by Roger McCay
5 April 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 13:1-4
Link to Audio Version
The Lord’s call to follow him is the beginning of a road of grand adventure. The very nature of the call is to follow Jesus wherever he leads—that means moving forward, going places, doing things, sometimes small things, sometimes great things. There is no hint of sitting back and being comfortable in Jesus’ call. The journey includes risk and war and trouble, but it also includes love, joy and peace even when times are at their hardest. Upon the journey we sweat and bleed, participating in the work of God. Yet, we witness wonders; we see the Lord do mighty works in the world and in others; mighty works in and through us.
The Lord calls us to labor in his gospel ministry, and he gives us times of rest. We have our work, but we have our Sabbaths. We have our specific calling in life, and it takes various forms in the various times of our life. We fulfill that calling together with and within the body of Christ. Sometimes you are heading out into the wild, and sometimes you are helping others to go forth in faith. Faithfully following Jesus, only God knows where you will end up in this life. But, he’s told you where you’ll be in the next.
Yet, there are those who shy away from the risk of actually following Jesus. They want his salvation, claim they are Christians, but they want none of that uncomfortable business. They like things being nice tidy, and predictable; but adventure means risk, untidiness, and the unexpected. What a sad thing that is … the tendency to choose comfort over the adventure of the Christian life. But so many people do. What a loss.
In our passage today, we get a glimpse into the Lord’s grand adventure, where the Holy Spirit called, and led Saul and Barnabas to set out upon what has been called Paul’s first missionary journey. It begins like so many adventures do—people going about their regular business, and BOOM! — suddenly, something or someone instigates an event.
The church at Antioch was worshipping the Lord, and BOOM! —the Holy Spirit began this new phase of these believers’ journey. In vv. 1-3 several elements of the body of Christ are utilized by the Lord to instigate this event—the diversity and various gifts of his people; the worship of his people; and the willingness of his people.
In v. 1, Luke tells us that in the church at Antioch (which was located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, in Syria), … that in the church there were prophets and teachers, naming five of them. These were leaders in the church—Spiritually gifted men in the discernment of the Lord’s will and proclamation of the Lord’s Word. An equivalent of them today, in a local body of the church, would be the ruling and teaching elders—gifted to teach, encourage, and edify the Lord’s people, alert to the Lord’s promptings, and shepherd the flock.
There was a great deal of diversity we see among these church leaders. They were of different races and widely different backgrounds—God gifts his church without ethnic distinction. Some were Jews. Meneaus, for example, was a powerful and wealthy Jew, intimate with the ruling class in Palestine, being a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch (the Herod who we read of in the Gospels, son of Herod the Great). Of the Gentiles, Simeon, called “Niger,” was likely a black man from Africa—Niger is Latin for “black.” There was also Lucius of Cyrene, who was from Northern Africa, and he may have been a black Gentile or a Jew of the Diaspora.
Then there was Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement.” We’ve encountered him a few times before in Acts (4:36-37, etc.). His given name was Joseph, and he was a Jewish Christian (a Levite), whose hometown was on the island of Cyprus, which had a predominantly Greco-Roman culture at the time. Cyprus is in the Mediterranean Sea, about 145 miles west of Antioch, as the bird flies. Considering he was a landowner on Cyprus, among other things, Barnabas seems the picture of an educated man from a well-off, solidly Jewish, Hellenistic family. He’s portrayed as a leader in the church, willing to take risks and travel great distances for the sake of the gospel. Barnabas was an encourager; a man who gave people the benefit of the doubt, who lifted them up, gave them a chance. He was the picture of generosity. He was an apostle, a teacher, and an evangelist (Acts 13:50; 14:14). He was John Mark’s cousin (Col. 4:10), and Saul’s very good friend.
Saul was from Tarsus, located in Cilicia—modern day Turkey. He was a Jew, who was raised, like Barnabas, in Greco-Roman-Jewish culture, a Roman citizen, and a devout, highly educated Pharisee. He was a persecutor of the church. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, calling Saul to him, and giving Saul the mission to be the apostle to the Gentiles. At this point in the narrative in Acts 13, Saul had already suffered greatly for the Lord, and ministered for about 12 years since his initial calling by the Lord. He would also end up writing about 28% of the entire New Testament.
So, in Antioch, there was great diversity among the leadership, which was likely a picture of the diversity among the whole church. Yet, the Lord is the great unifier. In the Lord, diversity becomes unity—a stronger unity than homogeneity. Diversity is not only a desired trait, but a critical trait in the Lord’s church.
Notice that this whole missionary journey begins within the context of worship. The church had gathered in worship, presumably with all that involves—including prayer; ministry of the Word; perhaps, even, music & song—and they were fasting. We don’t know, exactly, the focus of their fasting, but considering what happened, it is likely their focus was on missions—taking the gospel to the world.
