Abounding Grace (1)
Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.Acts 11.22, 23
Can you believe it?
Acts 10 and 11 report the coming of the Gospel to Gentiles – unbelieving, non-Jews, were professing faith in Jesus, quite apart from any previous commitment to Judaism.
In Acts 10, Peter had to be exposed to a curious vision three times before he was ready even to consider entering the home of a Gentile. Every Jew knew that the Jews were God’s chosen people and the Gentiles, well, they were the Gentiles. Outsiders. Dogs. Unclean. Lost.
It’s no wonder the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were not a little put out with Peter when they learned he’d led a bunch of Gentiles to the salvation which is in Jesus Christ (Acts 11.1-18). Only after Peter carefully explained what had happened – how he’d come to be in that Gentile’s home, and what the Lord did while he was there – only after he explained that, and had it corroborated by those who were with him, did the Jewish believers in Jerusalem admit, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
Well, some Gentiles. Cornelius, after all, was what the Jews referred to as a “God-fearer”, a friend of Judaism, and one who was open to being taught the Jewish faith. So he must have been an exception.
Then the word trickled down to Jerusalem from Antioch – that grossly Gentile city in Syria – that Jews and Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. Those who had been chased out of Jerusalem by the ferocity of Saul in Acts 8 were now preaching the Gospel to people everywhere, and in such Gentile lands as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. And the report was that “a great number” of the Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11.21).
The Jewish Christian leaders in Jerusalem had just agreed – reluctantly – that Gentiles could be saved. But now lots of Gentiles were reported as being saved, and not just God-fearers, but outright pagans. Well, you can’t just take someone’s word for that, can you? So they sent Barnabas up to Antioch to check out what was going on.
And Barnabas came, and Barnabas saw, and Barnabas affirmed the faith of those Antiochene believers, and encouraged them in the Lord. Seeing was believing for Barnabas, and he saw the grace of God at work in Antioch among the Gentiles, just as he had seen it in Jerusalem among the Jews.
But what did he see?
What Barnabas saw
In short, Barnabas saw grace, grace, all over the place. Grace was abounding throughout the Gentile city. Grace so vibrant and expansive that Barnabas knew right away he was going to need some help in making the most of this grace-full situation (Acts 11.25, 26).
Barnabas observed the grace of God issuing in lives that were being powerfully and permanently transformed. He saw people from Jerusalem, who had fled their homes to this new, strange city, actively bearing witness to their neighbors, treating the Gentiles in Syria like fellow image-bearers of God, boasting of Jesus and His love, to pagans who had never thought for a moment that any god might love them.
He saw those same Jewish believers opening their homes to their Gentile neighbors, and entering the homes of their new Christian friends to share a meal, enjoy conversation, and learn together about the grace of the Lord. He saw all the believers sharing of their possessions to meet one another’s needs. He saw them worshiping and praying together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, introducing unsaved neighbors and friends to the new reality of the Kingdom community of God, and standing boldly together in Christ against all detractors.
He saw people who looked like Jesus in their commitment to righteousness and their concern for their lost neighbors. He saw people responding to the Gospel in significant numbers – unbelievers caught up in the joy of salvation, filled with the Spirit, and getting to work serving the Lord and one another.
Barnabas saw the power, and he knew the only explanation for this was the favor of God, communicated through His Word, and applied by the Holy Spirit – grace! He saw, and he believed, and got busy to make sure that the abounding grace of God in Antioch continued to abound. He must have thought to himself, “Wonderful, the matchless grace of Jesus!” For wonderful it truly was.
What we should be seeking
The grace of God abounds within the grace framework He has established. Where believers unite to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God, to lay hold on His precious and very great covenant promises, and to pursue His agenda of making disciples and building Christ’s Church, there the grace of God will be greater than all our sins, deeper than the mighty rolling sea, sparkling like a fountain, and making all things new in our lives.
God communicates His grace to us for precisely these purposes. But are they our purposes as well? Or do we prefer merely to be “grace-takers” who are content for God to affirm and reassure us from time to time, and to help when we feel like we need it, but not to demand anything of us?
We need grace to be anything more or other than the same, self-centered people we’ve always been. We need grace to motivate us to grow, empower us to serve, embolden us to bear witness, and humble us to build up our brethren in the Lord. Happily, the grace we need is always abounding around us, for the Spirit and Word of God are lively and active, and the King of grace is ruling on His eternal throne in glory.
The true believer will seek the abounding grace of God, and not merely enough grace to satisfy or to assure us that we are forgiven and on our way to heaven. God intends His grace to abound in the world, and He will do that, as He did in Jerusalem and Antioch, in and through His children, who seek grace to help in all their times of need.
1. Grace changed the Jews and the Gentiles of Peter’s day. Should we expect that same grace to wield that same transforming power in our own day? Explain.
2. The grace of God issues in power. What kind of power? For what purposes?
3. In what areas of your life would you like to know more of the abounding grace of God?
Next Steps – Transformation: Begin praying for more of God’s grace in the areas of your life you identified in question 3. What steps of faith will be needed for you to realize more of God’s abounding grace in these areas?
Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.
We hope you find ReVision to be a helpful resource in your walk with and work for the Lord. If so, please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. We ask the Lord to move and enable many more of our readers to provide for the needs of our ministry. Please seek Him in prayer concerning your part in supporting our work. You can contribute online via PayPal, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.