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I have a friend whose father is a pilot and my friend will often accompany his father on cross-country excursions.  My friend’s father is not only a pilot but also a certified airframe and power plant mechanic.  He has rebuilt his airplane’s engine many times so he is intimately acquainted with every part of it, all of its idiosyncrasies, even its distinctive sounds.  So on occasion my friend will be riding along with his father and his dad will say, “Do you hear that?  Something’s not right.”  My friend will say, “Sounds OK to me, Dad.  The engine is still running.  The propeller is still spinning.”  “No,” his father will insist, “there’s a click in the third cylinder.  We should land and figure out what that is.”  And he is always right.

 

It is similar with our lives individually and the Church corporately. All may seem right in our perspective, but only God’s judgment counts. He is the master mechanic who built us. He is the one who created this living organism we call the Church. And it is he who puts his expert ear to us by means of his Word and lets us listen along with him to see if the vital signs for a healthy Church are present. And he does so in order that he might graciously expose where we need correcting in order that we might thrive. The confidence we have in this exploration today comes from v.18—that it is God who will grant us the repentance we need to change wherever we find ourselves and our church deficient.

I. Evangelism

The first sign of a vital church is evangelism. The Gospel (euangelion, or good message) is something that must be given away. We must not hoard it to ourselves but share it with others because trust in Jesus Christ alone is necessary to eternal life. These few verses teach us a lot about evangelism.

A. Every Situation is an Opportunity

Notice first that every situation in life is an opportunity for the Gospel, even persecution and displacement. Remember, after Stephen was stoned Luke says that “great persecution broke out against the church” (8:1). Luke had not even called the Apostles’ flogging “persecution,” but this he called “great persecution.” Saul was going house to house, dragging out Christians, and destroying the Church (8:3). The Church was scattered out of Jerusalem. But these Christians did not crawl in a hole. They took their displacement as an opportunity to spread the Gospel in new environs.[1] 

 

Now maybe you are tempted to think that your situation is so negative that it is impossible for you to advance the Gospel in it. Maybe God has moved you to a new town, you are ill, heartbroken, you have lost your job, or you have a new and difficult neighbor. God is in control of those situations and there are people in them who need to hear about your Savior. God will take care of you. Your situation has not caught him off guard. He has put you in that place to demonstrate your hope in Christ in spite of circumstances.

B. Every Person Needs to Hear

Then the text tells us these Jews took this Gospel to a place where they would have been uncomfortable to a people they were inclined to hate.  Antioch was an intimidating city. It was large, the third largest city in the Roman Empire (only Rome and Alexandria surpassed it); it was political, the capital of the Syrian Province; and it was commercial, a major connecting point between the Mediterranean world and the eastern desert. But the most challenging fact was that the city and the majority of its inhabitants were morally decadent. Antioch was infamous for its “Grove of Apollo,” an area on the outskirts of town, which served as a center for lewd behavior. 

 

Even if this lewdness were not so pronounced, these disciples would have been inclined against the citizenry because they were Gentiles.[2] Those would have been intimidating and repulsive characteristics to these early disciples. But these men recognized, as the text says, that the “Lord’s hand was with them” so there was no challenge too great for them. We must not be parsimonious with the Gospel but share it with everyone with whom we have opportunity.

C. Every Effort to Make Clear

Finally, notice that these did not evangelize perfunctorily. They gave every effort to make the message clear. They exegeted their culture so that they could speak the Gospel in a clear and convincing way. They contextualized their message to connect with Gentiles who had never heard of the Messiah. Kyrios (repeated three times in the passage) and soter were common in the Antiocheans’ religious parlance. These words would have been especially meaningful to those who through various cults were looking for a divine lord who would guarantee salvation.[3] Most everyone around you is looking for assurance. We have it to offer and we must listen to our neighbors for words and concepts we can use as connections by which we might share with them the good news of forgiveness of sins in Christ (Acts 10:43).

 

There is a story in E.M. Bounds’ book Necessity of Prayer that vividly captures our High Priest’s heart:


A dear friend of mine, who was quite a lover of the hunt, told me the following story. “Rising early one morning,” he said, “I heard the barking of a number of dogs chasing deer. Looking at a large open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across the field and giving signs that its race was almost run. It leaped over the rails of the enclosed place and crouched within ten feet of where I stood. A moment later two of the hounds came over, and the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. Just then I felt that all the dogs in the West could not and would not capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength. So is it, when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God. I remember well, when the hounds of sin were after my soul, that at last I ran into the arms of Almighty God.”

 

This is a picture of what we are doing when we evangelize. We are not appealing to our own personality or winning an argument, we are pointing those with whom we share to the only one who can save them from their sin, Jesus Christ. The gospel is good news, we have only to unleash it and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work.

 

[1] These early pioneers of the Gospel to Gentiles were men of Cyprus like Barnabas (4:36) and Cyrenes like the sons of Simon the Cyrene (Mk. 15:21; 2:10; 6:9; 13:1).

[2] Although there are textual variants, it is likely that Luke used the word Hellenas, that is Gentiles, as opposed to Hellenistas, that is Greek-speaking Jews.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, 225.