God always has a plan... and... Acts 11.19-24
As China, particularly in the 20th century, tried to lock out Christianity entirely, look what has happened:
"...China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon..."1
"The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America."2 Who would have thought any such thing would be possible? Turns out, God always has a plan.
Sometimes when things seem like they cannot get any darker, dawn is about to break. Actually, sometimes it is darkest just before the dawn. One thing I know---even when we are unaware of it, God always has a plan.
As we have seen in the early church, it does not take long for the Jewish leaders to begin persecuting the Jesus followers. When Stephen is martyred, as recorded in Acts 7, the believers are dispersed. With them, goes the message of the Gospel. With them, goes heart change and the end of submission to the Law.
God always has a plan, and usually, it revolves around grace.
Take a look at what Luke reveals:
"Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
Take note: And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.
When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad,
and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart
they should continue with the Lord.
For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord."3
Follow me for a minute here, please: something was happening in Antioch, and it was rather unusual. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time, behind Rome and Alexandria. Located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, she boasted about half a million people living in the commercial center ~ a cross roads, trade route and melting pot of Romans, Jews and Syrians and others4. Interestingly enough, Antioch was notorious for its corrupt sexual immorality - the Grove of Daphne was outside of town about 5 miles, a place where people went to indulge their physical pleasures with temple prostitutes.
But, then the followers of one Jesus Christ began moving in to Antioch, and they told others of their love and passion and purpose-all that they had found in the Messiah. Our writer Luke does not drop any names here-just believers who told others what they had experienced as they went along the way in their daily lives.
Because they lived on point with Jesus and shared their love of him, God's favor rested on them.5 And they grew, and grew. They grew in faith, numbers of people and in God's grace. So much so, that when Barnabas arrived in town, he saw what the grace of God had done.
The question: what did Barnabas observe? What had the grace of God done in them? Well, the grace of God is a life changer on a personal level; and when it permeates a community as it apparently did the 'church' in Antioch, it is obvious, loud and attractive. Clearly, local people were drawn to the stories Jewish believers told about Jesus; they were drawn to their faith and service to God; so much so, that they actually called them 'Christians' in Antioch6. Yes, those who interacted with them believed they acted like what they knew of Christ!
While it initially looked like the persecution and then dispersing of the believers could spell the decimation of the Christian church; in fact, it was all in God's plan to take the gospel and his grace to others far and near. God always has a plan, and often, grace is right in the center of it.
'Waiting for God to answer your prayers? 'Waiting for breakthrough? Believer, God is at work - even when you cannot readily see it.
God always has a plan, and often, grace is right in the center of it.
1 - Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.
3 - Acts 11.19-26, New International Version
4 - The Church God Blesses, Stephen Cole, Flagstaff Christian Fellowship ~ www.Bible.org
5 - Psalm 90.17 Attention! This is a great prayer.
6 - Acts 11.26 - one of three times the term 'Christian' is used in the New Testament