Sunday Morning Service — Acts 13:1-3 “The Missionary Church”

20 Nov

          We move today back to the book of Acts. Over the last several months we have been in Exodus and you may be thinking, wait, we were just about to get to the Ten Commandments. Yes, and that means we’ll all remember where we left off. We are leaving one of the most momentous events in the Old Testament, the giving of the law, and turning to one of the most momentous events in the New Testament, the beginning of Paul’s missionary journeys.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus told his disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The Christians in Jerusalem had very naturally shared their faith and many were saved. But then, the gospel didn’t go out very forcefully from there at first. So God brought persecution on the church in Jerusalem and they scattered about through Judea and Samaria and the gospel went with them. And eventually, this message began to penetrate the ends of the earth. One place where it penetrated well was Antioch.

            We read in Acts 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22  The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24  for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25  So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

So this church in Antioch is a good church, with a good foundation. We find at the end of chapter 11 that they even provided help to the church in Jerusalem when they were faced with a famine and were in need. The church in Antioch becomes the launching pad for God’s mission to the world and that mission continues even to this day.

            The question I have been thinking about is whether we as a church have a heart for the lost like the church in Antioch had. I think there are some good signs. We give generously to missions offerings like Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. We have given thousands of dollars to our Missions Partners even above and beyond our regular missions giving and our special missions offerings. We have supported a food ministry here in our local church for over 3 years. We have supported all kinds of projects generously, from Operation Christmas Child to wells in India even to the jewelry project just this last week for women and girls who are entrapped in the sex trafficking industry. We are generous with our money. This is good. Let us give all the more.

I see many things about the Southern Baptist Convention and about our church in particular that make me very hopeful. I was at the Baptist State Convention this week in Greensboro and how encouraged I was with what I heard there and the direction North Carolina Baptists are taking. I have written a report about the convention that is posted on our church website and is also available in the vestibule. I encourage you to read the report and learn more about what God is doing.

            But at the same time, I am burdened. I am burdened that we care more for our own needs and desires than we do for the lost. We want to protect our turf. We want things to be pleasing to us more than we want them to be pleasing to God.

            I am excited that we have 10000 Southern Baptist Missionaries in North America and around the world. But then I realize that we have 16 million members. So we need 1600 Southern Baptists to find one missionary. Is there seriously only one missionary among every 1600 Southern Baptists? Or have we ignored the call of God? Some of you are supposed to be teachers or nurses or soldiers. Some of you are supposed to work in the office or lead in business. But all of us are supposed to be engaged in taking the gospel to our world and to all the nations. And some of you may be specially called by God to a work He has specially chosen for you.

            Young people, how about not wasting your life in this lousy economy with some awful goal like scraping together enough money to buy a house? How about taking up as the purpose of your life something so big that nothing else holds a candle to it in importance? God may be calling some of you. God may be shaping missionaries right here, right now. I pray it is so. Because we have to do a lot better than one out of every 1600 Baptists if we’re going to be effective in fulfilling God’s mission. And we have to do a lot better than just giving money or candy or buying groceries. We have to go ourselves to our neighbors and friends and co-workers. We have to reach out to people. How my heart was moved on Thursday to see in our food ministry these older ladies talking to needy people from our community. If you could see one of our older ladies hold the hands of some needy person and pray for them, how you would be blessed. And this is the kind of thing we need to be doing. This is what a church on mission is like. We are for God and we are for others. A church in maintenance is just the opposite. It is for self and it shuts out others. We are not going to be a church in maintenance. We are, by God’s grace, going to be a church on mission.

            But the question always arises, how? How can we be a church on mission? This is where the truths in Acts 13 become so important . . .

So let’s observe several truths in the first three verses in Acts 13 which will fuel our heart for missions. 

We see first that . . .

1.         A Missionary Church Has    GODLY  LEADERSHIP     (13:1).

Acts 13:1  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.

