Here are Elim we are journeying through the book of Acts. In verse 19 of Acts chapter 11, Luke shifts the focus of the Christian witness to the church at Antioch. Antioch was a great, thriving, crowded, cosmopolitan city. Luke tells us that that many people, non-Jews, were turning to faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this new work, Barnabas was sent by the Church at Jerusalem to check things out. When Barnabas arrived at Antioch, Luke says that he saw the grace of God and was glad (Acts 11:23). Barnabas came to explore this new work unfolding at Antioch. I don’t know what he expected to see when he arrived at Antioch, but I love what Luke says he saw– he saw the grace of God. What a sight for sore eyes. Barnabas came to the church at Antioch and saw grace – grace in action, grace in practice, grace in word and deed. What a vision for the local church.
The sad reality is that you don’t always see grace when you visit churches. We all love to be right– I know I do. And when I’m right I love to post it on Facebook. I want people to know how right I was but also just how wrong the other person was. I think there is a better way- it’s better to be kind than right. Sometimes we advocate our positions too aggressively. We argue with an eye toward winning, unconcerned about the person we are adversarial with. We are sometimes guilty of making debate a contact sport and as someone wrote, when preaching we love to let the bad dog off the chain. I think we all would be better served in the church if we were kinder and less concerned with being right.
Far too often in the local church we want the wayward to get what’s coming to them. We are, too often, short on mercy. Didn’t Jesus bless the merciful in his most famous sermon? People of God, we need to learn to practice mercy and grace. Mark Rutland writes, “Churches, boards, denominations and individual believers who hanker for justice when a colleague stumbles may be planting for a bitter harvest. They gloat over the sins of others, humiliate the fallen and demand their administrative pound of flesh. Competitiveness and legalism are the death of mercy. Mercy makes love real, acceptance and understanding a practice, and tenderness, a way of life.”
Barnabas came to the growing church at Antioch and saw the grace of God. In the context of Acts 10 and 11, what Barnabas saw were a great number of non-Jews becoming believers. He saw great numbers of non-Jews, outsiders, pagans, immoral, being welcomed into full fellowship alongside Jewish believers. Barnabas had been sent by the church at Jerusalem because word had gotten back that not just a single household, as in the case of Cornelius, but large crowds of Gentiles were turning to faith. The ultimate outsiders become the ultimate insiders because of the gospel of grace.
Barnabas came to the church at Antioch and saw God’s grace. Yes, what a sight for sore eyes.