Now they which were scattered abroad on the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch…
1. It needed a vision to impel Peter to preach to Cornelius, but here some Cypriote and African Jews, with no vision, command, nor precedent, with nothing but the truth in their minds and Christ's love in their hearts, unconsciously do the thing about the propriety of which there had been such serious question in Jerusalem.
2. Ver. 19 is a repetition of words in an earlier chapter. The writer returns to take up another thread of his narrative contemporaneous with those already pursued. Three distinct lines of expansion appear to have started from the dispersion of the Jerusalem Church — Philip's mission to Samaria, Peter's to Cornelius, and this work in Antioch.
3. This, the effort of a handful of unnamed men, was the true "leader" — the shoot that grew. Philip's work, and Peter's, were side branches, which came to little; this led on to a Church at Antioch, and so to Paul's missionary work, and all that came of that. Notice —
I. THE SPONTANEOUS IMPULSE WHICH THESE MEN OBEYED. Wherever they went they took their faith with them, and, as a matter of course, spoke about it. The coals were scattered from the hearth, but that did not put the fire out, but only spread it. They had no special injunction "to preach the Lord Jesus." They believed, and therefore spoke. Such a spontaneous impulse is ever the natural result of —
1. A personal possession of Christ. In regard to worldly good the instinct is to keep the treasure. But even in the natural sphere there are possessions which to have is to long to impart, such as truth and knowledge. And in the spiritual sphere this is emphatically the case. The old prophet spoke a universal truth when he said: "Thy word was as a fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." Deep conviction and strong emotion demand expression. True, sometimes the deepest love can only "love and be silent," and there is a just suspicion of vehement protestations. But for all that, it remains true that a heart warmed with the love of Christ will give it forth, as certainly as light must radiate from its centre, or heat from a fire.
2. True kindliness of heart. We cannot truly possess the treasure for ourselves without pity for those who have it not. What kind of Christians must they be who think of Christ as "a Saviour for me," and take no care to set Him forth as "a Saviour for you"? What should we think of men in a shipwreck who were content to get into the lifeboat, and let everybody else drown? What should we think of people in a famine feasting sumptuously on their private stores?
3. Loyalty to Christ. If we are true to our Lord, we shall feel that we cannot but speak up and out for Him. He who lives among rebels and is afraid to show his colours is already a coward, and is on the way to be a traitor. Our Master has placed in our hands the honour of His name, and the carrying out of the purposes on which His heart is set. How can we be loyal to Him if we are not constrained to respond to His trust in us, and if we know nothing of the "Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!"
II. THE UNIVERSAL OBLIGATION ON ALL CHRISTIANS TO MAKE KNOWN CHRIST.
1. In these early days the Church had a very loose organisation. But these fugitives had among them none even of the humble office bearers of primitive times. Neither had they any commission from Jerusalem. Whatever functions may be committed to Church officers the work of telling Christ's love to men belongs to everyone who has found it for himself or herself. "This honour have all the saints."
2. Whatever may be our differences as to Church order and offices, they need not interfere with our firm grasp of this truth. "Preaching Christ" implies no special method of proclaiming the glad tidings. A letter to a friend, a sentence in casual conversation, a lesson to a child on a mother's lap, or any other way by which the great story of the Cross is told, is as truly preaching Christ as the set discourse which has usurped the name.
3. We profess to believe in the priesthood of all believers, in opposition to sacerdotal assumptions. Are we as ready to recognise it as laying a very real responsibility upon us, and involving a very practical inference as to our own conduct? Every Christian is solemnly bound to take heed to this: "Freely ye have received, freely give."
III. THE SIMPLE MESSAGE WHICH THEY PROCLAIMED.
1. "Preaching Jesus as Lord." Their message was a proclamation of the person and dignity of their Master, the story of the life of the Man, of the Divine sacrifice by which He had bought the right of supreme rule over every heart; and the urging of His claims on all who heard of His love. And this, their message, was but the proclamation of their own personal experience. They had found Jesus for themselves to be lover and Lord, and the joy they had received they sought to share with these Greeks. All have not the gifts which would fit for public speech, but all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious can tell somehow how gracious He is. The first Christian sermon was very short, and it was very efficacious, for it "brought to Jesus" the whole congregation. "He first findeth his brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias." Surely we can all say that, and shall long to say it, if we are glad that we have found Him, and if we love our brother.
2. Notice, too, how simple the form of the message. "They spake." It was no set address, but familiar, natural talk to ones and twos, as opportunity offered. What we want is that Christian people should speak anyhow. What does the shape of the cup matter? What does it matter whether it be gold or clay? The main thing is that it shall bear the water of life to some thirsty lip. All Christians have to do is to tell the good news —
(1) Simply and faithfully, as one who only cares to repeat what he has had given to him.
(2) Confidently, as having proved it true.
(3) Beseechingly, as loving the souls to whom they bring it. Let His mighty salvation, experienced by yourselves, be the substance of your message, and let the form of it be guided by the old words, "It shall be, when the Spirit of the Lord is come upon thee, that thou shalt do as occasion shall serve thee."
IV. THE MIGHTY HELPER WHO PROSPERED THEIR WORK. "The hand of the Lord was with them." However feeble our hands, that mighty hand is laid on them to direct their movements and to lend strength to their weakness. It is not our speech, but His presence with our words by which a great number shall believe and turn to the Lord.
(1) There is our encouragement when we are despondent. There is our rebuke when we are self-confident.
(2) There is our stimulus when we are indolent.
(3) There is our quietness when we are impatient.
(4) If ever we are tempted to think our task heavy, let us not forget that He who set it helps us to do it.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.