 8:21)

Jesus Christ was like that. The sin around Him caused Him to weep. Does it cause you to weep?

7. His Success, 10:12; 19

The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say.”

They all gave their hands in pledge to put away their wives, and for their guilt they each presented a ram from the flock as a guilt offering.

Wow! Pleasing God became more important to Ezra’s people than pleasing themselves. Their relationship with God became more important than their relationship with their wives. Their salvation was more important than their marriages. What is important to you? Is pleasing your family, or other people, more important to you than pleasing God?

This incident tells us how prayer changes things. Thanks to the earnest prayer of Ezra, God’s will prevailed and that resulted in the spiritual uplifiting of all the people. It may well be that some of those “foreign” wives were very dear to those men. But sin is sin and wrong is wrong. And the only way to change people’s sinful and wrong behavior is through the power of prayer. Ezra didn’t send these people to lawyers or counselors. His people came to the correct conclusion on their own through Ezra’s example and prayer.

The secret of Ezra’s success is really no secret at all. It is within the grasp of every Christian if he would but reach out and lay hold of it. Success in serving the Lord is simply a whole-hearted loyalty to God’s Word and work. So many of us are frustrated in walk with Christ because we’re not really all that devoted to Him. May our faith never be a convenience. May our faith be as necessary to us as the air we breathe.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 8

A 1920s religious revival at Fairmont Baptist Church in Covington, AL

Acts 11:19—26

After the martyrdom of Stephen, evangelism among the population in Jerusalem came to screeching halt. In God’s providence, the Christians who were forced to leave Jerusalem brought the Good News to the people in Palestine. Wherever they went, these Christians shared the Gospel and caused the Church to grow. God took an awful event, the death of Stephen, and the subsequent persecution of some members of the Jerusalem church, and turned it into a golden opportunity to enlarge the church through the mission work of the persecuted Christians. These wonderful Greek-speaking Jews who fell in love with Jesus through His teachings returned to their homelands, proclaiming the Gospel to their people.

This section of Acts tells of two movements of the Early church along the Mediterranean Sea. The first was northward from Jerusalem to Antioch in Syria. The Gospel was freely preached and widely embraced in that city. The other movement was southward from Antioch to Jerusalem. The first carried the message of salvation to those in the north, the second carried material blessings from the new converts in Antioch to the the needy believers in Jerusalem.

In the history of Christianity, no other city of the Roman empire, save Jerusalem, played as large a part in the life and fortunes of the Church as Antioch, in Syria. This city was the birthplace of of foreign missions and the home base for Paul’s outreach to the eastern half of the Empire. It was the first place where believers in Jesus Christ were called “Christians.”

Unfortunately, Antioch was was also where the first schism threatened to split the infant church: should these Gentile-Christians submit to certain aspects of the Law, including circumcision.

Antioch also produced some of the greatest thinkers in the church, including Barnabas and Paul in the first century, Ignatius and Theophilus in the second century, Lucian, Theodore, Chrysostom, and many others throughout the third and fourth centuries.

1. Revival

(1) Its origin, verse 19

…the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed…

The Jewish establishment in Jerusalem thought Stephen’s death and their subsequent persecution of some members of “the church” would quash the enthusiasm of the followers of Jesus. They thought wrong! The unregenerate mind always thinks wrong when it comes to thinking about God:

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee… (Psalm 76:10a, KJV)

The opponents of Christ may scheme ways to kill the Church, but it was Jesus who spoke those unchanging words of victory:

I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

God always works this way; whenever the Enemy thinks he has the upper hand, God takes that negative and turns it into a positive. He did it for Paul many time;, for example:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

So God took what seemed like a terrible tragedy—the death of Stephen—and turned it into the event that changed the direction the Church was going in. This singularly negative event was the best thing that could have happened to the church in Jerusalem, for it got them out of their pews and onto their feet, carrying the Good News wherever they went.

(2) How it happened, verses 20, 21

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

There were two things these missionaries had going for them: the Word of God and the Lord’s hand. In other words, these evangelists not only proclaimed the Good News (the Word of God), but there was divine power behind their words (the Lord’s hand).

God’s Word is not like any other written word. No book has the power behind it that God’s Word has. Paul expressed a similar sentiment in 1 Thessalonians 1:5—

…our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.

It’s not the words of the preacher, it’s the Word of God he’s preaching that works with the hand of the Lord. We preach Jesus, and the hand of the Lord works wonders.

For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

A preacher may preach a well-crafted sermon, but if the Word is not in it, there will be no power behind it. A preacher may may preach his opinion energetically, but if his opinion is not grounded in the Word, it’s all bluster that amounts to nothing. A preacher may preach great and soaring doctrines of the Church, but if those doctrines are devoid of the Word of God, he is nothing but noise coming from behind the pulpit. We are laborers with God when we work with God.

