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Acts 11:19-30 by Robert Dean
Our passage backtracks in time to the scattering of believers after the persecution of Stephen. It is God who expands His Church. Compare God’s progress report on the expansion of His early Church to today’s Church Growth Movement and the compromises necessary to post growing numbers as an indication of success. Is it human methodology or transforming Truth that grows God’s Church? Learn the history of Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch where the Jewish believers fled and evangelized to the Jews. Follow Barnabas, the encourager, sent from Jerusalem to Antioch where he summons Paul for help and where the followers of Christ were first called Christians. See how the Church supports its own when Jerusalem suffers famine. Understand the focus of real growth in God’s plan for His Church.

Hear an answer to claims of those who have “been to heaven and back” and write a book about it.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 29 secs

Expansion: Christ Builds the Church. Acts 11:19-30


The expansion of the church: Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples that they were to be witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost part of the earth. Once you shift from Judea and Samaria to the uttermost part of the earth you have moved from a Jewish world to a Gentile world. We are in that transition in Acts 10, 11 and 12. In Acts chapters one to six we saw that the Holy Spirit authenticated and empowered the disciples in their witness in Jerusalem. That was the first part. The second major division of this book began in Acts 6:8 and extends down through Acts 12:24. So we are coming to the end of this second major division which is the expansion of the witness of the church into Judea and Samaria. It began with the arrest of Stephen and his testimony before the Sanhedrin which ended with his biting sermon condemning the Sanhedrin for their rejection of God and their continuing of their tradition of negative volition and hostility to the truth which had been exhibited by Jewish leadership throughout the Old Testament.

This is not a condemnation of all the Jews, it is not a reason for anti-Semitism, for there were many, many believers; there were great prophets who were raised up. But there were a vast number, too many in too many of the generations, that were rejected the revelation of God. So they were condemned, their conscience was pricked and they took Stephen out and stoned him, and there we were first introduced to Saul of Tarsus. Aligned with the Pharisees he was a zealot for Phariseeism and he did everything he could to stamp out this new movement of the Nazarene, known as The Way.

We saw this expansion of the church during that time because as the persecution broke out in Jerusalem the believers there left Jerusalem and went to Samaria, Galilee and other areas of Judea seeking safety and where they would not come under persecution. At the same time we saw how God the Holy Spirit worked through Philip in taking the gospel to the Samaritans and also to the Ethiopian eunuch. We saw how in this expansion Peter and John as representatives of the apostles were very much present, giving their validation and authentication to this expansion of the church.

In chapter nine we saw Gad's salvation for Saul of Tarsus and how this was preparing the way for the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles. In the last part of the chapter and in chapters ten and eleven we see the expansion of the church in Judea, and then Peter is given the vision to take the gospel to Cornelius.

In chapter eleven there is a shift that takes place in verse nineteen. Acts 11:19 NASB "So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone." When was that persecution? It was the one that arose over Stephen. That occurred in 8:4. So all of the events that occurred up through Acts 11:18 have taken us down the timeline to approximately 44 AD. In verse 19 we backtrack several years to first talk about this persecution that broke out and then we will be brought up to date with the apostle Paul, and then see how God is going to bring him out of obscurity from Tarsus to the church at Antioch. So this is another one of those transitions that we have run into several times where the Holy Spirit sort of stops the froward momentum, goes back, brings us up to date from another line in the story, and also gives us a progress report on how the church is doing. Verse 21 NASB "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." So we see this continued expansion. We are still talking about Jewish background believers, not Gentiles in this section. We have talked about Gentiles in chapters 10 & 11 but now we are going back to another line of action that relates to the church at Antioch and the leadership of Barnabas, and pulling Paul out of obscurity. Whereas the events of Peter and Cornelius took place in AD 44, these events probably take place in 43, and by the time we get to verse 27 we are up to 44. The events in the last part of chapter eleven are roughly the same time as the events in chapters ten and eleven.

