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Christians rely on God…

Date: 11 Jun 2023

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan

Sermon Text: Acts 11:19-30



11Jun23 Herald
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TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

Blessed Sunday to everyone. It’s wonderful to be back participating in the Sunday Service at Mt Hermon. Thanks again to the Session for the privilege to be on Sabbatical. In the month of May, I had a meaningful time worshipping at Gospel Light Church in Ponggol.


We are in the month of June and so I understand some Hermonites are travelling. Overseas Hermonites, if you are tuning in, greetings to you.


It’s great isn’t it, that technology allows us to be still connected with our faith community even when abroad.


When someone calls you a Kopite, what do you think that means? I never knew there was such a word until I went to research on the internet what a Liverpool football fan was called.


How can we tell a true Red? Some spent money to visit the Anfield and watch a game, they all definitely have the club jerseys which they wear on match days.


The club’s history, their honours, their stars roll off their tongue. Facts and figures of the past and the present are all at their fingertips.


Before every game, they are full of anticipation. Their social life, if possible, will revolve around kick-off time. And you can tell if their team won or lost based on their mood.


There are many football club fans in Singapore and Hermonites are no exception.

If you are not into football, how about the Korean band world? Have you heard of Blinks.


Who are Blinks? They are the fans of the Korean girl band called BlackPink.


The band, I think are currently the best selling Korean girl band in the world. They have broken many records for the viewership of their music videos.


Just last month, 50,000 fans paid between $168 and $398 to watch them perform here in Singapore.


Like football fans, Blinks know the band’s history, purchase their paraphernalia and memorize their songs and the dance moves.


I’ve watched a documentary about this band and was very impressed with their dedication to their craft and it gave me an appreciation of how challenging it was for the 4 singers to become BlackPink.


Basically, we can tell who is a Kopite or a Blink, by how they live – their actions, their words and their passions.


In today’s passage, we see that the people in Antioch began to call the disciples ‘Christians’. And I submit, it is also because they began to see something about Christ in their actions, their words and their passions.


Today, we continue to identify with this label. We identify with the description ‘Christians’ don’t we.


Let’s us see from today’s text, if we have the right to call ourselves Christians. Let’s see if the description of the Christians in Antioch can be attributed to us as well.


Just before we jump into today’s text, may I orientate us to where we are in the book of Acts. As a church we are going through Luke’s 2 volumes. The first is the Gospel of Luke which we did last year and now the Acts of the Apostles.


The controlling verse in Acts is Acts 1:8. Jesus’ command to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samarian and to the ends of the earth.


And so, the rest of Acts is the unfolding of this:


1. Acts 2 – Jerusalem

2. Acts 8 – Samaria

3. Acts 11 – Antioch (Gentiles)

4. Acts 13 – 1st missionary journey

5. Acts 15 – 2nd missionary journey

6. Acts 18 – 3rd missionary journey

7. Acts 27 – Rome


From the map, look at the green areas that colour the Roman Empire. From Jerusalem, the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire till it reached the capital in Rome.


Today’s passage in Acts 11, shows that the Gospel has truly reached out to the Gentiles.


Antioch was the 3rd largest city in the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandra. It was a cosmopolitan city with trade links all over the Mediterranean and into Europe.


And between Acts 9 to 12, we basically see the transition from the focus on Apostle Peter to that of Apostle Paul.


To be His Witnesses

Let’s begin with our first segment – Christians rely on God to be His witnesses.

Linking us back to the persecution that arose after Stephen’s martyrdom, Luke writes –


“now those who were scattered travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.
But some, men of Cyrus and Cyrene, coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

In God’s sovereign providence, persecution led to the scattering of many disciples (except the Apostles), from Jerusalem.


And as we have noticed previously, Luke uses the word ‘scattered’ which is from the Parable of the Sower scattering the seed, the word of God.


So, we observe the interplay between the sovereign will of God and the obedient response of the disciples.


Now, these disciples though pushed roughly out of Jerusalem, decided that they were a sermon in shoes. They determined to be Ambassadors for Christ.


