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.