Be a world changing church
Be a world-changing church. Now, we have to be clear from the outset that the gospel is what builds the church. The gospel is the unstoppable power that can conquer the world and when the gospel was planted in Antioch, a church sprouted to life. Jesus, through the gospel, builds the church. And in the church at Antioch, we see three gospel-ingredients that made them a world-changing church that I long for us to emulate more and more so that we too can be a church that impacts our city to the tenth generation. Those three ingredients are: 1. Gospel evangelism. 2. Gospel discipleship. 3. Gospel love.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the church in Antioch changed the world. A church is not a building or a place, a local church is a group Christians who regularly gather in Christ name to oversee one another’s membership in Christ and his kingdom through gospel-preaching and gospel-ordinances, and the church in Antioch changed the world. The church at Antioch was the launching pad from which the good news that Jesus lived, died and rose for our sins spread throughout the known world, to the point that every follower of Jesus in this room can trace their roots back to the church an Antioch. And Luke holds up this world changing church in Antioch as a beautiful example for all churches, even Citylight, to follow. That brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: be a world changing church. Be a world-changing church. Now, we have to be clear from the outset that the gospel is what builds the church. The gospel is the unstoppable power that can conquer the world and when the gospel was planted in Antioch, a church sprouted to life. Jesus, through the gospel, builds the church. And in the church at Antioch, we see three gospel-ingredients that made them a world-changing church that I long for us to emulate more and more so that we too can be a church that impacts our city to the tenth generation. Those three ingredients are: 1. Gospel evangelism. 2. Gospel discipleship. 3. Gospel love.
Mack Stiles, a pastor in the Middle East, defines evangelism this way, “evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” Evangelism was at the foundation of the world changing church at Antioch. Acts 11:19-21: Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The church at Antioch reminds us that gospel evangelism is daring and dependent. Gospel evangelism is daring because it goes beyond comfort zones. Let me explain. Up until Acts 8, all of Jesus’ followers were located in Jerusalem. However, persecution against the church arose in Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers scattered, and, because they’re Christian, they took the gospel with them as they fled. And some of those Christians fled to Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire, comprised of over 500,000 people from incredibly diverse backgrounds and religions. So, these Christians are running for their lives, find themselves in a new city that is massive and pluralistic, and, understandably, they gravitate toward follow Jews that they’re culturally comfortable and share the gospel with them. Great. But some were more daring. Some broke out of their cultural comfort zone and taught the gospel to Hellenists, that is, Greek-speaking Gentiles, non-Jews. Tim Keller calls these Christians mavericks and John Stott calls them daring spirits. Gospel-evangelism is daring. Gospel-evangelism is also dependent. The evangelistic work in Antioch depended on God for its effectiveness. We see the dependence in the anonymity of the speakers. The world changing church in Antioch was planted through the gospel evangelism of men and women that Luke doesn’t name because he doesn’t know their names. They were not apostles or pastors, they were ordinary people with the extraordinary gospel on their lips. Gospel evangelism is evangelism that puts all its weight and dependence on the message not the messenger because the word does the work. The dependence continues to be seen through the clarity with which they spoke. The daring men and women who started the church at Antioch preached the Lord Jesus. They preached the clear word, the gospel, that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected for the forgiveness of sins. It wasn’t fancy, it was clear because the power is in the gospel, not fancy. And their dependence is ultimately seen in verse 21, where we read that it was the Lord’s hand that ultimately turned the Gentiles in Antioch to the Lord in faith. Since God is sovereign, they were bold. The gospel evangelism that lies at the heart of world changing church is daring and it’s dependent.
Let’s begin to take this part of our passage personally. Question: what will it look like to walk in daring, dependent gospel evangelism? In Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church, he demonstrates how people were converted to Christianity in the Roman Empire “not through formal preaching, but informal” conversation — “in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls … [ordinary Christians] did it naturally, enthusiastically … Having found treasure, they meant to share it with others, to the limit of their ability.” The world changing church in Antioch was started not by apostles or pastors, but daring, dependent gospel evangelists like you. Since the idea of gospel evangelism can be overwhelming, I’d like to read you a few hypothetical examples of gospel evangelism that Pastor Mike at Citylight Center City wrote. [Joe goes to work on Monday and one of his co-workers, Kevin, asks him how his weekend was. Joe relays that he went on a men’s retreat with his church that focused on the topic of friendship. Kevin comments, “That’s interesting,” so Joe takes a small plunge and mentions that what helped him the most was the idea that even though he’s not been faithful to God, God is faithful to him and calls him friend.] [Claire has a longtime friend from college named Jess, who is a lawyer. Jess’ anxiety is really hurting her career. Claire has been a sympathetic listener for some time, but finally she bluntly asks Jess to explore Christian faith with her. She says she thinks it might be the only thing that helps her overcome her problem. She further warns Jess that if Christianity will be any help to her, she must come to believe it is not only useful but true. They start studying the Bible together and listening to Christian sermons and lectures and discussing them.] [Josh comes to church with his wife, but he isn’t sure what he believes or where he stands. Matt and Joy meet Josh and his wife and start inviting them over for dinner and setting up play dates with their kids. After a few times, Matt grabs a beer with Joe and asks Joe if he’d be interested in exploring the claims of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. They agree to get together every-other-week for 6 weeks to do that.] [Laura and two other Christian friends are moms with young kids. They decide to start a daytime mom’s group and invite non-Christian friends. The conversations are generally diverse but every now and then faith comes up. After a while, a few of the non-Christian moms start coming to church with the Christian moms.] [Jamal mentions that he’s really been helped by his pastor’s preaching, so sends his co-workers one of the sermons. Next week they talk about it over their break.] Since gospel evangelism depends on the Lord’s hand, will you fervently pray and daringly walk in gospel-evangelism this week so that the church can bear fruit and grow? The second gospel ingredient present in the world changing church in Antioch was…
