A New Name for a New People
February 11th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
A NEW NAME FOR A NEW PEOPLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-11-90 10:50 a.m.
There are multitudes of you who share this hour on radio, and we welcome you to our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled A New Name for a New People.
And the reading of the Scripture is in Acts chapter 11, beginning at verse 19 and reading through verse 26. Acts chapter 11, beginning at verse 19:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose around Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word unto none but unto the Jews only.
But some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.
Then tidings of these amazing developments came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart that they should cleave unto the Lord.
Barnabas apparently was dead when Luke writes this. He uses the past tense,
For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch
– a new name for a new people.
When the gospel was preached in its first dynamic power, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, the message was delivered to the Jews. And the converts were Jews and they remained Jews, though Jewish Christians. They kept all the feasts and they kept all the laws of Moses. They were Jews, and the gospel was preached only to the Jews.
Then in the expanding ministry of the work of our Lord, the gospel was preached to what I like to call a half-Jew, to the Samaritans, and the Samaritans turned to the Lord. Philip the evangelist had a great revival in Samaria. And many of them accepted Christ and became Christians, but they were still Jews. They kept all the laws of Moses, all the precepts of the Pentateuch.
Then in the expansion of the gospel, the message was delivered to a "proselyte of the temple," that is, a Gentile who had become a Jew. And that happened when Philip was sent by the Spirit to Gaza, and he won that Ethiopian eunuch to the Lord Jesus, from Candace, the queen of Ethiopia [Acts 8:26-39]. And Ethiopia heard the gospel of Christ through a "proselyte of the temple," a Jew who was heretofore a Gentile.
Then the message expands, and the gospel is preached to a "proselyte of the gate," that is, a Gentile who has accepted the moral precepts of Moses but is still a Gentile. And that occurred in the household of Cornelius in Caesarea. They became Christians, "proselytes of the gate," Gentiles who had accepted the law and the morality of the Mosaic code [Acts 10:1-48].
Then something happened that no one in the Christian community ever guessed for or ever thought for. There were Gentile Christians who went to Antioch and there preached the gospel to the heathen, to the idolatrous Greek, to an out-and-out Gentile. "And the hand of the Lord was with them." And those Gentiles, those idol worshippers, those Greeks accepted the Lord Jesus as their Savior and became Christians – something that the apostles and the first followers of the Lord never guessed for, never dreamed for. Well, that’s an interesting development, most so. It happened in Antioch [Acts 11:19-26].
In 333 BC, Alexander the Great confronted the Persian army of Darius at Issus, where the Mediterranean turns up there from the east to the west. And in that great earth-determining, history-changing battle, Alexander defeated Darius, and the cultured world became Greek.
Alexander died, as you remember, in Babylon in 323 BC in a drunken orgy. And he left no will. He was asked in the latter part of his young life, "Whose is the kingdom if you are passing away? Who inherits it?"
And Alexander the Great replied, "It is for him who can take it."
Well, when Alexander died there was war in the Greek Empire, and it was divided up in four parts. Cassander took Hellas, Greece. Lysimachus took Asia Minor. Seleucus Nicator took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt.
Now Seleucus Nicator, the prince and the king of Syria, was the most avid city builder of any king who ever lived. All over that part of the world he built cities and he named them all after his family. He was Seleucus. So the cities he built he called Seleucus. His father’s name was Antiochus, Antioch. And the cities that he built in honor of his father he named "Antioch." His mother’s name was Laodicea, and all over that part of the earth there were cities named Laodicea. His wife’s name was Apame, Apame, and all over that part of the world you would find cities named Apame.
Now, when he built his capital where the Orontes River runs north and turns between the Tarsus and Lebanon mountains due west in the Mediterranean, about fifteen miles from the Mediterranean to where that turn of the river occurs, he built his capital city. And he called it after his father Antiochus, he called it "Antioch." It immediately flourished, and in no time at all it was the third city in all of the Roman Empire – Rome, and Alexandria and Antioch.
In 64 BC Pompey conquered that part of the earth and created the province that we know as Syria. And he made the capital, and kept the capital, of Syria at Antioch. In 70 AD when Titus destroyed Jerusalem, he took the cherubim out of the temple and placed them on the western gate of Antioch.
