xclose menu

"They Were Called Christians"

April 30, 2023 Speaker: Elder Rob Scanland

Passage: Acts 11:19-26, Zechariah 10:8-12

"They Were Called Christians"

April 30, 2023 Sermon

“They were called Christians”

Acts 11: 19-26

Elder Rob Scanland 

Introduction and Prayer

Let me begin by introducing myself, I am Rob Scanland, and I am an elder in this Church although not currently serving on Session.  I would like to begin this morning with prayer: Dear God thank you for gathering us this morning to worship you.  Thank you for each of those you have called to be before this congregation over the past two months and will be calling in the months ahead.  We have heard your voice through them and have been comforted and blessed.  Be with me and with us this morning.  Be with each of those gathered here, some physically, some virtually, all joined by your Holy Spirit.  Be our strength to do those things which you are calling us to do in 2023.  Thank you for Pastor Bob and his family, for his time with us and for preparing the way.  I will close with the prayer offered in Psalms 19 verse 14, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, for you are our rock and you are our redeemer.”  Amen.

Stories from The Body of Christ

I would like to start this morning with a couple of stories and reflections about things that have happened over the last couple of months.  It would seem that during this season we have been experiencing many of the things that we are reading about and studying in the Book of Acts.

On March 1st we lost our beloved friend and Pastor Bob Davis, and we were plunged into a sense of shock and disbelief.  We relived in many ways the feeling of the early church after Jesus was crucified dead and buried.  As I have shared with some of you when I sat down following the news we received on March 2 of Pastor Bob’s passing, I wanted to capture who he had been to me and what he represented in my life.  These were the things that came forth: Disciple, Scholar, Servant, Teacher, Mentor, Brother, Friend.  I will miss and cherish every one of them until I see him again in heaven.  Without Bob’s encouragement and help I would not have had the courage, faith, and ear to hear that small voice of the Holy Spirit within me and be standing before you today.

On March 5th, the first Sunday after Bob’s passing the pulpit was filled by Will Ritter, our own Linda Ritter’s son.  He is a pastor and church planter from Idaho.  We were ministered to and heard God’s Word, from the first of what would be a number of God’s chosen members of Christ body, HIS Church.

On March 16th after the Alan Wilson’s Men’s Bible Study, I called my buddy Dan to find out why he was a no-show that morning.  He reported the night before he had been vomiting and in tremendous pain.  He said that he was preparing to preach on March 19th and that he had been under attack, as he noted was typical, when he was about to share the Word.  The next morning there was a series of texts and then calls that Dan was in the emergency room at Carson-Tahoe Hospital and then that he was headed to Reno in the Care-Flight helicopter.  Dan and all of us were under attack by the forces of evil.  In the midst of this all happening I got a couple of texts in recognition of this; “Enough already,” then “I’m starting to feel that our little church is really under attack.  We must be doing something right.”  And then, “We are a strong group of God’s children.  We will prevail.”  And finally, “Amen and Amen.”  In our Old Testament reading this morning from Zechariah chapter 10 verse 12 “I will make them strong in the Lord, and they shall walk in his name, says the Lord” and so we are! 

On that Sunday that Dan was to preach, Elder Bill Rose stepped in and filled the pulpit.  Elder Bill’s sermon was about the biblical account in Acts Chapter 9 of the very thing that Dan was in the midst of.  The Apostle Peter, calling on the name of Jesus, said to both Aeneas and to Tabitha “Arise” and they did.  Dan too, as a result of many calling on the name of Jesus, survived by a miracle from his journey through the Valley of the shadow of Death.  I will leave the full story to be told by Dan in the coming weeks.  I was stuck that Sunday when I opened the bulletin and saw what would have been Dan’s sermon title, “The Way, The Truth, and The Life.”  It was about as bold a title and statement to those forces of evil as say maybe going down and standing on a busy street corner with nothing but a sign that says “JESUS.”

The following Sunday, new Elder Bob Vibe preached on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  We are one body, with many parts filled with one spirit.  We are each important and have a role to play in spreading the Gospel to Carson City and beyond.  I am currently serving on the nominating committee.  Last year we needed to nominate a person to be an Elder.  I was visiting with Pastor Bob one day and said to him, “Do you have any thoughts about who I might speak with about the possibility of serving as an Elder.”  He said, you might want to talk with Kaye and Bob Vibe, they are relatively new to this church but are mature in their faith and could be just right.  I didn’t really know them, but called them up and we had a chat.  They said they would prayerfully consider it and a week or two later Bob called and said he would be willing to serve.  As many of you know Bob has been trained and is a lay pastor.  Now looking back God’s plan all seems so clear.  Praise God for his one spirit, one body and for each member playing their God chosen part.  Thanks to Bob & Kaye for answering the call.