The first thing mentioned in chapter 13 about the church in Antioch is her leaders. Notice the plural leadership. We will see all through the book of Acts that leadership by a team of godly leaders was the norm. The solo pastor model of our day is a concept that is not really evident in the New Testament. So we note first here the team aspect of this group of teachers and prophets. We can tell by the fact that they are called prophets and teachers that their focus was on sharing the Word of God with people. Led by the Spirit, these men led the congregation in Antioch by focusing on God’s Word.

This group is also diverse. There is Barnabus, from Cyprus. There is Simeon Niger. We know the name Niger is a Latin word that means “dark” so there is some evidence that he was of African descent. There are some who think he is the Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross but this is unlikely, since Luke the author of Acts spelled the name Simon, not Simeon, in his gospel. There is Lucius of Cyrene here, as well. Again, he may be a dark-skinned person from North Africa. Some think he is Luke, the author of the book of Acts, but this is not the common spelling of the name Luke. Then there is Manaen, a man with a Jewish name who has the most fascinating story of all. He was a friend of Herod the tetrarch. Herod, who had John the Baptist beheaded. The Greek word that describes Manaen shows that he grew up with Herod. So here is one who grew up with a great enemy of Jesus, who is now a follower of Jesus. And of course, that is the case with Saul as well. There are some real trophies of grace in this group. The man who had been a persecutor of  Jesus was now a great proclaimed of the good news of Jesus.

So notice this group. Men from different places. Men of different colors. Men of different backgrounds. Yet they functioned as one to lead the church in Antioch in the things of God and in the fulfilling of God’s mission for His church.

I mourn over my leadership in this church. I have not been in step with the Spirit of God. My life has not been like the lives here in Acts. I have tried to minister from my own strength. I can’t undo the past but I can walk in a new way in the future. I ask for your prayers. And I ask for God to guide us in our direction, that our church would be pleasing to Him. We need godly leadership. Pray for God to raise it up in our midst.

2.         A Missionary Church is Marked by a Life of WORSHIP            (13:2a).

 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.”

There’s no way to tell in the Greek text whether the “they” here is talking about the five leaders or the whole church, but most people think it is referring to the whole church. The church in Antioch was a church that worshiped. Churches that are in tune with God’s mission are churches that worship. The reason is simple: when we are seeking God and seeing God and rejoicing in what we see, we will want to share it. When we enjoy something, we want to share it. Much of the popularity of Facebook is rooted in this desire to share good news. How much more, when the people of God come into the presence of God, should we desire to share what we have experienced with others. When our expectation is entertainment, we’ll go home at lunch and talk with our family about what songs we liked and what songs we hated and what the pastor said that we disagreed with and so on and so on. When our hope in church is comfort we’ll go home and we’ll talk with our friends about how the pastor ignored us or how it was too cold in the sanctuary. When we come to worship and we worship in spirit and truth, we will talk with everyone around us about the greatness and goodness of God.

We have made the great mistake in our day of thinking that worship about what kind of  music we sing. So there’s traditional worship and contemporary worship and blended worship. But none of this is worship. Worship is the giving of our whole selves to God in reverent joy. Worship is serious celebration. If we want to be a maintenance church, we should come to church expecting entertainment and comfort. If we want to be a missional church, we should come to church praying for and expecting the presence of God.

3.         A Missionary Church is a Place of PRAYER and FASTING     (13:2).

            In the book of Acts there are all kinds of incredible moves of God. The Holy Spirit is at work in the book of Acts. But do you know what is almost always accompanying the work of God in the book of Acts? Prayer, and often fasting.

