May 06, 2018

Pastor Bernt P. Tweit



Gospel Lesson; John 15:9-17         

Epistle Lesson; 1 John 4:1-11

Sermon Text; Acts 11:19-26


A number of years ago, a bad thing happened.  There was a young man who was a sophomore in high school.  He was trying out for the varsity basketball team, and when the final list was posted of who made the team, and who didn't make the team, his name was not on the list of those who made the varsity basketball team at Laney High School.  History tells us he went home, and cried. But, it motivated him.  It motivated him to work all the harder. 

The next year, when he was a junior, he tried out for the varsity basketball ball team.  Not only did he make the team, but he ended up being the best player on the team.  And, you might say, “The rest is history”.  In college he won a national championship.  In the NBA he won six world titles.  The person I am talking about is Michael Jordan.  A bad thing happened when he was a sophomore in high school, but it motivated him, and look at the good it turned in to.

There once was an inventor who was trying to invent something.  He failed 1,000 times.  It seemed like a bad thing, and yet it turned into a good thing, when all of those failures led to a success.  You know who I am talking about.  Thomas Edison, and his invention of the light bulb.  He didn't look at it as a thousand failures.  He looked at it as being one thousand steps to success.  A bad thing in to a good thing.

If you were here for worship last week, you heard Pastor Bartels' sermon, as he talked about Philip sharing the Word of God with the Ethiopians.  And, who through that witness of faith, the Gospel was now spreading to Africa.  It was fulfilling what Jesus had said, before He ascended into Heaven.  He said to His disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  We saw how Christianity spread south down into Africa.

Well, today, as we look at our text, we are going to see as Christianity spreads northward, as it spreads into what would become modern day Europe, on it's way into modern day Europe.  The Word of God is spreading.  So, this is the witness of Christianity to the church in Antioch.  Let's look at God's Word, which is taken from Acts, chapter 11, verses 19 through 26.  God's Word says:


Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that took place at the time of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking The Word to no one except Jews.  But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene who came to Antioch and also began to speak to the Greeks, preaching the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord's hand was with them, and a large number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

A report about this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to go on to Antioch.  When he arrived and saw God's grace, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts.  He was a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a large number of people were added to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.  When he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So, for a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people.  It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.


This is God's Word


A bad thing happened.  The bad thing that was happening was that the Christians were being persecuted for what they believed.  Go back into early Acts, and we hear about what happened with one individual, by the name of Stephen.  Stephen was put to death.  Rocks were thrown at him, until he died, because of what he believed.  A bad thing was taking place.  The people were being persecuted. 

But, a good thing came about as a result of it.  The good thing was this.  The people were scattering.  Yes, they were scattering, because they were persecuted, but guess what they were taking with them?  They were taking their faith with them.  The Greek word for 'scattering' is 'diaspera', or 'dispersian'.  That is where we get the English word 'dispersion'.   They were taking their faith with them, whether it was to Africa, like Pastor Bartels talked about last week, or what we are talking about this week, with Christianity starting to go northward.  A bad thing happened.  They were persecuted, but a good thing came about as a result of it.  They took their faith with them, and they shared the Word of the Lord with other people where ever they went.  And so, in our text we see how Christianity has spread in the city of Antioch. 

There are three things I want to point out that are taking place in our text for today.

-The church in Antioch is being established. 

-Then, the church in Antioch is going to be strengthened, and they are going to grow in their faith in Jesus, as their Savior. 

-The third thing we are going to see is they then unite.  They unite in this work of the ministry.  They unite in the work of missions, and sharing Jesus with other people. 

So, let's see how this spreading took place.  The church started in Jerusalem.  Remember what Jesus said.  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.” 

Jerusalem is down in the lower right.  We are going to see from our text that Christianity is now spreading.   Where is it going to?  It tells us it is going to Phoenicia.  Maybe the two most well known towns in Phoenicia are Tyre and Sidon, right on the Mediterranean seashore. 

The Word of God is also going to Cyprus which is the large island in the north east of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Word of God is also going to Antioch.  Antioch is a city in Syria.  The Word of God is spreading.  The Word of God is going about into the world.  People are sharing their faith.  And, others are coming to faith to believe in Jesus, as their Savior. 

Today, we are talking about what happened in Antioch.  The Jews who were leaving Jerusalem, were initially, primarily sharing their faith with who?  They were primarily sharing their faith with other Jews. 

But, who is salvation for?  It is for ALL people, as scripture says. It is in the book of Galatians, (Paul would write this later, but it says),

“You were all children of God

through faith in Christ Jesus. 

For all of you

who were baptized into Christ Jesus

have been clothed with Christ Jesus.” 

Then, the very next sentence says,

“There is neither Jew, nor Greek...”

