Can you recognize God’s hand at work?
In Acts 11:19-30, you’ll find an interesting story – one very instructional and encouraging for anyone or any community seeking to live missionally. God uses a group of unnamed disciples who’d been through a really tough time to bless the world.
The unnamed disciples had been scattered after persecutions broke out against the church in Jerusalem. These people began doing what comes naturally after everything they’d experienced in the Jerusalem church: they talked about it with the people they met. They told people about Jesus. Only other Jews at first. But when they got to Antioch, they talked with “Greeks”. They began talking with people who weren’t ordinarily considered God’s people. And the Bible says that God’s hand was with those out-of-the-box disciples, because many of those Greeks believed. And many of those who believed also “turned to the Lord.” That is, they began to learn the ways of Jesus. And an amazing church was born.
Now the leaders of the church in Jerusalem wanted to make sure everything was okay. The church at that time was mostly Jewish. They were not too sure about Greek gentiles coming into God’s Kingdom. So they sent Barnabas.
Barnabas is introduced earlier in Acts 4 and Acts 9. From those accounts, we know that he’s a wonderful encourager, generous, all-in, and trusted. He was the one that helped the leaders of the early church accept that Saul the persecuter had become Saul, the devoted follower of Jesus. (Saul later becomes known as Paul the Apostle.)
Barnabas recognized God’s hand at work in the early church and joined in. He also recognized God’s hand at work in Saul’s life. Barnabas had already demonstrated an orientation toward God’s Kingdom. And they sent him to Antioch to see if God was behind the church growth there.
So when Barnabas got to Antioch, he knew it was God at work. He “saw the grace of God.” He confirmed God’s Kingdom advancing in Antioch and even more people came into the church. The church there took off even more. It would be some time before he returned to Jerusalem, because he settled in and went to work in Antioch. The work there grew to the point that he had to go and get Saul/Paul to help. Antioch would become a generous church (like Barnabas). They would generously send money to relieve suffering in Jerusalem. They generously sent out church planters, evangelists, and even their leaders Barnabas and Saul. The world was changed. The gospel moved forward. God’s Kingdom advanced.
But I wonder, though, what would have happened if Barnabas had not had a Kingdom orientation.
No sending. No giving. No maturing of Saul. Oh – but that’s not a question, really. God’s hand was in it.
Question: Do you recognize the Kingdom of God when you bump into it? Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim the kingdom in Matthew 11. The sick would be healed, the dead raised, the lepers cleansed, demons were cast out. Astonishing stuff! (Maybe a bit scary, too). Let me put it in 21st Century terms. Where there is illness and suffering, people will thrive. Where there is despair, grief, and lifelessness, people will discover grace, vitality, and peace. Those who are outcast will find acceptance. Those who are afflicted, addicted, and enslaved will be set free. Health, life, restoration, vitality, and freedom in the name of Jesus.
If you see that sort of thing, would you be able to do what Barnabas did? Would you be able to say, “I see the grace of God at work in this place!”
If you’d like to think about this some more, you may want to read up on the Kingdom triangle.