Now they which were scattered abroad on the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch…
I. EXTENSION. Ver. 19 is a condensation of vers. 1-18.
1. To the amazement of the early Christians the Word took effect upon others besides Jews. In this way the gospel became quite as much a revelation to Jews as to Gentiles. They saw that Christianity was not a local lamp, but a sun, and as its glory brightened the distant hills and made the far-off valleys sing with new joy, they were glad; they felt themselves invested with a new responsibility, and stirred with a new hope. Some such passions should fill our hearts when we see far-off men touched by the power of Christ. Herein is a proof of the Divine origin of Christianity. All other religions remain at home. Christianity is an aggressive religion. If its professors are non-militant they give the lie to their own faith. In the universality of the Christian offer I see its Godhood. Luxuries are only here and there, but necessaries are everywhere. Wines do not grow everywhere. But men need water, not wine. Some of God's gifts are local and individual, but whatever is necessary to salvation is to be spoken in every language of earth.
2. There are two typical instances in the narrative. Christianity touched the mind of the centurion. Let him represent Roman strength, sternness, law, dignity. Christianity touched the Grecian mind. Let that stand for refinement, elegance, philosophy, for the completing line of human thought and service. Christianity becomes Roman to the Roman, Grecian to the Grecian — a great rock to the rocky man, a rainbow to the dreaming genius, a summer light to the poet's fancy. No other religion does this.
II. RECOGNITION. What was the effect of the news upon the Church? At once they sent Barnabas to inquire.
1. When he came he saw the grace of God. There is no mistaking it. It is like nothing else. Imitations perish under scrutiny, but the real grace of God grows upon examination. He did not find a number of technical theologians, skilful disputants. He found men praying, with eager minds, with forgiving souls, more on high than below.
2. When Barnabas saw this he was glad. Is the farmer glad when he sees corn growing upon land on which it never grew before? It is so the Christian feels when he sees strange men turning to the faith. Are we glad when we see men converted? Do newly-converted men find a warm, cordial, comforting atmosphere in the Church when they come in?
3. Having made this recognition, Barnabas said, "Now with full purpose of heart you must cleave unto the Lord!" Exhortation will do more than suspicion. A word of encouragement is what young beginners in the Christian race require. You who gave your heart to Christ a week ago or a month since — persevere.
4. Why did Barnabas take so much interest in these new converts? Because "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." Good men see goodness in other men. Evil be to him who evil thinks. The good man comes to be made glad. With a charitable spirit, and benign and hopeful heart, he looks upon the work, and it must be very bad if he does not see in it something to quicken his own faith, and deepen his own grace, and heighten his own love to God.
5. What was the consequence? "Much people was added unto the Lord." Barnabas did not go to Antioch for nothing — the work grew upon him, and now he said, "Saul must come." So he brought him to the Syrian capital, and there for a whole year they taught much people. Thus are spheres found for men, and thus have men sometimes to tarry at Tarsus till their proper Antioch is found. But God will find it.
III. PROOF (vers. 27-30). Were the men at Antioch really converted? Read in ver. 29 the proof. These men have received the Lord Jesus; and instantly on hearing that men who are partakers of the same faith are in prospect of want, they send to such men under the name of "brethren," according to their ability. This is how Christianity works. Here is the communism of the Church. The formal communism of chap. Acts 2. soon broke down, but the spiritual communism must continue forever. Wherever there is Christian need, Christian brotherhood must be acknowledged. The Cross broke down the middle wall of partition, and made the human family one. Conclusion: "And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." This name stands above all other names today. Of no man is so much expected as the Christian. The man who despises your faith expects from you on its account what he expects from no other man. So he answers himself. After having traduced your Lord, and disproved your documents, and cast scorn on your theology, if you do anything that calls down his displeasure he is the first to accuse of treason to the faith you profess. I ask for no higher intellectual and moral recognition of the purity of the religion of Jesus Christ. From no atheist is so much expected as from the weakest Christian. By Christians I understand Christ-ones, and were we what we ought to be there should be no other designation.
(J. Parker, 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.