So, God's Word was being shared with the Jews.  But, now also, God's Word is also being shared with the Greeks, or the Gentiles, (just as Pastor Bartels talked about last week), with God's Word being shared with an Ethiopian, a Gentile.  God's Word is now going forth into the nations. 

They were speaking The Word, and who was doing this?  It was the Jews coming from Jerusalem.  But, it was also Greeks, or Gentiles who were coming to Antioch to do this, as well.  You see our text says people were coming from the island of Cyprus to Antioch to share The Word.  You can also see the arrow, as they were coming from Cyrene, northern Africa, and they were going up to Antioch to spread the Good News that Jesus is the Savior. 

Our text says,

“The LORD's hand was with them...”

God doesn't have a hand.  Sometimes that is referred to as anthropomorphism (which is hard to say).  That is giving human like qualities to God.  God doesn't have a hand.  And yet, here it says the LORD's hand was with them.  God's saving power was with them to comfort them, and to encourage them.

Sometimes it happens in my catechism class, when I have a student who is ill, or who comes late to class, or maybe has a dentist appointment, and they are not there when the memory work is due, or when the workbook is corrected.  And so, on The Online Grading I will just type in, “Please come, and say your memory work to me”, or “Please come, and turn in your workbook”. 

In time that student will show up in my office.  But, guess what?  They are never alone.  There is always one of their friends who comes with them.  Their friend comes with them as a helping hand.  Their friend comes with them as an encourager.  Now, I am not a scary guy, but it is helpful when somebody else comes with you. 

That is what the Lord was doing, here.  The Lord's hand was with them, comforting them, and encouraging them to share the message of salvation of Jesus, not only with the Jews who were there, but also with the Gentiles, or the Greeks who were there, as well.

Who is one of them that was sent from Jerusalem to do this?  It is a man by the name of Barnabas.  Think of it from this perspective.  The church is beginning in Antioch.  What do you do to establish the church so that it can be stabilized?  What would they do back in those days, in the book of Acts?  Well, guess what they couldn't do.  Guess what they didn't have available to them.  They couldn't call up the Bethany Lutheran College Bookstore, or Northwestern Publishing House and say, “Send a couple of boxes of Bibles to Antioch.  They need some help there.  Oh, and by the way, send some Meditations, and send some People's Bibles.  There is some good commentary in there.  It would be good to have some Bible Instruction Materials for them for their classes.  And, why don't you look on the website they have produced in Antioch.  There is a beautiful brochure for them, as well.”

Well, they didn't have those means that we have today, that we are able to use when a church was being established.  So, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas.  And here is the reason the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas.  (I had forgotten about this verse, and the connection it made.)  Earlier in the book of Acts, it says this about Barnabas.  “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas.”  Where was Barnabas from?  He was from Cyprus.  Who was going to Antioch to establish the Christian Church, there?  They were people from Cyprus, and people from Cyrene.  Barnabas was from Cyprus.  So, you know what?  Barnabas probably knew some of the people who were going to Antioch to establish the Christian Church there, so people could grow, and be strengthened in their faith in Jesus, as their Savior, so that they then could unite in doing mission work.

Barnabas was from Cyprus.  He knew the people.  He knew the culture.  He knew what to say, and what not to say.  He knew how to act, and how not to act. 

Our ELS has a mission church in Los Angeles.  It is a Spanish speaking church.  The gentleman who was sent there, went to Mexico first.  Our ELS had him immersed in the Spanish language.  It had him immersed in the Spanish culture.  So, as he was doing mission work in a Spanish speaking community, he would know the language.  He would know the culture.  And, he would know how to share Jesus, as their Savior to them.

That continues to happen wherever we do ministry, right?  For the most part, Pastor Bartels and I grew up in the Midwest, (for the most part).  We are doing ministry in the Midwest.  So, I know how you talk.  And, I know the culture.  Now, there may be some differences.  When you go north for the weekend, you go to a cottage.  (I am from MN) I went to a cabin.  When you drink water out of something coming out of the wall, it is a bubbler to you, and it is a water fountain to me.  When you are drinking something refreshing, you call it soda, and I call it pop.  But, I understand the culture.  I understand how you talk, and how you live.  But, I want you to know this! (pause) I am not going to root for the Green Bay Packers!  I want you to know that, ok.  I am contextualizing myself to the situation, but that is one thing I am not doing. 

That is what Barnabas was doing in Antioch.  He knew the people.  He knew the ministry that was taking place there.  And as the Word of God was growing, and as The Word of God was spreading, the Lord's hand was with them, more help was needed.  So, guess who Barnabas went to get?  Our text tells us he went to get Saul.  He crossed over the bay from Antioch to Tarsus to get Saul, to come back, and help him with this mission work in Antioch.