Significantly, there is no mentioned of any names in v19 and 20. I submit that this is intentional. It is to show us that witnessing for Jesus is what an ordinary disciple does.


V20 seems like an emotionless factual statement – some preached to the Hellenists. These Hellenists would be Greek-speaking Gentiles.


But if you were here last week and listen to the sermon on Acts 10, I hope you would have caught from Ps Luwin’s explanation how significant it was for a Jew to associate with a Gentile.


Gentiles who in most aspects inhabited the unclean realm for the Jew.


I submit, the weight of Chapter 10 and the first 18 verses of Chapter 11 needs to be appreciated as we ponder about v20 this morning.


It is a colossal paradigm shift for the Jews. What was considered unclean now is clean. That Gentiles have as much right to know Jesus as the Jew.


Do we see these traits in us as well? That wherever we are, we are ambassadors? That we represent Him who has placed us in the neighbourhood, in that organization, that school?


That we are inclusive of whom we witness to – regardless of gender identity, social or economic circumstances, whether they be Singaporean or Foreigner?


Finally, that what we share is not our own life philosophy, but the Lord Jesus Christ?

That we want others to know about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


That He is Messiah, He is Redeemer, He is Creator and He is coming again as Judge.


The Kopite and the Blinks are great advocates of whom they represent. As Christians, are we the same? Should we not be even more passionate?


We have come to know the true and living God. Our redeemer, who will never allow us to walk alone.


Because Christ has crushed the head of the Serpent, then Satan’s venom, whether it is pink or black has been nullified.


The sting of death has been replaced with the gift of eternal life.


To us Christians, we get it. But Scripture tells us however that:


1 Cor 1: 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The Gospel is actually hard to accept but presenting it is our responsibility. Acknowledging that conversion however is of God. It is He who will open their eyes to behold Jesus.


Thus, Luke says, in v21 it was the hand of the Lord that enabled a great number to believe and turn to the Lord.


In v24, too, it was not Barnabas who caused them to believe, no, the great many who were added to the Lord is in the divine passive tense, that means it is God who is the one who turned hearts towards Him.


A Christian proclaims Christ but knows that the result, the conversion to Christ is solely the work of God.


This is a wonderful release of responsibility right? We are not responsible for the conversion of a soul. God is. Our responsibility is only to present the Gospel to whoever God brings into our path.


When they reject the Gospel, they are not rejecting us, they are rejecting God.


Now because God has turned many to Himself in Antioch, Barnabas was sent by the church in Jerusalem to affirm the news.


What Barnabas witness when he came to Antioch was the outworking of the grace of God. That is salvation isn’t it. Salvation is God’s grace upon sinners like you and me who are unworthy.


Now that they were converted, how is a Christian to live? Barnabas said, a Christian is to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.


Faithful to the Lord in the good times and the bad. Long time football fans of all clubs except Manchester City would kind of understand this right?


To remain faithful means to keep our eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus. It is to remain steadfast in purpose. That means your heart, will, mind and desires are all aligned to a single purpose.


It is in our modern speak - to determine to finish well for Jesus.


Church, the world goes by benchmarking our key performance indicators. There is productivity and effectiveness markers.


God however, benchmarks us on a different index. His is about faithfulness.


God’s ways are that we persevere, that we abide in, that we remain cleaved to our Lord Jesus Christ.


Church, do these descriptions of what it means to be a Christian describe us? May we pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be identified more and more with today’s text.


To be His encouragers and equippers

With the Holy Spirit’s discernment, Barnabas knew that young believers needed to be discipled. They needed not just, to be encouraged but to be equipped as well.

Even as Chrsitians understand justification, they also need to be set on the path of sanctification.


So, after giving your life to Christ, what then does it mean to be faithful? How can I grow in my relationship with Jesus?


Barnabas you said, being a Christian is to have a steadfast purpose. So, in my daily life, how can I be a Christian employer, a Christian employee, a Christan spouse, parent, child?


