A Sermon by Christopher Patton
Sovereign Grace Church Middletown, DE
April 25, 2010
Scripture: Acts 11:19-30
This past week, the news reported that the Marines have established a new patrol base in a particular region of Afghanastan known as Laki. One article reports, “With thick concrete walls, multiple rooms, and accessible roof top, the compound has offered the Marines great force protection and observation of the surrounding area.” It goes on to say, “The Marines hope that the patrol base will further the success they have seen in Laki so far.”
Not long ago, British forces sought to establish a number of mission bases in Afghanistan, all at once, within 48 hours. They did this because the best way to defeat this enemy is to have a strategic base right in their territory. It’s not enough to just get in and get out. You’ve got to stay and establish a base.
One British commanding officer said, “[doing this] takes the fight to the insurgent, challenging them in areas where they have become all too comfortable while our focuses may have been elsewhere. It is a hugely positive step.”
So obviously, the military believes in the importance of strategic local bases. They recognize that without them, mission fails. In Afghanistan, the soldiers cannot successfully root out Taliban insurgents in every remote village unless they have bases throughout the country from which to conduct operations. This is not unlike the mission of the church.
Here in our story, the Gospel advances to a new area – to Antioch – located in modern day Syria. It wasn’t enough for certain evangelists to parachute into Antioch, preach the gospel and leave. No – a mission base needed to be established; a church needed to be established. And that’s what happens in our passage.
In the years to follow, Antioch served as a strategic, and amazingly effective mission base for Gospel’s advance to the Gentiles. As Paul planted churches in various parts of the Gentile world, Antioch was his home base, or headquarters.
In our story, Luke gives the early history, the origins of this strategic church. In so doing he provides valuable insight into what this outstanding early church was like – insight that should inform our priorities, our perspective, and our mission as a congregation. So this morning, in hopes that we too will become an increasingly strategic base for the gospel, I offer you four insights, four observations about the Antioch church drawn from the text.
First observation -
(1) Grace Was Evident
After many responded to the proclamation of the Gospel in Antioch, word reached the church in Jerusalem. In response, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas. When he arrived Barnabas “saw the grace of God, he was glad…” Notice what Barnabas saw – he saw God’s grace. And when he saw God’s grace, He was glad.
Now folks this is instructive for us. It reminds us that any good evident in our lives, or in our church, owes solely to the grace of God. Like the believers in Antioch, we are not self-made people; we are grace-made people. Did you get that?
Just think about what happens here. In God’s sovereignty, the persecution of Stephen and other Jews in Jerusalem resulted in the scattering of God’s people to various locales in the Roman Empire. One of those places was Antioch. Did the unbelievers in Antioch have anything to do with the persecution or the scattering?
When Jewish Christians arrived in Antioch, they proclaimed Christ. Did the people in Antioch have anything to do with that? In vs.21 Luke says “the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
So, it’s pretty obvious who was responsible for what Barnabas saw in Antioch. It wasn’t the people who became a part of this church. It wasn’t the evangelists themselves. It was God! It was Jesus continuing to do his work; it was the Holy Spirit moving; it was the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen bearing fruit. In a word – It was grace. That’s what Barnabas saw in the people and that’s what the text says – made him glad. He saw the grace of God.
And you know what folks – when I read Barnabas’ reaction here – I’ve got to tell you – I can relate. My heart is glad because the very same grace that Barnabas saw in Antioch, I see here, on display, in your lives. The Gospel has transformed your lives, and the fruit of it is abundantly evident in so many ways. And it gives me great joy.
You have no idea what joy it brings me to see your love for the Savior. You have no idea what joy it brings me to see your passion for His bride, the church. You have no idea what joy it brings me to see your passionate desire to grow in godliness. You have no idea what joy it brings me to see your generosity. You have no idea what joy it brings me to see your love for the lost. You have no idea what joy it brings me when I see you husbands loving, leading and caring for your wives and children. You have no idea, how much joy it brings me – ladies – to see you functioning in your role of helper to your husbands and seeking to nurture and train your children.
And I could go on. As in Antioch, grace is evident right here, in this local church….which certainly bodes well for our future. Grace was there, grace is here. God used them long ago and He wants to use us today.