Remember the beginning of the book, when Judas was replaced among the apostles, the first Christians were gathered in the Upper Room praying. When the day of Pentecost came, the Holy Spirit came, it happened in during a time when the church was gathered in worship. And 3000 people were saved. When Peter and John healed the lame man in Acts 3, they were on their way to the temple to pray. In chapter 4, when Peter and John were released from custody, they went to the church. The first thing the church did was not have a party for Peter and John or make a documentary about their amazing story. No, they prayed. They gave thanks to God. And after they prayed, the building shook and they went out to witness boldly with the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostles appointed deacons in chapter 6 so that the apostles could give themselves to the ministry of the Word and what? Prayer.  And when Stephen preached his powerful message and the people turned against him and began to stone him, he didn’t cry out or complain or run away, he prayed. And even as he died he was full of the Holy Spirit. Paul, after being confronted by the risen Lord on the Damascus road, was blinded. He spent that time praying until Ananias came by the leadership of God to lay hands on Paul. When Peter was called to the bedside of the dead Dorcas, he prayed, and she was restored to life. Cornelius, the Gentile convert, was praying when God’s call came to Him. Peter was praying on the roof when God revealed to him a vision which would make him ready to receive Cornelius. And then in chapter 12, we remember Peter’s miraculous escape from prison. What was the congregation doing while Peter was in prison? Praying.

One of the great missionary sending agencies is OMF, the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, originally the China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor. Do you know what their motto is? This mission agency takes as its motto not “Reaching the world for Christ” or “Taking the Gospel into the World.” No, OMF has a very simple motto . . . “By Prayer.”

Do you believe in the power of God through prayer? I’m not talking about five minutes over the sick people on the prayer list. I’m talking about pleading with a heart of faith for the earth-shaking work of God. Are you praying for more than health, wealth and comfort? Notice there is almost not a word about prayers for health in the book of Acts yet health-related requests take up 95% of most of our prayer lives. God help me get over this cold. No, don’t call me into missions or move me to follow you more closely or help me to care for those in need or share the gospel with people. Help me get over this cold. If you wonder why most churches are devoid of real spiritual power, it is this. God is able. But He calls us to ask. God does whatever He pleases, but He is most often pleased to reveal Himself through the faithful prayers of His people. Acts proves it. The history of the church confirms it. So come at 9 o’clock on Sunday morning to seek God with us. Come on Wednesday nights to pray for our church and community and nation. Pray at home. How many of you prayed Wednesday night for our church family. Keep it up. And others join them. Youth, kids, you need to be praying too. Jump in there on Wednesday night and pray. Let us pray church, for the power of God, for the moving of the Holy Spirit, for Him to make the way clear for His work in our midst. Let’s pray for His glory to shine through this church body so clearly that it is unmistakable.

And let’s talk for just a minute about fasting. When is the last time you even thought about fasting? That’s something the youth do. 30 hour famine. We like our soft drinks and our fast food too much to fast. Woe to us that we can’t take one day ever so often to seek God through fasting and prayer. It shows us what we really believe about God that we never fast. Jesus assumed His disciples would fast until He comes. So let’s pray and fast for God’s working in and through our church.

4.         A Missionary Church is Marked by the Work of the HOLY SPIRIT    (13:2).

The Holy Spirit is at work all through the book of Acts. This is a characteristic of a church that is on mission with God. Are we experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit? Do we feel His presence? Do we sense His guidance through His Word and prayer? Are we seeing God change lives, by drawing people to Himself and changing those who already know Him? These are the things we should be seeing if the Holy Spirit is at work. Now we won’t always see them to the same degree or in the same way. There may be seasons where not many people are coming to Christ but many people are growing. There may be other times where many people are coming to faith. There may be seasons when the Spirit calls us to a specific task or a specific project.

I love the words in verse 2 where The Spirit says “set apart for me Barnabus and Saul to the work to which I have called them.” Three times in Paul’s life he was set apart. Galatians 1:15 says that he was set apart from birth to God. Romans 1:1 says that he was set apart for the gospel and here in Acts 13 he is set apart for a specific mission. The Spirit is involved in all of that. The Spirit calls you to salvation, you are filled with the Spirit and you are led by the Spirit. And what do you get as Christians? The fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.  Your character is transformed your ministry is defined by the Spirit.  Is that true of you? Or is your character shaped by culture? Is your life not love, joy and peace but bitterness, anger and anxiety? And is your ministry what makes you feel good or what makes you look good or what you think others expect of you or is your ministry defined by the Holy Spirit?