The church was communing with God in worship, their hearts and minds were open, seeking the Lord’s will, listening for his voice, and willing to go along whatever path he led them. What a prime moment! And the Lord chose that moment to let these prophets, teachers, and apostles know what he wanted. It was time to take the gospel to the larger Roman world—consistent with the Lord’s plan laid out in Acts 1:8. Verse 2:
The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Now, if you think about it, this was asking quite a bit. Barnabas and Saul were extremely gifted teachers and ministers of the gospel. Sending them off would be hard for the church, as they were the cream of the crop. It is a testimony to the church’s faithfulness that they jumped right on it. After some more fasting and praying, they laid hands on Barnabas and Paul, and sent them on their way.
The church was strong in the Lord. They were faithful, possessing solid leadership, well-taught, grounded in the Word, having multiple ministries, seeking and open to the Lord’s will, integrated, and regularly engaged in vigorous worship and prayer. They provided a solid base from which to launch such a grand endeavor.
Considering, too, the demonstrated generosity of this church (Acts 11:29-30), they likely outfitted the missionaries with provisions and finances to get them on their way and to see them through. It is also very likely they stayed in touch with them as they went along on their journey, encouraging them, and praying specifically for their needs. Barnabas and Paul, also John Mark, were not on a journey alone—not only was the Lord with them, but the whole body of Christ was a part of this journey.
That’s the model, my friends, as we send and support our missionaries. Mission work involves the whole of the church of Christ working together in the Spirit’s grand adventure. Let us be boldly faithful and diligent in following Jesus, willingly moving forward wherever he leads. Let us be bold in our worship—prayer, fasting, listening for the Lord’s voice, diligently studying his Word. Let us be bold in the utilization of the gifts he has given us, and not let them get dusty on a shelf. So faithful, the Lord will provide for the church to be a solid base for his gospel proclamation—to the local community and the world. Some are sent, some send, some generously provide—but let us, each and every true believer in the church, together, utilize our gifts in some way to support the whole endeavor. The Holy Spirit engages the whole body of Christ for his adventure, and we Christians must boldly follow his lead.
Now, the Scriptures do not record a specific destination to which Barnabas and Saul were called by the Spirit to go. Considering Saul’s earlier call as an apostle to the Gentiles, that was a given. Here, we are just told they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit,” in v. 4. I’m sure this involved some discussion on their part and the part of church. This probably prompted the further prayer and fasting in v. 3. As it was, they decided to head to Cyprus. Maybe Barnabas said, “Those are my old stomping grounds, they need Jesus badly, lets head that way. It’ll be good. Oh, and let’s take John Mark with us, he would be a great help.” The church agreed, and prayerfully sent them on their way, laying hands on them, commissioning them to Lord’s task. So, having prayed, decided, and been commissioned by the church, they boldly moved forward upon their journey.
The Lord’s callings often go along those lines. His callings take place within the corporate body of Christ. He puts a calling on someone’s life. They hear and respond. The church affirms their calling based on their gifts, prayer, and seeking the Lord’s will concerning his call for that person. The church encourages them and equips them, sending them to do whatever it is. This is true for pastors, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, Bible study leaders, running a local food closet, volunteering with a Christian organization such as Alpha Women’s Resource Center, and various other ministries in the community, the nation, and the world. It’s a very consistent pattern that the Lord uses to call and send his people to do his will.
There is also the other side. Sometimes a person might think they are called to some ministry, but the church, in the wisdom given to them by the Lord, consistent with his Word, finds they must gently tell that person that they are certainly called to something, but not exactly what they think. This might be hard to hear for the person—but humble submission to the authority of the church and its leaders is part of being a church member. The church, then, has a responsibility to help guide that person to where their gifts would better fit—all done prayerfully, listening for the Lord’s will.
The Lord prompts. He leads. He determines the nature of whatever particular journey a person is to follow. Think of Abraham. That gentleman was 75 years old, living a cozy and prosperous life in Haran, and the Lord said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1-7). The Lord seems to do this kind of thing regularly, too. We see it in one form or another all through the Scriptures. And, our own experiences reflect this.
Sometimes it’s a shock. I know it was a shock to me when he called me to the ministry. I was like, seriously? Me? Other folks were also a little shocked, some more than a little, I think. At the time, I was a pretty hardcore Army officer in the midst of a command. To give up a career as an Artillery officer to pursue ministry as a pastor, much less a chaplain? Where did that come from? But, the Lord has his reasons, and the church affirmed the calling and went to great lengths to help equip me for the ministry and send me on my way. Every pastor or missionary or anyone involved in ministry of any sort has a similar story. It’s pretty awesome really.
