“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. 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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.“ (Acts 13:1-3, NIV)
Sometimes it is easy to read our experience back into the Bible (I’ll be talking about this on Sunday). For instance, when I read this account by Luke it goes like this in my mind: Some of the main guys in the church in Antioch went to church one Sunday. After they heard the awesome sermon, they were so moved that they skipped lunch and prayed. God spoke to them and told them to set apart Barnabas and Saul to be the first foreign missionaries. So they took an extra “love offering” and sent them on their way. Saul and Barnabas took a picture with the caption “Pray for Asia Minor” and put it on a magnet – which then went on these guys’ refrigerators.
Possibly. But here’s the more likely version. Antioch was a huge (for that day) cosmopolitan city of 500,000 people. Of those citizens, only 25,000 were Jews who lived within Jewish ghettos. And only some of that number were Jewish Christians…Jews who believed that Jesus was their Messiah. This tiny minority didn’t have church buildings, but met in houses. There wasn’t open persecution yet, but they lived in a place prejudiced to Jews…and they were themselves outcasts among the Jews. So life was pretty rough on the church in Antioch. These men needed each other.
That’s a little different version, huh? And, Barnabas and Saul weren’t the first missionaries! Look at the list of men Luke gives us. Barnabas was a Gentile from Cyprus who had converted. He was one of the founding members of the Jerusalem church and had sold his property to give it to the church (see Acts 4:36-37). Then there was Simeon called Niger – the Latin word for “black.” He was most likely from northern Africa. Lucius was from Cyrene northern Africa, too. Manaen was very likely related (foster brother it is suggested) to Herod the tetrarch. That makes him from Judea, well educated, and reared in the palace. And Saul from Tarsus – the Jew with pristine Jewish heritage and training we know.
What a strange and diverse group! Diverse ethnicities, skin colors, educational backgrounds, economic backgrounds, languages, and religious backgrounds. But they had two things in common: Jesus and the fact that they needed each other!
And this diverse group, while worshiping the one God, heard the same thing. So they sent out Barnabas and Saul.
Now, let’s read the Acts church into ours. We, too, are a very diverse group. But when we come together to worship the Lord Jesus, he will unify us. Whether we realize it or not, we need each other, too. And when we worship the Lord, the Spirit of God will speak to us and give us our marching orders.
If we’ll do what the Spirit tells us, our church will expand as well.