It was one of the most beautiful Greek cities in the world. With four great colonnaded streets that crossed, with all of those beautiful Greek architectural temples and buildings, it was a magnificent city! It was as vile and as evil as it was magnificent in appearance. Just outside the walls there was the grove of Daphne, where they worshipped Venus and Apollo. And the worship was, licentious beyond description. And the citizens in the city were steeped in orgies, and promiscuity, and violence, and wickedness, and sin.
Now that’s the city, Antioch, where these Gentile Christians were won to the Lord. It was an amazing thing! Ears in Jerusalem heard about it. And they sent Barnabas to see what had happened, and Barnabas being of a great and generous spirit rejoiced to see these heathen idol-worshippers Gentiles come into the faith and in the family of God.
Well it was a new thing, it was a new people. Heretofore, the Christian faith had been identified completely with Judaism. And in Judaism, you had many sects. You had Pharisees. You had Sadducees. You had Herodians. You had Essenes. And in the Book of Acts, this new sect, who believed in the Lord Jesus, were called Nazarenes; Jewish people, all of them Jewish.
But who were these? These were not Jews. Yet they had accepted the Lord. They believed in the Savior. They’d been converted. So they coined a new name for them. The Greek translation of the Jewish word "Messiah" is Christos. So they took Christos and took a Greek word Christos and put a Latin ending on it – ianus. And they called them Christianus, Christianoi. And in English we call them Christians – the new name for a new people!
The power of God upon the heathen idolatrous Gentiles that occurred in the great ancient Greek city of Antioch – out of that base in Antioch, came the evangelization the world. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, God said, "Part for Me Saul, Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them." And you have those missionary journeys that covered the Roman Empire. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts occurs the story of the council that liberated the Gentile Christians from all of the laws and precepts of Moses.
Out of that capital city of Antioch came the world mission endeavor that we enjoy and finally came to us in England and in America. What a glorious, what a glorious beginning in Antioch, the capital of Syria!
Well, do you notice, do you notice, that there is no formal ending to the Book of Acts? It just lops off. It has no formal ending. And that is in the providences of God. God never intended for the story of salvation to end in the twenty-eighth chapter that ends the Book of Acts. God intended for it to continue on. And it did and does!
The pastor of the church in Antioch, in 70 AD, which is just a few years after the closing of the Book of Acts, the pastor of the church at Antioch is Ignatius. Ignatius is one of the great preachers of all time. And so effective was Ignatius in preaching the gospel that he was haled before Emperor Trajan.
I have cufflinks given me in Jerusalem, when we were there a few weeks ago. It is a half shekel here and a half shekel there. And on it is the image of Hadrian, the emperor. These are coins from the reign of Trajan. Trajan reigned from 98 to 117 AD. Ignatius was brought before the Emperor Trajan. And the emperor sentenced him to be exposed to the lions in the great Coliseum in Rome.
And in his long journey from Antioch to Rome, he wrote letters along the way encouraging the congregations. And we have fifteen of those letters extant. You can read them today. They are marvelous. And when he was exposed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum, above the crunching of the bones and the tearing of the flesh, you could hear this great preacher Ignatius say, "Today, I begin to be a Christian!" Great God, what commitment! What martyrdom!
Well, the story continues. Some of the great facets of history you’d find in inception in Antioch. For example, Simeon the Elder was there in the 300s. Now Simeon the Elder was the founder of the Anchorites, the Stylites. That’s one of the most peculiar phenomenon, developments, you’ll find in Christian history. All over the Roman Empire, all over the Roman Empire you would find hermits who were living on the top of poles.
Now that began with this Simeon. They were called Stylites or Anchorites, and they were hermits who lived on poles. Well, this Simeon, this first one, was in Antioch and he lived on a pole eight feet tall. And then he made it ten feet. And finally he got that pole up to one hundred twenty feet high. And he lived up on top of that pole. And people came from over all creation to ask him all kinds of questions. It was an amazing development of the Christian faith and extended over hundreds and hundreds of years, those pole sitters, those Anchorites, those stylites all over the empire. It started in Antioch, a marvelous thing about Antioch.