On March 31st, FPC sent a small contingent of old guys over to help celebrate Chuck Beattie’s 99th birthday.  Here are a few photos of this auspicious group.  Chuck and Pat have been members here at First Pres. since their return to Carson City in the mid-1980’s.  When I say return, Pat was raised here, and they still live in the house she was raised in.  Vern Manke bought a birthday card that we all signed and as I looked at the graphic of a cake on the front of the card I said, “That looks like about the right number of candles.”  It had 7 rows each with 14 candles per row.  “I inquired of the group what is fourteen times seven?”  As I quickly glanced around the room for an answer Chuck said “98.”  For those of you reaching for your phone/calculator to double check that, no need Chuck was on the money.  So next year we need to do a little larger celebration for his 100th birthday, hopefully here at church with all of us in attendance and get a card with maybe 10 rows of 10 candles or 5 rows of twenty candles, the math will be easier!  Chuck and Pat, we love you both and look forward to next year’s celebration!

Last Sunday we were blessed by Rev. Dan Chun, from First Presbyterian Church in Honolulu, Hawaii and his sermon, “Hope in the Midst of Darkness.”  He described John the Baptist’s dark night of the soul.  His doubt, questioning of his life’s work and struggle with his faith of who was this Jesus?  Reverend Dan described his own life struggles and many of the same questions that he had and we have had over the last several months.  Rev. Dan then encourages and reminds us with the words of Jesus: 1)” I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me…” John 16:33; 2)  “Simon, Simon, listen!  Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31, and finally, 3) Isaiah 41:10 “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you; I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”  


So for those of you keeping track this will be my fourth time in the pulpit here at First Presbyterian Church in Carson City, NV.  I have been filling the third week in January time slot since 2021.  Today, a little over three months since my last time before you, I am here with a heavy heart and with a spirit filled with joy and thanksgiving at the opportunity that I have been given.  It only seems fitting that when I last filled the pulpit in January the sermon scripture was Acts 4: 1-22 and was titled “Ordinary Men.”  After healing a crippled man, Peter and John were brought before the religious council.  Peter and John, filled with the Holy Spirit, shared the good news of the Gospel.  In Acts 4:13 it says, “Now when they (the religious leaders) saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.”  On April 7th Pastor Steve Rex, from the Calvary Chapel on the Northshore of Kauai added to the description of ordinary men, as it applied to himself and to all of us, “unworthy and unqualified.”  Amen.  God takes the ordinary and with it does the extraordinary.

So on the last two Sundays we have celebrated Pastor Bob’s and our own Hawaiian connections. We have been gifted to hear Pastor Steve Rex, dynamic, spirit filled and who is the pastor of a large and vibrant church on the island of Kauai.  Last Sunday we had the Reverend Dr. Dan Chun, a Trustee at the Fuller Bible Seminary, a biblical scholar, and Senior Pastor of the large and growing First Presbyterian Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This morning you have me and when I was seven I did my first mission trip to Hawaii!  Full disclosure I didn’t volunteer for that trip and my parents made me go.  All part of God’s plan!

For the last four years Pastor Bob has been spreading the Gospel here at the First Presbyterian Church in Carson City, he has prepared us ordinary men and women, to each be the part of Christ’s body that we have been called to be and then share the good news both here and beyond.

In preparation for today’s message, I would like cite my references and give credit where credit is due.  These included: The New Revised Standard Version of the holy scriptures; the “Believer’s Bible Commentary” by William MacDonald, John MacArthur’s “Acts – The Spread of the Gospel,” and finally each of those who has filled the pulpit over the last serval months, and finally to Pastor Bob, because his words, videos and teachings live on in each of us and will continue to inspire and strengthen us in the days ahead.

The WORD of God

Let’s read God’s word from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

  ACTS  Chapter 11 Verses 19-26:



A return to the Book of ACTS

In John MacArthur’s book “Acts” he begins by suggesting that the Book of Acts might be better titled, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.”  The mention of the Holy Spirit in Acts happens more than 50 times.  After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit directed, controlled, and empowered the church and caused it to grow in numbers, spiritual power and influence.  The Holy Spirit did that by empowering average, ordinary and generally uneducated men.  Acts is thought to have been written by Luke, the Gospel Writer, around 60 AD.  It describes the first 30 years of the early Church.  Acts takes up where the Gospel of Luke leaves off and throughout goes back and forth between what had been, what was happening then and what the future would hold.  Luke and Acts form a comprehensive and seamless account of how the followers of Jesus “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) by taking the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The good news Acts reports was not reserved for only a few, but was for ALL, both Jew and Gentile, for everyone whom God created.  The Book of Acts is our story, it describes the events and the circumstances that brought the Gospel to “us” Gentiles, and how we came to be known as “Christians.”

