“A113” ... It's everywhere! It's Andy's mom's license plate number in the movie Toy Story; It's a door number in the movie Monsters University; It's the courtroom number in the movie Up; It's the camera model number in the movie Finding Nemo; It's on a rat's ear tag in the movie Ratatouille; And it's the train number in the movie Cars. You can even find it in Pixar´s movie, Soul. But what does “A113” mean?
John Lasseter, a co-founder of Pixar, the company that made all these movies, explains how A113 is the number of the animation classroom at the California Institute of the Arts. Every time you are watching one of these animated movies and see “A113” one of the animators is leaving their mark, letting everyone know that a former student of the California Institute of the Arts was involved in the making of the movie. They are leaving their mark so that for years to come, any who watches their movies will see evidence of where they learned.
How did Jesus leave His mark on the world? He wrote no books. He started no seminaries or churches. He did not open hospitals or orphanages. He was not a politician, a president or a prime minister. He was a simple teacher, from the small town of Nazareth. He was the son of a carpenter, with no formal theological training that we know of, yet He has impacted more people and changed more lives than any other person in the history of the world. So how did He leave His mark? He pointed people to faith and made disciples.
As Christians we are called to leave a mark as well, not for a school like these animators, but for our Savior. We are called to leave His mark, the mark of Christ, in our conversations, in our relationships, in our business dealings, in our homes, and in our world. If they are paying attention, those around us should find ongoing evidence of Christ in our lives.
This has always been the purpose of God’s people. To live in such a way that His blessing and glory would be on display to all nations.
That we would “let our lights so shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
We find a great example of people leaving His mark on their world in Acts 11. The story focuses on the church of Antioch. To appreciate the story we have to understand the historical background of what was happening.
In Acts 7 we read how a follower of Christ named Stephen was stoned to death because of his faith. Acts 8:1,4 recount the event in these words. “There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”
Jesus had commanded that the gospel be spread to “the ends of the earth,” but up until this point the preaching was still primarily to the Jews. They apostles and the other believers were not seeking to make “disciples of all nations” as they had been commanded by Christ.
Acts 11:19-21 then tells us more.
“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Even in the midst of the persecution and fleeing for their lives they continued leaving the mark of Christ wherever they went. It would have been easier to hide and be silent and turn inward, but they couldn´t. The beauty of the gospel that had taken root in their lives had to be shared with other. One of the cities to which they went was called Antioch.
Antioch was a great city. It was a free city in the Roman Empire. It was the capital of the province of Syria. It was the third largest city in the known world, only behind Rome and Alexandria. It was located near the mouth of the Orontes river, only 24 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea. The international trade routes passed through Antioch in such a way that it had become famous for both business and culture. It was truly a cosmopolitan city, but it had a dark side as well. Besides the chariot racing and its constant pursuit of pleasure, Antioch was famous for the worship of Daphne. The priestesses of the Temple of Daphne were sacred prostitutes who every evening added to the luxurious immorality of the city. Antioch was steeped in materialism, sexuality and its pursuit of pleasure and was known for its decadence.
It is quite interesting that God would choose this godless type of city to begin His world-wide missions effort. As we read the book of Acts we see how God orchestrated events in such a way that His will and desires for the spread of the Gospel were carried out.
In this story we see that when we neglect to walk in obedience to God’s calling, He, at times, will orchestrate what is needed to get us where He has called us to be.
We also see that there are times that a believer may view his or her situation as an unfair hardship when God is right in the middle of it.
It is in these verses that we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12:3,” And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The gospel started with the Jews, but God’s ultimate plan was to be a blessing to the nations. We now see that some of the Jewish believers who had now fled to Antioch were beginning to understand the true purposes of God and share with the Gentiles.
This was a giant step in the spread of the gospel. Jews were purposefully taking the good news to the Gentiles. Finally, the mystery of the gospel and redemption of people from every nation, tongue and tribe would be fulfilled.
They preached the Lord Jesus. They did not preach religion. They did not preach rules. They did not preach some social agenda or some politically correct message of self-improvement. They did not preach how to use religion to help you get what you want. They preached the Lord Jesus.