After the daring, dependent nameless Jewish Christians bring the gospel to Gentiles in Antioch, the Jerusalem church hears about the massive number of people converted to faith in Jesus and they send Barnabas to do quality control through gospel discipleship. Acts 11:22-26: The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. The church that was birthed through gospel evangelism is now nurtured through gospel discipleship. Discipling simply means helping others follow Jesus; it’s doing intentional spiritual good toward others so that they’ll become more like Jesus. The world changing church at Antioch was nurtured and grew in maturity through Barnabas’ gospel discipling. Let’s observe some of the characteristics of the gospel discipling that grew the church at Antioch. If the gospel evangelism was daring and dependent, the gospel discipleship in the Antioch church centered on encouraging and educating. First, encouraging. Notice that when Barnabas arrives in Antioch, the first thing that he does is see! He sees the grace of God at work in the new followers of Jesus, he’s glad, and he encourages them to stay steadfast in their faith. I love that because new followers of Jesus haven’t learned to hide how messy they are yet. I remember when I started following Jesus at sixteen, I was such a strange combination of bold and rude for Jesus. You can only imagine how messy the church at Antioch was and, yet, Barnabas chooses to see the grace of God among them, be glad about it, point it out, and encourage them to stay steadfast in it. Encouragement may be the most overlooked and indispensable means of discipling because nothing helps you follow Jesus quite like other people seeing God’s grace at work in your life, pointing it out to you, and encouraging you to remain steadfast in it. All Christians need discipling that encourages steadfastness, but especially younger Christians. Young enthusiastic Christians can cool off in their enthusiasm and commitment once the initial thrill of the new life wears off and they face disappointments and discouragement. At such times mature leaders are needed (Fernando). The last thing that I’ll say about discipleship that encourages is that encouraging isn’t a personality, it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Even if by nature you’re the most critical person you know, you can, like Barnabas, become an encourager by the power of the Holy Spirit working on your character. The gospel discipling at Antioch centered on encouraging and educating. Educating. As Barnabas encouraged the church at Antioch, the result was that the church members undertook even more daring and dependent evangelism, and many were added to the Lord Jesus and the church. Barnabas wisely knew that he could not disciple the growing number of people himself and humbly sought out another teacher, whom we know as the Apostle Paul. And notice what they spent a year doing: teaching the church. God has ordained that teaching the word of God in the context of the local church is the primary way that Christians are discipled to follow Jesus. The Christian community is a learning community and discipling centers on educating one another; teaching one another to observe all that Jesus commanded. The church at Antioch grew as a world changing church through gospel discipling that centered on encouraging and educating.
Let’s begin to take this part of our passage personally. A church that has a culture of gospel discipling through encouraging and educating is one of the most powerful forces for the advance of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. So, Citylight, let’s seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power to increasingly be a discipling people; a people who help one another follow Jesus through encouraging and educating. Let’s so abide in the encouragement of Christ that we go out of our way to see God’s work in one another’s lives, point it out, and encourage one another to remain steadfast in it. What a happy, powerful culture that would be if our main aim in our conversations was to see God’s grace in each other and point it out for the glory of God and the advance of the gospel. And let’s learn together. I believe that the breadth of our church’s impact depends on the depth of our church’s learning. Deep learning in God’s Word and wide impact with God’s gospel go together. So, let’s learn. Let’s learn through sermons, Citygroups, discipleship groups, and our own personal devotions. Let’s help each other become like the puritan John Bunyan of whom it was said that if you pricked him, he’d bleed Bible. The world changing church has as its second ingredient gospel discipling. Third and finally, a world changing church is full of…
Acts 11:27-30 starts a new scene in which some disciples and a prophet from Jerusalem came to Antioch and the prophet Agabus predicted by the Spirit that a great famine would hit the known world. The brand new, world changing church displayed the work of the gospel among them in love. Acts 11:29: So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. Gospel evangelism is daring and dependent. Gospel discipleship is encouraging and educating. Gospel love is generous. This new church displayed the affections of love for their new brothers and sisters, whom they had never met, through a central act of love: generosity. Instead of thinking first about how they were going to provide for their own needs during the famine, the church united in selfless love and immediately sent money to relieve the church in Jerusalem, each person in proportion to their means. Gospel love is selflessly generous.
Citylight, you excel in this. Our church has made budget every year since we planted in 2012. Our church is able to give tens of thousands of dollars every year to international missions through the Christian and Missionary Alliance, to our own missionaries that we’ve sent out, to church planting through the Acts 29 Network, to the hungry through the Easter Outreach, and to the marginalized through The Whosoever Gospel Mission. Many of you are lovingly generous to people in your Citygroups and in countless ways that no one knows about. I want you to know that I see your generous love, it makes me glad, and I want to encourage you to stay steadfast in it. I want to encourage you to keep leveraging your money not for personal comfort, but gospel impact. I want to encourage you to lay up for yourself treasures in heaven by giving generously to the work of the gospel through your church and through many other avenues as well. And the best way I know how to encourage us to remain steadfast in it is to point you again to the generosity of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. Jesus is love displayed through generosity. Jesus was rich. He is the eternal Son of God. He is the one who was high and exalted, seated on a throne, and showered with unceasing praise by the heavenly angels. And for our sake, Jesus who was rich became poor. He emptied himself of his heavenly riches, took on the form of man, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross for us. And by his poverty, through faith in Jesus’ finished work, though we were poor in Spirit with nothing to offer God, we have become eternally rich. Jesus became what we are so that we can become what he is. We are rich because we have Jesus and the eternal life that only he can give through is poverty. And as a people rich in Jesus, we can empty ourselves to be a world changing church.