Chapter 6 in MacArthur’s book “Acts-The Spread of the Gospel” is titled “The Gospel to the Gentiles.”  It encompasses Acts 9:32-12:25.  He begins with a statement ”Someone has observed that in North America, Sunday morning seems to be the most segregated period of the whole week.”  He then goes on to ask the reader to deny or verify the statement.  It is pretty interesting and challenging to consider.  Many of the Jewish/Hebrew converts in the early Church struggled with sharing the Gospel with those beyond their own tradition.  However, God’s extension of grace beyond Israel was not an afterthought.  From his first calling of Abraham, it was God’s intent that His chosen people should be instruments to bring salvation to the Gentiles.  “In you,” the Lord told Abraham, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Where have we been?

On April 9th Pastor Steve Rex, brought us the message based on Acts 10: 1–48.  In the Scriptures, Luke recounts the story about Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and his encounter with the Apostle Peter.  As you may recall, Peter was the Apostle specifically called to spread the good news of the gospel with his Jewish brothers and sisters.  Jesus declared in Acts 9:15, Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul, was to share the gospel with the Gentiles.  On the very day that Cornelius’s people were to find and meet with Peter, he had a vision of all these animals that were both clean and unclean.  In the vision a voice said, “Get up Peter; kill and eat.”  Peter responded, “By no means Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  The voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  This happens three times, the magic number for Peter to insure it was fully understood.  Cornelius’s people arrived, Peter heard their request and the following day they packed up and headed from Joppa back to Caesarea.  After Peter met Cornelius, Cornelius said “…So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”  Peter then began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” …“Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

In verse 44 it says, “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the Word.  This was the same Holy Spirit that fell on the Jewish believer’s back on Pentecost.  The circumcised believers (the Jews) who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles (us!)…  Then Peter said “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Planting of the Church in Antioch

In Acts chapter 11 the first 18 verses describe Peter’s return to Jerusalem and his facing the Jewish believers who were outraged that Peter had “ went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” cPeter had committed the ultimate breach of Jewish tradition. cIt reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof- “TRADITION!“

Peter than retold the entire story of his experience in Joppa and it concludes in verse 18: “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”  Scholars report this to be one of the most shocking admissions in Jewish history, but an event prophesied in the Old Testament.

In William MacDonald’s  “Believer’s Bible Commentary” he states, “The narrative (beginning at chapter 11 verse 19, our Scripture this morning) now goes back to the time of the persecution following the martyrdom of Stephen.  In other words, the events described in the text this morning took place before the conversion of Cornelius.  The stoning of Stephen was reported back in Acts 7:58 to 8:1.  Saul witnessed and approved of the killing.  Stephen’s death seemed to trigger a widespread assault against the church.  They were under attack.  The principal prosecutor was Saul.

Back to our text: Members of the early church, in an effort to avoid this persecution scattered to Phoenicia, which is a narrow coastland in present Lebanon, to Cyprus, a large island in the eastern Mediterranean and to Cyrene, a port city on the north coast of Africa in current day Libya.  They were preaching the Gospel but to no one but Jews.

There were some of the believers in Cyprus and Cyrene who went to Antioch and proclaimed the good news to the Hellenists.  Antioch, today is in SE Turkey, is about 300 miles north of Jerusalem on the banks of the Orontes river, 16 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea.  Jerusalem to Antioch is about the distance from Carson City to Elko.  It is argued by many to be the second most important city in the history of the Christian church, Jerusalem being the first.

So what about those “Hellenists?”  Who or what was a Hellenist? In Acts chapter 6 you may remember the Hellenists were complaining against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.  In this context a Hellenist may have been a follower of Jesus, a convert who had returned to Judea after having lived abroad in the Greek world.  He/she  was most likely a Greek speaking Jew. Stephen and Phillip were Hellenistic Jews.  “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.  The introduction of Christianity to Antioch was an important step in the forward march of the church.  It was considered the third city of the Roman Empire and has been dubbed “the Paris of the ancient world.”  From here Paul and his companions later went forth on their missionary journeys, taking the good news to the Gentiles.  More on that in a moment.  

