Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:…
1. At first sight this might seem to be a piece of information such as is to be met with in an old chronicle, or in Notes and Queries, and it probably was meant to correct the idea that the disciples were first called Christians at Jerusalem. But we have here much more than this.
2. The name of a man or society is not like a label, which may be detached from a piece of lifeless furniture; it is a factor of which account must be taken for good or evil. Men have borne names which they have felt to be a stigma — an active cause of discouragement and failure. Men have also inherited names which have lifted themselves into a fellowship with a past of high effort. And, in religion names have a mighty power of shaping thought and sympathy. This applies to the greatest of names — Christians.
I. HOW CAME THE DISCIPLES BY THIS NAME?
1. It comes into view together with the first attempt to preach the gospel to the pagan world. The Jews would not have given it. They believed in a coming Christ, but rejected the true Christ. But His appearance was an entirely new and original idea to pagans, and the constant repetition of His name would suggest to the keen-witted Greeks to call the disciples Christians.
2. It is probable that the name was a nickname, meant to suggest that those who could do nothing but talk about their Christ were a set of fanatics to be laughed out of existence. The ease was parallel to the feeling about Christ crucified at Corinth.
II. THERE WERE OTHER NAMES BY WHICH THE DISCIPLES WERE KNOWN.
1. Before: Brethren, Disciples, Elect, Saints, Faithful.
2. After: Gnostics, men who had a knowledge of Divine things — Theophori, Christopheri (God bearers, Christ bearers), Nazarenes, and at Rome especially, impostors, magicians, Galileans, sophists, atheists, Sarmentitii, desperate men, who were indifferent to death; Parabolani, men who lived only to die, Biathanati, men whose garments smelt of the faggot, etc.
3. Since: Catholic, a name of commanding power, but this describes a quality, Christian, the substance of true religion; the one views it in relation to mankind, the other in its source and author; Catholic might be dissociated from Christ — Christian never.
III. THE IMPORT AND GLORY OF THE CHRISTIAN NAME. The apostles highly prized it: James calls it "that worthy name"; St. Peter a name for which it is a glory to suffer. It is a great distinction —
1. To be a learner in the one great school of truth. This is the very least that the name can mean, just as those who followed Plato were called Platonists.
2. To be in the service of such a commander as Christ. We know the feeling which attaches in our army to being in the best regiments; to be in the regiment led by Jesus Christ across the centuries, ought to satisfy a nobler ambition.
3. To be endowed with a new nature — that of Christ the Lord. Compared with this, how poor is "noble" birth! A Christian is a member of the aristocracy of heaven.
IV. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE BEARERS OF THIS GREAT NAME.
1. It is a summons to unity.
(1) Because it distinguishes the disciples from others it has been stigmatised as a badge of division. Human, it is contended, would represent a more adequate bond of brotherhood. But the aim of Christianity is to make one synonymous with the other and the name is a pledge that it will one day do so.
(2) This name is borne by millions of Christian worshippers who are divided widely from each other. But the name implies amid all their divisions the substantial loyalty of all to Christ.
2. It is a call to holiness. "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Application: Let us remember this name —
(1) In the morning.
(2) At night.
(3) In the hour of death.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: