19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 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. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
The advanced team went out on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand new believers dispersed back to their hometowns all over the Mediterranean. Five chapters later, persecution breaks out and most of the Jerusalem church scatters.
They found hospitality in other cities where Christians were waiting for them. Living among Jewish and Greek culture, trying to follow Jesus was very different than following Him today.
Most only had the Holy Spirit and a single sermon from Peter to go on!
Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch were NOT Jewish cities. Sure, there were Jewish people dispersed there for years, but so were people from all over the world. All kinds of religions in the melting pot of Hellenism were cooking in those cities.
From those people came the first mission trip. It wasn’t the folks that grew up in the best religious practices, but the outliers and the recent adult converts that carried revival and the Holy Spirit to Antioch. Antioch was such an unbelievable place for a revival that Peter and the church in Jerusalem were skeptical.
(There is another thread to follow, if you want some real fun, about Simon the Cyrene. He carried Jesus’ cross at the crucifixion and was probably in this group of missionaries. Paul gives a shout-out to Simon’s sons who are missionaries in Romans 16!)
If there is Holy Spirit work being done by people from Cyprus, there is only one man in Jerusalem made for that job: Barnabas. He was a Levite from Cyprus who was full of the Holy Spirit,.
Barnabas doesn’t go into this revival alone, however. His old buddy Saul has been alone in Tarsus for about 9 years.
This is the A-Team of Gentile/Jewish Christians. If Antioch is a powder-keg of Holy Spirit power going to the ends of the earth (like Jesus said in Acts 1:8) then Barnabas and Saul are a fireball in the middle of it. When they show up, they are welcomed warmly and stay there for a year.
The new thing they start is so full of life and different that they get their own name. This is no longer a break-off version of Judaism. This is Christianity. This is a new thing.
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And if you didn’t have this song stuck in your head already, here you go: