In God’s providence, early Christians were scattered across the world because of persecution in Jerusalem. Acts 11 reports that some believers ended up in Antioch, shared the Gospel, and a great many people turned to faith in Christ. When the church in Jerusalem heard about this new work, they sent the leader Barnabas to encourage and guide them. Listen to what Acts 11:23-24 says happened when he got to the new church:
“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.”
This is amazing: Barnabas saw the grace of God! Normally we think of God’s grace as an intangible, abstract concept – something you can’t see. But Barnabas did see it, and he rejoiced! And while Barnabas may have been outstanding – he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith – he didn’t have some kind of “grace-vision-superpower.” I have no doubt that others saw the grace of God at work in the Church at Antioch as well. When God’s power is displayed, it is undeniable!
When Barnabas saw the grace of God in Antioch, he first rejoiced — then he got to work. He “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (11:23). Even though God’s grace was evident, he knew their faith still needed to be stirred up. Therefore, he exhorted and encouraged the Christians to remain faithful, to be resolute, and keep their hearts devoted to their Savior Jesus.
Seeing the grace of God means we see his Spirit and hand at work. God’s grace is his love and favor healing hearts, changing lives, restoring relationships. The Christians in Antioch were being transformed in such profound ways the grace of God was tangible! The church in Antioch was a multicultural, multiracial, united community of Jews and Gentiles (11:20, 13:1). Under Barnabas’s leadership, people shared the hope of Christ and even more people came to faith (11:24). The new church community met together and matured together through the teaching of Saul (11:26).
In fact, God’s work was so obvious, even those outside the church noticed it! They probably couldn’t identify it as the “grace of God,” but they knew something profound and different was happening. The other citizens of the city saw this loving community of Jesus-followers and didn’t know what to call them – so they came up with a new name: “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
As we read this amazing account, may the Spirit of God inspire us and drive us to truly live out our namesake – to truly live as Christians! Let’s pray that the powerful, life-giving grace of God would be seen in our lives, in our families, and in our churches!
Lord God, we pray that forgiveness, healing, and restoration would be evident. We pray that your church would be a unified community of diverse people, growing together, proclaiming the Gospel, and welcoming in new believers. Make your favor evident among us! Let us see your grace!