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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:The gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is good news for the whole world
Text:CD 2 art 5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Hymn 81:1,2,3,4

Apostles' Creed

Hymn 81:5,6,7

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Psalm 67:1,2

Psalm 67:3

Read:  Acts 11:19-30; Acts 13:1-3

Text:  Canons of Dort chap. 2, art. 5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

After the Lord Jesus rose from the dead and before he ascended into heaven, there was one thing in particular that he instructed the church to do.  He told his disciples in Mark 16:15,

"God into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."

Or, as it says in Matthew 28:18-19,

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."

And Acts 1:8,

"And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

This missionary command that the Lord Jesus left us with is so important that it is repeated in every gospel, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the book of Acts.

  But why is it so important?  Why should the gospel be proclaimed to the whole world?  And if it is so important, what should we be doing about it?  What should we think about the need for the preaching of the gospel not just here in Melville church, and not just to the people we know and love, but to everybody, to all peoples everywhere?  What should we think about place of mission and our focus on it in our church today? 

  This afternoon we'll be considering these questions in the context of what God reveals to us in Acts 11 and 13, concerning the church of Antioch and the sending out of Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel to the nations, and also in the context of what the church confesses in the Canons of Dort, chapter 2, article 5, that is, "The universal proclamation of the gospel."

  I preach the Word of God to you under the following theme:

The gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is good news for the whole world.

1. For whom did Christ die?

2. To whom must Christ be preached?


1. For whom did Christ die?

As we make our way through Chapter 2 of the Canons of Dort, we will be learning about a doctrine that is called "Limited Atonement".  We'll be learning that the answer to the question "For whom did Christ die?" is that Christ specifically died for the sins of his people.  He did not die for all people in general, simply to make it possible to be saved; rather he died specifically for his elect, for those whom the Father had given him, so that they would most certainly or definitely be saved.  That's why we also call this teaching Definite Atonement.  But before we get to this part of the answer to the question of "For whom did Christ die?" the Canons of Dort wants us to understand that in another sense, the value of the death of Christ is not limited at all.  Rather, we need to recognise that there is nothing lacking in his sacrifice and that his death is of infinite value.  And so chapter 2, article 3 of the Canons says,

"This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate [that is, to blot out, to take away] the sins of the whole world."

And the consequence of this, article 5 of the Canons says, is that since Christ's death is abundantly sufficient to take away the sins of the whole world, the gospel must therefore be preached to the whole world.  Article 5 says,

"This promise (of the gospel) ought to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men."

The gospel must be proclaimed to all people because it is for all people.  That is, the gospel is not just for the Jew but also for the Greek.  It is not just for those in Jerusalem but also for those in Judea - and not just for the Jews in Judea but also for the Samaritans in Samaria.  And even more, the gospel is for all people, even to the end of the earth.

And that's what the book of Acts teaches us so clearly.  We read together from Acts 11, as well as a few verses from Acts 13.  In Acts 11:19 we read that

"those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch . . ."

We had already been told in Acts 8 that those who were in the church at Jerusalem had been scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, and that those who were scattered went about preaching the Word as they went.  But now in chapter 11 we learn that the believers went even further than Judea and Samaria, going as far away as Phoenicia, which is in modern-day Lebanon, Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria, in what is now a part of the country of Turkey.  The church, therefore, had begun to spread.  And as they were scattered, they preached the Word.  But, Acts 11:19 points out, they only preached about the Lord Jesus to the Jews.  What the believers who had fled from Jerusalem would have done was join the Jewish communities in the cities to which they fled to, also joining in with the worship at the Synagogue.  It was there, among the Jews, that they spoke about the Lord Jesus Christ.

  But then something happens in verse 20.

"But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus."

This was something new.  It is clear that the Hellenists of whom Acts 11:20 speaks about were not Greek speaking Jews, as was the case in Acts 6.  Even more, it appears that they were not proselytes, that is non-Jewish people who had joined the Jews in their worship of God, nor even God-fearers such as Cornelius in Acts chapter 10.  Rather, these Hellenists were gentiles.  They were heathens, worshippers of idols.  But now the gospel was, for the first time, preached to them.  This was new.  This was different.  For as long as the church was based in Jerusalem, those who came to faith were either Jews or those who knew the Scriptures and who followed the laws of Moses.  Then, when the gospel spread to the Samaritans in Acts 8 and they too received the Holy Spirit, the church marveled that by God's grace the gospel would go out to them also.  Then in Acts 10 the Lord directed Peter to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who feared God.  But now in Acts 11 the gospel goes beyond even those boundaries to be preached to those who up until that time had not worshipped the true God at all.

