The Church at Antioch – Where Believers Were First Called Christians
Certain men come from Jerusalem to visit the church at Antioch.
WITH THE PERSECUTION that came to the early church after the death of Stephen, men and women fled from Jerusalem to other cities and even to neighboring countries. And everywhere they went they preached about Jesus to the Jews whom they met.
Far to the north of Jerusalem, in the country of Syria, was a large city called Antioch. Some of the believers went to this city and preached Jesus to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. And many of the listeners were convinced that Jesus is the Christ, so they believed in him as their Savior. Others, mockingly, called them “Christians,” because they believed in Christ.
In those long-ago days news could not travel so fast as now, and much time passed by before the church in Jerusalem heard about the Gentile believers in this large city of Syria. When they did hear they at once planned to send some one of their number to visit this Gentile church and help those who were preaching the gospel. They chose Barnabas, the kind-hearted man who had befriended Saul when all the other disciples were afraid of him. This Barnabas they sent to visit Antioch.
After many days he came to the Syrian city and met the believers there. And when he saw how wonderfully God had saved that large company of heathen Gentiles who came to believe in Jesus, he was glad. He urged them to cling to this new faith, even though they might have to suffer persecution. And as he preached to them, others, who came to listen to this stranger from Jerusalem, became interested and finally trusted in Jesus as their Savior, too.
When Barnabas saw that the Gentile church was growing into a vast company of people, he longed to have more helpers. Then he remembered the young man named Saul whom he had befriended at Jerusalem. He knew that Saul was called of God to preach to the Gentiles, and that he had gone from Jerusalem to his home city. That city, called Tarsus, was not far from Antioch, so Barnabas decided to hunt for Saul and ask him to come to Antioch to preach there to the Gentiles.
Saul was glad to see Barnabas again, and he consented to go with him to Antioch. For a whole year they lived together in this Gentile city, preaching the gospel and encouraging those who believed in Jesus.
Then certain men came from Jerusalem to visit the church. These visitors were men whom God caused to understand what would happen in the future. They told the church at Antioch that a famine was coming in all the lands, when food would be scarce and many would suffer because they had nothing to eat.
Not long afterwards this came to pass, and the church in Antioch heard that their fellow believers in Judea were in need. They planned to send help to them. Each man gave an offering, as much as he could spare, and the whole amount was put together. Then the church chose Barnabas and Saul to carry this offering to the saints at Jerusalem.
Mary, the widowed mother of John Mark, at whose home the midnight prayer-meeting was held, was a relative of Barnabas, and these visitors from Antioch were doubtless entertained in her home. When their errand was finished and they made ready to return again to Antioch, they invited John Mark to go with them. And because this young man wished to work for the Lord he gladly bade his friends good-by and joined his uncle, Barnabas, and Saul.
In later years this young man became very useful as a helper to those who preached the gospel in heathen lands. And finally he wrote the “Gospel According to Mark.”
Tomorrow: The First Missionaries in the Early Church