Maybe that kind of thing isn't a big deal to you, but windows are a huge deal to many of us. We need to see the light — natural light, not some energy efficient, half-hue that looks dingy and makes us feel subhuman.
At Antioch, we meet a church with three beautiful windows (Acts 11:19-30; Acts 13:1-4). And these are windows we want in our churches today! Not stained glass windows... not draped windows... not storm windows... not solar treated windows... These three windows are windows of grace. Windows fashioned in the lives of the people of this incredible group of believers because Jesus had touched their hearts and changed their lives. They had become Christ-formed people and this opened up their lives to install these three windows of grace.
Antioch is the first place people were ever called Christians (Acts 11:26), and it probably wasn't used as a compliment. The term "Christian" was probably what unbelievers called followers of Christ to differentiate them from other Jews, and appears to have been used mockingly (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). We even have evidence that historians used this term to stand for followers of "Chrestus" — Jesus Christ.
However, the brothers and sisters in Jesus' family simply took it to mean that they were Christ-formed people. And at Antioch, this belief led them to three convictions about grace. They wanted to offer this grace to everyone so they could begin to understand how much God actually loved them.
What do we learn if we look in Antioch's three windows of grace? We learn that a Christ-formed people believe...
- grace thrives where people are given second chances
- grace welcomes all kinds of people into the family
- grace shares all of God's good gifts with others
These are Antioch's three Windows of grace. Each window we add to our own lives lets in a little bit more of the light of heaven's grace. Let's look at each of them a little more closely.
Christ-formed people believe that grace thrives where people are given second chances — this is first and the key window of grace we must have!
Notice how this great church at Antioch was started! It wasn't because of missional commitment by the church in Jerusalem. It wasn't because the apostles took the Great Commission literally. It wasn't because the church was visionary. No, the church in Jerusalem faced a horrible crisis!
Stephen, one of the important leaders in the Jerusalem church, was stoned to death and a massive persecution broke out against Jesus' followers (Acts 8:1-4). And the stoning was led by a fellow named Saul of Tarsus — the guy we know later as the apostle Paul. The church in Antioch started because Saul murdered one of their leaders and began a campaign of terror to persecute followers of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Syria — where Antioch was located! The people who came to Antioch and started the church did it because they were run out of Jerusalem because of persecution.
Now several years later, when the church is growing and blowing the doors off every place they are meeting, who does Barnabas get to come help him grow and mature the church? Saul — Saul of Tarsus!
Even though Saul became a follower of Jesus Christ, not everything went smoothly for him: in fact, things got a lot better when Saul left Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 9:26-31). So Saul went back home and spent time in the desert for a decade! He was put on the shelf, hung out to dry, and largely forgotten. Then, as Antioch outgrows its leadership base, Barnabas goes to Tarsus and reclaims Saul!
Now think for a minute with me about how in the world Barnabas could explain to the leaders in the church in Antioch why he was going to get Saul of Tarsus to work with them.
"Well, he's the guy who helped start the church!?"
"Yeah, by murdering Jesus' followers and running us out of Jerusalem."
It takes more than sarcasm for the former persecutor who unwittingly helped start the Jesus movement in Antioch! It takes grace!! Real grace. The kind of grace that breaks down barriers between races, overcomes fear, runs out prejudice, and banishes layers of hatred. This is a huge window of grace, the kind of grace that gives a murderer a second chance. (For a powerful modern story of this kind of grace, read the moving story about Frank, Elizabeth, and Tommy.)
Once we realize that grace gives people second chances, and that we are in God's family because of our second or third or fourth chance, grace changes us. We offer that grace to others. And when we begin to offer second and third and fourth chances of grace to others, the whole world opens up to us because our heart begins to beat in rhythm with the heart of God.
So we also begin to realize that a Christ-formed people believe that grace welcomes all kinds of people into the family — this is our second window of grace we want to add!
Antioch was the place folks began to welcome other races and cultures into their fellowship — where all the people gathered around the Lord's Table on Sunday didn't look alike or sound alike or share a common heritage (Romans 15:7). At Antioch, they lived this grace!
Antioch was a place where the love of Jesus meant more than the differences in their skin color and language and culture and politics. They remembered that Jesus' last words were to go make followers of Jesus from people of all nations! There was to be no barrier. The great passage on personal grace (Ephesians 2:1-10) is immediately followed by an equally important passage on grace for all people — that Jesus' death on the cross tore down the wall of separation between races and cultures and provided a way for us to be cleansed and viewed as holy (Ephesians 2:11-22). Once we realize that grace gives people second chances, and that we are in God's family because of our second or third or fourth chance, it changes us. We offer that grace to others... especially others who are different than we are.
And when we begin to offer second chances of grace to others, the whole world opens up to us because our heart begins to beat in rhythm with the heart of God. So we know that a Christ-formed people believe that grace shares all of God's good gifts with others.
At Antioch we see this principle lived out as they learn of a famine in Jerusalem, the very place where some folks are having a hard time with non-Jews being considered Christians. And what do they do when they learn about this problem? They share what they have with others. They send money so their brothers and sisters don't go hungry!
Now here's the challenge. Putting windows in a church sanctuary wall may make it a better place to come and sit and go to church, but it won't make it a better church. We can't call a contractor or a window mill to make us three windows of grace for our hearts or for our churches. For us to have these three windows — these revolutionary and community-changing and world-touching windows — each of us needs to ask the Holy Spirit to help us install them in our heart!