The cost of following Christ
Antioch is a city that should be etched in the minds and hearts of Christians. It was a major city in northern Syria. Here the first majority Gentile church was planted, and Antioch became the springboard for missions throughout the Roman Empire. And it was here believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Luke tells us how the church there got started.
Christians who fled persecution in Jerusalem settled in Antioch. They didn’t just hide away; they began to tell people about Christ. At first it was only to the Jews in Antioch, but then some Christians with roots from Cyprus and Cyrene began speaking to Greeks. They preached the Lord Jesus (verse 20).
To preach the Lord Jesus meant they spoke of his person and works. That he was the Son of God, did mighty works because God was with him, was crucified by men according to the purpose of God to be an atoning sacrifice for sin, was raised from the dead, and will be the judge of all men. He calls on men without distinction to believe and turn to him for the remission of their sins.
We see that a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord (verse 21). The church in Jerusalem heard the news and sent Barnabas (a blessed choice) to minister to the young and growing church. When he arrived, he rejoiced at the grace of God and began to exhort them to remain faithful (verse 21). The church continued to grow, so Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to solicit the help of Saul (Paul), and together they taught the saints at Antioch for the next year (verse 26).
We learn here how great grace is to “believe and turn to the Lord.” It means leaving death for life, darkness for light, guilt for forgiveness. And it means an eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God. By faith you become a child of God forever. These Greeks turned away from idolatry, immorality, Caesar, and other things they had known all their days to the Lord Jesus. That took faith.
You should make sure you have believed and turned to the Lord. It is pride to refuse a command of the Lord to come to him and live. Faith is obedience, listening to and heeding the word of the Lord. If you have heard the gospel, you have been summoned by him. Christ came from heaven to heal sinners. He is equal to the need you have. Be like the people in Antioch and lay hold of Christ.
We also see that Barnabas exhorted the Christians to stay faithful with steadfast purpose. He knew they were being tested and would be tested further. Satan loathes seeing people turn to Christ, and the world under his power is against the truth of God.
Coming to Christ does not mean an easy journey through this world. Rather, the Lord tells his people that it is through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God, and that if the world hated him, do not be surprised that it hates you. The saints in Antioch would have to count the cost of following Christ as we all do.
Having steadfast purpose is connected to being pure in heart. In other words, to put away a divided heart, place your hand on the plow and not look away. Keep your eyes on the Lord, seek to do his will and remember your name is written in heaven.
Samuel Rutherford wrote, “How soon a few years will pass and this life’s lease be expired. O happy soul forever! Who can rightly compare this life with its vanity and the lasting life to come with its weight of glory? Do not let the Lord’s dealings seem harsh, rough, or unfatherly because they are unpleasant. When his blessed will blows across your desires, it is best to strike sail in humility, and deny yourself so you have no will of your own. Give yourself as a gift to God to make use of for his will. Every day make more and more of Christ, and test your growth in the grace of God.”
Luke tells us in verses 27 that Agabus the prophet foretold of a famine that would be hard on the people in Judea. So the saints in Antioch decided to take up an offering to send relief to the Christians there. Generosity is fruit of the Christian faith.
The motive that Paul gives to the church in Corinth to give generously is sufficient: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”