Lessons in Ministry
Acts 13:1 – 12
Lessons in Ministry
God raises up, the Church sets aside
This week, I got to do one of the funnest parts of my job. “Funnest”, is that a word, is now. This week I got to have lunch with someone who’s thinking about moving into full time vocational Christian ministry. He’s trying to work out, is the best way for him to serve God, and serve the church, and see the good news of Jesus spread further and faster, to stay in his job, and continue with all the opportunities and everything he has going there, or is it to go off to college and get trained and spend a few years learning how to teach and lead Christ’s church in some kind of formal ministry role.
Both of those are great options, and so this young man is talking to people he trusts and people who know him, to help him work out, “How can I best serve Christ and his people, and the cause of the gospel.”
And while we were speaking, we got chatting about the idea of the “call” to ministry. A bit like there in verse 2, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Some people say you can’t go into pastoral ministry unless you can put your finger on a moment in your life when God “called” you to that.
Maybe it’s a voice, maybe it’s a feeling, people have said to me “God will make it obvious.” And while I don’t doubt that for lots of people, they feel that God has led them into particular opportunities, we were reflecting over lunch this week, that nowhere in the Bible, are we told to expect this kind of call, before we step out in some new venture.
And what’s really interesting about the opening of Acts 13, is the focus not on Saul’s call, it’s mentioned really just in passing, what’s significant here is God’s Word to the church. Set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul
We know that Saul, or Paul as he’s known, had encountered the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Jesus had called him, commissioned him, as an apostle, a special kind of eyewitness.
And in chapter 9, we get to overhear when Jesus sends a man named Ananias to help Paul prepare for ministry, the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
So if we’ve read the earlier chapters of the book of Acts, we know that Paul was specifically chosen by God, instructed by Jesus, for his role as an apostle.
But what Luke puts right up here in the opening of this episode, is how the church sets aside Paul and Barnabas for ministry beyond Antioch.
See from verse 1, 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 worshiping 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.
We’re not told how the Holy Spirit said this to the church,
Probably one of these prophets had brought this message from God.
So this new church, was called to send away their leaders, so that the good news of Jesus could spread.
Remember that programmatic verse in Acts chapter 1 verse 8, Jesus had said to his disciples, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, , and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And we’ve seen some of this happening, seemingly accidentally. The first kind of missionary activity happened because Christians had to flee for their lives, away from Jerusalem, and wherever they went they talked to people about Jesus.
But here we see the church being , for the first time, much more deliberate in obeying Jesus’ command, or as Andy noted last week, actually in fulfilling Jesus’ statement, you , will , be , my witnesses.
Of course, it’s worth us noting that none of these people in Antioch were the ones Jesus spoke those words to. This , commission, The Great Commission, as it’s sometimes called, is not just something that’s limited those original 11 who were there, but it’s passed , along with, the message about Jesus, into the church. And whoever has heard the Apostle’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus, is then equipped to be a witness themselves.
And so the church in Antioch takes this commission seriously.
Paul and Barnabas are their most important leaders.
They’re the Senior Pastor and the Executive Pastor,
And yet the church obeys the message that the Spirit of God has spoken to them. “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.
In God, Church & Me, which is our new members’ Bible Study and discussion group, we spend 4 sessions looking at what the Bible says about church and ministry and life together. And the idea is that people who have joined our church have an opportunity to see from the Scriptures what we believe, and then see how what we learn in God’s Word shapes our life here at Trinity.
In the session about church and leadership, one of the questions that we ask, is “If the Senior Pastor was killed in the sky-diving accident, what sort of qualities and characteristics would you look for in his replacement?”, To which I always think, “well the first characteristic to look for would be someone who doesn’t go sky-diving!”
But it’s interesting, in the 18 months that we’ve been going, People’s responses have changed, not the characteristics they see as important, but people’s initial reaction to the question.
See, with our very first group of people, the thought that Clayton might not be on the scene any more, was in some ways an horrific thought, which was kind of nice! Mostly, because so much of the ministry of our new little church was connected to me, for better or worse.
