Stepping From Success to Significance

Stepping From Success to Significance

Acts 11.19-30

Dr. Jim Denison

Nearly six million people voted for president in the state of Florida, and the margin between the candidates stood at 930 votes before the recounting by hand, and 537 after. That is a margin smaller than the number of people in this sanctuary, by far, to determine the occupant of the most powerful office in the world. Sometimes people count.

But not often enough.

How many people know your name, out of a Dallas population of 1,075,894? If you died today, you would be just one of 140,000 who will die this day—how many people would notice? Americans earned $7,789,600,000,000 last year—how much money did you make? 400,000 babies will be born—how significant in the larger world is your child or mine?

Conflict rages in the Middle East, political turmoil in Peru and so many other countries, and of course, the political future of America is very uncertain. But what can you and I do about any of this? How much difference does your life make?

Today we continue our focus on global missions, ministry, and evangelism. But why? Isn’t this all really about making more money for missions programs? Or is there more to it?

Would you like to spend the years left to you doing something that matters? Something that touches all of humanity and leaves the world a better place? Something that gives your life deep satisfaction and your soul a sense of real significance?

Who wouldn’t? God says that you can. His word tells us how to step from success to significance. Let’s take the first step today.

What they did …

Let me take you to Antioch, one of the most immoral cities in the ancient world, and surprisingly, home to the greatest missionary church in the New Testament.

Antioch of Syria was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of half a million people. It was located 300 miles to the north of Jerusalem, where the city of Antakya stands in modern-day Turkey.

Antioch was a great commercial center, as trade from the world over flowed through its banks and markets. This was a city of cosmopolitan culture, much like San Francisco or New York City today.

But Antioch was best known for its moral corruption and decadence. The cult of Artemis, located five miles to the south, practiced temple prostitution and all kinds of sexual immorality. Every kind of illegal activity was found here. If you crossed Las Vegas with Sodom and Gomorrah, you’d have Antioch of Syria.

It is amazing that this city would be home to the most missionary church in early Christianity. We can never give up on any city, Dallas included.

Here’s how that church happened.

Verse 19 tells us that the persecution which began with Stephen’s martyrdom scattered Christians out from Jerusalem as far as Phoenicia along the western coast of Syria, the Mediterranean island of Cyrus, and Antioch to the north. However, these first missionaries preached only to fellow Jews.

But then some courageous Christians from Cyprus and the north African town of Cyrene came to Antioch to evangelize the Gentiles as well. Most Jewish Christians simply did not believe that Gentiles could become Christians. But this unnamed group of missionaries believed we could. And we will forever—literally—be grateful.

And God gave them immediate success, in four ways.

First, against all odds, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21). Among them was Luke, the physician and author of Luke and Acts. When you follow Jesus in missions and evangelism, you never know the ultimate result. Tony McGrady and Julian Unger had no idea when they knocked on my apartment door and invited me to church in 1973 that I would one day be your pastor and tell you their names. We cannot know the eternal significance of immediate obedience to Jesus.

Second, the mother church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to investigate this phenomenon; he “saw the evidence of the grace of God” (v. 23) and encouraged the people, and again “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (v. 24). When God is honored, his church must expand. Our church must expand. We cannot help it. All healthy things grow.

Third, Barnabas went to Tarsus, 100 miles to the north, to recruit Saul for this ministry. Saul (Paul to us) had not been mentioned by the Book of Acts for nine years; but somehow Barnabas knows that God wants Saul for this ministry. And so Paul the Apostle reenters the stage of global missions. God’s plan for Antioch was far larger than Antioch. His plan for Dallas is far larger than Dallas.

Fourth, as a direct result of the teaching Barnabas and Saul provided for these new Gentile believers, “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (v. 26). “Christian” literally means “little Christ.” These Gentile converts so took on the character, the priorities, the morals, the personality of Jesus that even the skeptical pagans around them saw Jesus in them. How we want this to be true for us!

Now watch their Antiochian success become global significance.

Some prophets from Jerusalem warned this vibrant, exploding church that bad times are ahead: “a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (v. 28). This happened during the reign of Claudius, around A.D. 45.

These Gentile believers in Antioch have enormous resources, given the economic prosperity of their city. This famine will likely not affect them greatly. They don’t need to care. I knew a man who lost $57 million dollars in the oil collapse of the early 1980’s, and was still one of the three wealthiest men in his city. The Antioch Christians had enough resources not to worry too much about the coming hard times.

But the Jerusalem Christians are in for disaster. Jews in their culture have ostracized them for their faith; they have lost their jobs, many have lost their homes. A famine will mean starvation for them.