2000 years ago, Antioch was a Syrian city about 700 km north of Jerusalem. Today, Antakya in southeastern Turkey is the modern version of the same city.
The church was initially established in Antioch following a time that persecution broke out against the believers and the church in Jerusalem. We admire this church in Antioch, as it is described in the book of Acts, for three main reasons:
No Names, No Celebrities
First, we see that this church was started by normal people who were escaping persecution. We have no names of the people who left Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Cyrene to come and establish the church in Antioch. This is how the start of this church is described in Acts 11:
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.Acts 11:19-21
Churches are frequently associated with the names of specific people, specific pastors that other people admire and follow. For some strange reason, this can lead to a type of celebrity culture, unhealthy both for the people as well as for the pastor. But that is not what we see in this case with the church in Antioch. These are normal people that are escaping persecution and simply continuing to be faithful to what they learned while they were part of the original church in Jerusalem. They shared with others the great news of Jesus Christ!
Both Jews and Gentiles
This is the first time that we see a church reach out to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Initially, however, those who were from a Jewish background were reaching out only to other Jews. They weren’t speaking to the Gentiles.
Could it be that this was because the Jews just didn’t speak the same language as the Gentiles?
Or maybe they were afraid of the Gentiles?
Or could it be that they didn’t consider the Gentiles worthy of the Gospel?
For whatever the reason, it was now clear that the Gospel was for everyone, regardless of a person’s nationality, language, or religious background, a lesson that was difficult for the Jews in that day, but also a lesson that continues to be difficult for us even today. Just as it happened 2000 years ago, we also have cities and cultures that are mixed together. But the Gospel is meant for everyone – all nations, tribes, tongues and languages!
Chiesa Antiochia is a multinational, multicultural church made up of people from the dominant culture as well as people from the other cultures represented in the places where the church is located!
They sent their best
In Acts 13, we see that the church at Antioch did something that we might consider to be extraordinary. Out of the five leaders that were listed, through prayer and fasting and the Holy Spirit speaking amongst them, these leaders sent out two of the most influential people in the church.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.Acts 13:1-3
Paul and Barnabas had been teaching in the church at Antioch for the last year and now the church sends them to go to preach the Gospel and start churches in other areas. What begins at this point is one of the greatest church planting missions ever started. Churches are now planted amongst Jews and Gentiles in what is now Turkey, Eastern Europe, and Greece…all because the church at Antioch sent their best people to reach more people. They didn’t try to hold onto their best teachers and prevent them from leaving. Instead, they prayed to listen to what God wanted and they sent them so that the Gospel would be heard for the first time amongst many people and that new churches would be left behind as they do their work!
We also want to make disciples and send our best people to plant new churches. We will continually listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and anticipate that he wants more disciples made and more churches planted, meanwhile preparing the people that we have in the existing churches for the work that God may have them in the future!