A New Name and a New Friend
Acts 11:19–26; The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 128, 129, 155–165
God’s grace includes everyone.
“God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34, 35).
Sometimes people call us by our nickname. Maybe you have a nickname. Usually, something we do or say can give us a nickname. Sometimes people call us nasty names. The early believers were called names. One of them stuck, and it is still used today.
It was becoming dangerous to be a believer in Jesus and remain in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders were putting people in prison. Sometimes they were beaten, and sometimes even put to death. So, many of the new believers began moving away from Jerusalem.
Many new believers moved to villages and towns and cities. They were so happy and full of the joy that comes from knowing Jesus. They just could not stop telling others about their new faith. The news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection began to spread everywhere. This was not what the priests and rabbis had in mind. They didn’t want people to tell others about Jesus.
Some of the new believers moved to Antioch. A large number of Jewish people lived there. Antioch was an important city. It was very beautiful and famous. But it was also a very wicked city, dedicated to heathen Greek gods.
Until now most of the believers were Jews. And they shared the good news about Jesus with their Jewish friends and neighbors. But when the believers moved to Antioch, they began to tell their new neighbors about Jesus. They told everybody. They told Jews who lived there. And they told Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. Telling Gentiles was something new, something different. The Lord blessed the believers as they shared the good news. And great numbers of people joined the early church.
The news about the Gentile converts spread back to the apostles and other believers in Jerusalem. Some of the church leaders there were worried. They were not sure that God wanted everyone to hear the good news. After all, the Jews were God’s chosen people. So the Jerusalem believers asked Barnabas for help. Barnabas was a good man, full of faith, and filled with the Holy Spirit. He was asked to travel to Antioch and find out what was happening.
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw that the believers there had truly been blessed by the Lord. They really did understand the grace of God. They believed that God loved all people and wanted them to love one another. This made Barnabas very happy. He encouraged the believers to “remain true” to the Lord. He preached to the Gentiles, and many more people decided to follow Jesus.
Barnabas soon realized that he needed help. There were so many people to talk to. So many to tell about Jesus! Who could help him? He thought about Saul. He remembered how Saul had changed after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Even his name had changed—now he was called Paul. So Barnabas began searching for him. He traveled to the city of Tarsus, where Paul had been born. There he found Paul teaching others about Jesus. Soon he told Paul about the great work to be done in Antioch.
So Paul and Barnabas traveled back to Antioch. There they began working together to spread the good news. For a whole year they shared the good news about Jesus. And many people, both Jews and Gentiles, believed.
Because the believers talked so much about Christ, they were called Christians. Soon the name spread all around the Roman world. But it was in the heathen city of Antioch that the name was first used. And it was in that city that Saul, now called Paul, began his work among the Gentiles. God had called him to do a special work. What work has God called you to do?