But had Jesus really died for some of those as well?

The city of Antioch was a wicked city, morally corrupt even in the eyes of the world at that time.  It was the third largest city in the whole of the Roman Empire and was a melting pot of people of all places and nationalities.   It was a city of great wealth and the people there prided themselves for being sophisticated and tolerant.  As such, it was not so very different to many major cities of the world today.  But now it was to these people that Christ was being preached.  And notice who was doing the preaching:  men of Cyprus and Cyrene.  Cyprus, as I mentioned, is an island in the Mediterranean Ocean, and Cyrene was a city in Africa, in what is now known as Libya.  Both of these places had large Jewish populations and Barnabas, who was from the tribe of Levi, had in fact come from Cyprus.  These men who had originated from Cyprus and Cyrene and who came to Antioch preaching about the Lord Jesus were no doubt Jews or proselytes themselves.  But coming to Antioch they did not stick with the Jewish community there but went out of that community to preach to others.  And, verse 21 says,

"the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord."

And in this way there was the beginning of a church that, for the first time in history, was not largely made up of Jews.  And what is more, there was not even any pressure for them to become Jews.  They were not expected to be circumcised, nor were they expected to follow the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.  It was faith in Jesus, trusting in the forgiveness of sins in his name, that united them together and made it possible for them to be joined to the church.

By the time news of this reached Jerusalem the church there had already been confronted with the significance that Christ's death had not just for Samaritans but also for a gentile God-fearer such as Cornelius.  After hearing Peter explain what in the case of Cornelius, they had rejoiced in this and glorified God, saying,

"Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."  (Acts 11:18)

So now when they learned that even heathens were coming to the faith in Antioch, they did not immediately condemn this, nor say it was wrong, but they sent Barnabas to investigate. 

  Barnabas was the right person to send there.  He was a good man, verse 24 says, "full of the Holy Spirit and of faith."  And since Barnabas himself had come from Cyprus he would have had a better understanding of these new believers and would have connected well with them.  And that's exactly what happened.  When Barnabas came to Antioch, Acts 11:23 says, he saw the grace of God at work there and he was glad.  He was glad because he saw the grace of God at work.  He was glad because he saw the power of the gospel.  He was glad because he saw that even to these Gentiles God had granted the forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness in Jesus Christ.  The Word was true:  whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have everlasting life! 

  And then Barnabas stayed with them, building on the foundation of the gospel that these Gentiles of Antioch had embraced.  And, verse 24 goes on to say, as the promise of the good news of salvation in Christ was preached, "a great many people were added to the Lord."

  And, seeing that the harvest among the Gentiles was so great, and knowing that he alone could not do all the work, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus, quite some distance away, in order to find Saul so that together they might build up and teach the people.  And then, verse 26 says,

"in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians."

They were called Christians, followers of Christ.  This new name may well have been used mockingly to start with, but it stuck and was a name that was warmly embraced by this new community of believers.  Because that's what they were: not Jews, not Greeks nor members of some unknown leader, but they were all members of Christ, united to one another through in him.

So for whom did Christ die?  Did he die only for the Jews?  No, he died for more than just the Jews.  Did he die only for the Jews and proselytes?  No, he died for more than just them.  Did he only die for those of Jerusalem, of Judea and Samaria?  No, he died for more than just them.  He died for the Jew, but also for the Greek.  He died for the Jew and also for the Gentile.  He died for those of Jerusalem, but he also died for those in Antioch.  Indeed, as the apostle Peter had already proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost,

"For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

And as the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28,

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

One in Christ.  Christians together.

And therefore,  1 John 2:2 says,

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

But if that is true - and it is - then the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ is good news not just for some, but it is good news for the whole world.  And if that is true - and it is - then the whole world needs to know about this.   Then, like the church of Antioch, we too must see to it that the gospel is to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination.  We will see this in our second point.