Alexandria was the home of the Alexandrian interpretation of Scripture. It was spiritualization, spiritualizing Scripture. In the days of Philo, they took the Old Testament and spiritualized it. Philo made the Old Testament teach the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and Socrates. They made it teach Greek philosophy, spiritualizing it, taking it and saying, "This means thus and so." Now the same thing happened there in [Alexandria] in the development of the school there under Origen. Origen was one of the great intellectual giants of all time. But he took the New Testament and spiritualized it. He made it teach whatever he wanted it to teach.
The school at Antioch, the scholars at Antioch were in another world. They took the Word of God and they interpreted it historically and literally, studying the Greek and the Hebrew. It was a marvelous thing these scholars at Antioch, believing the Word of God literally, expounding it literally, interpreting it literally. One of the great preachers and scholars of all time was a product of that literal interpretative school in Antioch. His name was John. And they gave him a surname, Chrysostom. Chrusos, "gold," stoma, "mouth": "John the Golden Mouthed." I don’t suppose there ever lived a preacher as eloquent and as dynamic, as effective as this "John the Golden Mouthed." When he was a youth, he was sent to the Greek philosophical school taught by Libanius. And so brilliant was this young rhetorician and philosopher that he was being prepared to take the place of Libanius.
But he had a devout Christian mother named Anthusa. And this young fellow renounced the rhetoric and the philosophy of his Greek school and gave himself to the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. Libanius said, "He has been stolen away by his Christian mother," the piety and prayers of his Christian mother Anthusa.
When this John Chrysostom of Antioch was converted he went into the deserts for six years and came back to Antioch in the power of the Holy Ghost. And at that time, at that exact time, there was a rebellion in Antioch against Theodosius, the Roman emperor who had levied a tax upon the citizens of the city to support his army. They violently resented it, and they rioted against it, and they destroyed his statue, which was not only political treason but sacrilege. And Theodosius, the Roman emperor, came with an army to destroy the city and the people because of their rebellion.
Well, it was at that time that John Chrysostom came out of the deserts. And when he came into the city, it was in that agony and turmoil facing the awful vengeance of the emperor Theodotius. And John Chrysostom seized that opportunity and began to preach the gospel. And the hand of the Lord was with him, and there was what he called a "mission." We call it a revival. There was one of the greatest revivals of all time in Antioch as those people in their terrible trepidation and fear turned to the Lord Jesus Christ, and thousands and thousands accepted the faith.
John Chrystostom built a church in Antioch with a hundred thousand members. And so great was that preacher, that when Constantine built Constantinople – you call it Istanbul today – built the capital of the Roman Empire in the east, in Constantinople, and his son Constantius continued it, in that city they built the greatest church that has ever been built: St. Sophia. They didn’t have steel in those days. There’s not a piece of steel in the great structure. It’s a dome on a dome on a dome. And the inside of it cleared is larger than a football field.
Well, John Chrysostom preached in that church. They got him from Antioch and brought him up to Constantinople. He had there so many thousands of people that they couldn’t crowd into that great, great church. The people had rather hear him preach than to go to the theater or to go to the terrible exposures found in the Greek games. Well, it was a wonderful thing, listening to John Chrysostom. They never had pew, they never had seats in the churches. They stood side by side. And he preached to those thousands and thousands of people.
Then Eudoxia became the empress of the Roman Empire. And she built right across the street from John Chrysostom’s church a statue, a silver statue of herself and had all kinds of orgies and sinful, licentious convocations around that statue. And John Chrystostom, as bold as he was, a scholar and an orator and a rhetorician, John Chrystostom denounced the orgies and the licentiousness of what Eudoxia was doing. And Eudoxia, like Jezebel, said, "I’m going to destroy the preacher."
Isn’t that a strange thing? What the king Ahab couldn’t do and what all of the prophets of Baal couldn’t do, Jezebel did. The same identical thing happened in Constantinople. [Eudoxia] said, "I’m going to destroy that preacher." And she did. She not only got him out of his pulpit, and she not only sentenced him out of the city, but she sentenced him out into the ways of the mountains, and he died of exposure.
