Preaching the Lord Jesus
We have in Acts 11:19-26 an inspiring view of how the church at Antioch began, grew, and developed into a hard-working group of disciples. Please read that passage before continuing this article. We are probably most familiar with the church at Antioch because of verse 26, where we read “the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” But how did those disciples come to be known as simply “Christians?” And how did this congregation grow the way it did? This passage illustrates four simple but profound principles.
Preaching needs to be about Jesus (v. 20). At first the word spread to Jews only, but then certain men arrived “speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” The entire book of Acts shows that Jesus was the focus of all the apostles’ and disciples’ preaching. Anywhere they went they spoke of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and identity as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36; 8:35; 17:3; 18:5, 28). We must always keep Jesus at the center of all things. This is not to say that nothing else matters, like teaching about the church, baptism, or godly living. But sometimes we lose sight of the core and foundation of it all. Jesus is the corner stone upon which we are built (Eph. 2:20). Sometimes we forget to, but we cannot properly preach about the church, baptism, or godly living without Jesus. There is no “gospel or doctrine” distinction as some would have us believe; doctrine is important because Jesus is the Son of God, which is the very heart of the gospel. And, when we preach Jesus His hand will be upon us to see that His word accomplishes its task (Acts 11:21).
Preaching Jesus calls for a response (v. 21). This preaching resulted in an amazing thing: “a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Preaching Jesus is not something that should go in one ear and out the other; its purpose is not to satisfy people’s desire for entertainment or superficial religion. It should be aimed straight at the heart of all our problems—sin. Preaching Jesus calls for repentance, a turning from sin and selfishness to denying self and serving Him as Master (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Belief is specifically mentioned here as the motivating factor behind the conversion process because true faith results in a radical and total transformation: they “turned to the Lord.” Without this, faith is as useless as a dead body (James 2:26). Preaching Jesus without demanding complete change and total commitment is just as worthless. Let the word prick your heart.
Preaching Jesus calls for continuing commitment (v. 23). After the church at Jerusalem heard of the exponential growth in Antioch, they sent Barnabas (a fitting candidate for the job, being the “son of encouragement”) to help with the increasing work load. When he arrived, he rejoiced and exhorted the new disciples “with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.” Initial belief and repentance is only the beginning of a life-long spiritual journey; we must stay the course. Surely, there is a place for preaching about our assurance and confidence in the Lord (Heb. 10:22), but such must also include exhortations to faithfulness, without which we cannot obtain the final prize (Heb. 10:23). Later, Paul and Barnabas would encourage other brethren to continue in the faith because “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Preaching Jesus must stir the heart, mind, and spirit to be steadfast and immovable and stretch forward to the goal (1 Cor. 15:58; Phil. 3:14).
Preaching Jesus results in Christians (v. 26). Perhaps here is the profoundest point of all: when preaching focuses on Jesus, and people believe and turn to the Lord with genuine commitment, Christians are made. More than not, what is preached today is a denominational version of Christ; the result is denominational Christians—it’s only natural! The absence of denominational titles and creeds in this passage should cause folks today to pause and consider, “Where did all these churches come from?” This is also why, brethren, our goal is not to convert people to the church; that’s a wrong (and denominational) focus. Our goal is to convert people to the Lord. Notice Acts 11:24: “And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” When people are committed to Him, everything else will “fall into place,” just as it did at Antioch.
So we ask, what’s the secret to successful churches which are composed of undenominational Christians committed only to Jesus? It’s simple: preach the Lord Jesus.