A Sending Church
Scripture: Acts 12:25– 13:3
A Sending Church – Acts 12:25–13:3
INTRO: Pivotal Moments
When we come to Acts chapter 13, we are reaching a critical turning point in the narrative. The lead figure shifts from being the Apostle Peter to the Apostle Paul, and the progress of the gospel shifts from being spread primarily because of persecution to the church intentionally planning to reach both Jews and Gentiles in places where the gospel has not yet gone.
The fulcrum of this pivotal moment is the Antioch church. We emphasized in Acts 11:19-26, with the birth of the Antioch church, which was itself unplanned, that God is in the business of planting and growing faithful churches to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, thereby advancing his kingdom.
But up to this point, the spread of the gospel to new areas and new people in order to fulfill Christ’s commission was not deliberate. Now all of that is about to change. It is here that the author Luke is eager to show the pivotal impact of the Antioch church’s intentional initiative to obey Christ’s global commission (“to the end of the earth”). In doing so, [reword] this commissioning of missionaries from Antioch becomes a model for us, an important primary thing for the local church to focus on—being a sending church. This text also provides us with principles that are both purposeful and practical, that should inform how we think about the church that sends, and the about the missionaries themselves.
Acts 12:25–13:3 ESV
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. 1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of 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 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
[Due to a textual difficulty in v. 25, where the best manuscripts likely have to Jerusalem instead of from, the better translation is probably in changing the word order in English: “And Barnabas and Saul returned, having completed their service to Jerusalem, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.”]
*** [outline how we will approach the text]
The First Missionary Team (Acts 12:25)…
… Was led by mature believers who were actively participating in spreading the gospel and building up the church, who had already proven they could work well with others, who were willing and able to travel for ministry, and who were eager to disciple and train younger believers (in this case, John Mark).
The first missionary team was led by mature believers who were already demonstrating faithfulness and consistency in ministry (actively participating in spreading the gospel and building up the church)…
Barnabas had proven himself not only generous, but a capable leader who could be trusted (sent by the Jerusalem church to confirm and consolidate the growing ministry at Antioch). Barnabas was a selfless servant who brought in Saul to help at the Antioch church, not concerned that this gifted teacher might outshine him.
Saul too had proven his courage to preach the gospel and to teach, first at Damascus (right after his conversion), then in the region of Arabia (Nabatea) after he had to escape Damascus, then in Jerusalem (where the believers also had to help him escape and sent him to Tarsus). While there in Tarsus he was preaching in the region of Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21). … Then back in Antioch in particular when Barnabas brought him there.
The point is: These were faithful and mature men who had been demonstrating Spirit-filled boldness and faithfulness and consistency in ministry wherever the Lord had them.
One of the most dangerous things for young missionaries is to basically just try to do their own thing without help and oversight.
Yes, Barnabas and Saul took along John-Mark with them, but clearly this team has a pair of mature leaders.
This team has also already proven that they could work well with others in ministry (even together in this case)… - For a whole year they labored side by side in Antioch (Ac 11:25-26), then they went together to Jerusalem on behalf of the Antioch church, and now they were back serving with the other leaders again in the Antioch church.
(It might also be easy to overlook that these ones who would be sent out were ones…) Who were willing and able to travel for ministry… - There may be times and situations in our lives that limit our ability to do certain things. Although we may be willing, it may be best for someone else to take up a certain ministry.
And who were eager to disciple & train younger believers (John Mark) - They take along John Mark to Antioch, and with them when they begin this first trip (Ac 13:5). This was the pattern of Jesus with his disciples, and the pattern of Barnabas with Saul, and the pattern of Paul with Timothy and Titus and others.
When you become an adult (or even as you are nearing adulthood), you certainly begin to realize that the leaders ahead of you are not perfect. Even as you begin to get a little older into adulthood, you should be wise enough and mature enough and humble enough to see that there are almost certainly men and women in your midst in the local church whom you should look up to and learn from.
Often when we think about this topic, we put the shoe on the foot of the mentor. “You need to be discipling someone.” In my own life, I have found this most effective to be a younger person who is teachable and seeking guidance. I pray that God continues to help me, even as I am growing into middle age, that I remain teachable and looking for help and guidance and growth.
It is also true that we need to have our eyes open, looking for those younger than us in the faith who are needing guidance and input. (Consider the importance of Barnabas’s ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul.)