I remember reading a sentence out of one of the sermons of John Chrystostom; talking about Eudoxia, he said, "Once again Herodias is raging. Once again, Herodias is dancing. And once again Herodias is reaching out her hand for the head of John" – talking about, in the Bible, Herodias who encompassed the martyrdom of John the Baptist. So John Chrystostom died under the hand of Eudoxia.
If you will trace back what you read in these great tremendous expositions of Scripture, these commentaries written by Lightfoot, by Alford, by Wescott, by [Hort], by Matthew Henry, if you’ll trace back those commentaries to their beginning, you’ll find the fountainhead in John Chrystostom – great man of God, mighty scholar and orator and preacher of the gospel of Christ.
I tell you, sweet people, we stand in a great tradition: John Chrysostom, Savonarola, Hubmaier and Huss, John Wycliffe, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, George W. Truett, Lee Scarborough. What a great, mighty succession of saints and preachers and godly men preceded us, and in whose shadow we stand today!
May I conclude? We have a great assignment, a tremendous commission from our Lord, a vast and illimitable work to do. In the commission written by the apostle Matthew that closes his First Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew:
All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all of the nations, baptizing them in the triune God:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever are commanded you.
There are four verbs in that commission, four of them. Three of them are participles, and one of them is in the imperative mode. The participles: poreuthentes, "going," baptizontes, "baptizing," didaskontes, "teaching." But the imperative is matheteusate, "make learners," matheteusate, "make learners." And that is the great assignment God has given us from heaven, make learners, teaching them the Word of God.
And it’s been on the basis of that Great Commission that I have tried to build here in this marvelous church a teaching ministry, starting with our babies in the kindergarten and going through our First Baptist Academy and then finally into our preacher’s college. Great God, how that thrills my soul and my heart, carrying out the Great Commission and commandment and assignment of our blessed Lord Jesus! Paul closes his letter to Timothy saying this, "The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" [2 Timothy 2:2].
And I am praying daily, I am praying that God will bless us as we build our school and we build our church together. Don’t separate it. Keep it together, the church committed to that Great Commission of teaching and training in the Word of God. That’s why I so earnestly pray for our search committee, that they’ll bring a pastor here that will make it possible for him in this ministry, and for me in that college, and for all of the others who work with us; we build a ministry for Jesus here beyond anything the world has ever seen.
As some of you know, this last week I have been preaching at the Moody Founders’ Day, there a week, Moody Founders’ Day. That’s one of the most inspiring of all of the assemblies you will ever see in the earth – two thousand preachers there from all over the earth. Well, when I came back on the airplane I read a paper, a Chicago paper. And I was caught by this headline, "Religious Belief Survey Brings Surprises."
The huge landmark study involved completion of questionnaires by ten thousand church people, made by the Search Institute of Minneapolis. In addition to their ten thousand they carried the questionnaire to fifty-four congregations that were known throughout the world for their tremendous educational programs. They took three-and-one-half years for the study. And here was the number one surprise. The conclusion that what matters most in building the faith is not the commonly emphasized classes for the young, important as they are, but adult Christian education – adult Christian education!
Well, I got to thinking about that. I never saw, as you have heard me say before, I never saw a baby come to church by itself. Did you? Any time you see a baby, you got an adult somewhere. Nor have I seen little children come to church by themselves. An adult has to bring the child. And when I look at these homes and these families, if we have Christian fathers and mothers, if we have Christian adults, you will have a Christian family. These children will be brought up in the love and admonition of the Lord.
But if these adults are not Christians, the children are brought up to be heathen. They don’t know God. And they don’t know the preciousness of having Jesus as a friend and a Savior. That’s what I love to think our church is given to. We’re winning people to Christ. We’re teaching adults in the way of the Lord that we might grow in His love and grace. And their children are being brought up to love Jesus.
O God, what a great assignment! And we’re in it. God’s called us and spoken to us, and we have given our lives to it. Bless His name! Lord, just help us to do it mightily and marvelously and victoriously for Thee!
While you in the choir are leaving, I want our men who are coming to stand at these aisles to take your places. And while we sing this invitation hymn, it is a twofold appeal.