As we’ve got older, people don’t even pause at that question any more! “Another Senior Pastor, yeah, we can get us one of them!” And then they rattle off their list of desirable qualities, almost as if they’ve been practicing.
Now, I don’t want you to think for a minute that I’m saying I was ever indispensable. Someone told me just the other week, “If you think you’re indispensable, put your hand in a bucket of water, pull it out, and see what kind of hole is left behind when you leave!”
But can you imagine what it must have been like for this brand new church in Antioch, to send their 2 greatest leaders away!
And here we see again, God the great evangelist, pushing forward the good news of Jesus – forgiveness, reconciliation, peace with God, and it’s going, further and further out from Jerusalem, And God’s people are partnering with him in that.
You might remember a few weeks ago I said that there are 22 occurrences of Divine speech in Acts. 22 times where God speaks directly, either through the Holy Spirit, or a voice from heaven, or something like that.
Nearly all of those times when God speaks directly, he’s telling the church to keep pressing out,
Pushing back the boundaries, sharing the good news of Jesus with more and more people.
And verse 2 is one of those times.
And so the church fasts, they pray, and place their hands on Barnabas, and Saul, and send them off.
The laying on of hands is a strange sort of thing isn’t it? We did it here actually on our first day.
In the Old Testament, when someone offered a sacrifice, they’d lay their hands on the sacrifice as a way of saying “I’m connected to this, This sacrifice represents me, what it achieves, it achieves on my behalf”
That’s the sense here. The Church is sending Saul and Barnabas, on their behalf, as their representatives.
We can’t all go, but we will send you, and therefore have a part in, what you’re doing.
What would we be willing to give up?
I wonder how we might respond if we were faced with the same situation?
The church in Antioch willing sent away their 2 best leaders, so that others would have a chance to hear and respond to the news that Jesus had died for them.
What would we be willing to give up?
If we were in that situation, would we say, “No Lord, you’re asking too much”?
And you see it’s not just theoretical for us.
“What are we prepared to give up?” is not a hypothetical question.
For the last 3 months our Sunday attendance has meant we’re a bit over 70% capacity of this building. When the kids go out we get a bit of breathing space, but we’re just over 70%.
History shows, that when we reach 80% capacity , we’ll be effectively full.
Families who come, then won’t be able to find seats together,
It will be harder for us to get to know new people,
And our growth will actually slow, stop, or even go backwards.
So we’ve got to do something, so that more people can hear the good news about Jesus. And there’s a group of people working with the leadership team to help us plan our next steps.
But no matter what we do, there’ll be a cost.
We’ll have to give up something.
If we start a new Sunday service, we might not see our friends quite so often.
We might find ourselves serving in Kids’ Ministry, kind of more than we hoped we might,
Some of us might find ourselves attending church at a time that’s not really our preferred time.
But all so that more people can hear the amazing news of the great news of Jesus.
And so my question is “What are we prepared to give up in order that others might hear that gospel?”
If we’re convinced that in this church, people will be presented with the message of Jesus as Lord of all, who died in their place, that they might be welcomed into God’s family, would we not want as many people as possible, to be here among us?
If we believe that the God of the universe changes people’s lives when his Word is preached and his Spirit shines the truth of that Word into people’s hearts, if we really believe that, what are we willing to give up, so that more people can come under the sound of the Word of God.
Wouldn’t you have your family here at 6 in the morning, if it meant some new family could find seats at 10 AM, and because of that, hear the good news and gain eternal life?
Let me say, a 6 AM service isn’t on the cards! Just to put your minds at rest!
But what are we willing to give up, to see the gospel go forward?
The church in Antioch send off their two greatest leaders, so that more and more lives can be changed.
Jesus has been good news for a long time.
And so Paul and Barnabas, are sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, as well as the church, do you see, they went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
And then down in verse 14, we see them once again, in the Synagogue in Antioch, confusingly, a different Antioch to the one we were just in, On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.”
