Acts 11:19-26 Saving Faith, Repentance, And The Sovereign Grace Of God.
At this juncture the focus shifts from Peter to Saul (or Paul). Believers were scattered after the persecution of Stephen, in fear of suffering the same end (Cf. Acts 8:1, 4). These believers shared the gospel as they went, but only to the Jews (v. 19). However, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, when they had come to Antioch, preached the gospel to some Hellenists, who were Aramaic or Greek speaking Jews (v. 20). Earlier on some Hellenists had lodged a complaint against the other Jews, because their widows were being “neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). This would suggest that the early Jewish converts were even sceptical of Jews from a different background with a different language. It is also true that it was unbelieving Hellenists who first tried to put Saul to death (Cf. Acts 9:29).
“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21). Three things are mentioned in this verse. Firstly, this was a sovereign work of God-it was because “the hand of the Lord was with them” (Cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14; 14:1; I Cor. 3:6). Secondly, this “great number believed.” Only by God’s sovereign grace can one have saving faith or believe. Thirdly, there is no true saving faith without repentance, for this “great number” also “turned to the Lord.” Repentance is turning away from sin to Him, which is also a gift of God’s sovereign grace. When news of this activity arrived at Jerusalem, the church sent Barnabas to Antioch to check things out (v. 22). Here Luke makes the point that what Barnabas and others were witnessing was “the grace of God” (v. 23).
Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement’ (Acts 4:36), was himself encouraged when he witnessed this grace, and he “was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (v. 23). So, true to his name, he encouraged these new converts, and hence Luke’s testimony concerning him. “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (v. 24a). Barnabas also understood that true conversion would evidence itself over the long term, and hence his words of encouragement (Cf. 13:43). “And a great many people were added to the Lord” (v. 24b). So significant was this revival that Barnabas went back to Tarsus to bring Saul back to Antioch in support of this new work. They were there for a whole year, and it was here that believers were first called Christians (vv. 25-26).