The People Called Christians
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The other question that we asked was, WHAT ARE CHRISTIANS LIKE?
Let’s begin by looking at the people in Antioch who were first called Christians. The result of the fierce persecution which arose when Stephen was stoned was that the believing Jews of Jerusalem were scattered as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Antioch was the capital of the Greek kingdom of Syria. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator in 300 B.C. in honor of his father Antiochus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Antioch was made a free city in 64 B.C. when Syria was incorporated into the Roman Empire.
The ministry of persecuted Jews who fled north and westward to these areas was characterized by “preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” However, there were some bold men who dared to speak “unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
Men had actually begun to preach the gospel to Gentiles at Antioch. Since the hand of the Lord was on these efforts, “a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”
Although an Ethiopian eunuch and a Roman centurion have already been saved, this preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles is beginning to be on a far broader scale than the Jews had ever seen before. It was only a short time until the events which had taken place in Antioch were made known unto the church at Jerusalem.
As had been the situation when Peter and John were dispatched to Samaria to investigate the missionary activity of Philip there, the Jerusalem church must send someone to Antioch to do the same. Therefore, Barnabas was sent there by the Jerusalem church. Whatever report Barnabas returned with could be trusted, for Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and faith.” Consequently, upon arrival at Antioch, when Barnabas viewed the situation there and saw that at Antioch a great number of Gentiles had been saved by the grace of God, he “was glad, and exhorted them all.”
Apparently, Barnabas was to do more than just observe the activities of the Antioch Christians. He must have become the advisor to them from the mother church in Jerusalem. But Barnabas quickly realized that the job was too big for one man, for Antioch was a large city, with a population at this time of perhaps five hundred thousand or more. Therefore, he began to consider those who might assist him in this task. He needed someone who was of indisputable quality and character, and yet someone who could sympathize with both the Jews and the Gentiles who were being saved. There was no question in the mind of Barnabas; there was only one man.
We read, “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul.” Some years earlier Saul of Tarsus had been escorted to Caesarea by the Christians of Jerusalem, and from there he took a ship to his native Tarsus. Now, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus in order to seek out Saul, who probably had been disinherited for his commitment to Christ (Phil 3:8) and was undoubtedly buried in the mass of humanity at Tarsus, engaged in tent making. All this time Saul was being prepared by the Lord for a greater work and he was patiently waiting for the time of the initiation of that work to come.
Apparently, Barnabas did not immediately locate Saul. But it says, “when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.” The next year in Antioch proved to be one of great accomplishment. Under the ministry of Barnabas and Saul, the Christians of Antioch grew both in spiritual strength and in number. Then in the last verse of our text, we read, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
The people in Antioch called those who had claimed Jesus as Messiah the “Christ-ones.” As an accurate historian, Luke did not hesitate to record that the followers of the Lord first came to be popularly known as Christians at Antioch.So that leads us to ask, “What were the characteristics of the Antioch Christians?”
First, They were people who had a personal experience with Jesus.
Second, They were people who displayed the presence of Jesus in their lives.
Verse 23 said, “When he came and had seen the grace of God...” The grace of God was on display in the life of these men and women. They were different form others and they were changed so that they were different than they once were.
Third, They were people of prayer.
Forth, they were people who were interested in others.
In says in verse 29 of this chapter, “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.” The home church was in trouble from the persecution. The members were denied food and jobs, and the new believers in Antioch responded to their need by taking up an offering for them. They were Gentiles, but they wanted to help their Jewish brothers.That was 2000 years ago, but true Christianity has not changed.
Today, I believe that a Christian is a person who has been exposed to Jesus and because of that has allowed His image to become a part of his or her life.
A Christian possesses Christ-likeness. We are to follow His directions, as He taught in the Gospels. We say it almost every week; let others see Jesus in you. A good illustration of this is Kodak film. The film reveals the image of what it is exposed to. So do we.
Finally, Christians are people who have learned to make the most of their life in their world. They want to do good and they want to help others because that will draw attention to Christ. They want to proclaim to the world that God is good and that He always does the right thing. He can be trusted, and He can be trusted to do what He says in His word. The Christian wants everyone to hear the Gospel and to have the opportunity to receive Christ.
People called Christians are those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and live like Him. He is not only Savior; He is Lord. Because of their lifestyles, they experience the fulfillment of John 10:10 in their lives. That verse says, “…I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Let me be very candid with you. If God did not exist; if Jesus didn’t die for my sins, I would still be a Christian. The abundant life that I have had, the life that Christ gave to me is more wonderful than anything that this world could ever make available. The relationship that I have with Jesus Christ is better than anything else that life can offer. What a privilege to be called a Christian. There’s something in that name.
The Hymn says it like this:
Ask ye what great thing I know
That delights and stirs me so?
What is the high reward I win?
Who’s the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ the crucified.
Let’s pray and thank God that we can be called Christians.