And the hand of the Lord was with them. We can find this phrase, “Hand of the Lord,” throughout scripture. In Joshua 4 God dried up the Jordan River so that the children of Israel could enter the Promised Land. God then commanded them to build an altar of stones so “That all the people of the earth might know THE HAND OF THE LORD, that it is MIGHTY: that ye might fear the Lord your God forever.” We see the Hand of the Lord on Elijah as he outruns king Ahab’s chariot and horses for almost 30 kilometers (1 Kings 18:44-46). We see the Hand of the Lord taken from King Saul once he decided to walk in disobedience. We see the hand of the Lord throughout scripture as He disciplines, protects, strengthens, convicts, grants faith and accomplishes God’s purposes in supernatural ways.
As these men from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Lord Jesus the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Salvation is not something that one can just figure out as if it were a mathematical equation or can just be won over to as in some sort of academic debate. God drew the people to Himself (John 6:44). The Holy Spirit convicted the non-believers of sin (John 16:8). Saving faith was granted them (Ephesians 2:8-9). The hand of the Lord was upon them and it was clear that God had brought a great work of salvation as the doors of redemption were opened to the Gentiles on a grand scale.
A great number believed and turned to the Lord. Scripture does not tell us the names of those men from Cyprus and Cyrene who first understood the heart of God, but they were used by God to change the face of eternity.
Acts 11:22-26 continued with these words.
“The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
At this point the church leaders in Jerusalem had already heard from Peter about the Spirit’s moving amongst the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, but could it be true that Jews and Gentiles could worship together and be in the same spiritual family? Was it okay for the Jewish believers to intentionally share their faith and their lives with non-Jews? At this point the church leaders in Jerusalem had many questions so they sent out Barnabas, one of their most trustworthy brothers to investigate the rumors from Antioch.
Barnabas was a well-to-do Levite from Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, that was part of a main trade route. It was a multi-cultural center that would have exposed Barnabas to many cultures and peoples in his earlier years. He was Jewish, but he had shown himself to be a man of grace. Barnabas was also from the same place as those who were preaching in Antioch. For these reasons it was a wise choice to send Barnabas to discern the nature of these claims of salvation for the Gentiles in Antioch.
When Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw the grace of God he encouraged those in the church of Antioch. But how did Barnabas “see” the grace of God? He saw Jews who had stepped beyond religious taboos and shared the love of Jesus Christ with Gentiles. He saw pagan Gentiles who had now become followers of Jesus Christ. He saw those who had been dead in their sin were now alive in Jesus Christ. He saw Jews and Gentiles worshipping Jesus Christ side-by-side, as spiritual brothers and sisters. He saw Jews and Gentiles forgetting their differences and united by their new-found identity in Christ, their same heavenly Father, and their same citizenship in heaven. There was no other part of Roman society where this could be found. Humanly it was impossible but through Christ it was happening.
In verse 26 we read how it was “In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Whether it was meant as a derogatory term or just a designation of a new group that followed a man known as Cristus, the fact was that something about their lives associated them with Jesus Christ.
It would be similar to the truth that was at work in Acts 4:13 when Peter and John stood before the rulers, elders, scribes and Annas the high priest in Jerusalem. Acts 4:13 says this,” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Even in a godless society, the Christians in Antioch, were leaving His mark, on the world around them.
It reminds us of people like William Wilberforce. He was a Christian reformer and long-term member of the British Parliament. He lived from 1759-1833. He could have just enjoyed the good life of power and luxury, but His faith would not permit it. He had to leave Christ´s mark on England and the world.
During Wilberforce´s life England was one of the main countries that was driving slave trafficking. It is estimated that from the years 1640 to 1807 Britain took and transported 3.1 million Africans into slavery. Wilberforce came to the point that He could no longer turn a blind eye. Wilberforce´s biography accounts the story like this.
“As he sat at his desk that foggy Sunday morning in 1787 thinking about his conversion and his calling, Wilberforce asked and answered a pivotal question. Had God saved him only to rescue his own soul from hell? He could not accept that. If Christianity was true and meaningful, it must not only save but serve.”