2. To whom must Christ be preached?

As many of you would be aware, from 1998 to 2009 I, along with my family, were privileged to live in Papua New Guinea, where I was called to preach and teach the gospel.  By the grace of God we were blessed to share the good news of salvation with many people and to see some of them come to a deeper understanding of the gospel and confess their faith in Christ.  Many of the people we were ministering to had left their tribal homelands, and when their eyes were opened to the truths of the gospel, their thoughts went back to their families and loved ones back home.  They then began to speak with urgency for the gospel that was being preached to them might somehow be preached in their home villages as well.  And, turning back to Acts chapter 13, you can imagine that the same desire was in the hearts of those new Christians in Antioch.  In fact, for them the urgency would have been even greater since there would have been no preaching of the gospel at all in the towns and cities from which they came.

  And so it was that in Acts 13 the church was worshipping God and praying to Him to show them what they should do.  By now the church in Antioch was more established and, in addition to Paul and Barnabas, there were also other prophets and teachers.  One was Simeon, also called Niger (which, by the way, suggests he was not of Jewish origin).  It is thought that he, as well as Lucias from Cyrene, came from Africa.  And then there was also Mananaen, a member of the court of King Herod.  In total there were five men who were busy with preaching and teaching in Antioch, and it was under their ministry that church had flourished.  But now their hearts yearned more and more for the gospel that they had received to go throughout the Roman Empire and even to the ends of the earth.  And so they got together to pray, to fast and to worship God.  And then the Holy Spirit then said to them,

"Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."  Then, after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  (Acts 13:2-3)

And so they went.  And, not surprisingly, the first place they would go to would be the island of Cyprus, the birthplace of Barnabas and the island from which many of the first Christians of Antioch had come from.  And in this way the gospel began to be preached not just in Jerusalem, nor only in Judea and Samaria, but from there it went to the ends of the earth just as the Lord had commanded them.

And the message of the gospel continues to be preached to this day, and in obedience to the command of Christ it will be preached to the end of time.  We will keep preaching, we will keep evangelising, because we cannot keep silent, we cannot keep this good news  to ourselves.  Since Christ died for men, women and children of all people throughout the world, it is the ongoing task of the church to preach this gospel universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe.

And we will do so, confident that as we go out in obedience to the command of Christ, God will call his people to himself.  In Acts 13:48, after Paul had preached to the gentiles it says that

"When the Gentiles heard this [that the gospel was for them too], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord."

And then it says this.

"And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  What that means is that when the Holy Spirit sent out Paul and Silas on their missionary journey to preach the gospel, the Holy Spirit did not do so in the hope that perhaps some would, by their own free will, choose to believe; rather, they preached the gospel in the confidence that those who were appointed to eternal life would believe!  And that, then, is how Paul went out, and that is how we must go out, preaching the gospel.  We do so in the confidence that this preaching will have an effect and that through it, God will bring those whom he has chosen to believe in Christ crucified.

  And that is so encouraging, it gives us such a great motivation to go out and tell people about the gospel.  There are some people who say that the Reformed teaching of election takes away all motivation to evangelise.  They say that if God has chosen those that are his, if election is all God's work from beginning to end, then why preach the gospel?  If it is only those whom God has already chosen who will come to faith, then why send out missionaries to the ends of the world?  But the Canons of Dort gives the right answer to this question.  The fact that God will most certainly work faith in the hearts of those whom he has chosen to everlasting life does not stop us from wanting to spread the gospel, but it encourages us to carry on.  Because we know that the preaching of the gospel will never be in vain.  God will most certainly use it to bring his people to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  And that also keeps us from being discouraged.  Because we know that when the gospel is preached along with the command to repent and believe, then this message will produce a result.  We know that God will use this for his glory and for the salvation of his people.  The Lord knows those that are his, he knows those for whom Christ has died, and he will bring them to himself.  As the Lord himself said to the apostle Paul when he was in Corinth in Acts 18:9-10,

"Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people."

And so it is that we will go into the world to proclaim Christ crucified.  It is on account of the fact that the Lord does know those who are his and that he will most certainly bring them to a saving knowledge and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ that we may be confident that our work, our preaching and proclaiming the gospel is not in vain but that God will use it to accomplish his purpose.  And therefore, like the church of Antioch, let us be come before God in prayer, praying that he might use us and this church for the preaching of the gospel not just here in Melville but in this city and even beyond this city to the rest of the world.  May we who know and believe the gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus and who belong to him, yes, who are Christians, be eager to confess his name and to have the gospel declared to the nations.  And may God do that what he is determined to do and use our witness to save those appointed to eternal life.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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