Summary: The church at Antioch sends out the first foreign missionaries.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 24
“Its all About Missions”
The last verse of chapter 12 begins the story by relating the return of Barnabas and Saul. We are told, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.” Acts 12:25 (NKJV). Just how important is missions anyway? Henry Martyn said, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.” (as quoted in Warren Wiersbe. Be Daring p. 10) Emil Brunner wrote, “The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church; and where there is neither church nor mission, there is no faith.” (as quoted by Brian L. Harbour. Living Expectantly. p. 104. ]
Just having the name “Missionary” as a part of the sign out front does not make you a missionary church. A local church that is not mission minded is not by definition really a church. It is a religious social club that makes little or no impact on the world.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE CHURCH 12:1
“Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene (si-re’-nee), Manaen (Ma-na’en) who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
The church at Antioch gives us the profile of what a missionary church should look like. First of all it was an Established Church. A Church that does not know where it is coming from, why it is here, or where it is going is not likely to be of much use in mission outreach.
Secondly, it was a Well Taught Church. Five men are listed as teachers in this church. Where did this great body of teacher come from? This church has obviously established teaching as a priority in the thinking of this church.
Five names of teachers tell us an enormous amount about the church.
Barnabus – He was a Levite, a Jewish priest but born in Cyrus in touch with Greek culture
Simeon called Niger means black
Lucius of Cyrene his name is Latin and he is obviously brought up in Roman culture
Manaen – an aristocrat - raised with Herod the Tetarch – “brought up with” is synthrophos, meaning foster brother or childhood companion of the king
Saul – Paul was his Latin or Roman name, Saul was his Hebrew name, Greek culture was his conditioning, Pharisaiam was his training and life in Christ was his purpose and passion.
II. THE COMMISSION OF THE CHURCH 12:2-3
“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (3) Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
The call of verse 2 is proskeklemai which is perfect tense, it means an action that was done in the past with present lasting results. This shows that these two men had an inner call already given by the Holy Spirit. God sovereignly calls men to the ministry. The church is now recognizing this call by releasing them to the task. While God alone did the commissioning , he chose to do it through the church, through the laying on of hands. Just as in the Old Testament the offerer placed his hand on the sacrifice, expressing his identification with it, so now the church at Antioch laid their hands on those who will be the church’s first two missionaries. The church is by laying on their hands saying, “Brothers, we are with you in this. As you go, we go. We are a part of you.”
God chooses for further ministry those already actively serving Him. He is not likely to take Christians who are idle and entrust them with important work. Note also that God choose the best of the leadership, did choose those that church would not miss, he choose the cream of the crop.
Having prayed for Saul and Barnabas and publicly identified with them the Antioch church sent them away. A better translation of that phrase would be “they let them go” or “they released them.” It is clear from verse one that it is the Holy Spirit, not the church that had issued the call. Since they had already been called by God all the church could do was cut the cord and let them go.
III. THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH 12:4-5
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia (se-loo’-shah), and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (5) And when they arrived in Salamis (sal’-am-is) , they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.”