Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The First Christians

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”   Acts 11:26

Beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Jerusalem was the original launchpad of Christianity. It’s easy to see why. Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem. Jesus had risen from the dead in Jerusalem. And all 12 of the apostles lived in and led the church in Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was the launchpad of Judaism, it made sense for Jerusalem to be the launchpad of Christianity as well. But in Acts 11, Jesus Christ created a strategic shift.

In Acts 8:1, we read that on the heels of Stephen’s martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem.” As a result, “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (v.4). It’s remarkable to realize that the great persecution against the Christian Church in Jerusalem was led by Saul. But his plan to wipe out Christianity backfired. His persecution actually helped Christianity spread—just as Jesus had planned all along.

Driven out of Jerusalem, some followers of Christ began to spread the gospel 300 miles away in Antioch. And just as Jerusalem had been the launchpad for the Christian church to reach ISRAEL for Christ, Antioch would become the launchpad to reach the WORLD for Christ. It was in Antioch that some Christian men began to do something revolutionary: They “began speaking to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (v.20). This may not sound like a big deal today, but it was a HUGE deal! Up until that point, Christians had only been leading Jews and Samaritans (who were half-Jews) to Christ. But these Christ-following men in Antioch didn’t hold back from sharing the gospel with ANYONE; they even shared the gospel with Greeks.

And the Greeks referred to here were complete pagans. Not only were they not Jewish, many of them couldn’t care less about God. They probably worshiped gods like Zeus, Apollo and Daphne, and many of them likely spent their weekends getting drunk and having sex with Daphne’s temple prostitutes. These were not God-fearing or moral men. They were heathens—heathens who desperately needed to hear and be transformed by the power of the gospel. And some Christian men in Antioch were willing to stick their necks out and try what had never been done before—lead complete pagans to salvation. And look what happened: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21).

What was happening in Antioch was so revolutionary that word of it spread 300 miles south, all the way back to Jerusalem. So the church leaders found just the man to go up north and check it out: Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement.” When Barnabas went to the church at Antioch, he liked what he saw: “He was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). But something must have been missing, because he tracked Saul down—150 miles away—and brought him back to Antioch. Verse 25 tells us, “For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.” And don’t miss this last sentence in verse 26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Non-Christians most likely were the ones who coined this term for Christ’s followers. Outsiders who observed the Christians in Antioch noticed that their lives were all about Jesus Christ. Christ was first on their lips. Christ was first in their actions. Christ was first in their worship. It reminds me of a wonderful morning prayer written by St. Patrick, whose holiday just came around in March: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today.”

Here are three life lessons to consider:

Life Lesson #1: If you are a Christian, you have to think, act and share Christ outside the box. Jesus’ followers in Antioch were the first to freely share the Gospel with ALL people regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic or moral differences. Regardless of how unchurched they were. Regardless of how godless they were. Regardless of how immoral they were. To live up to the name “Christian,” you and I need to do the same. We need to reach beyond social, ethnic and religious barriers and introduce people to Jesus Christ. And once they accept him, we have to disciple them—helping them to build a brand-new life centered on Jesus Christ.

Life Lesson #2: You need a Barnabas in your life—a faithful, spirit-filled Christian who will encourage you to love and serve Christ with all your heart and will stand with you as you do. That’s one of the reasons Jesus gave us … the CHURCH. Chances are, your home church has many Barneys and Barnitas who can come alongside you and encourage you to grow in your faith and obedience to Christ.

Life Lesson #3: Just like Barnabas and Saul, we are much better and stronger together. So, don’t be a lone-ranger Christian. When God calls you to do something for Him, enlist at least one other Christian to do it with you. Evangelist D.L. Moody hit the nail on the head: “It is better to put 10 men to work than to do the work of 10 men.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook Live. For more information, visit

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