So God is going to expand the church, and that is what we must pay attention to. We live in an age today of advertising, an age of consumer manipulation, an age of building businesses through all manner of telephone marketing approaches, various manners of advertising; all kinds of things to get people to do certain things. People can be easily manipulated by good marketing techniques. There is a lot of confusion among a lot of leaders in Christianity who don't really see a distinction between marketing techniques and evangelism; they blend those two ideas together.

In 1976 there were already the seeds laid for what we witness today in terms of the mega churches, and it was called at that time the church growth movement. Two of the leaders of the church growth movement came out of Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Fuller Seminary was named after Charles Fuller who was a sound orthodox evangelist who was asked to lend his name and his person to the presidency of Fuller Seminary. It was started in the fifties and they gathered together an array of celebrity evangelical theologians, but there was something missing in the mix and it didn't take long before cracks appeared in their doctrine. They began to waffle on the doctrine of inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. The doctrine of biblical inspiration is that God is the ultimate author of Scripture, He works through the writers of Scripture so that without destroying their own personality, without destroying their own writing styles, their own backgrounds, their own vocabulary, God would supervise, oversee, superintend their writing so that what they wrote was without error. God oversaw that process; that is called inspiration. Inerrancy is the doctrine that what they wrote in the original writings—not in the copies, not in the translations—were without error. Error crept into copies but through the supervision of God in what is known as the providential care of God over the Scriptures we have enough access to enough copies of the original to be able to ascertain with 99.9% accuracy what the original was. That .01% that we are concerned about doesn't affect doctrine. It usually involves word order, spelling, a phrase left out or inserted somewhere else; but it doesn't affect anything doctrinal or theological.

But Fuller Seminary fudged on inerrancy. They began to say that the Word of God is inspired and inerrant in all matters of faith and practice. Be careful with that. It is not what they say that is wrong; it is what they don't say. Is the Bible only inerrant in matters of faith and practice? What about history? What about geography? What about observations related to the universe? Is it without error there as well? Sure it is. But they said that it is without error in matters of faith and practice. So they are saying about these other things it may not be inerrant there. That became a crack in their dyke, and it wasn't long before Fuller went down hill.

They had a man named Donald McGavern who came into their world missions department and his background was on the mission field. He had used a lot of various salesman techniques and it had some success. But he was not committed totally to the sufficiency of the Word, the sufficiency of grace, the sufficiency of revelation. His idea was that if it works it must be okay with the Holy Spirit. He had a young protégé by the name of Peter Wagner who became the real father of the church growth movement. He also influenced a man by the name of John Wimber, originally of Quaker background, somewhat dispensational; but he was involved with the Calvary Chapel movement in southern California. He wasn't really Charismatic, though that was a somewhat Charismatic movement although on the conservative end of the spectrum. Then he was influenced by a really extreme form of the Charismatic movement when he let a really weird individual by the name of Lonnie Frisbee come into his congregation at around 1976 and call down the Holy Spirit upon the congregation. Frisbee got in the pulpit and said: "I call down the Holy Spirit on everybody." And everybody just passed out on the floor and though, oh this is a great work of God.

Lonnie Frisbee was one of three individuals who were hippies in around 1966, 67 and somebody gave them the gospel. He got saved and his two room mates got saved. They witnessed to a lot of people and had a little Christian commune. Then he took them down to Calvary Chapel and that started what became known as the "Jesus Movement." It had some good and some bad things related to it and it was the source of contemporary Christian music, the growth of the Calvary Chapel movement—which later became much more conservative. A lot ,of this information came from the pastor of the Calvary Chapel, Chuck Smith, who has had many problems in his association, called the Calvary Chapel Association, because this experiential Charismatic element was there and led many of them, including Chuck Smith's own son and a nephew, to go way off the charts in many extreme views in the church growth movement—to the degree that Chuck Smith had to excommunicate for heresy his own son and nephew. This gives him great credit for having the integrity to preserve doctrine even though it had such devastating personal consequences for himself. His brother Paul has written a book on this called New Evangelicalism, and it is quite interesting and informative.

