and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.Acts 11:26(NASB)
The word 'Christian' has been used since the days of the early Church, when those that trusted Christ for salvation were given this label to differentiate them from the rest of humanity. We are told: "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."
Antioch was a city in Syria, and the people were renowned for their sarcasm and cynicism. The label they attached to early Church believers was far from complimentary. Rather, it was a derogatory label that was designed to pour scorn and disrespect on the little company of believers.
Following the martyrdom of Stephen, terrible persecution broke out in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. This oppression caused those in the early Church to be scattered far afield, in an attempt to escape harassment, imprisonment, and even death.
Many of the refugees fled to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, but initially, they only spread the gospel to the Jews. It was at Antioch that we read that the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ started to spread rapidly, and that certain Greeks began to believe in Christ – and God in His grace blessed them mightily.
Christ's instructions to His disciples had been: "GO into all the world. PREACH the gospel to every creature. MAKE disciples of ALL nations," but initially the message was restricted to Jews. Despite Peter's experience with Cornelius (the Roman centurion who was baptised by the Holy Spirit the moment he believed) there was much resistance to admitting uncircumcised Gentile believers into the Body of Christ – but we discover that in Antioch, a great number of people believed in Jesus, and many Gentiles as well as Jews turned to Christ for salvation.
When Christianity came to Antioch in those early days, it was an important landmark for the Church, because a great spiritual awakening took place in that pagan Gentile city. So great was the awakening in Antioch, that the leaders in Jerusalem sent a trusted believer called Barnabas to address the issue there.
Led by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas sought-out Paul who had been wonderfully saved on the road to Damascus, some years earlier. Paul was living in the nearby city of Tarsus, and we read: "When Barnabas had found Paul, he brought him to Antioch, where they remained for an entire year."
It was there in the city of Antioch, that Paul and Barnabas met with the other believers. We read: "They met with the Church and taught considerable numbers there." It was there in that pagan city of Antioch, where many believed the gospel and many more mocked the teachings of Jesus, that the disciples of Christ "were first called Christians."
As believers today, we should not be reluctant to be labelled 'Christian' for in so doing, we acknowledge the Person and Work of Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, for in Him is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. We should never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for by His hand we were created, by His blood we have been saved, and by His Resurrection we have been made a new creation and given eternal life in Him.
The sarcasm, cynicism, contempt, and hatred of Christians continues to be communicated in so many areas of our individual lives and the world in general, but we have been promised that His grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Let us press on for the high call of God in Christ Jesus, and be proud to call ourselves 'Christians' for His greater praise and glory.
Heavenly Father, thank You that I am a Christian and part of the family of God. Thank You that Jesus died and rose again to save me from my sin. I pray that I may never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ or the name of Jesus but be prepared to live by faith and trust You in all things, no matter what difficult circumstances may arise. I pray that I would continue to assemble together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and all the more as I see the day approaching. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.