A Church “Living by Faith” – Antioch

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When God sovereignly decides it is time for us to experience ”living by faith,” our Daddy gives us that experience. It is solely at His discretion.  We are always the object in the experience, never, in any way, the subject. He may or may not let us know what He is doing—I discovered what was happening to me years after my experience of His beginning to do it!

It is exciting to look back and see what He has done in our lives and the lives of others. So it is with the church in Antioch, the church that sent out the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys that literally changed the world with the gospel. How did that church make such an impact? It all began on the “Day of Pentecost” in 30 A.D.

On that day the 120 believers who still remained with Jesus after His crucifixion and resurrection, were waiting in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed them to do when He ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:14-19). They were all waiting together in the “upper room,” when they were suddenly ”filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-11). 

This occurrence was immediate. dramatic, and powerful. “Tongues of fire” came upon the 120, and each one began to proclaim the gospel. Those who heard it did so in the particular language they spoke. one of the many spoken by the Jewish diaspora that had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Peter’s sermon that followed resulted in 3000 new believers, who were baptized and joined with the original 120, forming the Church in Jerusalem, the very first church in history! 

This means that the original 120 church members were now 3,000+, a huge percentage of which were visitors with no place to live or way to make a living in Jerusalem, but they stayed because their lives were dramatically changed. The early chapters in Acts relate to us how these new Jewish visitors’ lives, that had always been somewhere else, were turned upside down. But they were accepted, cared for, and integrated into life in Jerusalem by the infant church. 

And the church flourished and grew, as these brand-new believers learned what the living, ruling King Jesus is like. The number of believers grew in a few years to “5,000 men” (plus women and children – Acts 4:4), as “… daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:47). The Apostles were supplying this new church with the New Wine of the gospel!

In Jerusalem, just like in all alive, thriving churches today, the New Wine of the gospel preceded the New Wineskin (church organizational structure), which will happen at the proper time, NSU (naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously). With time, as a church grows, a wineskin is necessary to contain this wine. This  was the case in Jerusalem. Eventually, deacons were appointed to do all the busy, assistance work always necessary in a growing, full-life church. One of the deacons appointed was a young man named Stephen, 

Acts 6 and 7 relates Stephen’s story. He proved to be an amazing young man, though not a spiritual leader. He proclaimed Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah wherever he went, performing signs and wonders to validate his claims! This invoked the ire of zealous Jews, who brought Stephen before the High Priest on false charges of denigrating Moses and Jehovah. The angry mob ultimately stoned Stephen to death, with the encouragement of a young Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus.

Saul, who ultimately became the Apostle Paul, describes himself in Philippians 3:5, 6 as a “Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” Stephen’s stoning, egged on by Saul, ultimately led to two momentous, history-changing events: the conversion of Saul to become the Apostle Paul, and the location of the launch site of the missionary journeys of Paul that changed the world!

The stoning of Steven, in about 37 A.D., ignited a violent persecution of the Jerusalem church by the Jewish religious leaders. This persecution was so intense that the  5000+ church members were scattered all over Judea and Samaria, and some even North to Antioch in Syria. Only the Apostles hunkered down in Jerusalem to weather the storm, 

Imagine, a group of displaced Jerusalem church members, all walking by faith in their new-found Savior Who lives within them. They were not on a “mission” to start a church in Antioch, but they remained together because they all were simply trying to stay alive and establish a place to live safely, and they wanted to do so with those whom they knew and loved!. 

But inevitably, just going about daily life trying to survive as they walked by faith, they touched all they met, and a fledgling, unplanned, leaderless church sprang up. The New Wine of the gospel produced a wineskin to hold it, just as it had done in Jerusalem!

Some six years later, in about 43 A.D., this small, naturally occurring, spontaneous church had grown. They had made such an impact in the city that word traveled back to the rejuvenated, resurrected, apostle-led church in Jerusalem. “Something is happening in Antioch,” they were told. Antioch was almost 300 miles away, and they had heard nothing.

So, they sent Barnabus to Antioch to check it out, and he was immediately warmly welcomed and remained to minister with them for a brief time. He soon realized that Antioch would be a perfect place for the newly converted Saul of Tarsus to profit immensely himself and in turn bless the church. Barnabus went to Tarsus, found him and brought him to Antioch.

They remained there for several years, and it was there that Saul got his only real experience of the New Testament church life that he would later write about so eloquently in his epistles. Eventually, in 46 or 47 A.D., ”…In the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers…As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3). The rest is history!

God used a persecuted, tiny, infant, no-name, no one-man official leadership church to literally change the world. He continues to operate the same way today! Be ready!

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