Here in the USA we have been enjoying Thanksgiving. What surprised me was that the last Thursday of November is Thanksgiving, the Friday is Back Friday (for the large stores to sell some products at reduced prices), the Saturday is Small Business Saturday (to support small businesses) and the Monday is Cyber Monday to purchase online for specials.
Well, yesterday, as a large family—Jenny and myself, Edwin (our son) and his wife Kristi and daughter Karrissa, together with our daughter Angela and her husband Roy and their sons Nathan and Luke—we ventured into downtown Greenville. In RSA, downtown is a place to avoid, yet here it is rather upmarket and very busy. There is a river with a waterfall passing through the downtown area with parks and lots of scenery. The restaurants where extremely busy and parking along the streets was hard to find.
As we strolled around before having lunch, we saw a man doing his yoga on a high up rock, people taking pictures and videos, others riding hired bicycles, people picnicking … and as we walk through a busy street, lined with restaurants, I heard the song “Above All” beautifully sung … whether by a group of people or a recording, I don’t know. The refrain rang out: “Crucified, Laid behind the stone, You lived to die, Rejected and alone, Like a rose trampled on the ground, You took the fall, And thought of me, Above all.”
How neat was that? On a busy, “Small Business Saturday” … with people from all walks of life, strolling around … they get a burst of one of the greatest Gospel songs of the Twenty-First Century. The whole song just oozes the Gospel. Whoever played or sang this were Gospel-minded and wanted to reach people through singing the Gospel. They wanted to capture the moment to capture anyone from any religion … even those from no religious background. This was similar to those who went from Cyprus and Cyrene to Syrian Antioch:
Ac 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.
1) The Greeks of Antioch. Antioch was a melting pot of many cultures and faiths. Amongst the people were those who read and spoke Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac and Persian. Their many cultic religions included those from Egypt, the Near East and the Roman Empire. In some quarters, Greek could mean anyone who was not Jew … in other words, pagan.
2) These Jews from Cyrene and Cyprus earmarked these “Greeks” for evangelism. They crossed over cultures and ignored religions to get the Gospel out. It is often true that new Christians are so fired up for Jesus that they go fearlessly into territories and amongst people that some seasoned Christians will never think of going to. Their passion was Jesus. Their message was Jesus. These Christians were fired with passion for the Gospel because they knew that there is a real heaven and a real hell and they wanted people from that huge cosmopolitan city, with all its vice, saved for Jesus.
3) The Lord Jesus blesses the efforts of His people.
Ac 11:21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
The Spirit was present! The message these people heard with the passion it was presented with, were taken by the Spirit, convincing them of its truth … and look what happened … a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. They did not just believe there was truth in the Gospel Message. Many believe this and they will argue convincingly that the Gospel way is the right way … but they are not believers! They believe the message but they don’t believe for salvation! These people took what they heard to the next level. They believed and turned! This “turned” needs to be seen as in “repentance” unto faith. No person is able to turn (repent) on their own. The Lord by His Spirit is the means of repentance unto faith. This is why Luke records … The Lord’s hand was with them. This refers firstly to those sharing the message … with the enabling Spirit empowering them to declare in such a passionate, believing manner that the hearers exercised faith and turned from their past religions, beliefs, and behavior to Jesus who became their new Lord. Although we say this often, each time we arrive at a Scripture like this we need to do stocking of our spirituality to
(i) make certain we are in the Kingdom …
(ii) rejoice that we are in the Kingdom.
4) Kingdom news spreads fast.
Ac 11:22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
An interesting phenomenon is that the Early Church Leaders took nothing for granted. This was Jesus’ Church that He was building. They had been warned by their Lord that false teachers, preachers and prophets would arise to lead believers astray. So they sent forth one of their best men … Barnabas to check the facts and examine whether the news they received was accurate and that these Gentiles were now truly part of Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus had said:
Mt 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.”
Therefore it was right and fitting that the apostles send someone to verify whether this news was true. It is the pastor and elders responsibility within Churches to make certain those who offer for membership are truly born again. Where some may slip through, it is vital that the best examination from a human perspective is done to ensure salvation. Falling short of this, the Church will have people doing ministry, both support and upfront ministry who are spiritually dead! This may not be allowed. No spiritually dead person is able to minister to the saved in any manner. How can the dead help the living to grow and develop in their love, worship and service to Jesus?
I trust, my beloved, that you understand this. It is not out of a judgmental heart but a caring and a concerned heart that I say these things. We as a Church have a role to play in keeping the Visible Church as pure as we possibly can. When you read through the pastoral letters, you soon find that the role of the Church Leaders is to keep the Church pure, adding saved souls.
Help us, Lord, to keep the Church pure for You. Amen.