All of this is reinforced even further as we talk about the church that sent out this team, but again, this team consisted of mature, trustworthy believers who are already active in ministry, who have proven themselves capable and willing to travel for ministry, who work well with others, and who have a heart to train other people to do what we are doing—that is discipleship.
So too there are principles and practices for us to follow in the model of the…
The First Sending Church (Acts 13:1-3)…
The Antioch church had a plurality of capable, diverse servant leaders. - 5 elders are listed.
In our passage, the elders in the Antioch church are described as prophets and teachers, and it’s impossible to tell textually if there is any intended distinction between which are prophets and which are teachers, leading most Bible students to conclude that a hard and fast distinction is not meant, or perhaps that they are all in some ways considered both.
Although the role of NT prophets would have been to proclaim and reinforce the truths being established by God in the New Covenant in Christ, it appears that this gift was more spontaneous in nature, sometimes including a specific warning or encouragement for the edification of the church. As teachers, they would have served in more systematic instruction, such as the way Barnabas and Saul are described as doing in this church at Ac 11:26.
Of these five elders in the church at Antioch, Barnabas heads the list and Saul brings up the caboose, probably either because Barnabas had come with the authority of commissioning from the Jerusalem church, or because he was the oldest or most respected of the group. Saul is likely the youngest, or at least that’s a possible explanation. (I would argue that a list like this shows in fact that Barnabas was initially the older and more mature believer who had taken Saul under his wing to disciple him, which fits with earlier contexts as well. Barnabas brought Saul to the Apostles—to Peter. And it was Barnabas who brought Saul to Antioch. He saw his potential and poured into his life.)
The other three men are given brief additional context since they have not been previously introduced. Simeon’s nickname was Niger, which is a Latin form of a Roman name suggesting that he may have been dark complected—black. Since we know that the next man in the list, Lucius, was from Cyrene, which was in North Africa, it’s likely that Niger was from North Africa as well. It’s also possible that both of these men had been a part of the synagogue of Cyreneans in Jerusalem and had fled the persecution there. It’s also possible or even likely that they were among those men of Cyprus and Cyrene who had first preached the Lord Jesus to the Greeks in Antioch (Ac 11:20).
The fourth man in the list is Manaen, who is described as one who was raised in the same household as Herod Antipas, who became tetrarch over Galilee upon the death of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas would be the one who reigned under Rome in the region during the ministry of Jesus, and who had put John the Baptist to death. His nephew, and grandson to Herod the Great, was the Herod Agrippa the first who just died for glorifying himself in the previous passage in Acts (Ac 12:20-23). - So this Manaen is described as being brought up with Herod Antipas and would have almost certainly held a highly influential position and status in society for much of his life (even if he were a servant to Herod). Now Manaen was a believer in Jesus Christ, who would be respected as an elder statesman in the faith for different reasons, certainly not for personal connection to the family line persecuting Christians.
What this list shows is both a remaining connection to Jewish scriptures—these men were likely raised in synagogues and trained in the scriptures—while also being predominantly Hellenistic Jews or even Greeks, and a diverse group in background, gifting, and experience. The plurality and diversity of this group would have been a strength, as we see in the passage.
These men led their church (v. 2) in right worship (the Greek word for “priestly service”) and led their people in intentionally and fervently seeking God’s leading (“fasting”). “Fasting, which involves [abstaining] from food and sometimes of water [for a time] (Jonah 3:7; Esth 4:16), was often associated with mourning the dead as a sign of grief, with penitence for sins as an expression of repentance, with prayer as a form of appeal for God’s intervention, and with preparations for encountering God as a means for becoming more alert for the reception of revelations from God.” … “According to Luke 18:12, pious Pharisees fasted twice a week. John the Baptist fasted regularly (Matt 9:14; 11:18). Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert (Matt 4:2). During the three years of his ministry, Jesus and his disciples did not fast, but Jesus announced that his disciples will fast after his departure (Luke 5:33–35).” - Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 554.
Because this team was submissive to the Spirit’s leading, during a time of worship and fasting, probably specifically seeking God’s will, they were able to confirm the Spirit’s leading in the lives of Barnabas and Saul. Again, it is not new news to Saul or to those around him that he was commissioned by God after his conversion “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Ac 9:15 to Ananias in Damascus). Barnabas also has already proven his willingness to leave home and go, even as he has come to Antioch.
