As we’ve been going through our study of the Book of Acts, we’ve noted how the story kinda jumps around from person to person – following a variety of different characters as the Holy Spirit works through each of them in unique ways. We’ve seen snapshots of Peter & John, Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, & Saul – all of them each playing key role in the early days of the church.
But so far, Peter has been the most visible character in these stories. We’ve seen him preaching on the day of Pentecost, later healing a lame man at the temple, confronting Ananias & Sapphire about lying to the Holy Spirit, bringing the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, and most recently being miraculously rescued from prison!
If we had to identify a central character to the book of Acts so far (Jesus Christ not withstanding) – I think we would have to choose Peter.
However, we are now just about half-way through the book of Acts and it’s at this point that the spotlight of the story shifts and will now follow a young man named Saul and it will track with him pretty much for the rest of the book.
Of course, Saul is not a new character to the book of Acts. We first met him back in chapter 7. At that time he was a zealous young Pharisee whose misdirected zeal for the Lord lead him to imprison and murder many believers.
But thankfully, in His grace, God saw fit to intervene, and in a very dramatic fashion, brought Saul to the saving knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ. And not only was Saul’s conversion dramatic, so was the change in his life! Almost immediately, Saul began boldly preaching about Jesus Christ – doing the very thing that he had condemned others for only days earlier!
With Saul’s zeal for the Lord now properly directed, He had gone from being the persecutor to being the persecuted! And so for his own safety, the other believers sent him away to his hometown of Tarsus.
But that certainly wasn’t the end of Saul’s story. Sometime later, Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul and brought him to Antioch where they both worked together with the church there for quite some time.
And that’s just about the last we’ve heard about Saul up until this point. The only other thing we know is that he and Barnabas have taken a trip to Jerusalem to bring a gift for the church there to help provide for their needs during a famine.
And so that’s where we’re going to pick things up today.
But just before we begin reading in today’s chapter – which is Acts chapter 13 – I first want to read the last two verses of chapter 12. You’ll remember from last week that the church in Jerusalem had just come through some difficult persecution. King Herod Agrippa had the apostle James killed with a sword and then, when he saw how much that pleased the Jews, he Peter arrested and thrown in jail. However God’s purposes would not be thwarted by anyone and so God sent an angel to rescue Peter from the prison and later struck Herod with a sickness that caused him to be eaten by worms from the inside out and he soon died.
And so with Peter freed from prison and Herod out of the picture, Luke writes this in verse 24:
24 Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.
What a great verse that is! Despite persecution and hardships – the Word of God prevailed. What a great reminder that there are no rulers or authorities – in this world or in the spiritual realms – who can stop the Word of God from carrying out God’s purposes! As we can see here, despite Herod’s best efforts, more and more people were coming faith in Jesus Christ and God’s kingdom was growing and growing!
And so it’s on that note of kingdom growth that Luke now shifts the focus of his story from Peter over to Barnabas and Saul. He says in verse 25:
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.
Now you may recall from last week how the church was praying for Peter while he was in jail. Acts 12:12 tells us that they had been meeting for prayer at the home of Mary – the mother of John Mark. This is the same John Mark that is now accompanying Barnabas and Saul back to Antioch – presumable to help them in their ministry there. John Mark will eventually become a key player in the spread of the Gospel – in fact, he will go one to write the Gospel of Mark. But that all comes a little bit later. For now, just log that bit of information away in your mind, and let’s keep on reading: Acts chapter 13 now – starting at verse 1.
Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 2 One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. Acts 13:1-3
Now there are several interesting points that we can glean from these few verses. First of all, notice that the church in Antioch had quite a diverse leadership team. At this point we don’t see any mention of any elders in this church, but we do see a team of leaders identified as the prophets and teachers. And it appears that these guys had come from all over – and from a wide variety of background.
- We’ve got Barnabas who was from the Island of Cyprus – we learned that back in Acts chapter 4.
- There was Simeon – the black man – who was likely of African descent. (Some people think this may have been the same Simon who help carry Jesus’ cross – John Mark writes about that in Mark 15:21)
- Then we have Lucius – who was from Cyrene.
- Manaen – who was friends with Herod Antipas when they were kids – thus leading us to assume he came from a rather wealthy and influential family.