Second observation about this church…
(2) Teaching Was Essential
Not long after arriving in Antioch, we read that “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul”. Remember, not many years after His conversion, Saul’s life was threatened in Jerusalem as he proclaimed Christ. So the Apostles sent him to his home town of Tarsus. That’s where he is when, in our story, Barnabas travels to Tarsus to get Saul and bring him back to Antioch.
The next thing Luke records is that “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.” Now, I think this is instructive for us. When these people became Christians, what was one of the first things that needed to happen? Well, they needed to be taught. This was such a priority that we find Barnabas making a special trip to go get Saul. Because who better to do much of the teaching, than Saul who was fluent in Greek – the native language of the people?
Teaching was essential for them, and it’s essential for us too. All Christians need to hear sound biblical teaching. We don’t just need to hear cute anecdotal topical sermons that make us laugh. Though entertaining, those kinds of sermons ultimately fail to produce vibrant, mature Christians and churches.
Folks – this reminds us we don’t just come to church because that’s what we do or because it’s a Christian duty. Those should not be the primary motivating factors. We need to be taught so that we understand God’s Word and its central message (the Gospel). And we need to learn how to apply it effectively to our lives. That’s why we come to church!
One of the things I so appreciate about you is that you value teaching. I mean anyone who comes and sits on these benches for 45 minutes, and endures the poor acoustics, values teaching! From the way you pay attention to the preached Word to how you apply it, it’s very clear that in your eyes – the preaching of God’s Word is not an optional “extra” for Christian living. It is essential.
Let’s not loose that. Let’s cultivate it. Let’s look forward to the preaching of God’s Word – no matter who the preacher is – me or someone else. Let’s not be hyper-intense about our preferences when it comes to preaching style.
To be honest – one concern I have for Christians today is that in this internet age, it’s easy to exalt preferences when it comes to preaching because there are just so many choices. If your preference is for someone with a powerful intellect you can subscribe to one podcast, if your preference is for cutting humor, you can subscribe to another podcast.
But I have news for you – as much as I’m grateful for technology, Mr. podcast preacher doesn’t know Sovereign Grace Church in Middletown DE. In fact, I’m rather certain the podcast preacher couldn’t find this place on map! And sadly, when individual preferences are exalted, people miss out on what God has for them in the local church – because, “Man – he’s not John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, CJ Mahaney” – or whoever.
Here’s something else we should be aware of: podcast preaching can’t galvanize the people of God for the mission of God in a specific locale. I’ll tell you, those people weren’t built together by YouTube sermons snips from the Jerusalem church. They didn’t become a wonderful base for the mission because of outside sources of teaching; it became the base it became because of the local pastoral teaching and preaching of Barnabas, Saul and others.
Folks, the point is – there is no substitute for the preaching we get in our own local churches. It’s essential for our health as Christians and our mission as a church.
Moving along here to our third observation about this church in Antioch…
(3) Prophecy Was Welcomed
Let’s read verses 27-30 again:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? What happens? Well very simply a man with the gift of prophecy, Agabus, fortells that a famine is coming. How do the disciples respond? They send relief.
Now here’s my challenge. Some of you may have questions about NT prophecy. However, time does not permit for us to explore the subject in great detail or for me to make all of the necessary qualifications.
So here’s what I want to do: If you have questions, I want to recommend that you read Wayne Grudem on prophecy. His treatment of the subject is thorough and biblical. We have his book at the Resource Center. If you have questions or want to study more, pick it up at the Resource Center. That said, I briefly offer a few thoughts on what we believe around here the Bible teaches about NT prophecy.
First of all, we respectfully disagree with those who say the Bible teaches the gift of prophecy ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture.
Secondly, we believe the Scriptures teach that NT prophecy is not equal to “thus says the Lord” OT prophecy. In the NT age, prophecy is fallible, subject to human error and must be evaluated in light of Scripture. Even Agabus in chapter 21 missed the mark in some of the details of a prophecy he gave about what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem.
Thirdly, certain texts in 1 Corinthians and Acts, as Grudem writes, “show that prediction should not be considered the only function of prophecy, and indeed not even its primary function (Prophecy 132).” In 1 Corinthians 14, the purpose of prophecy is to edify and build up the church. That includes but is not limited to predictive prophecy. Even here in our passage, edification is the result of Agabus’ prophetic word. It resulted in relief for the saints in Jerusalem.
