“Called by a New Name!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, August 15, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Called by a New Name!”
The book of Acts records the establishment of the Christian Church and the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. As we get to Acts chapter 11, we shift gears; the focus is no longer on the church in Jerusalem, it’s on the movement of Jesus beyond Palestine. Persecution caused the disciples to be scattered. Some of those who were scattered found their way to Antioch, a major city in Syria that’s about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. Up to that point, the disciples who were scattered had only taught fellow Jews about the gospel; but in Antioch, Luke tells us in Acts 11:20, that some of them “began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” This preaching resulted in many accepting the Christian faith and turning to the Lord.
For the first time in the Christian history, we see a multicultural church. It is here in Antioch – where we find the first congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It’s also here in Antioch that “the disciples were first called Christians.” In Acts 11:26, Luke says, “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.” I personally find it fascinating to read the account of the Church at Antioch. It’s very special. It was the first congregation where Jews and Gentiles are seen together in church fellowship. Moreover, as we read Acts 11, 13, and 15, we get to know that Antioch became the new center of gospel activity and missionary enterprise.
What does it mean that, in Antioch, “the disciples were first called Christians”? Some people suggested that the term “Christian” was a derogatory label used by the disciples’ enemies to single them out. Others suggested that the name reflected the lifestyle of the Christian community in Antioch. In other words, the believers in Antioch lived a Christ-centered life; they lived the ethics of Jesus Christ.
In all cases, I believe that the name “Christian” is a God-given name. The Prophet Isaiah looked forward to that day when the Lord will give His people a new name. He wrote in Isaiah 62:2, “you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.” Writing to the Church in Pergamum, a congregation that endured so much persecution, John says these words in Revelation 2:17, “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Two ways to consider today the name “Christian”: the privilege and the responsibility.
First: The Privilege of Bearing the Name of Christ
Knowing that the name “Christian” was given by God Himself, we must realize that it is a very special name. We should consider it a privilege and an honor to bear the name of Christ. It is a reminder of our eternal connection with Christ. “My beloved is mine and I am his,” Song of Songs 2:16. The privilege of bearing the name of Christ is we are eternally connected to him. This bond with Christ becomes our hope and our anchor.
The Heidelberg Catechism captured this in its first question. It reads, “Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?” That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Second: The Responsibility of Bearing the Name of Christ
We should never take the term “Christian” lightly. Every privilege comes with a responsibility. With great privilege comes great responsibility. Since we bear the name of Christ, we must “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” (Ephesians 4:1). Many have watered down the term in such a way that it almost means nothing today.
Unlike a lot of many who claim to be Christians today, the word “Christ” was constantly on the lips of the believers in Antioch that their neighbors called them Christians. I bet that the believers in Antioch were so focused on Christ so when those on the outside looked at them, they identified them with Jesus of Nazareth. How much we live up to our name?
What Is Your Name?The Macedonian King, Alexander the Great, was a man who lived 300 years before Christ. He was one of the greatest military generals ever lived. At the age of 25, Alexander the Great established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen. One day, Alexander held court in Nebuchadnezzar’s great palace in Babylon. He sat upon the great golden throne, pronouncing sentences for the crimes charged to his soldiers. His army’s commander brought in one soldier after another and read their crimes. No one could deliver them from Alexander’s severe judgments.
Finally, the commander of his armies brought in a young Macedonian soldier and read aloud his crime: fleeing in the face of the enemy. This cowardice Alexander could not tolerate. But as he looked on this young soldier, Alexander’s countenance changed from stern to soft. Smiling, he said to the lad, “Son, what is your name?” The boy said softly, “Alexander.” The smile left the king’s face. He said, “What did you say?” The young man snapped to attention. “Alexander, sir.” The king turned crimson and shouted, “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” The boy began to stammer and said, “Al Alex Alexander, sir.” The king burst out of his chair, grabbed the young man by the tunic, stared him in the face, then threw him on the ground and said, “Soldier, change your conduct or change your name!” I wonder if Christ would say the same to us.
Friends, all of us have a new name from our Heavenly Father. What is that name? “Christian!” What a privilege to bear the name of Christ. And we need to live our lives in a manner worthy of that name. May we never forget that honor. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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