- And then we have Saul – the zealous & murderous Pharisee turned Christian evangelist!
What a diverse group of people! But I think this is just a great testimony to the unifying power of the Gospel! Despite their many differences, these guys saw each other as brothers in Christ and appeared to have no trouble working and worshipping together.
And that’s the other thing that I wanted to point out…You’ll notice that these guys were fasting and worshiping the Lord together when the Holy Spirit directed them to appoint Barnabas and Saul for a special work!
They weren’t just meeting together to plan out their sermon series or to plot out the church calendar or to make plans for the latest greatest program! But instead, they were meeting together as a leadership team to fast and worship the Lord.
As someone who has been involved in church leadership for a good portion of my life – this is pretty convicting for me! I’ve been to a lot of board meetings and leadership meetings before – and not many of those meeting were called for the sole purpose of fasting and worshipping the Lord!
So many times we think of church leadership as planning programs and working through budgets and coordinating volunteers! And sure, that’s a part of it – but leading the church means – first and foremost – leading the church in worship! And I don’t mean leading the songs on Sunday morning, but in every area of our lives, we should be leading by example in how we worship and glorify God. So if that’s not our primary goal when we meet as elders or board members or any type of leadership team in the church, then what are doing?
Our first and greatest priority is to worship and glorify the Lord.
And really, this applies to every Christian – whether you lead anything or not! The chief end of mankind is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever!
There is nothing more important than that! If there is only one thing you can accomplish today – this needs to be it. Your purpose for this day is to worship and glorify God! As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says…
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
And so as leaders of the church, or as a leader of your family, or even just as a follower of Christ, we need to make this a priority in all that we do.
Board meetings, your conversations at work, even the discipline of our children – should all be done with the goal of bringing glory and worship to our Lord Jesus!
And I think that was certainly the case for this leadership team in Antioch. They had made it a priority to worship the Lord together – and in fact, had even determined to fast together. Notice in verse 2 and 3…
One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3 So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. Acts 13:2-3
Throughout Scripture we’re given examples of people fasting so that they might more fully give themselves to prayer – particularly when they are seeking the Lord’s guidance or help for something.
- Mordecai & the Jews in Susa did this for Queen Esther before she boldly appeared before King Xerxes to plead for the lives of her people.
- Ezra and the other Israelite exiles did this before making the difficult and dangerous journey from Babylon back to Jerusalem.
- Jesus did this for 40 days before being tempted by Satan and beginning his earthly ministry.
It seems to be a bit of a forgotten practice these days, but prayer and fasting has long been a practice of God’s people to both humble ourselves before God and to earnestly seek his will and direction for our lives.
We’re not told specifically if these men were fasting with any particular purpose in mind – or whether they were simply fasting as part of their regular worship, but not surprisingly, it was during this time of worship and fasting that the Holy Spirit gave them these specific instructions to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a the special work that God had given them.
And it’s interesting that even AFTER they received this word from the Lord, they again spent time in prayer and fasting before they acted on the Lord’s instructions! And I don’t get the sense that this was to confirm what the Holy Spirit said or anything like that. The Holy Spirit seemed to be very clear in what He wanted them to do. And so I expect that this second round of prayer and fasting was more about expressing their absolute dependance on God – both for the future ministry of Barnabas and Saul – as well as for the future of the church in Antioch.
Barnabas and Saul would be utterly dependant on God to lead and guide and protect them as they went out as missionaries into the unknown. Likewise, church in Antioch would be utterly dependant on God to raise up new leaders to replace Barnabas and Saul who had been with the church since almost the beginning.
For Barnabas and Saul to leave the church now to go off into a new ministry would have left a huge whole in the church – I’m sure it would have been difficult for all parties involved! But of course, if this was God’s will and plan, then God would certainly provide all that was needed.
And I think this was a lesson that Saul would learn well. Throughout his many epistles that he would later write, he often reminded his readers of God’s abundant and generous provision. Let me give you just a sampling: In 2 Corinthians 9, he writes:
8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
2 Corinthians 9:8-10
Saul seems pretty sure of God’s generosity, doesn’t he? And that’s just one example: To the Philippians He writes this:
19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
20 Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.
