In October, 1993 the sports world was rocked by the announcement that Michael Jordan was retiring from basketball. He had just finished leading the Chicago Bulls to their third straight championship. Most thought Jordan still had many great years in front of him – but he walked away from the game. When he signed a baseball contract people were shocked, if not slightly amused. He struggled, but played the 1994 season in the Chicago White Sox system. Then, as baseball was about to go on strike in March 1995, he used a fax and two words to electrify the sports world: “I’m back.” He played a few games using the number 45, but then he tore down his old jersey from the “retired numbers” section and came back as #23. While the Bulls lost in the playoffs that year, Jordan followed his previous “three-peat” by leading the Bulls to their second “three-peat” during the 1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-1998 seasons.
Jordan’s return to basketball was a shocker, but a return with an even greater impact was the return of Saul to proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Saul, upon his conversion tore up the league, so to speak, in Damascus and in Jerusalem. Both places got too hot to handle Saul, and he was shipped back home to rest and to end the death threats. Barnabas, dare we call him Saul’s agent, meanwhile, got sent to Antioch because the news of an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit reached the leaders in Jerusalem. Barnabas was excited and strengthened the new believers and helped lead many others to Christ. He needed help, though, and knew just who could help. Just across the bay, Saul was sitting in Tarsus waiting for God’s leadership. “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 4:25-26)
I don’t think I’m telling any surprises when I note that Saul not only did great things in Antioch, he also changed the known world with the message of Jesus Christ, establishing many churches in his evangelistic efforts. He and Barnabas made a great team. As taught the many people that were coming to know Jesus in Antioch, people started making fun of “those people” who were following Christ: they mockingly called them “Christians” or “little Christs.” As happens with mocking nick names, the disciples heard that name and wore it with pride. I can just imagine the first kid to get called a “little Christ” going home, fighting the tears, and telling his mom what he was called. I can imagine the mom, thinking about it, breaking into a wide grin, and saying, “what an amazing compliment!” I believe the name “Christian” was first meant in a mocking way, but the early Christians realized that the people who mocked them recognized that they were living like Christ and they took it as a testimony to their changed lives.
It’s time to reclaim that lost meaning of the name “Christian.” Our lives should be so in tune with God; so much like how Jesus would live that when people look at us they’ll call us “Christians” and really mean it, whether in admiration or in mockery. What will that look like? We who claim the name of Jesus have splintered on a lot of beliefs and actions, but I think Matthew 25:35-36 gives a good explanation of how we ought to act: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Christianity is a relationship with Christ but if we truly have that relationship with Jesus, it will affect our everyday life.
Oh Lord, I need to walk in Your footsteps each and every day. Make my life so much like yours that people automatically recognize Your presence in my life.
PS – This showed up about 12 hours late because of an asthma flare up. I apologize