After years and years of struggle Wilberforce and a few others were able to lead an effort that outlawed slave trade and eventually ended slavery in England. It was Wilberforce´s faith that drove him to live a life that left Christ´s mark on the world around Him. Whether we are at work, school or home, we are called to do the same.
Like Wilberforce, the early believers left the mark of Christ on their world. Though small in number and limited in resources, Christianity eventually spread throughout the entire Roman Empire. The same principle is true today. One way that the world will be drawn to the heavenly Father is as they watch the lives of His children. Bearing God's image to a watching world demands that we become like Christ. (Phil. 2:5, Acts 1:8, Acts 11:26, Matt. 5:14-16) When Christians live “Christ-like” lives people begin to see what Christ is like through us and their attention is turned to Him. As we read in Matthew 5:16’ “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”
Like those in Antioch, we must preach the Lord Jesus. We desperately need the Hand of God upon us and the grace of God evident amongst us. As we supernaturally live like Jesus, people will be provoked to question and be brought to Jesus.
One may ask, “How can I leave the mark of Christ on the world around me?”
In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Just like those of Pixar who left their mark with the number “A113” our mark or is to be love. We see it throughout scripture. We read of Dorcas in Acts 9:36 who expressed her love to many by her good works of making tunics and garments for the widows. We read of Zacheus, the tax collector, whose faith so stirred a heart of love in him that he was willing to “give half of his possessions to the poor and repay anyone that he had cheated out of anything, four times over.” (Luke 19:8) We see the four men whose love for their paralytic friend was so great that they were willing to dig a hole through the roof of the home where Jesus was teaching a crowd, so their friend could meet Jesus and be healed.
Romans 12:9-21 describes Christian love with these words,
“9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Can you imagine the beauty of the church of Antioch when Jews and Gentiles lived out this kind of love towards each other?
The Apostle Paul touches on this in Ephesians. “While we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ.” Whether Jew or Gentile, our earthly identities have been set aside. We are now alive in Christ and bound together as children of God and citizens of heaven. The dividing wall of hostility has been torn down. This unity between Jew and Gentile is so remarkable that Paul even called it a mystery. In Ephesians 3:6 he writes, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members together of one body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” God did this, “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
God has now brought together Jews and Gentiles. God has now extended the offer of salvation to all people of all nations, and brought them together under one Lord and Savior. This is the church, and through this unified church the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the rulers and authorities in the spiritual realms.
When the world and even the spiritual realms see the diversity of peoples brought together by the unity of Christ God is glorified. This is the beauty of the church, and more specifically, our church.
We have the opportunity to be a modern-day “church of Antioch.” In our church God has seen fit to bring together such a diverse people and then unify them in Christ. If we will embrace God’s unifying power in our midst and love one another to the fullest degree, God will be glorified, we will be made holy and others will be drawn to salvation.
Love will make the difference. But be warned, it will be messy. It will hurt at times. It’s not easy to love people who are different than you, but that’s the whole point. This love is different in kind from how the world loves. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
If we live as spiritual introverts, keeping to ourselves, we will not be made holy and the full glory of God will not be put on display. If we choose only to relate with people who look like us, think like us, and easily relate with us then we will be comfortable but once again we will not be made holy to the full extent and God will not receive the full amount of glory. When we choose to live in a costly relationship with those who are greatly different than us then God will be greatly glorified because this love will only be able to be explained by the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ that binds diverse peoples together.
It is fine to have close friends who are a lot like you, but as a modern-day church of Antioch we have to also be intentional about building relationships with other believers who are greatly different than us. In these relationships we will be challenged, sharpened, sanctified and the gospel will be grown in our lives in the process.
Evaluate your relationships periodically. Are you taking the initiative to build relationships with others? Ask God for guidance as you intentionally seek out new meaningful relationships within the church.
This is the challenge laid before us. We love because Christ first loved us. Surrender yourselves anew to Christ, asking that He would give you a heart to love others in a way that they would see your good deeds and praise your father who is in heaven.