19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. 22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
As I am writing this, Australia is in the middle of a pandemic that has changed our normal way of life. One of these changes is that people are no longer meeting in groups to worship or go to church. While new and tricky, this is a step that is helping to keep our congregations and our nation safe. I wonder if this is how the early believers felt when faced with having to change the way they lived due to the rise of persecution. A pandemic is certainly not the same as persecution, however our current situation has led to us being ‘scattered’, unable to physically come together for a period of time.
As we navigate this, I am reminded of two key things from this passage:
1. The Church is not, and never has been, a building.
Just as the believers of the early church were scattered and needed to minster in different places to different people, we too can minister to others even if we currently cannot gather in the same room. We may not be able to come together physically under one roof, but we are still the Church! Finding new ways of meeting, via online services and through the use of technology, still allows for God’s word to go out and be shared to new and vast groups of people, and His Word does not return void! (Isaiah 55.11)
2. God is still God, and He is all powerful.
In this passage, we see that the Lord’s power and grace was with His people and this caused them to be able to minister to others in such a way that many people believed in Him. Barnabas is also described as a man full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Even in the midst of what is an uncertain and unpredictable time, we can rest in the fact that God is all powerful, and that by His grace He will give us the faith we need to continue to fulfil all that He has called us to. This doesn’t mean that we should be foolish, but it does mean that through faith in God, we can find peace and rest. It also means that we can depend on God to do what only He can do, as we surrender to Him.
God, what uncertain times we find ourselves in! Yet how great it is to know that none of this takes you by surprise. You have always been, and continue to be, all powerful. We thank you that the Church was always your idea, and that we are not limited by the four walls of a building. Rather, we are your people, here to do your will and spread your goodness, love and mercy to those around us. Help us to be a people who surrender to you, who find peace in you. Amen.
Written by Ps. Madelaine Tarasenko