The third persecution broke out against the Church, and Stephen was martyred.
We are introduced to Saul of Tarsus who was the chief antagonist—v. 3.
He ravaged and devastated the church, and dragged both men and women to prison.
The result of this persecution was that the believes were scattered abroad, but wherever they went they preached the Gospel.
At this time Philip went to Samaria—chapter 8. Here we see the ever-widening sphere of the gospel: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria.
In chapter 9 we have the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. In chapter 10 the Gospel goes to the Gentiles. Cornelius and his gentile friends are saved. In chapter 11 we have the formation of the first Gentile church.
This is how it happened:
v. 19—Some who fled Jerusalem traveled to Phoenicia and to Cyprus, others came to Antioch. These men preached the Word to the Jews only.
v.21—Then there were other men who left Cyprus and Cyrene and came to Antioch. When they arrived in the city they preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. The results were spectacular: “great numbers believed and turned to the Lord.”
A church was formed by the local believers. As this church developed, the church in Jerusalem receded from view and Antioch became the center from which the Gospel radiated to the Gentiles.
Let us look now at some of the characteristics which made this church such a power for God. There are five.
1. They preached the Lord Jesus—v. 20.
Like their predecessors they preached the Lord Jesus. They were strong in the gospel, the full-orbed Gospel.
Describe the early days of the assembly movement: the preaching, the rapid growth. Many assemblies are dying or simply existing because instead of being fishers of men they live in an aquarium, and the elders become the keepers of the aquarium.
The assembly or local church was not meant to be a refuge from society, but the river of God into it.
Oh that God would give us the vision of a lost world and its ultimate end, because where there is no vision the people perish.
They also shared Christ in His fullness with each other. There is nothing more exciting, exhilarating, and uplifting than to listen to Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, and Christ-exalting ministry.
The wrongs of Colossae were corrected by a clear presentation of the person and work of Christ. Colossians 1. “How great the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear”, etc.
In this assembly the Lord Jesus was preeminent and paramount. The believer’s life and service was centered in Christ. They own His Lordship and Headship.
2. The hand of the Lord was with them—v. 21.
This phrase indicates that the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit was with them. This resulted in spiritual stability, spiritual progress, and an aggressive evangelical thrust into the city.
This is what most assemblies lack, and we should covet the presence of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in our meetings more than anything else. Acts 4:31.
3. There were results because great numbers believed—v. 21.
The Holy Spirit was active in this church. There was room for Him to move. He was working in them, with them, and through them in convicting power. Babes in Christ were continually being born.
This assembly had a labor ward built into the program/curriculum.
The elders and spiritual fathers were doing their jobs as evangelists and shepherds. They were seeking the lost sheep, and after finding them they led them, fed them, guided them, counseled them, and encouraged them in the faith.
Young believers were established, discipled, and developed into soul-winners. The result of this ministry, by the spiritual leaders, was that each believer became an effective witness and a great harvest of souls was reaped.
They sowed in tears, and they reaped in joy.
Psalm 126—“They that go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them.”
4. There was a missionary spirit and outreach among them—13:1-4.
The mother church in Jerusalem had fallen short of the great commission. They were still confined to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria. Now at this time God was about to open a new era, and complete His plan of evangelizing to the ends of the earth.
The focus of power and activity was moved from Jerusalem to Antioch.
This new, young, virile, enthusiastic, spiritual church with a vision of conquering a lost world for Christ became the base from which God would launch His chosen servants into the regions beyond.
There was no mistaking the work of God in this church.
They gathered with one accord to pray. This was no ordinary prayer meeting. They had a burden for the lost in the uttermost parts.
As they waited on the Lord, the Holy Spirit spoke through one of the prophets. “Separate unto Me Barnabas and Saul for the work into which I have called them.” This was a work of God, there was no intrusion of the flesh or human wisdom.
It was God the Spirit who spoke to them, called them, and sent them forth.
5. This church was a giving church—13:27-30.
v. 29—Then the believers, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren who dwelt in Judea.
The word “vanity” is so prominent in Ecclesiastes, and stands for the emptiness and shallowness of this world. Solomon went in for this world and threw away a crown, a throne, and an empire. He set his heart and affection on the wrong world and lost everything.
Brethren, one of the reasons why we are losing out in spiritual things is because our heart and affections are set on the wrong world. Many assemblies have lost, and many more are losing their spiritual vitality, their growth in Christ, their fruitfulness in the Gospel.
Many among us have become materialists. We have become a status-seeking people.
The sin of prayerlessness is all too apparent. Our increased wealth has produced self-sufficiency, and we do not have many pressing needs drawing us to prayer. The worship meeting is often dull or dead. The Gospel meeting is often an exercise in futility. No conversions in years.
Instead of falling on our knees in confession of our sin, we continue to function under a façade of spiritual respectability, insensitive to our true spiritual state. Because of these things and more we have become a powerless church in a perishing world.