The Holy Spirit calls us, designates the nature of our particular journey following Christ, equips us by his Spirit and through the church (sometimes involving great labor and trials in preparation). The Holy Spirit works with and through the decisions of his people, as to the nature of the ministry, and then he sends us on our way. It is awesome!
Is the Lord calling you to a particular ministry? If he is, don’t dawdle. Get to it! Time is awasting!
You are not alone in your call, either. Your call takes place within the larger context of the church. Don’t feel that you are alone in this. Take it to the church, get their wisdom, guidance, support, and prayers. We don’t do any of this alone. The Lord is with us, and the church is with us.
Furthermore, as a church, we should be on the lookout for those who are gifted in certain ways, helping them use their gifts in the body of Christ accordingly. As God’s people, it is our responsibility to help confirm callings, assist with the equipping and sending, and be in communion with the Lord concerning it all. Let us also not forget about those we send into whatever ministry. Let us be a constant means of support, by staying in touch, encouraging them, praying for them, and even assisting in physical needs (if we are able). Being part of the church is not a lone wolf thing. Being a missionary is not a lone wolf thing, either. We’re all in this together. Let us, as the Lord’s church, be faithful to one another as we pursue our various callings.
Because the Holy Spirit designates the nature of the adventure, Christians must boldly follow his lead.
In the introduction of Bilbo Baggins and his grand adventure, in The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien writes:
“This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure, and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected. He may have lost the neighbours’ respect, but he gained—well, you will see whether he gained anything in the end.”
Let it never be said about us what was said about the Baggins family— “they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” The Christian walk just does not allow for that. The Holy Spirit brings all of his people into his grand adventure, calling us and designating the nature of each of our journeys. My friends, let us boldly follow Jesus, wherever he leads, utilizing whatever means he gives us.
Because the Holy Spirit makes life an adventure, Christians must boldly follow his lead.
Now, considering these things, and along those lines, the session and I want to challenge each of you. We want to challenge you to a time of fasting and prayer. If there is ever a time to pray and fast, we are living in it now. Normally, on Wednesday, we at MPC have our fellowship meal in the evening, but we are on hold from that for wise reasons. So, instead of feasting, let us fast and pray together in the Lord. We’re asking families and individuals to do this. It is a very biblical practice of God’s people that we see throughout the Old Testament and the New. Jesus himself fasted (Matthew 4:2).
There’s a method to fasting, but let’s start small. If your health allows, on Wednesday, pick a meal (or if you want to skip more that’s fine, but if you’ve never fasted, it is good to start small), so pick a meal, and skip it—don’t snack, but be sure to hydrate. If you can’t fast on Wednesday, pick another day. The important thing is to fast and pray.
Now, fasting isn’t just skipping a meal or a few meals. It is a discipline meant to focus us towards a particular purpose. The particular purpose of this fast, as a congregation, is for heartfelt and diligent prayer along seven points. With your scriptures open (seeking the Lord’s Word), pray to the Lord, and pray diligently.
The first point is …
- Give thanks and praise to the Lord for his many blessings.
- Pray according to whatever the Lord is putting on your heart.
- Pray concerning this whole coronavirus situation (fill in the details—there are so many—a short list includes praying for the Lord’s mercy, our leaders, healthcare workers, healing, for the sick, for a cure, for those who mourn, for protection, and prayer concerning this whole situation’s impact on the community, nation, and world), praying particularly, about how we, as God’s people might be faithful to him during these times.
- Pray the Lord will turn this terrible situation from being a victory for evil, and that he would overcome it, using it, somehow, according to his sovereign will, for his good purposes.
- Pray for revival across the nation, even the world. Pray that if, as people say, things will be different from here on out, then may that difference include a resurgence of faith in the Lord Jesus everywhere.
- Pray with a willingness to obey, when he answers your prayer—even if he’s calling you to missions or ministry in some way.
- And again, pray according to whatever the Lord is putting on your heart.
Lord willing, I’ll send these out on the prayer chain to you, so that you will have them in front of you, when it comes time. I’m also going to send some verses to consider concerning fasting—there are many (Matthew 4:1-2; Matthew 6:16-18; 2 Samuel 1:12; Ezra 8:21-23; Nehemiah 1:4; 9:1-3; Daniel 9:3, 20; Jonah 3:5-10; Esther 4:3; and many more). I recommend a personal study from the scriptures concerning the discipline this week, so that you might go into the fast armed with knowledge as to what you are undertaking.
God bless you in this endeavor. I know fasting might be a new thing for some of you, and for some it is probably a periodic or regular spiritual discipline. It’s part of that journey I preached about, my friends. Let us be faithful and diligent, loving and self-controlled in the Lord.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (New York: Ballantine, 1979), 15-16.