The day of Stephen’s death was the day that a “great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1). As the first known martyr of the Christian church, God used the “blood of martyrs as the seed for the church” (Tertullian). As persecution spread, so too, did the early church and the gospel with them. The gospel spread north and eventually west of Jerusalem, lodging powerfully in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). It is in this city that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Perhaps the second most influential church in the New Testament next to Jerusalem is Antioch, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem near the Mediterranean Sea. The church at Antioch was a mission-sending, mission-participating congregation. The DNA of this first-century church flowed with making disciples of all nations. From the outpost of Antioch, the Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what we refer to as Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3).
Notably, this church places a premium on worshipping and seeking the Lord (Acts 13:2). While the church of Antioch is filled with robust leaders—Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, Manaen, and Saul, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul to the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
But what was “the work” to which the Holy Spirit had called them? If Acts 1:8 is the theme of the book, then our answer lies within that passage. In short, Jesus calls the apostles to make disciples of all nations in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. This work of disciple making to which Jesus calls the apostles is extended to the church as we see the gospel spread from Jerusalem and beyond.
Their work is our work. The work of all churches is to make disciples of all nations among whomever we can and wherever we are. Some recent gospel “workers” serving in another country had to leave their place of work for another place of work. In reflection about that move, they affirmed, “God called us for the work, not for a place or a people. He called us for the work to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19). Whatever changes we may experience in the world or in our life, and wherever we may find ourselves to be, may we do the work God has called us to do!”
The church at Antioch understood the work God had called them to—that of making disciples locally and globally. This work is not easy work, and at times, our location of the work and the people to whom we are working among will change, but the work remains the same. We are to work at making disciples of all peoples wherever and to whomever God sends us. May the DNA of the church at Antioch be in us all, until our work on earth is done.