Finally,– and most importantly, like the church in Antioch, we need to welcome the gift of prophecy. Paul says in 1 Cor.14:3 – “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might prophecy.” He says “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophecy…” and “the one who prophecies builds up the church.”
My hope for us as a church is that in the months and years ahead, we would grow in both our understanding and experience of this gift. Grudem asks the question:
“Will we lose anything if we go on as many of us have before, largely neglecting the gift of prophecy in our churches?” He answers by saying, “I believe much will be lost. First, if the argument presented here [in a particular article] is correct, to neglect prophecy is to be disobedient to Scripture. That is reason enough to know that there will be negative consequences in our churches, and at least the lack of full blessing that would be ours if we obeyed.
Second, without this gift of prophecy we will probably lose an element of closeness to God and sensitivity to his promptings in our daily walk.
Third, we will miss out on a measure of vitality in worship, the sense of awe that comes from seeing God at work at this very moment and in this very place, the overwhelming sense of wonder that causes us to exclaim “truly God is in this place.”
So folks – may God help us in the days ahead to welcome and pursue this wonderful gift of prophecy for the sake of our edification and our mission.
Fourth observation about this church in Antioch…
(4) Partnership Was Valued
I want you to notice, that in response to Agabus’ prophetic Word, the church sent “relief to the brothers living in Judea.” It’s evident here, that the church in Antioch didn’t just feel some kind of loose connection to the church in Jerusalem. These weren’t just people somewhere suffering. These were their brothers, their sisters.
Remember, those who originally preached the Gospel in Antioch were from what church? The Jersualem church. And where was Barnabas from? The Jerusalem church. Where were the Apostles based? In Jerusalem.
So the offering and the term of affection used here – “brothers” – shows that the Antioch church valued their partnership in the Gospel with the Jerusalem church. They loved these people, so they expressed care to them.
You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of our partnership with the other churches in Sovereign Grace Ministries. There is a reason Sovereign Grace defines itself as a “family of churches” – it’s because that’s what we are. We aren’t just a network. We are not a denomination. We are a family.
One of many ways that family connection is expressed is if a church is struggling, the family does what it can to help out. About a year and a half ago an area Sovereign Grace Church, Trinity Fellowship Church in NJ, was experiencing serious financial hardship. Warren Boettcher, who helps care for that church and a handful of others in our region, initiated an offering among several churches to help. We here at Sovereign Grace Church in Middletown, DE actually gave a small amount towards the cause.
Upon receiving the collected gift, Sr. Pastor, Tim Shorey sent an email to the Pastors of those churches that sent gifts:
“Brothers, I am not sure what to say, other than thank you and to pray that the Lord would grant to all of you many blessings in keeping with those we have receive from you. Believe me, I know that you men are involved in ministries with high need as well; that you would give to us is simply grace and generosity that I can only hope to begin to imitate.
Please know that we are grateful. We have received so much from you guys and SGM; way more than we’ll ever be able to repay. Please know that we also are anxious to give returning blessings in keeping with those we’ve enjoyed from our fellowship in the Sovereign Grace family.
Your gifts will help us weather the present financial situation. We believe God will see us through—as He has shown His faithfulness so abundantly already. As with you all the challenges are great, but God is truly and profoundly greater still.
Much gratitude and many thanks. Please convey our gratefulness to all your folks.”
That’s partnership at work right there. I am thankful for how our story today reminds us that we don’t exist in isolation from other churches, but in meaningful connection with them. May God continue to use our partnership with Sovereign Grace to strengthen us and use us for the advance of the unstoppable Gospel in this area and beyond.
God is doing a wonderful thing here in this church. By the grace of God, through all of you, God has established and continues to establish us as a patrol base if you will in this area. We started this church because nothing takes enemy ground more effectively than planting churches. We started this church because we desire to be used by God to take new ground for the cause of Christ. We didn’t parachute in just to catch the next flight out of town. We came to establish a mission base for the Gospel’s advance here in this part of Delaware. And praise the Lord, that is what God has done.
Over five years, thick concrete walls have gone up, multiple rooms have been made – and those walls and those rooms are you, the people of Sovereign Grace Church. I thank God for how He’s used this mission base so far. May He use us even more, for His glory, in the days ahead.