Basically, Barnabas was faced with the issue of Christian discipleship in the church in Antioch.


Now Barnabas had travelled a distance of over 450 km from Jerusalem to Antioch to affirm the conversion of the Christians there.


Appreciating the ministry at Antioch, Barnabas continues to live up to his name as the son of encouragement. He reaches out for Gospel partnerships. He goes in search of Saul at Tarsus.


God’s commendation of Barnabas is that he is a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And his life and ministry help us to understand why God describes Barnabas as such.


Barnabas, we know was a Levite and one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church. His love for the Lord already caused him the great effort to journey from Jerusalem.

Yet now, he was willing to go to Tarsus, a journey of over 200 km, to look for Saul and invite him to partner in the ministry at Antioch.


Mind you, they went mainly on foot, maybe part of the way by animals. There was no email nor mobile phones for communication. Barnabas, I suspect might not have been able to pre-arrange to meet Saul in Tarsus.


This just speaks of the humbleness of Barnabas, the inclusivity of his heart that he would embrace the Gentile mission and also Saul as his partner.


Barnabas knowing Saul’s background and training, surely knew he would be a great discipler.


Acts 9:30 tells us that Saul fled to Tarsus after the Jewish leaders attempted to kill him in Jerusalem. This was after Barnabas had to be the bridge to introduce Saul to the Jerusalem church.


Remember, they didn’t quite trust him after his conversion in Damascus.


Between Acts 9:30 to 11:25, there is a period of about 10 – 12 years.


So, it means that Barnabas had been in constant contact with Saul for many years. Aware of his ministry in the area of Tarsus and always eager to have Saul being part of Barnabas’ ministry.


Let’s appreciate the effort of travel and of remembrance we see in Barnabas for Gospel partnership with Saul.


And so for a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught many. And if they were to emulate the church in Jerusalem, which I think would be reasonable.


Then what they did would likely be according to Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.


The same things Christians still do, 21 centuries on.


It is significant that Luke describes the gathering of Christians in Antioch in v26 as the ‘church’. It means that he is telling his readers, the assembly in Antioch is of the same level as the gathered believers in Jerusalem.


Both of them are the ‘church’. Both of them are the official assembly, the recognized congregation of those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


So, the church in Jerusalem, mainly consisting of Jews and the church in Antioch, mainly consisting of Gentiles, viewed each other with parity.


On a side note, regarding the reciprocity of recognition between congregations and about this principle of having godly men affirming and supporting other congregations.


May I share that this is practiced in the BP churches via the ministry of Elders.


In our constitution, clause 13.6 says:


13.6 An Elder, with the approval of his Board of Elders, may serve in another Bible-Presbyterian Church for such duration of time as may be determined.

This has been a benefit to new congregations as well as existing ones who do not have Elders. Currently there are a few BP churches who have borrowed Elders ministering in their congregation.


If there is a time in the future where such needs come to our knowledge, may we be willing to avail our Elders to bless others.


Barnabas was an encouragement to the church in Antioch by being present to affirm their conversion. And to Saul, by inviting him to partner in the ministry.


Barnabas was also an equipper to the church in Antioch by spending extended time, together with Saul, meeting and teaching them.


I submit that Christians who are encouraged and equipped will shine for Jesus. They will naturally be His ambassadors.


Their DNA will be Jesus and so it will come out naturally in their actions and their words.


It is then no surprised that the society observing them, labelled them thus as Christians, Christ-followers.


If we want Hermonites to be described as Christians, we need to thus rely on God to be His encouragers and equippers.


Now, it is not just the responsibility of leaders in Hermon to be encouragers and equippers, no, as our recent church conference has helped us realise, we can do it in our 3-2-1 groups.


In these small groups, we can walk together under the authority of Scripture to apply God’s truth in practical and relevant ways in our lives.


We can share our struggles and have prayer partners support us. We can share our victories and thereby edify each other because God is at work in our lives.


Church, let us pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be identified more and more with today’s text.


