“Christian” Today it’s the label most commonly used to refer to those who are part of the world’s largest religion. (Almost twice as many call themselves “Christians” than Moslems, the second largest religious group.) But when we go back to the first century, we discover that the first time the label was used by outsiders. The place was Antioch, Syria. The time was in the early 40s, not ten years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Good News about Jesus had just reached beyond Jewish hearts. Hundreds of Gentiles were believing in Jesus of Nazareth. Their fellow citizens saw what was happening and came up with a new label.
“And in Antioch the followers of Jesus were called ‘Christians’ for the first time.” Acts 11:26
Unbelieving Antiochans used the term ‘Christian’ to refer to those who adhered to Jesus, but what did the insiders call themselves? By reviewing the story in Acts so far, we can find out.
· When the hundred and twenty were gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, while they were praying, Peter stood up and addressed the group as “brothers,” and this included women as well because Jesus’ mother had just been mentioned. (Check out Acts 1:14-15, 6:3, 9:17, “Brother Saul” 9:30; 10:23.)
· Luke refers to those who responded favorably to the Apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon as “those who welcomed the word,” “all who believed” (Acts 2:41, 42, 44; 4:32; 5:14; 10: 45; 11:21).
· When Peter and John were released from the trial before the Sanhedrin, Luke reports that they went to “their own” (Acts 4:23).
· When Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for lying to the Holy Spirit, Luke refers to the group for the first time as the “church,” meaning the gathering of all those who believed in Jesus (Acts 5:11, 6:7). When Saul started persecuting after the stoning of Stephen, Luke says he persecuted the “church.” (Acts 8:1, 3; 9:31; 11:26) “church of Antioch.”
· All the believers in Jerusalem were referred to as “disciples,” meaning those who were submitting to the teaching of Jesus (Acts 6:1, 9:19 “disciples in Damascus;” 9:25, 26; 9:36 “a disciple named Tabitha,” 9:38).
· Luke refers to Jewish priests who became “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Note this indicates that at this early point you could be a Jewish priest and still be part of the Jesus movement by simply obeying the command to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
· Believers were referred to as “saints” (Acts 9:41).
Join me in taking some time to meditate on how the first believers in Jesus referred to one another as their own new family, followers of Jesus, those who believe and obey Jesus and His Good News. Before there were any church buildings, the “church” was the gathering of this new family—devoted, warm personal relationships built not on physical blood but on the blood of Jesus.
LORD, help me to deepen my commitment not to a cultural, social, or religious movement, but to my precious brothers and sisters who have been made holy simply because they believe and obey the Good News about your Son. Use Truth Encounter to communicate this true meaning of what it means to be called a “Christian.”
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