Demonstrating God’s Love Together
Acts 12:25 – 13:3
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from[a] Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 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.
Sometimes the maps at the back of our Bibles just serve as a reminder that the events of scripture happened not only a long time ago, but a long way away. Lots of places with strange names can, sometimes, only serve to add distance to the text for us, make it more remote. Even the presence of the maps themselves can give our Bibles more the feel of a text book than anything else.
Actually, properly appreciated, locating the verses that we read in our, real world, ought to root them in our experience. The Bible is not a book of theory but of practice and action. It isn’t set in some ‘other’ imaginary place, but here.
And so, from now right through to the summer, we are going to journey, along with Paul and his companions, as they make their 3 separate missionary journeys, recorded for us between Acts chapters 13 and 21. We will go to places familiar as well as not so well known, we will meet people, famous and overlooked. All the time we will see how these ordinary, yet extra-ordinary, people took their world changing message to those who had never heard it before, to cities, regions and cultures that were entirely alien to them, and began a process that would transform the history of Europe and the world that would make the Easter message of Jesus that we have just been celebrating, the most celebrated story of all time, right across the globe.
As we do so we will, I hope, be inspired and motivated to live out this message again, in our day, in our place, in our lives.
The Start Line ....
The contemporary relevance of these journeys can hardly be more apparent when you realise the first 2 countries mentioned, at the outset of the first journey, are Syria and Cyprus – the 2 countries that have occupied the front pages again just these last few weeks.
It begins, in Syria, although Antioch, modern name Antakya, is today actually in Turkey, right on the Syrian border. In many ways an odd place for a missionary movement to begin, not Jerusalem or Galilee but a place which had become the centre of non-Jewish Christianity – described for us in Acts 11:19-26... a bolt-hole for fleeing refugees, a cross-roads for culture and trade, a focal point for this new message, called, for the first time ‘Christianity’.
Where you are may not seem the most promising of places. You might feel a little alone there, isolated even, a bit like a fish out of water. But it could be the starting point for a whole new episode of mission and ministry.
The Team ...
Of course these journeys are labelled, ‘Paul’s Missionary Journeys...’ But they weren’t all about Paul. The leader of the Antioch church was Barnabas, sent from Jerusalem to be an encouragement, just as John Mark was in the first verse of the passage we read, a year or so later.
Barnabas had recruited Paul to the task in this vibrant and challenging city and they had worked together there for that year. In the end of course it was these two together who were sent out, but they were sent by a Church that had grown, and in which many other people now worked and played their part.
Three are mentioned specifically here; Simeon a black African Jew, Lucius who was probably a Roman from Cyrene, what is now Libya, in Greek he would have been called Luke (possibly the author though it seems unlikely), and Manaen, an extraordinary character who seemed to have grown up in Royal courts as a sort of foster-brother to the young Herod Antipas, the very same who would later go on to behead John the Baptist and play his part in the show-trials of Jesus!
This group, together serving as prophets and teachers, and there were no doubt more, indicate the sheer variety of this congregation and the different ways people were being used.
If it’s not your location that’s concerning you, but your background, history, experience ... a sense of ‘not being the right sort’, then be encouraged.
Rooted in this community, they undertook the business of worshipping, teaching – understanding what had gone on, prophesying – seeking God’s will for the future was equally key for them.
In their prayerful worship they were attentive to God’s voice and discerned a call, so they fasted, prayed and sent.
Their concern wasn’t preservation or consolidation but God’s ongoing purpose, understanding it as it had happened, and applying it in their new situation. That inevitably meant movement and change. The ‘Journey’ wasn’t just a physical trip for Barnabas and Paul, it was something that they all knew they were a part of, whether they stayed or whether they went, it was their call.
The laying on of hands has become a significant Christian symbol, we’ve seen quite a lot of it over these recent weeks. In one sense it’s a simple, obvious thing, a desire to be close enough to physically share that encouragement and support for which Barnabas was well known. But it also always says something deeper, the transmission of spiritual power, authority and significance. Not so that those who receive it might be puffed up with self-importance, but so that they might know they are a part of an ongoing chain of mission, a journey if you like, of God’s undertaking. More than just His work, it is evidence of His presence His story, His journey, and it’s a call for us all... prayer (with lying on of hands)