The whole motivation in the church growth movement is that the church isn't doing well and the church isn't growing, and it is our fault because 'we are not trusting the Holy Spirit.' It is a Charismatic concept, not a biblical concept. There was a lot of false doctrine and a lot of heresy that went with it. Wimber had the idea that unless proven otherwise whatever happens is from the Holy Spirit. There was never any testing of doctrine. One of his protégés later ended up in Kansas City known as one of the 'Kansas City prophets.' They all had the same kind of ideas and they have been very influential in some of the things that are going on today. He and some of the old Vineyard people, and Peter Wagner, are still very influential. A lot of these people are now post-millennial; they are going to try to bring in the kingdom. And they have all of these really crazy ideas and they all talk about loving Jesus. The question is: What Jesus are you loving? The book New Evangelicalism really does expose how much demonic thinking, how much heresy, is involved in this whole movement and how it has infiltrated what is known as the church growth movement.

Rick Warren originally got his Master's degree from South Western Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, and then he went out to southern California and got another degree from Fuller Seminary. He studied under Peter Wagner and John Wimber. He went out in another format and started the Purpose Driven movement. This is what is out there today, and the pressure that comes on a lot of pastors is enormous because they are in a small group of people that is getting in a church and people are asking why they don't do what they do down the street, because they get people to come and listen. Yes, but the people don't want to come and listen to doctrine, to real Bible study; they want somebody who is just going to be a great motivational speaker and make them feel good about themselves and about churchianity, not Christianity. There is a tremendous amount of compromise there. When we get into these progress reports in Acts the emphasis is on what God is doing, not what God is doing because of what the people did, a lot of popular sort of cultural Christianity stuff, non biblical Christianity. It is the idea that God will only do things if I sort of motivate Him to do it. I have to name it and claim it, I have to use the right formula to claim; another aberration that came out of the Charismatic movement in the 60s and which has gained great purchase in our culture because people don't want to study the Bible, they just want a quick fix solution. It is the idea that if I just do it the right way we'll have a big church, and if we don't have a big church then we must be doing something wrong.

We don't have a big church that is exploding because we are teaching the truth, and that runs counter to a lot of this. There is the temptation that comes to all of us that maybe we are missing out on something. But the more we pursue the truth, the more we teach the truth in a society of negative volition, we are going to be more like Elijah than Elisha than we are going to be like the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. We are going to be chased out of town for teaching the truth, people are not going to all come around you and respond positively to our message. If we are going to be biblical we have to have a theology that is biblically correct and large enough to take into account failure within the plan of God—what appears to be failure or non-success in the world's sense within the plan of God—and great success within the plan of God. We have to have a theology that says if we spend all of our time and dedicate ourselves to the Lord, we train and go to seminary, that God is going to bless us—which doesn't mean that when we get off the sailing vessel to ride the row boat into the beach the people you are going to go and witness to don't kill you.

What a waste of effort, human viewpoint says. What a waste of money, education and training. Why didn't God bless those men? The men we are talking about first took the gospel to Korea in the late 19th century. When they were killed and their row boat washed ashore, and their chests filled with tracts that had the gospel and the New Testament in Korean in it broke open on the beach. These primitive warrior villagers who had killed them found these and responded to the gospel through the Holy Spirit. And when others came years later they found that there had been established a church based on the response to what those individuals had read in the Bible. It is not about a human methodology, it is about the truth and the response to the truth. We are committed to that and this church is committed to that. It is not about technique; it is not about methodology or personality; it is about letting God use His Word to transform people and giving people the freedom to use their volition to either accept or reject it.

This is what we see here. There is this persecution that arose over Stephen. Modern superficial views of suffering would say, well there is something wrong if everybody is turning against them. But because they were doing what was right they were rejected by the culture. The culture was committed to something else.

In Acts 11:19 we read that the believers were "scattered." The Greek word is the verb form of disapora [diaspora]. These were Jewish believers who were scattered after the persecution and they went as far as Phoenicia , Cyprus and Antioch "speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone." There is the emphasis there on the Jewish nature. Luke doubles back on his timeline here and this is before the events in Acts 10 & 11.

