“Those who had been scattered by the persecution triggered by Stephen’s death travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, but they were still only speaking and dealing with their fellow Jews. Then some of the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had come to Antioch started talking to Greeks, giving them the Message of the Master Jesus. God was pleased with what they were doing and put His stamp of approval on it — quite a number of the Greeks believed and turned to the Master.” Acts 11:19-21 (The Message).

Persecution spread the church like an explosion in a tin of paint. Wherever the believers went, they coloured their environment with the good news of Jesus. In less than one generation, the church had spread north, south, east and west. Blowing like a fresh breeze through communities which were stale and stagnant with old religions, the Holy Spirit brought new life to people of every colour and culture.

Although some had not yet broken out of their old inhibitions, others boldly proclaimed new life in Jesus across racial barriers and found, to their surprise and joy that God was approving their initiative by giving life to non-Jews in Jesus’ name. Believers from as far afield as Cyrene in Africa and Crete in the Mediterranean Sea congregated in Syrian Antioch and shared the good news with Greeks living there.

“When the church in Jerusalem got wind of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on things. As soon as he arrived, he saw that God was behind and in it all. He threw himself in with them, got behind them, urging them to stay with it the rest of their lives. He was a good man that way, enthusiastic and confident in the Holy Spirit’s ways. The community grew large and strong in the Master.” Acts 11:22-24 (The Message).

Syrian Antioch was coming alive in Christ and becoming a centre of Christian faith and worship. Once again the church in Jerusalem took the initiative to check on the authenticity of this new outbreak. Barnabas, a trusted man though not an apostle, was sent to find out what was happening. He was an outgoing man and an optimist. He had stood by Saul when the church in Jerusalem was suspicious of his “conversion” and kept him at arm’s length until Barnabas vouched for him.

Barnabas was excited and enthusiastic about what he saw and heard. The Holy Spirit had done a work in the hearts of Greeks and he was quick to recognise and acknowledge them as fellow-believers. In his customary positive way, he urged them to stay with their new-found faith in Jesus. Once again the power of this new life resonated in many hearts and the church continued to flourish in non-Jewish soil.

Jesus had once assured His disciples, in full view of the most disgusting public display of pagan religious orgies at Caesarea Philippi, Israel’s “red light district”, that His church would be planted and grow right in the heart of environments like the one they were witnessing. “On this rock,” He had said, “I will build my church and not even the Gate of Hell, (the supposed entrance into the demonic underworld); will be able to hold it back.” True to His word, the church was growing and flourishing right in the environment of hostile Jewish religious legalism and wicked and promiscuous pagan religions.

What was the key to this phenomenal growth? Through the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the church was a family held together by love and unity. Wherever the Holy Spirit ruled, the church remained pure and people were attracted to something they had never seen or experienced before. It had to be God; these groups of people doing life together were a supernatural thing.

Every life rescued from sin and self and reconnected to Jesus, became connected to every other life in Jesus. The result was families of people of different languages and cultures sharing and caring for each other like they were blood brothers and sisters. When God’s love holds sway, the world does not have an answer for the power that attracts broken people and draws them into the love and unity of this Body.

Free from the guilt and shame of their past lives, they experienced the forgiveness of sins and a new peace and joy that lifted them above petty differences and brought them into fellowship with Jesus and with one another. This was nothing short of the power of God!

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Luella Campbell

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