To be His kingdom builders

What we have seen is the Gospel becoming more inclusive and extending out from the Jews in Jerusalem to the Gentiles in Antioch.


In the last segment, from v27 to 30, we see the maturity of the Gentile church in action as they appropriate what it means to be recognised as siblings-in Christ by the church in Jerusalem.


Scripture says :


1 Jn 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Since in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but that all are one, then it means what happens to the brethren in Jerusalem affects their fellow believers in Antioch.


Thus, Luke records, they sent relief to the ‘brothers living in Judea’.


As far as we know, the connection was made only by the men who came from Cyprus and Cyrene who share the Gospel with them. These were mainly Gentiles while those in Jerusalem were mainly Jews.


So, the only connection was their shared faith in the Lord Jesus. And that meant family. In Christ we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. What affects you, impacts me as well.


Luke says, the great famine took place during the days of Claudius. Claudius was emperor from 41-54 AD. It is recorded in history that in 45-47 AD, there was indeed a famine in Egypt, Syria, Judea and Greece. And it is estimated that this was about a year after Agabus visited Antioch.


The church in Antioch thus determined, to give as they were able, to send relief to the church in Jerusalem.


The Gospel came from Jerusalem to Antioch and now the fruit of the Gospel – love, goes back from Antioch to Jerusalem.


Barnabas is not mentioned here, but I would like to suspect that it is his modelling that enabled such sacrificial giving on the part of the church in Antioch.


Remember what Barnabas did in Acts 4:


Acts 4:36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas sacrificially gave within the church in Jerusalem. Now the Christians in Antioch brought it to the next level, sacrificially giving between churches.


Church let me share what we have been doing for our brethren through our mission partners.


With Preacher Somsart, we have been able to be a blessing to the Hmong people. The pictures on the extreme right are of him giving food and necessities to the Hmong in the hills of Thailand. They have come from a neighboring country and have little resources to fend for themselves.


With Pastor Samson and FEC, in his latest report on 3rd of June, with our small support, he was able to execute the ‘Back To School’ project for 158 children from five villages.


These are families who can’t afford school uniforms, stationery and other resources for their children.


So, we thank God that from the land of plenty here in Singapore, we can give so that the material necessities in our neighboring countries can be met.


At the same time, because we support Preacher Somsart and Ps Samson, they are able to also feed them with the Living Bread of Life.


Our mission partners are able to present the Gospel to receptive hearts.


What we are doing is nothing special. Thus, there is nothing to pat ourselves on the back for. Nothing to boast about.


As Acts 11 records, it is just the Christian thing to do. To sacrificially give to our siblings-in-Christ so that their needs both materially and spiritually will be met.


As Christians, relying on God, we are to be His kingdom builders. We are to have a kingdom-size mentality. It should not be about Hermon and Hermon only.


Conclusion

Society can tell if you are a Kopite or a Blink. By our action, speech and passion, would society label us as Christians today?


Today’s text gives us ample evidence of Christian living. May it be said of Hermon that these descriptions are true of us.


The bible reminds, Ps 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

The starting point to exhibit the traits of a Christian is a living and vibrant relationship with our Lord Jesus. And we build that through prayer and the Word.


Church, let us thus look to Jesus who is the author and the finisher of our faith.


By way of practical application for us Hermonites, may I submit for our consideration:


In the area of Witnessing, we have the Christmas evangelistic musical in Dec. Start now to engage with a loved one so that they will come for the musical and be presented with the Gospel.


In the area of encouragement and equipping, if you are not in a Covenant Group, please join one. And if you are already in a CG, then, attempt to form a 3-2-1 group and meet monthly.


In the area of Kingdom building, let us set aside each month, our tithes and offerings. Let’s not give God the leftovers.


Instead by faith give intentionally, so that we can continue to support our mission partners both locally and overseas.


May our givings be steady and consistent so that our missions partners can forward plan with certainty and confidence.


By the power of the Holy Spirit, may people observe Hermonites and label us Christians.


Amen.

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