When news of the great spiritual awakening reached the church in Jerusalem, it was decided to send warm hearted and kindly Barnabas to Antioch.  This dear man saw at a glance that the Lord was working mightily among these Gentiles, so he encouraged them to continue with the Lord with great determination.  Not only was Barnabas a wonderful addition to the new church, he helped to unite the church in Jerusalem and Antioch and his next idea would forever change the trajectory of the infant church.

Barnabas remembered that Saul, the former prosecutor of the church and then later one of its newest and most fervent supporters was a short distance from Antioch across the Mediterranean in Tarsus.  You may remember that Barnabas had been the one who had introduced Saul to the disciples following Saul’s encounter with Jesus and conversion.  Saul had so angered the Jewish establishment after his awakening and proselytizing that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messiah, that they made plans to kill him.  Hearing of these plans believers in Jerusalem helped him escape Judea and return to his hometown of Tarsus.

Barnabas, anxious to encourage Saul in the ministry and to give the church in Antioch the benefit of his teaching, departed for Tarsus and brought Saul to Antioch.  Does this sound like something the Holy Spirit might do, take ordinary guy Barnabas to go get 180 degree guy Saul/Paul and then use them both to go and “strengthen your brother?” Luke 22:31

“So it was for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples (that is us) were first called Christians.”

Christian, initially a term of derision, meaning “of the party of Christ.”  In the world today, unfortunately, Christian is still often used as a disparaging term.  Then as now, the world and its leader Satan, fear the almighty power of God.

J.A. Stewart in his book “Evangelism” says, “Saintly F.B. Meyer has said: “Antioch will ever be famous in Christian annals, because a number of un-ordained and unnamed disciples, fleeing from Jerusalem in the face of Saul’s persecution, dared to preach the Gospel to Greeks and to gather converts into the church in entire disregard of the initial rite of Judaism.”

If these believers had gone from a modern congregation in which the ministry was designated to the sole responsibility of one man or woman, this triumphant period of the Church’s history could never have been written.  How tragic that in the average church the ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit lie dormant and latent because the average believer has no opportunity to minister.  I will interject at this point and say over the last four years we have not been the average church!  As long as every little group of believers has a paid pastor to take care of them, there is one thing certain, and that is, the world will never be evangelized.  Thank God for all the Sunday School teachers, the youth group leaders, the volunteer nursery staff, the videographers, the sound folks, the podcasters, the Bible study facilitators and the all the other so-called laymen.  When the paid staff, help teach and encourage everyone to do our part, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit, all things are possible.

In conclusion

I would like to leave you this morning, my fellow “Christians,” with some words of encouragement written during a difficult time for the church by one of Christ’s disciples:

We are messengers with good news.

Today is the day to find a way to step out of your own circle to engage someone who is scared or ailing with a blessing.

Today is the day to move beyond your comfort and security by praying for someone else who is hurting or lost, despairing or angry.

Today is the day to listen and feel the pain of someone who has lived injustice.

Today is the day to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner.

Today is the day to do those things – not because we are righteous or can make everything all better; but because we serve the one who is able.

Friends, we have the opportunity to serve and bear witness to Jesus in tangible, practical, immediate ways:

It is not a time to give up, it is a time to stand up.

It is not a time to despair, it is a time to live with hope.

It is not a time to yield to sorrow, it is a time to live with the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ as the foundation of our day-to-day, moment-by-moment focus.

In the movie Apollo 13, the true story is told of how scientists and engineers took a disaster and joined together to try to accomplish the seemingly impossible.  Towards the end, as the capsule was about to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, there is a scene in the control room in Houston:

Man 1: The parachute situation, the heat shield, the angle of the trajectory and the typhoon; these are some of the variables in play.

Man 2: I know what the problems are, Henry. This could be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.

Gene Kranz turns to the man: With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.

I hope, pray, and believe that this can be our finest hour, too.  Remember whom we follow: Jesus came to Friday, when all look lost. Betrayed, abandoned, arrested, wrongfully convicted, humiliated, tortured, and crucified.  But Sunday was coming.

This has been a tough year.  Many things are awry.  We are surrounded and overwhelmed by despair, sadness, anger, and frustration.  That all is accurate.

But so is this:

We proclaim a crucified Savior.  He knows our name.  He knows our pain.

We worship a risen Lord. Jesus is our hope.  He is our salvation.  He is our reason to persist and endure.  And, He has promised that we will overcome.

That was written to us in June of 2020 by Pastor Bob.