Now, why would Barnabas go, and get Saul?  It is interesting that scripture says this, because this also happened earlier in the book of Acts, with the connection of the two of them.  When Saul came to Jerusalem (so this is earlier, after his conversion) he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing he was really a disciple.  But, Barnabas took him.  He brought him to the apostles.  He told them how Saul, on his journey, had seen the Lord, and the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.  So, Barnabas knew Saul first hand.  He knew he was not persecuting the Christians, anymore, but he knew he was preaching Jesus was the Savior of the world.  And, he was preaching Him fearlessly.  So, his help was needed in Antioch.  Barnabas went to get Saul to help with that mission work.  Our text for today ends with the one sentence.

“It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” 

Probably, it was a derogatory term, at first. “You Christian.  Who do you think you are?  Who do you think you believe in?”  And yet, the term stuck.  Here it is that we are today, two thousand years later, still called Christians. 

And, an interesting side note.  Every single one of Paul's missionary journeys, began in Antioch.  That is what we are talking about today.  The church had been established in the Gospel.  The church had been strengthened in their faith in Jesus, as their Savior.  And, they were now uniting in their mission, and in their ministry to share Jesus with other people.

Every time we look at a section of scripture, we need to apply it to ourselves.  So, as we look at this portion from the book of Acts, what does it have to say to us today?  We can take those same three words, and we can ask, “Are these things happening to me?  Are these things happening to us?  Are we established in the Gospel?  Are we being strengthened, and growing in our faith in Jesus, as our Savior?  Are we then, uniting in our mission, and our ministry here on the east side of Madison?”
Let's go back to that first one.  “Are you established in the Gospel?  Are you established in the Gospel?”

I think most of our heads would be nodding affirmatively, “Yes, we are established in the Gospel.  The Holy Spirit has brought me to faith to believe in Jesus, as my Savior.”

Go to the next one.  “Am I growing?  Am I being strengthened in my faith in Jesus, as  my Savior?” 

“We are established in the Gospel, but now are we being strengthened?  Are we worshiping on a Sunday morning, like we are doing right now, but as we leave worship, we check our faith at the door?  We walk out, and we are not being strengthened in our faith in Jesus, as our Savior, during the course of the week.  Are we established, but not growing?  Are we established, and not being strengthened?”  There is a warning in that. 

Jesus told the parable of The Sower and the Seed.  He told about the farmer who was broadcasting seed.  It fell on four different kinds of soil - the hard path, the rocks, the thorns, and the good soil.  It was the middle two examples that Jesus gives where the seed was established.  It was established, but it didn't grow, and it wasn't strengthened.  Here is what Jesus said with those middle two examples.  He said, “Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But, when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered, because they had no roots.”

“Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up, and chocked the plant.” 

It had been established, but it was not growing.  It was not being strengthened.  And because of that, it was chocked out.  It was scorched out.

God wants us not only to be established in our Christian faith, but also to grow in our Christian faith.  Just as we are with our children, when our children are growing up in our homes, we want to teach them to be responsible citizens, when they leave our house, right?  We don't want 50 year old children living in our basement, playing video games.  We want them to grow up.  We want them to leave the house.  We want them to be established.  We want them to be strengthened. 

Well, just as at the church in Antioch, God's Word today is calling for us to not only be established in the Gospel, but also strengthened, and grow in our faith in Jesus as our Savior, so that when that happens, we can unite in our mission, and unite in our ministry. 

Here, with our context, where are we?  We are on the east side of Madison.  We will do mission, and ministry here on the east side of Madison, and also in this part of Dane County, and the world. 

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria,

and to the ends of the earth.”

Dear fellow redeemed, sometimes bad things happen to God's people.  Bad things happen to you, and to me. 

-We may lose a job, and it seems like a bad thing, but we know God is going to work it for our good. 

-There may be an injury, or a suffering, or a conflict you are going through, but we know God is going to work it out for our good. 

God can take bad things, and He can turn them into good things. 

God took the worst bad thing, and turned it into the best good thing.  The worst bad thing that seemed to happen (at least on paper) was Jesus' suffering, and death.  The worst bad thing that could have possibly happened, and yet, you know what?  God turned it into the best good thing!  The best good thing that happened to you, and to me is:

Our sins are forgiven. 

Eternal life in Heaven is ours. 

We have salvation. 

Thanks be to God that the church in Antioch was established through the Gospel, strengthened in their faith in Jesus, as their Savior, so they could unite in doing mission work. 

Dear friends in Christ, we have been established through the Gospel.  Let us be strengthened in our faith in Jesus, as our Savior, so again, we can unite in doing mission work right here in this wonderful place, on the east side of Madison.