Called “Christians” in Antioch
OCTOBER 25 - Nº 298 Acts 11:19-30; Galatians 2:1-10
Some of the believers who had fled from Jerusalem when Stephen was stoned (see #291 - October 18) went north to a city in Syria called Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire. It was strategically located at a crossroads between two major trade routes. When the persecuted believers arrived from Jerusalem, they didn’t hesitate to share their faith. Consequently, many people—both Jews and Gentiles—became believers, and the Gospel began to spread along those north-south and east-west trade routes. When the church leaders in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to encourage and help the new believers in Antioch. When he arrived, Barnabas was pleased to see how much God had already blessed the new believers. He taught them diligently from the Scriptures and encouraged them to remain true to their new faith. As the number of believers continued to increase, Barnabas realized that he needed help in his ministry. So, he went to Tarsus to find Saul (see #295 - October 22). Saul had spent the past seven or eight years there, learning and growing in his own faith. During that time he had also traveled through Syria and Cilicia sharing the good news about Jesus (see Galatians 1:18-21). God was preparing him to take the Gospel message all over the world. When Barnabas found Saul, he brought him back to Antioch. For a whole year they taught together. It was at this time in Antioch that believers were first labeled “Christians” (meaning ‘followers of Christ’). Meanwhile God revealed to some prophets in Jerusalem that there was going to be a terrible famine. It would devastate the entire Roman empire. They traveled to Antioch to warn the believers so they could prepare. One of the prophets named Agabus stood up and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he explained to the believers what was going to happen. Realizing that the famine was going to hit Judea the hardest, the Christians in Antioch decided to take up a collection for the church in Jerusalem. All the believers gave as much money as they could. When the time came for the gift to be given, Barnabas and Saul were asked to deliver it. So, they traveled together to Jerusalem. While they were there, Saul took the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the church. He explained to them how he and Barnabas presented the Gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch. He wanted to be sure that the message they were sharing was no different from what the apostles were sharing in Jerusalem. Saul and Barnabas had brought a young man named Titus along with them. He was a Gentile believer from Antioch who had not been circumcised. Many Jews who pretended to be Christians had tried to convince the new believers in Antioch that they still had to obey all the laws in the Old Testament—including circumcision. They did not understand that Jesus had fulfilled every requirement of these laws when he died on the cross. Saul and Barnabas wanted to be unified with the Jerusalem leaders in this matter as well. Peter, James (the brother of Jesus), and John agreed with Saul and Barnabas that circumcision was no longer necessary. The two missionaries left Jerusalem very encouraged.
Jesus is the only person who ever perfectly kept all of God’s laws. Because he was sinless, he became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ death not only paid the penalty for our sins—it fulfilled all the requirements of the Old Testament Laws! When we put our faith in him, we are no longer required to keep all the laws God gave to Moses. The only thing we must do is accept what Jesus did for us on the cross! Not being slaves to the Law frees us up to be servants to others!