(3) The result, verse 21b

…a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Thanks to the work of these once-persecuted believers from Jerusalem, Antioch soon became the leading center of Christianity. This really is a verse of triumph. Luke, who himself was a Gentile-Christian, may have been on of the early converts.

From verse 19, we get the impression that the initial ministry of the Jewish-Christians among the Jews and Greeks took place in the synagogues of Antioch. But it didn’t take long before this revival broke out of the synagogues, spread throughout the city and beyond, and finally news of it reached Jerusalem. The church leaders in Jerusalem, all of whom were Jewish-Christian, were now faced with a dilemma: what to do with this influx of Gentile believers.

2. Barnabas pays a visit

(1) What he was, verse 22

News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

With the salvation of the Samaritans, the conversion of some Gentiles in Caesarea, and now all these new believers in Antioch, the folks back in Jerusalem were concerned that maybe the church was growing too fast and that things may have been getting out of control. In response to the Antioch revival, the Jerusalem church sent a delegation to Antioch to check it out. The man they chose was Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus, who had an outstanding reputation in the church and appeared to be an all-around good guy. He certainly was a man with a generous spirit:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:36—37)

He was the perfect man for the job. He must have been extremely friendly and outgoing since he garnered the nickname “Son of Encouragement.” The future of the church depended on what this man would report back. As a result of Barnabas’ response to the revival, it was enabled to continue, with many finding Christ as a result.

(2) What he saw, verse 23a

When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done…

Barnabas was amazed at the grace of God when he saw, not only all the new believers, but also the harmony that existed between Jew and Gentiles within the one Antiochean church. This was a breakthrough of momentous proportions. A man’s inward character determines what he sees. A Roman philosopher cold only see in this religious revival a “vile superstition.” Barnabas saw the manifested grace of God. The proud Athenians saw only their many gods, but Paul saw an entire city given over to the sin of idolatry. Some things can only be “spiritually discerned,” and God’s grace is one of them. Because Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith (verse 24), he recognized immediately God was at work; he didn’t need anybody to tell him. Do you recognize God at work? Can you see the grace of God manifested in a person or situation? If you are full of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to discern the things of God.

(3) What he felt and what he did, verse 23b

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
…he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Barnabas certainly live up to his nickname! He immediately began to encourage these new believers in their new faith. Bighearted Barnabas was so sold-out to Jesus that he was “glad” to see anybody serving the Lord, Jew or Gentile! Instead of looking for faults and criticizing this new movement, he gave it his stamp of approval and blessing.

3. Barnabas gets some help

Barnabas was the right man in the right place. He related well to the people living in and around Antioch. He was bilingual, familiar with Greek culture, and may well have been a businessman familiar with that culture of Antioch. But Barnabas needed some help; he couldn’t do it all by himself. While Barnabas was a mighty encourager, the believers needed more than just encouragement. This cosmopolitan, Greek-speaking metropolis needed the talents of an intellectual giant as well as a Spirit-filled encourager.

It had been some ten or more years since Saul, now known as Paul, found the Lord on the road to Damascus, and this was the man Barnabas sought out. We have no record of what Paul did during the intervening years, between the time he left Jerusalem (see Acts 9:20) and when Barnabas found him in Tarsus. From Galatians 1:21—24, we can be sure that Paul was not idle during those years; he continued to preach and minister for Christ in and around his hometown of Tarsus. It is likely during these years that the apostle received the “five lashings” he wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:24, along with the other afflictions he enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11:23—27. Some scholars think that it was during these years in Tarsus that he began to experience the “loss of all things” for the sake of Christ, maybe even the loss of his family (Philippians 3:8).

Barnabas seemed to always have a “soft spot” for this one-time persecutor of the church. He came to Paul’s support when others doubted his conversion (Acts 9:27) and he recognized that Paul had a ministry among the Gentiles. Together, they worked in Antioch for about a year. These two men, different as night and day in one way, were extremely effective ministers and became lifelong partners in the great work of the Gospel.

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

While there were many converts in and around Antioch, some in the city were not impressed with the work of Barnabas and Paul, and nicknamed this growing group of Jewish and Gentile believers “Christians.” The Greek word, Christianoi, means literally “Christ followers” or “those who belong to Christ,” was a term of derision.

Conclusion

Why are you called a Christian? Originally not a complimentary term, it was used of people who identified completely with Jesus Christ because they patterned their daily lives after His and His teachings. Unfortunately, for many so-called Christians today, that description applies to them only on Sunday. During the other six days of the week, many so-Christians seem to set aside that nickname, living not for Christ, but for their careers, for money, for their families, destroying their marriages with unChrist-like attitudes, ruining their bodies through chemical dependence, and using language that is not glorifying to God in any way.

So, the question, “Why are you called a Christian?” is an intensely personal and important one to consider. It may make you blush. You may not know how to answer it. Zacharius Ursinus answered that question like this in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question: But why art thou called a Christian?

Answer: Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am a partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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