A true Christian can not lose the Holy Spirit. But a true Christian can grieve or quench the Holy Spirit. As we submit ourselves to sin rather than walking in the Spirit, we push down the work of the Spirit in our lives. So many of us can not sense the working of God because we have filled our hearts with sin. No man can serve two masters. You can’t give your heart to pornography and lewd movies and sexual perversion and then come before God and worship in truth. A heart filled with bitterness toward everyone who has ever slighted you is a darkened heart. A heart of anxiety that looks to self for life will not find life but death. So this is the place of repentance. God is merciful. He forgives sin but He does not ignore sin. When we yield ourselves to unrighteousness we reap spiritual death. The spiritual immaturity that is evident in many who have professed faith in Christ for years is owing not to a lack of teaching or church attendance but to a consistent submission of the heart to sin. Sometimes that reveals a heart that is really lost, that was never saved. Sometimes it reveals one who should have moved on to solid food, but is still stuck in infancy.

Now one more thing before we move on. Don’t let the foolishness you see on TV churches or maybe things you’ve experienced in church keep you from walking in the Spirit. Because there are people on TV who make a show out of rolling around in the aisles and speaking gibberish and performing fake healings, don’t sell out on the reality of the Spirit’s work. Don’t let your heart become cold because you see some TV preacher who is a fraud. No, give yourself to the work of God. Don’t hold back on participating in worship. Say amen, raise your hands, express your worship in silent prayer. Whatever is good and honoring to God, enter in heart and soul to worship. Keep short accounts with God. Be quick to repent when your heart goes astray. And as you do, you will see the work of the Spirit in your life. And when there are enough of us here walking in that way, we will see the working of the Spirit in our church.

The last truth we see about the church in Antioch in this passage is . . .

5.         A Missionary Church is FOR OTHERS    (13:3).

3  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

            Having been led by the Spirit of God, the church in Antioch fasts and prays and lays hands on Barnabus and Saul and sends them off. Now remember who Barnabus and Saul were. They were two of the five prophets/ teachers in the church in Antioch. This is God’s leading, but it would be a blow to those who remained at Antioch. But they willingly released two of their most able leaders from their duties because they were for others, not their own comfort or security. Maintenance churches care about buildings and budgets and how many behinds are sitting in the pews. Missional churches are focused on the glory of God and ministry to people.

Notice that this laying on of hands for Barnabus and Saul is not the beginning of their ministry. They were already ministering. They were gifted spiritual leaders already. They are not even being called to a new ministry but to an expansion of and re-focusing on what they were already doing. They had an effective ministry already but neither they nor the members of the church in Antioch would settle for the status quo comfortable life. They were looking out at the great need people had for the gospel and they made decisions that were for the gospel and not for their own comfort.

It is true that the church is about God. But the heart of God is not only for His glory, His heart is also for people. And our hearts should beat for God and for people.

The well-known late Baptist pastor WA Criswell once told the story of hearing a radio program about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The presentation about Lincoln’s speech was so different that the host was deluged with mail after he delivered the address. You see, the entertainer did some research and found that when Lincoln delivered that address, he put an emphasis upon one word in that dedication. We always say: “The government of the people, by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth.” The entertainer discovered that when Lincoln delivered his speech he said, “That government of the people, by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth.” Lincoln emphasized not a preposition, but the people. He was moved by the people. That is the emphasis that ought to be in our work and in our assignments. Our work concerns people. It concerns human souls.

          God’s will for our church is that we move more and more away from being a maintenance church and more and more toward being a missional church. We will see that happen when we adopt as our pattern of life the way of the church in Antioch. When we develop good leaders and when our leaders pursue godliness. We will see God’s work when we worship Him wholeheartedly. We will see God move when we seek Him through prayer and fasting. And when the Holy Spirit is moving among us, we will not be focused on our own comfort but on the glory of God and the salvation of the lost and the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry. I don’t want to waste whatever time I have left playing church and propping up empty kingdoms and bloated egos. I want to plead with God and pour out my life so that His name might be known among the nations, His salvation throughout the earth. Come join me. If this is your heart, when the choir starts to sing, come down to the front and join with me in prayer. Let’s pray together for the working of God in our midst and in our hearts.

 

 

 

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