Phoenicia is roughly equivalent to modern Lebanon and it was originally settled by the Greek sea peoples as part of a large migration which settled also in Carthage in the western part of the Mediterranean in North Africa, west of Libya, Tunisia, as well as in Philistia. Others went out from Philistia and settled in Cyprus. During the time of David about 1000 years earlier under King Hiram of Tyre, they dominated sea trade. Israel under David and Solomon dominated the land trade routes. Between the two of them in their alliance at that time they were like an empire that dominated all trade in the world. In the Old Testament they were the centre of Baal worship and the worship of the fertility gods. Phoenicia was strongly condemned by Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Isaiah predicted the complete destruction of Tyre which took place in 332 BC when Alexander the Great led his armies down along the coast of the Mediterranean. By New Testament times the Phoenician area and the cities like Tyre and Sidon were completely under Romans authority as part of the province of Syria and the Gentiles who lived there were completely Hellenised. When persecution broke out in Jerusalem many of the Jewish Christians headed to the north west where they would have peace and stability living within the province of Syria, living ion the area of Phoenicia. 

Cyprus also had a lengthy history in the ancient world. In the 9th century BC it was settled by the Phoenicians, although in earlier centuries there were Greek sea peoples who had settled there. After Alexander the Great had defeated the Persian army at Issus in 333 BC he was aided by Cypriots who sent 120 ships to help support his siege against Tyre. When Rome came along in 58 Cicero was appointed as governor in 52 BC. In 22 BC Rome made Cyprus a senatorial province and it had a great population of Jews. But there was a Jewish revolt in Cyprus in the early part of the second century AD, a precursor to the Bar Kochba revolt in Israel. It was violently suppressed by Hadrian and all Jews were banished from the island. But a large number of Jews settled there, including a number of Levites, including Barnabas. 

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria. Some say the population was as high as 800,000. Approximately 14-15% in the population was Jewish—somewhere between 40,000 and 120,000. Many of the Christian Jews that were in Jerusalem had fled up to Antioch as a result of the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem. They settled there and formed s church, and their ministry was to Jews. So the church there at this time was primarily a Jewish church.

Antioch is on a trade route. It brought in all kinds of the dregs of society from all over the world. It had a reputation of low morality, but within the Jewish community there would have been a high standard of morality.

The church that was founded in Antioch was one that was founded on the principle of grace orientation. They know that God is in charge and that they are dependent upon God for whatever happens. They are not pursuing growth for growth's sake, they are concerned with carrying out God's mission; they are excited about the gospel. One of the things that makes a difference in many churches is that there are people who are just excited about what they are learning, and they drag everybody to church: You've got to hear what I am hearing because this is great stuff. They are not trying to make the church grow, they are just excited about what they are learning; and that is the idea. They wanted to get the gospel out to everybody. This church is going to be the first church to send out missionaries. So Antioch became a major city for Christianity during the first four centuries of the church age. In the early part of the second century it is the headquarters of Ignatius, one of the early post-apostolic church fathers. He is noted because he coined the term "catholic church" for the universal church. Catholic just means universal; we just don't believe in the Roman Catholic church. Later on it was the location of the ministry of John Chrysostom (i.e. golden mouth). He was a corrupt "golden mouth" because he was one of the early vocal replacement theologian types who preached a virulent anti-Semitism in the early church. He developed a doctrine that the Jews needed to be punished because they were the murderers of Christ.

