Lessons from Unnamed Individuals: Men from Cyprus and Cyrene

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

September 22, 2013

Lessons from Unnamed Individuals: Men from Cyprus and Cyrene

Acts 11:19-23

The book of Acts records the start of the early church. It is a continuation of Luke’s gospel.  Luke believed that telling the story of Jesus was not enough so he continued with the account that has been divided into Acts.  Luke considered it to be a continuation of what God is doing. It shows the disciples going from a group huddled  together in Jerusalem, frightened,  to being filled with the Holy Spirit and taking the good news out to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. And we yearn for that kind of an experience. We want our churches to break out of the doors of our building and connect with every part of our community.  We want them to know the love, joy, peace of Jesus. We read the story of Acts and dream of the way it might be. But we become frustrated because we don’t know how to do it.

This morning our reading gives us a story of how the church started in Antioch. It’s only one of the churches, but by looking at that passage it may help because it contains lessons we need to learn. They are lessons that are taught to us by unknown, unnamed men from Cyprus and Cyrene.  

Our passage tells us the way the message was being spread; it was shared only with the Jews.  Verse 20 is this little nugget; this hidden treasure:

Some of them however,   (some..not all) went as far as Antioch and they began to speak to the Greeks also, telling them the news of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Unknown men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks. This is not the way it had always been done.  The method was to speak to the Jews; after all the new testament church had been rooted in the Jewish faith; Jesus was a Jew.  But these unknown men did something different and the result was the start of a church in Antioch.

Notice the church at Antioch was not started by an apostle or any other official from the church in Jerusalem.  Men from Cyprus and Cyrene began announcing the good news to the Greeks in Antioch. Unknown men.  They were not formal preachers. In fact, the Greek word Luke uses for “preaching” in verse 20 is not the word for a formal talk or sermon. It is the word from which we derive the English word, “evangelize,” which literally means “to share the good news.” It begins with an informal conversation.

Many individuals in the church today are frightened by the “E” word…evangelism.  And we shouldn’t be.  It doesn’t require seminary training.  And it starts with a relationship.  Sometimes when we read scripture we get this picture that persons came into town, preached a great sermon; lots of people believed.  Now there are some instances where this happens.  At Pentecost, Peter addresses those gathered and it happened that way.   When he finished his message many people came to faith, a miraculous number. But that’s the exception, not the normal way. Look at Paul.  When he spoke he didn’t have mass response. In fact, his life was often threatened.  The church grew little by little into a magnificent, powerful movement of persons gathered together in relationships.

Most of us are old enough to remember the Billy Graham Crusades. The civic arena and other venues were filled.  The powerful preaching of Rev. Graham and we watched when it came to the moment when persons who heard the message responded in mass. The response was “Praise God!,” and truly we do praise God for the preaching and hearing of the Word. But there was a problem: of as many people as came forward only a small group connected to a local church. In that venue they didn’t have a chance to develop a relationship and unless you develop a relationship, it is very difficult for that connection to occur.

Today Billy Graham is using a different approach: Welcome Home. The training encourages people to invite some persons to their home. Have some refreshments. Talk.

Evangelism is always about the relationship. These unnamed men from Cyprus and Cyrene. . .ordinary men . . . began to speak with Greeks.

God uses individual’s spiritual gifts to build up the church. We are different.  So what if you are the timid and quiet type!

Another effective method of evangelism is Prayer evangelism.  Here’s what it might look like in our community: You pick a certain street.  Walk…or drive that street and you pray for each business or house.  You pay attention.  You see toys in the yard.  You pray for the children and caregivers.  You remember many of our children don’t live with two parents; some don’t live in the same home each night.

You see people on the street.  Pay attention: dress. . . physical appearance . . . are they smiling . . . do they look sad. You can learn a lot if you pay attention.

By the way, you are not praying with them . . .you could, but you can also pray for them.

And you ask the same question each time: “How can we as a church share Christ with this individual?” Not “how can we preach to them?”  How can we invite them to be a part of a community that genuinely cares for them?  Devote 15-30 minutes each week to this.

We work together in building up the church.

The church at Antioch was amazing: different races and nationalities melded together into a giving, ministering, caring, accepting, sending body. It was in Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.  They were “little Christs.”  They didn’t just happen to be this way. It took effort. It took individuals doing their part. It was a stretching experience.

Let’s learn from the church at Antioch to be all that we can be so that God’s kingdom may grow and that God may receive the glory.