To the Romans he says this:
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31-32
And then finally, in Ephesians 3, he sums it all up by saying:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Wow! Is God able to provide or what? We are so quick to forget who our God is – how powerful He is – and how much He loves us! With a God like this, what could we possible lack?
The obvious answer is: nothing! And I think Barnabas and Saul and the entire church at Antioch came to the same conclusion!
After their time of prayer and fasting, recognizing their utter dependance on God – and being assured in their hearts and mind that God would most certainly provide – the men laid their hands on Barnabas & Saul and sent them on their way.
Verse 4 continues:
4 So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. 5 There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant.
And so begins the Bible’s first recorded missions trip! For the sake of time I think we’ll pause here for today and we’ll save the rest of the story for another week. But I think there are a couple points that we can note from these verses as well.
First of all, it’s interesting to note that the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul to minister together as a team. You might think they could cover more ground and have a greater ministry if they both went out in different directions – but no, the Holy Spirit sent them to work together as a team. In fact, Luke also makes note that they also brought along John Mark as an additional member of their team to help. They obviously believed that working together as a team would be more fruitful and then working alone as individuals!
And of course, that principle is confirmed throughout Scripture. Solomon wisely reminds us:
9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Now of course, this is all just good, common sense – but I think it also speak to the way God has created us for relationships! God never intended us to go though life alone! We are created for relationships!! We are stronger, more effective, and more secure when we are in relationships – relationships with each other and most importantly – when we are in a relationship with God. Our relationships with others are important – but our relationship with God is critical.
In fact, Jesus says that it’s our relationship with God that gives us life. Jesus said in John 17:3 as he is praying to the Father…
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. John 17:3
The only way for us to have eternal life is to know God – to know Jesus Christ – to have a personal relationship with Him! And if you don’t have that relationship with Christ this morning, then I would love to introduce you to Him! Please, come talk with me after the service and I’d love to tell you how to get to know the God of the universe! It’s the most important relationship you’ll ever develop!
But to get back to our passage – I think this is why we see here in Acts that Barnabas and Saul (And John Mark) were sent out to minister together as a team. We are made to live and work in relationships!
So that’s the first thing I noticed in these verses.
The second thing I noticed was that the first place they stopped to minister was on the Island of Cyprus. It says…
“They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. 5 There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God.” Acts 13:4b-5a
Before this week, I had read this verse many times over and had never given any thought to where they first stopped to preach. But do you remember who originally came from Cyprus? Barnabas! That’s where he was born and raised! The special work that God had called him to do all began with him being a missionary in his own home territory!
That, I think, is worth noting! Our own home is the first place that we should begin making disciples! We don’t have to travel across the world to share the good news in a foreign land – there are people right here in Penhold who need to know the Gospel of Jesus and to see it lived out right before their eyes. In fact, for many of us, there are people right within our own homes to need to hear the Good News and see it lived out through us. We need to be missionaries to our own children – showing them how to be a disciple of Jesus… or for some of us, we need to share the Gospel with our parents, and show them what it means to follow Christ.
We don’t have to go far to find opportunities to be a witness for the Lord. You don’t have to be commissioned by your church or even receive some special calling from the Holy Spirit. You already have a standing call from God to make disciples! Matthew 28:18 is a command from God for you! Jesus said:
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And that’s exactly what Barnabas and Saul did in Cyprus – and in fact, that’s what they were doing in Antioch even before that! In both places, they were preaching the Word of God – making disciples and teaching these new disciples to obey God’s commands! Their location had changed, but their call to make disciples had not!
The same principle applies to me and you. Over time, we might change locations or jobs or churches or even the specific ways that we feel called to serve God. We might enter full-time ministry or retire from it. We might join the worship team or the church board – we might lead a Bible study or serve God in some other capacity that we can’t even imagine right now!
But our calling to make disciples – and to glorify God through that – remains the same!
And so this morning, I just want to remind you of your commissioning. Just like how Barnabas and Saul were commissioned by the church in Antioch to go out and do the work that God had called them to – likewise this morning, I want to again send you out into your home, into your school, into your place of business – and to do the work that God has called you to do!
Of course, the specifics will be different for each one of us – as to where we go or who we speak with – but our calling is all the same. We are to make disciples and by doing so, bring much glory to our God in Heaven.