The Gospel Spreads Even Wider
You will recall earlier that upon the stoning of Stephen, a persecution arose against the Church that caused many believers to scatter (8:1). Thereupon, Philip traveled north and preached the Gospel in Samaria where it found fertile soil. Jesus commanded them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. What we have seen in the last few chapters is the Gospel spreading to the last geographical location Jesus mentioned: to the uttermost parts of the earth (1:8). So we read here that upon the persecution after Stephen’s martyrdom believers scattered even as far away as Phoenicia (north in Syria), Cyprus (the island about 100 miles off the coast of Phoenicia), and Antioch (even farther north). I would encourage you to look at a good map of this region in the first century to familiarize yourself with place names in the Bible; it helps make the Scriptures come that much more alive. Remember, ours is a real faith that happened in the real world in real space and time. At any rate, the Gospel keeps moving north and west in Acts.
Now the believers had been preaching the Lord Jesus to none but Jews. But some decided to preach to Gentiles; and just as it happened with the Ethiopian and Cornelius, they too believed and turned to the Lord. Upon receiving this news back at the mother church in Jerusalem, good man Barnabas who was “full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” was dispatched to verify. And not only so but this “Son of Encouragement” stayed on to exhort the people to remain faithful to the Lord, and then went and got Saul of Tarsus, former church persecutor turned believer, to help in the work. And so the church in Antioch grew and became so noticeable to the public that they dubbed them, “Christians,” which, as you know, stuck. It’s amazing what exhortation can do to help grow a church. We need Barnabases.
We finally read that a prophet came down from Jerusalem to Antioch and prophesied a great famine over all the world. Luke verifies this by telling us that this happened when Claudius was Caesar (A.D. 41-54). So what did the Christians in Antioch do? They sent relief to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. And after Barnabas and Saul delivered the relief to the Jerusalem church, Paul then collected even more relief for them from other churches founded on his missionary journeys which were largely Gentile; after all, we must share both spiritual and material blessings with one another (Romans 15:27). The Gospel is a Gospel of brotherly kindness and love, sharing burdens, and lifting one another up—lifting the churches of Jesus Christ up.