Our most recent study of the book of Acts showed us that the apostle Peter was used by God to begin bringing the gospel to the Gentiles in the city of Caesarea. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was hassled for this. As we continue our study of chapter 11, we see that the Lord is going to continue this work beyond just Caesarea, and beyond just Peter.
When Stephen was killed and the believers were scattered, they ended up living all over the known world. And they preached the gospel to those with whom they interacted. Of course, being Jews, they generally didn't interact with any Gentiles.
But some of the Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began preaching to everybody - including Gentiles.
This wasn't a result of Peter's revelation, nor were these guys among the twelve apostles. They were just anonymous, unnamed believers who went to the third largest city in the Roman Empire - a city known for its immorality - and started sharing the good news of salvation with anyone who would listen. And because they were faithful, God blessed their sharing, and lots of people got saved.
Word spread throughout the church that lots of people were getting saved in Antioch - including Gentiles. When the news got to Jerusalem, the apostles did what they had been doing since the gospel had started spreading - they sent an apostle (Acts 9:32) to testify to the truth, preach the gospel, and teach the Word of God (Acts 8:25), just as Peter and John had done in Samaria.
The guy that got the assignment this time was Barnabas. This was the man we were introduced to back in chapter four when he sold some land and gave the money to the apostles to distribute to the poor (Acts 4:36-37).
The next time we saw Barnabas was when Saul had been saved, but every Christian in Jerusalem was afraid of him. However,
Acts 9:27 ...Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
Although Barnabas was not one of the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus, he was an apostle nevertheless (Acts 14:14; 1Cor. 9:5-6). And he was the one chosen to go to Antioch.
Barnabas could see God's grace because the people he encountered in the church at Antioch were obviously saved and being true to the Lord. So he encouraged them to stay that way.
Luke says that he encouraged them because he was a good man, full of the Spirit, and faithful. In a lot of Christian circles today, people determine a man's goodness, faithfulness, and "Spirit-filledness" by whether he speaks in tongues, by how much money he gives, or other arbitrarily-chosen criteria. But this tells us that a good man is one who encourages.
As a result of their walk and his encouragement, many more people got saved.
While the Bible doesn't tell us what Barnabas' motivation was, I think that I've got a pretty good idea of what went on: So many people were getting saved, Barnabas realized he needed some assistance. He couldn't shepherd all of these people all on his own, and in praying about it, the Lord must have brought to his mind Saul of Tarsus who had already proven himself strong (Acts 9:22), able to confound Jewish opposition (Acts 9:22), and a bold speaker (Acts 9:27).
When Barnabas found Saul in Tarsus, he brought him to Antioch, where they met with the church and taught them for a year.
It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Up until then, they had simply been called people who belonged to "The Way" (Acts 9:2). Christianity would continue to be called "The Way" for many more years, but the unbelievers in Antioch had taken to calling its followers "khris-tee-an-OS" which means "Christ-follower."
This was clearly meant as an insult, and was used as one for a long time. King Agrippa would later say to Saul,
Acts 26:28 ..."In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
And the apostle Peter encouraged every person who "suffers as a Christian" (1Pet. 4:16).
While the term has become merely an accepted label, I pray that our enemies would also accuse us of being Christ-followers!
There weren't really prophets like the guys in the Old Testament after John the Baptist (Matt. 11:13), but there were people in the church who could prophesy. This is because...
1Cor. 12:7-11 ...to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
God has given people spiritual gifts as He sees fit, and one of those gifts is the gift of prophecy. Some people have a limited definition of this word. They think it only means to tell the future. It can mean that, and certainly does in this case. But "prof-ay-TI-ah" means "to speak anything by divine inspiration," not just a message of what's going to happen in the future.
Some of the believers in Jerusalem had the gift of prophecy and traveled to Antioch. The Holy Spirit led one of them to prophesy that a terrible famine was going to come.
I wonder if we got the inside scoop on a financial disaster about to befall the world, how each of us would respond. Would we be like Martha Stewart, selling off her shares of ImClone stock days before its price would fall? Or would we be like the Christians in Antioch, whose first thought was not selfish, but selfless?
Realizing that the Christians in Judea would be hit the hardest, they decided to contribute money to send them.
Once that money was gathered, the Christians of Antioch decided that Barnabas and Saul should be the ones to deliver the cash to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.
These were trustworthy guys. But as you continue reading the Scriptures, you'll notice that the delivery didn't always have to be done by the people in ministry. Later, Saul would write to the Corinthian church,
1Cor. 16:1-4 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.
Again, it's never about titles, it's just about faithfulness.