And we might think that this is unusual, knowing that Paul particularly has been commissioned by God as a missionary to the Gentiles, that is, people who aren’t Jewish, and they’ve been sent out by a Gentile church, and yet, they start their ministry in each town, in the Synagogues.
It’s worth us giving a bit of thought to this Jew-Gentile thing.
We’ve seen it throughout this section in Acts, and it comes up again big time in Acts 15, but it’s worth getting our heads around it today, particularly to help us understand what Paul says in the synagogue in Antioch.
In centuries past, God had chosen the family of one man, Abraham, and then the nation that grew out of his family, the nation of Israel, the people who are called Jews, and God had chosen them to be in a special relationship with him, and Israel were considered God’s people.
You know the stories about those eccentric wealthy people, who don’t like anybody else in the world, none of their family, none of their , so-called “friends”, and so when they die, they leave their entire fortune, squillions of dollars , to their dog. To their Sharpey, or whatever type of fluffy dog it is that’s the favourite of the uber-wealthy.
They’re basically saying, “I hate everybody else alive, but I love you, so you get it all, Mrs Tinkerbelle”, or whoever. You hear about it in the news every now and then don’t you, and you think “what is wrong with you people?”
But that’s not how God works! You’ll be pleased to know!
That’s not why God chose Israel, and poured out his blessings on Israel, it wasn’t just for their benefit, it wasn’t because he hated everyone else.
Israel was to be a light for the Gentiles, you see the quote from Isaiah 49 down in verse 47.
Israel was to be a means for the goodness of God to spread across the world,
And now, that that very thing is happening, What God wanted all along is now happening in a way that could never have happened through Israel,
Because of their sin and rebellion, they were never the light to the nations that God wanted them to be, but even so, God hasn’t turned his back on them.
What we see in Acts 13, in Cyprus and in Antioch, Paul preaching first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, is a pattern that continues for the rest of his ministry, we see it right through Acts.
He writes later on, to the Christians in Rome, the good news of Jesus is good news for everyone who believes, first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile.
In God’s elective purposes, he chose Israel, and the good news is good news for them.
And in fact, the good news is, first of all, good news for them. Jesus is the one for whom Israel had been waiting for centuries.
An in this very brief summary of Israel’s history that Paul gives in the Antioch synagogue, which is quite a bit like a shortened version of Stephen’s speech, in Acts 7, Paul’s brief history of the nation centres on God’s choice of Israel to be his people, and David to be their king,
And then he says, Jesus is the fulfilment of all the promises made to King David and is therefore the key to Israel’s future.
See there in verse 23, “From this man, David’s descendants God has brought to Israel, the Savior Jesus, as he promised.
Paul’s message is that God hasn’t changed his mind.
God hasn’t left his promises just , hanging out there.
On the contrary, what God had promised to his people through their Scriptures, is fulfilled in Jesus.
The promises to Abraham and Moses and David, are fulfilled, are progressively being fulfilled as Acts 1:8 is realised.
Do you see that?
Do you see that Acts 1:8 is actually the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies?
God had promised a light to the nations,
Salvation to the ends of the earth.
And as Acts 1:8 is fulfilled, as people respond in obedience to God the great evangelist, as he pushes outward with the good news,
Light shines into the nations,
Salvation is heard in the ends of the earth.
Paul’s message in the synagogue is, “This Jesus is not new, he’s not the latest thing, he’s what’s been promised all along.”
Jesus isn’t new today
I think it’s important even today, when we’re speaking to others about the Christian faith, it’s important to realise that the Christian faith is not some novelty.
Christianity doesn’t exist because some hippy sort of teacher from some 2-bit town in the back end of the Roman Empire kind of , got famous, went viral, and it all took off from there.
No, the life of Jesus,
The substitutionary death of Jesus, where he stands in our place, taking the full-force of God’s anger and sin and rebellion,
The resurrection of Jesus, triumphing over death,
They weren’t the beginning of a great plan. They were, almost the very end of a great plan, the culmination of a very very long-standing plan of God, a plan that is progressively revealed and explained through the Scriptures,
A plan to bring blessing to Israel and the nations on exactly the same basis.
