|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
This study on the early church is really a continuation of the last study, the times of the Gentiles. One of the big arguments among Bible scholars is when the gospel was first brought to the Gentiles. Did the first breakthrough take place at the meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts 8, or was it when Peter came to the house of Cornelius, in Acts 10, our last study? The clear answer to this question is provided in this study of chapter 11 of Acts, verses 19-20:
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lords hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
It was the persecution that followed the martyrdom of Stephen, described in Acts 7, that the gospel began to penetrate the Gentile world. This is in perfect harmony with our fundamental SDA beliefs. According to our Sanctuary doctrine, the stoning of Stephen in 34 A.D. brought to an end the 490 years of probation time, the time of the end, for the Jewish nation (not as individuals) as predicted by the prophet Daniel in his ninth chapter. Since then, we have been living in the times of the Gentiles.
However, Peters experience with Cornelius was significant because it overcame the hurdle in the minds of the Jewish believers, including the apostles themselves, that the good news of the gospel included the Gentiles. This is what prepared the way for the apostle Paul to begin his extensive work of reaching the Gentile world, to which most of us here belong. We noted this in the last study in the first 18 verses of chapter 11 of Acts:
The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.
Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened: I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.
I replied, Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.
The voice spoke from heaven a second time, Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the mans house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.
Once the way was open for the gospel to go to all the Gentile world, Paul could begin in earnest his mission to the Gentiles. And it all started in Antioch, an important Greek city of culture, the third-largest in the Roman empire. It was noted as a sports center where chariot races was their specialty. This city was also noted for much corruption. But it was here where believers were first called Christians and, furthermore, it was from this city that Paul, along with Barnabas, began their first missionary journey.
After the leaders in Jerusalem recognized that the salvation Christ obtained for them also included the Gentiles, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to support the work there. What a great choice they made! Great-hearted Barnabus was the very man they needed. He did not try to take over from the Gentile leadership, as some missionaries do when they go to foreign missions, but he encouraged these new believers to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 11:22-24:
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Barnabas is characterized here as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? Remember, the Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Godhead. How can one be full of a person? Let me explain, since this is the supreme qualification that we need to have to fulfill our mission to the world.
At conversion, the Holy Spirit comes and indwells us. This is the new birth experience referred to as regeneration. But the fact we have the Spirit does not mean He has all of us. For us to be full of the Holy Spirit means that He must controlling spirit, soul and body, i.e., all of us. For that to happen, we must apply the truth of the cross to our lives. Luke 9:23:
Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
What does it mean to deny self, take up our cross, and follow Christ? The answer is found in the truth of the cross. When Jesus came to this world to be the Saviour of mankind, He totally emptied Himself of all His divine prerogatives and became a slave to His Father. That is the truth or the principal of the cross. Philippians 2:6-8:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross!
Even though Christ had in Himself divine power, the same power by which He brought into existence this world of ours, He became totally God-dependent. John 5:19a, 30; 6:57; 8:28-29; 14:10-11:
Jesus gave them this answer: I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself....
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself by him who sent me.
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.
So Jesus said, When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
Going back to Philippians 2, Paul says this is the attitude or mind we Christians must have. Verse 5:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus....
I would like you to note what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians 4:7:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
There is much talk today for the need of revival within the church. And this is true. Do you know what is the letter in the very center of the word REVIVAL? When that I is crossed out so that we can say with Paul, I am crucified with Christ and, therefore, it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me, then and then only will we experience revival. How can we bring this about? The answer is in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lords glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The cross of Christ is Gods verdict on our sinful human nature which He assumed in the incarnation. And only when we surrender this life of the flesh to the cross of Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to take over, then, like Barnabas, we, too, will be full of the Holy Spirit and experience the power of God as the early church did. Galatians 5:22-24:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
As I mentioned in the last study, it is about 2,000 years since the time of the Gentiles began. And God has already indicated, by the restoration of the nation of Israel, that we are living in the time of the end for the Gentiles. The only reason why Christ has not come is because He is waiting on us to finish our global mission. God wants none to perish since none were excluded in the redeeming grace of Christ. 1 Peter 3:8-9:
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay eveil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
But this work will not be finished by budgets, promotional programs, or any other human method. It can only be finished by the power of the Holy Spirit. Barnabas recognized this, as well as the fact God had set aside Paul to be the human agent to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. So what did he do next? Lets go back to Acts 11 and see what this man full of the Holy Spirit did. Acts 11:25-26:
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
In the meantime, I want you to notice what God revealed the situation would be throughout the Roman empire and how the Gentiles responded to it. Acts 11:27-30:
During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
Here were these Gentile believers coming to the aid of the Jewish believers in Judea. Keep in mind, these two nations were, in those days, bitter enemies. This is the power of the gospel.
In conclusion, today Roman Catholic Christianity teaches that salvation is only through the church; Calvinist theology teaches only the elect have been chosen to be saved; and Armenian theology teaches that salvation is only provisional so that we have to take the initiative to experience salvation. But the truth of the everlasting gospel is that none were excluded from the redemption that is in Christ. The world is desperately waiting to hear this unconditional good news. God has chosen us to do this. May we, like Paul and Barnabas, be willing to put self aside and let the Holy Spirit take over.