Summary: From Acts 13 we learn about the young church in Antioch that sent out Paul and Barnabas to share the gospel with others.
A Mission Church with a Missionary Vision (Road Trip with Paul)
Last week Ronnie talked about how Paul was transformed from Saul to Paul --- from a persecutor of the church to a preacher of the gospel. Today, we’re jumping 15 years later to the time when the newly forming church officially sent Paul out as a missionary.
Paul had spent years in Arabia before he went to Jerusalem and met with the apostles. Paul wanted to be sure the gospel that had been revealed to him was the same as the gospel the apostles were preaching. It was. After this, he went to his home in Tarshish. And everywhere he went, Paul talked to people about Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World.
Meanwhile, the church in Jerusalem heard something was happening in a city about 300 miles to the north. The church in Antioch was growing fast, with both Jewish and Gentile believers. They sent Barnabas to Antioch to find out what was going on.
1. The Church
Acts 13:1 says, 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.
This church had initially been started by Jewish believers who fled persecution in Jerusalem. It’s interesting that one of the teachers there, Manaen, was brought up with Herod. Back in chapter 12 we read that King Herod was persecuting the church. In fact, Herod had executed James, the brother of Jesus, and then he imprisoned Peter. While Herod was an enemy of the church in Jerusalem, his child-hood friend, Manaen, had become a believer. He probably fled for his life, to escape death at the hand of his former friend, Herod. And that’s how Manaen became one of the leaders in the church of Antioch.
This town that the Romans called “Antiochia” is now called “Antakya” in Turkey. Antakya is predominantly Muslim, but several small Christian communities are active in the city. The largest church is named after St. Paul. The picture on the screen shows the view you could see from that church if you visited Antakya today.
Christians still make pilgrimages to Antakya. Currently, though, tourism has been interrupted because of the civil war right across the border in Syria.
In the first century, Barnabas arrived in a city that was the 3rd largest city in the Roman Empire. Antioch was a multicultural city, home to Macedonians and Greeks, native Syrians and Phoenicians, Jews and Romans, besides a contingent from other parts of Asia. And it was a city where the gospel message had taken root and was growing exponentially.
In fact, Acts11:26 tells us that the believers were first called Christians in Antioch. By the way, this was not a complimentary name, and not the name they chose for themselves. Outsiders couldn’t help but notice this growing new sect, and they called them Christians, using the Greek word for Messiah – Christ.
When Barnabas saw how the Holy Spirit was moving in Antioch, he traveled up to Tarshish and brought Paul back to help him work with the new church. Along with others, these men taught and strengthened the growing church in Antioch.
2. The Send-Off
Acts 13:2-3 says, 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.
What an amazing send-off! It’s really interesting, because Antioch itself was a mission church – probably no more than 5 years old. Antioch was a mission church with a Missionary Vision. I’ve learned that vision for outreach and evangelism is often what separates growing churches from dying ones. Any church that either quits supporting missions or fails to get started in the first place is doomed to stagnation and eventual death. Evangelism and missionary vision is why Christianity exploded with growth in the first century, all the way to Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire.
This sending of missionaries has been repeated thousands and thousands of times since this first official commissioning of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. Looking at church history we are able to see how the gospel has moved forward, so that now, in 2015, the gospel has been preached in virtually every nation in the world. In fact, the groups that do Bible translation work (Wycliffe and Pioneer Bible Translators) have come up with a time line for the completion of Bible translations in every known language within the next 25 years. The gospel advances more rapidly in any group that has a translation of the Bible in their own language.