Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:19-30
The existence of grace is demonstrable. We can’t see the wind, but we do see the evidence of it with leaves blowing in the wind or fields of grain swaying in the breeze. The existence of wind is observable. So too is grace.
Grace Extended vv19-21
In the early days of the church, the only recipients of the grace of God through the gospel were Jews. The commission of Jesus to take the gospel to every nation hadn’t yet sunk in. So, the sovereign God providentially arranged for persecution around Stephen. Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem. That fueled more severe persecution and many of the believers scattered from Jerusalem. At first glance, most of us would probably react with, “How terrible!” But as it turns out, this was God’s hand of providence sending out unordained missionaries to the environs away from Jerusalem. Remember the commission was to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth. Some of these unordained were brazen enough to present the gospel to non-Jews in Antioch. Lo and behold, they believed it. Lots of them did. Enough in fact that it got the attention of the Apostles huddled in Jerusalem. The Apostles then sent Barnabas to Antioch to check out this new phenomenon.
A thought for your consideration: The first missionaries to take the gospel outside the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judea were unordained ordinary believers. They initiated what would become the primary “sending” church in Antioch. Don’t assume that because you are not ordained that you can’t shake up your world with the gospel. The Lord just may decide to do so.
Grace affirmed vv22-24
When Barnabas got to Antioch, he “saw the grace of God.” Wait, how do you “see” the grace of God? We aren’t told by Luke exactly what the evidence was that Barnabas saw, but there was convincing evidence. In 2 Corinthians 8 & 9, there are several pieces of evidence of grace identified such as joy, thanksgiving, love, and generosity.
I think it is significant that Barnabas’ character is cited here (He is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. His name means son of encouragement.); he was a man characterized as good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. It took this kind of a man to properly respond to the work of God’s grace in Antioch. He wasn’t a legalist as the Pharisees had been. He was a man of the Spirit and a man of faith.
Grace multiplied v24b
The result of Barnabas’ acceptance of these Gentile converts was that “a great many people were added to the Lord.” Suddenly Barnabas had a mega-church on his hands. Now what?
Grace established vv25-26
Barnabas knew he needed help to disciple this great company of new converts, so he called for help. He went to Tarsus and found Paul and brought him back to be his helper. This is interesting no note; Paul was brought in to assist Barnabas, not the other way around. Barnabas became the one to be Paul’s champion in gaining acceptance among the other Apostles.
So, Barnabas and Paul spent a whole year teaching in Antioch establishing these new Gentile believers in Jesus. Antioch eventually became the first-century missionary headquarters effectively.
Grace demonstrated vv27-30
The definitive demonstration of grace appeared when word came of a famine. These Gentile converts responded by arranging relief for the saints in Jerusalem. Everyone according to his ability determined to send aid by the hands of Barnabas and Paul. This is clear evidence of the grace of God just as it appeared in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9.
Are there clear evidences of God’s grace in your life? If not, consider that you may need to meditate on what God in Christ has done for you and in you. Contemplating the message of the gospel will deepen your appreciation of the grace of God to you. It is all about what Jesus has already done for you, not what you can do for Jesus. What I can do for Jesus is payback. What Jesus has done for me is gospel.