But rather than simply telling the church what God wanted them to do, they cooperated with and submitted to the local church to confirm the Holy Spirit’s leading.
If you want to be a missionary or a pastor, don’t simply inform your church or churches of your plans. Become an adult in a local church and share what God is placing on your heart and let them see you in ministry and train you to grow in leadership so that they can confirm the Holy Spirit’s leading. This should be the normal process in almost every case. We want others around us, in a trusted environment of faithfulness and mentorship and accountability, to confirm our growth in character and our preparedness and even our calling.
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (This may have been a prophet in the group who received this specific wording, but the lack of specificity on who and how leads me to believe that this was more of a general confirmation of the way the Spirit was leading.)
What’s really neat here is that this deliberate and cooperative confirmation then launched the first intentional commissioning of missionaries, v. 3. Barnabas and Saul were sent, or more literally they were released (set free, let go) from their leadership in Antioch to pursue outreach ministry to new regions (a ministry that will be characterized by geographical movement to spread the gospel).
The Antioch church released some of their best to go out from them in missionary service. - It should be the norm that it pains us to send out our best. Like giving should make us feel it in our budget, so should we feel releasing some of our most qualified in missionary service.
Again, what are we seeing take place here? In one sense this is a continuation of the kinds of ministry Barnabas and Saul have already been undertaking. In another sense it is a new phase, as indicated by the shift in Acts to focus on this missionary ministry. This is a pivotal moment in the life and history of the church, and perhaps it could be a pivotal moment in your life, or pivotal in the life of our church body.
How are you participating in the mission?
How are you participating in and cooperating with Christ’s mission to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ (that he is Lord and Savior of all).
- Surely we must realize first that our faithful witness begins where we are presently. - The privilege and responsibility of every believer is to tell others about the Lord who has rescued us and restored us to God.
- Surely the local church must be intentional about training up and releasing missionaries to go out from us to assist in the mission of planting churches.
(being intentional about the main things, that which is primary) - “keeping the main thing the main thing” - If we do not preach God’s word, we will not worship rightly. If we do not preach God’s word, we will not have God’s heart for reaching new people, and we will not follow God’s will and God’s way of accomplishing that purpose. - Right worship should lead to God’s heart, and God has a heart for making a people for himself from every corner of the planet.
(training leaders and sending them out) God’s work does not end with us. Every church plant aims to raise up and send out leaders to plant other churches where there is need. The goal of every local church should be to become a sending church.
One way to be involved in this mission is to prayerfully support as many missionaries whom you trust as your wallet and your church can afford. Another, perhaps even more substantive, way to be intentional is to be training up leaders with a heart for shepherding and planting healthy churches in locations wherever God might call them, under the supervision and commissioning of the local church. So here we have been aiming to put our effort and money where our mouth is and to do just that with greater intentionality.
The task seems in some ways to be much easier than it would have been in the days of the Apostle Paul, and yet in other ways it is severely complicated by information overload and information manipulation and by modern forms of monitoring people (in and out of countries, even monitoring their online traffic, etc.). - We must pray for wisdom and plan intentionally to deal with these barriers. (Another example: We are, in many cases with global missions, trying to reach people more linguistically and culturally distant from ourselves than in the ministries Paul established.)
Missions is a monumental task, but it is a task that God can and will accomplish. The question is, will we faithfully be a part of his work?
- Surely we must be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, willing to go, and submissive to leadership in a local church to help us confirm the Spirit’s work and leading.
- You should be seeking to become a man or woman qualified to be a servant leader in whatever capacity God calls you to in the local church and on his mission. You should be praying for and speaking to people around about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- You should have a heart submissive to God’s leading wherever, whenever, however, and with whomever he chooses.
- You should patiently seek confirmation of God’s leading by the Spirit through trusted leadership in the local church. - How am I gifted? Do I work well with others? Am I prepared to be sent out? Should I go to __________ with __________ sending agency?
Bottom line: Missions to the ends of the earth is a monumental task, but it is a task that God can and will accomplish. The question is, will we submissively and obediently be a part of his work?
More in Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles
February 25, 2024Paul’s Pattern & Plea for Selfless Shepherding (Part 2)
February 18, 2024Paul’s Pattern & Plea for Selfless Shepherding (Part 1)
February 11, 2024People Are the Ministry