Tuesday Church 13 May 2014 @ 10.00 – First called Christians

The first reading today is Acts 11:19-26

 Act 11:19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.

Act 11:20  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Act 11:21  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

Act 11:22  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

Act 11:23  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

Act 11:24  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Act 11:25  Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,

Act 11:26  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The gospel reading today is  John 10:22-30

Joh 10:22  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter,

Joh 10:23  and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

  

Message

I wonder if you would call yourself a Christian? I remember this debate years ago when I was about 15 – at school – in the classroom. I guess I started being a witness quite early. I tried to explain what it really meant to be a Christian. “But of course we’re Christian” said the teacher. “We’re not Jewish, Hindu or Muslim – we must be Christian!”

There is a big difference between being “Christian” in our views of life and being a “Christian”.

The first followers of Jesus were only called Christians in the city of Antioch in Turkey around 44 AD. Before this they were Jewish people who followed Jesus, and at one point called “people of the Way”.

The Antioch church was a Gentile church – made up of many different cultures.

Act 13:1  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.

The Lord had called into the fellowship and into leadership positions people from several nations. A fellowship from the then-known world could be led to the decision of wanting to reach the world. This could never have happened in the Jerusalem church.

The commentator Lloyd Ogilvie, A Presbyterian, writes of this church:

The Lord knew what He was doing! Note the magnificent mixture:

Barnabas, who had the rich background of the infant church in Jerusalem from Pentecost or shortly thereafter; Simeon, also called Niger, a Latin name showing two strong cultures in one person; Lucius of Cyrene, also a Latin name, clearly identified as coming from North Africa; Manaen, who had been raised (súntrophos) in the court of Herod the tetrarch (that is, the court of Herod Antipas, father of Agrippa); and Saul, the converted Pharisee. It was a world fellowship to start a world movement. Even Mark, brought from Jerusalem, would add his own contribution later.

Two Africans so early in the story. At least they were from North Africa – so that the South Africans aren’t in trouble again for showing up everywhere.

When you have gentiles from so many countries and parts of society together in a worshipping community – what would you call them?

Of course – Christians – because it is Christ who is their focus and centre. It is Christ who they are following – they are still a movement in some senses – “people of the Way”.

It is Jesus who tells us in next Sunday’s reading: “I am the way”. In today’s gospel passage from John 10, Jesus is speaking about shepherding again. And the key identifier of the sheep is clear in the debate which takes place. Listen again:

Joh 10:24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me,

Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Not just a Christian by association because you are not a Hindu or something else. A real follower?

If you are then the most exciting thing is learning to hear his voice and following in the way he shows you.

It does not necessarily mean travelling across the world on a mission. It means following his leading in terms of the kind of person you should be – and the way you see things in life in general.

He does guide us – through the Bible and the collective wisdom of others. Often through a small voice prompting – a nudge or an intuitive sense of knowing what to do.

Like the shepherd of Psalm 23 – he leads us to places that restore us – green pastures and quiet waters.

Learning to spend time in his presence is probably the most important challenge.

Prayer – that great gift to us – connects us to eternity – to God’s heart.

And so often we need to get up closer to God our Father – to be reminded how much he loves us!

Listen to how the passage ends today in the Gospel reading. It’s one of the most powerful statements from Jesus that makes it very clear that this is not just a wise man or a prophet as some people will try to tell you:

This is the one who gives us eternal life:

Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

This is the One who is one with the Father.

We are His sheep and the people of His pasture.

May we learn to feed on the words he speaks.

Amen.

 

 

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on May 12, 2014, in Tuesday Morning services and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Robin,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. The Gospel content was particularly helpful since it underpinned what was outworked during the time of the early Church — the constant focus on the Lord.

    The reality of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, being the centre-person and primary-focus of our faith, must ever be our reason for being and living, our reison-detre,
    as Christians who actually do worship and adore Him Who is our Lord.

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