Last weekend, before the 9 a.m. service, I was marinating in Acts chapter 11. And I stumbled across Acts 11:20-21. I’ve read this text hundreds of times. But at that moment, I was undone by Acts 11:20-21:
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. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Here’s the back-story: Jesus told the disciples to make disciples of all nations (all ethnic backgrounds) in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. Jesus wanted His Jewish disciples to preach His Gospel to Gentiles (non-Jews). As we see from the book of Acts, they would not; they were disobedient to the Great Commission. So persecution arose in Acts 8, forcing them to leave Jerusalem and enter lands where Gentiles lived.
In Acts chapter 11, many of the disciples are still not engaging the Gentiles as Jesus had commanded (Acts 11:19)! Stop for a moment. This sounds a lot like the church today. Churches are 10 times more segregated than their neighborhoods and 20 times more segregated than their schools. And 95% of churches in America are mono-ethnic (a nice of way of saying ‘segregated’).
Didn’t Jesus say to make disciples of all ethnic groups (nations)? Guess what, “all nations” are all around our local churches. Black people, white people, Latino people, Asian people–the nations are next door; yet they do not walk through the church door as one congregation because we tend to only reflect the culture of the majority ethnic group. To reach people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, our ministry models must reflect this diversity. The Apostle Paul said he become all things to all men that some might be saved (1 Cor. 9:22).
In Acts 11:20-21, some courageous, “nameless” men from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to obey Jesus and preach to some Greeks. And from these nameless, unknown men who loved Jesus and who had a passion for all ethnic groups to love Jesus, the great church of Antioch was birthed. The Antioch church was the church that took the Gospel around the world (Acts 13).
And, a little-known man named (Saul) Paul was brought to the Antioch church to experience the grace of God (Acts 11:26). This little-known man ended up writing a great portion of the New Testament. He had a passion for God’s Church to be multi-ethnic (see the whole book of Ephesians). He had a burden to reach the other ethnic groups (Gal. 2:7). Perhaps God used the example of Antioch to tattoo in his heart with the beauty, wonder, and power of a multi-ethnic church.
It was the multi-ethnic church in Antioch where “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Because of the courage of these nameless men who obeyed Jesus, a movement that transformed history was birthed.
Pastors, Christ-followers, may we have the courage of these nameless disciples!
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