Thursday, February 21
19Now those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20But there were some of them, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22News about them reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts,24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And large numbers of people were added to the Lord.
25 Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, 26and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.
27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 Each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers and sisters who lived in Judea. 30They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.
Act 11:19-30 (CSB)
Today I can finally stop searching for every imaginable way to describe the early Jesus-followers in lieu of the obvious—Christians. I have avoided using this label because, up to this point in Acts, the term did not exist. But now, in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.
Up to this point in Acts, though, no new name was needed. This story was about Jews. They were a special sect of Jews with distinct beliefs in this Jesus character, but that was nothing new in Judaism. The Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes are just a few examples of distinct groups within the larger faith. In Antioch, though, a major shift happens, and large numbers of Gentiles become followers of The Way, but without Jewish conversion or circumcision or following food laws. Everything that, to outsiders, made Jews….Jews.
Since the inclusion of large numbers of Gentiles was new, the apostles in Jerusalem send a higher-up to Antioch to support and encourage the ministry. If encouragement is your need, Barnabas is your guy. His name was actually Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.” When Barnabas arrives he realizes the Antiochenes need more than encouragement, and his gifting, while important, is not sufficient for the task. These Gentiles know little about their new faith because they know nothing about Scripture and the covenant promises of Israel’s God. So Barnabas brings in the brightest Bible scholar he knows: Saul, the man called to preach to the Gentiles. Under Saul’s tutelage, the people grew in faith, number, and boldness, which attracted the attention of outsiders. Outsiders didn’t know what to call these people who didn’t act like Jews yet professed faith in Jesus as the promised Jewish king.
Like Barnabas, nicknames often reflect what outsiders observe about a person. These Gentiles spoke of the Jewish Messiah—or, in the Greek, the Christ—so much outsiders started calling them “Christians.” My whole life I have been taught that “Christian” meant “little Christ,” which implied Christians are intended to live like a Jesus mini-me. That understanding isn’t so much flawed as it is…insufficient. The Greek suffix -ianos signifies possession, not a diminutive version; furthermore, it substitutes Jesus for Christ, but the two aren’t synonyms. Jesus is a name; Christ is a title. Jesus is a person; Christ is a king. To outsiders, these Jesus-followers “were thinking and speaking in such a way that they were thought of as ‘the king’s people.’”
In Antioch, then, a Christian was someone who did not follow the ritual and sacrificial system of the Jewish faith, yet believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed Jewish king. They declared loyalty to a king and a kingdom beyond geographical, cultural, or political identity. This allegiance will cause problems between “the king’s people” and Caesar, but this designation becomes a badge of honor for believers. It is a responsibility, to be sure, but is also the highest honor. We are the king’s people.
The significance of the term has diminished since the early Church, and it has also garnered a lot of negative associations. How has today’s reading changed the way you think about the term, and about yourself as a Christian? If we embraced the true meaning of our title, what might that look like? How could that change the negative way outsiders often view Christians?
Jesus, help me to live my life as one of “the king’s people.” Reveal to me more and more what that looks like by transforming me into your image. As a Church, may our speech and actions be so different from the culture around us that outsiders have to come up with new nicknames to describe us! Or, perhaps, simply reclaim the glory and honor due you as our anointed king, our Christ. Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.