Acts 11:20 NASB "But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and {began} speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus." Cyrene is in the area of Libya. It was a Roman colony established in North Africa. It had been founded earlier by Greeks. The Jews at the synagogue of the Freedmen in Acts chapter six, Cyrenes, were responsible for the assault against Stephen. There were some Christians from Cyrene, probably converted by those who were there on the day of Pentecost, who came to Antioch and they spoke to the Hellenists. This was a term for the Jews who had completely converted to a Greek culture. They had assimilated into the Greek culture rather than the Jewish culture. Here they are "preaching the Lord Jesus." The word "preaching" in verse 19 is the word laleo [lalew] which simply means to speak.  They were speaking the Word to no one but the Jews only. In the context this word means probably preaching, teaching or discussing, but it is not the more technical word kerusso [khrussw] for proclamation. In verse 20 the word that is translated "preaching" is euangelizo [e)uaggelizw] which means proclaiming the gospel. Neither of these two words really focus on proclamation or preaching itself. One is simply speaking the Word to no one but the Jews only, and the other is evangelizing or giving the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Acts 11:21 NASB "And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord." So the emphasis is on God's working behind the scenes on the one hand and the individual volition of the hearers on the other hand. There is not the sense of manipulation through psychological technique, salesmanship and marketing; it is simply the proclamation of the truth and people responding. The "believed and turned"—epistrepho [e)pistrefw], the same concept we've seen from Deuteronomy 30, going back to Peter's mention of the term to repent. It means to turn to Jesus. This was the issue for Israel; they needed to turn back to the Lord.

As a result of this development news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and so they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. The name Barnabas means "son of encouragement." His name was Joseph but he was called Barnabas because he was one of these people who really encouraged everyone. He was more concerned about people obeying the Word and developing their gifts and getting focused than he was about accruing any kind of honour or reputation for himself. He was a Levite and he is the man who is the only one who is still thinking about Paul. Everyone else was glad they'd got Paul out of town. Remember the last time we heard about Paul he was causing such a problem disturbing the peace in Jerusalem that they shipped him back to Tarsus. As the church in Antioch is growing the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. Acts 11:23 NASB "Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and {began} to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain {true} to the Lord." He focused their attention on the Lord; they were to seek Him. That was the priority, their relationship with God. The priority wasn't church growth. The priority was: we need to make sure our priority is our relationship with the Lord.

His character is described. Acts 11:24 NASB "for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…." This term "full of the Holy Spirit" isn't the same word we have in Ephesians 5:18 for being filled with the Spirit—pleroo [plhrow]. The word used here is pimplemi [pimplhmi] and usually precedes some kind of speaking, some kind of utterance, and that is what we see here. He is full of the Holy Spirit, full of faith, and he is encouraging people. Result: "And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord." And it is getting so big that Barnabas can't handle the leadership alone, so he needs a good number two man and he remembers Saul of Tarsus.

Acts 11:25 NASB "And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul …"  The word "look" there is anazeteo [a)nazhtew] which is emphatic here. He doesn't just look for him, he diligently seeks him. "… [26] and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." For a whole year, from the spring of 43 to the spring of 44, they worked with the church, taught a great many people, and it was here that they were first called Christians. The word "Christian" is only used three times in the Scripture—here, in Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16—and at no point is ever indicated that it was used as a sort of insult or negative nickname. The word probably means those who are the followers of Christ, although other suggested meanings include partisans of Christ, soldiers of Christ, little Christs; but it probably means those who were followers of Christ and indicating perhaps that they are beginning to move out from just being identified as a group of Jews.

Then we see the maturity of the church there because in the last four verses they are concerned about supporting the church in Jerusalem. There was a major famine in Jerusalem, they don't have much money, they are hungry, they are in a financial collapse situation, and so the church in Antioch gives of their substance to help support the church in Jerusalem. They send a delegation of Barnabas and Saul down to Jerusalem.

The church grows. Why? Because the people are focused on spiritual growth, and part of that is witnessing and telling other people about Jesus as the Messiah, and telling other people what they are learning in terms of the Word of God; and as a result of that their focus is not on growth for growth's sake but on just doing what God says to do. And the result is that God works out His plan. But this is at the beginning of the church and God's plan was different in that century and at that time than it is today, because we live in a culture that is hostile to truth, hostile to Christianity, and we don't see the kind of response to Christianity and the Bible teaching that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a different world. WE do the same thing but sometimes we get one response, sometimes another response, but our focus isn't on the response—or it shouldn't be. Our response is on loving the Lord and doing the right thing, and putting our focus on making the Word of God and its application the number one priority in our life.