It’s because that plan stretches back into the history of the Old Testament, that Christians today read the Old Testament, like we did this morning.
It’s why if you’re not a Christian, you can read the Old Testament too, to find out, what it is that Jesus comes to do, why does it matter that he’s a real historic person and not a figment of someone’s imagination.
I like to watch those TV shows, Megastructures, Super-structures, Mega-Super Structures! all those shows about how they build skyscrapers and oil platforms and tunnels and things.
Some of the buildings they have on those shows, I’ve seen. I’ve travelled to a few countries around the world, and I’ve seen these structures, in the flesh, so to speak.
And often times I hadn’t thought anything of them.
There’s a building,
There’s a tunnel.
But having watched the TV show that explained the challenge of putting that building there,
How it almost fell down in construction because of some disaster,
How, when they started, they didn’t even have the technology to finish it, but they knew they’d figure it out by the time they got there,
Having seen something of the initial need for that particular structure, and then the identification how that need was to be met, and then the process of construction,
I’m now fascinated, and if I ever see those buildings again,
I’ll want to go inside,
I’ll want to see for myself how it addresses the challenges of the location,
I’ll appreciate that structure so much more, having seen, just a little, of how it got there.
What the TV show does, for the building,
The Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament, does for Christ.
In Antioch, Paul effectively sits the Jews down and shows them the TV show, this is how we got to, what we have today.
And now you know why what we have today is so significant.
Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plans, made known to his people Israel, for their benefit, and the benefit of the world.
But of course, we know what happens. Verse 46, Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Paul and Barnabas move on, only when those in the synagogue reject the message, and reject Jesus, who, tragically, they’ve been waiting for, for centuries.
Two responses to the gospel
And so we see both in Cyprus and in Antioch examples of the 2 different responses that people make to the message of Jesus.
Back in Cyprus, verse 7, The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith., But verse 12 tells us that Sergius Paulus believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
And the same 2 responses come to the preaching of Jesus in Antioch, verse 43, When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
While others, verse 45, were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.
And ultimately in verse 50, stirring up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region
Some respond in faith. Sergius Paulus the Roman Proconsul believes, when the Word of God is spoken to him,
Some are opposed, even violent in their opposition, This man Elymas, or Bar-Jesus, the sorcerer. He’s not content to just disbelieve, he tried to turn his boss from the Christian faith.
I got an email this week from my research assistant, that’s what I call my wife, Kathy, it was about a new report that just came out showing the level of hostility to the gospel of Jesus, and to Christian people around the world.
There are 196 countries in the world. And government and social harassment in opposition to the gospel of Jesus have been reported in 130 countries. That’s 66% of countries in the world.
Now of course the Christian message isn’t the only message that attracts opposition, but when we see the response to the gospel here, we shouldn’t be surprised when we read those figures in the paper.
As we heard, our uni students are just about to launch into Jesus Week, And so in the next few days, numbers of students will use the little explanation of the Christian faith called Two Ways to Live, to explain the message of Jesus to their friends
There are 2 ways to live.
We see it here.
Two men in Cyprus, two different responses to the message about Jesus.
Two different responses in Antioch.
Of course there are other kinds of ways that people respond to the facts of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, some in Antioch said, “Hey, we want to hear some more, we’re not quite sure yet, what we believe.”
But ultimately, the people will fall into one of these 2 categories. Either people will believe that Jesus is the unique and final revelation of God, or people will believe that he’s not.
And if you’re not a Christian here this morning, I really want you to understand that that is the choice before you. There’s actually no sitting on the fence.
I’d love you to be praying this week, for our uni students, really working hard at just , speaking the gospel into people’s lives on campus throughout Jesus Week.
Pray that they’d be prepared for this, that they won’t be discouraged when people want nothing to do with Jesus.
Pray too, that they would count the cost. That they would be absolutely clear in their minds, what they’re willing to give up, in order for more people to hear about Jesus.
And pray those same things for us too, will you? Please?