Summary: This message, from Acts 13, argues that the proper relationship between the church and missionaries involves missionaries supporting the church, rather than the other way around, because the work of mission is the work of the church as led by the Spirit.
• I propose that effective immediately, Grace Community Church stop supporting missionaries.
• I am completely serious.
• By the end of this message, I believe you will agree with me.
Got your attention? Follow along this morning as we read Acts 13:1-4:
Now there were in the church at Antioch two men named Barnabas and Saul. And the Holy Spirit said to them, “I have chosen you to be missionaries.” So Barnabas and Saul enrolled in Antioch Bible College and received Bible degrees. And after praying, Barnabas and Saul felt led to go to Cyprus. And so they did contact the Cyprus Mission Society, and underwent psychological testing and aptitude testing and found the perfect mission fit for themselves. And after many years of preparation in this manner, Barnabas said to Saul, “Come, let us go to the church, that we may receive support.” And they did. Thus did the church support Barnabas and Saul as they went on their mission to Cyprus.
What, that’s not what your translation says? Hmmm…back to that…
The beginning of Chapter 13 marks a hinge point in the book of Acts. If we wanted to trace the beginning of the worldwide missionary movement to one text of Scripture, it might be this one, for this details The Beginning of the First Missionary Journey. Recall Acts 1:8; Jesus had said, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem--Ground Zero, as it were--Judaea, the surrounding territory; and Samaria, a call which represented the crossing of all sorts of cultural and religious barriers. Now, "the uttermost parts" of the earth are in view. Not that the way hadn't been paved in notable ways:
• Stephen, the martyr, had boldly proclaimed the truth and paid for it with his life
• Philip had evangelized Samaritans and a man from Ethiopia
• Saul--soon to be Paul--had been converted and commissioned as apostle to the Gentiles
• Cornelius, a Gentile centurion, had been converted after Peter received a vision from God
• The Gospel had been preached to Hellenists as well
These events had paved the way, but still had taken place basically on home turf, limited to Syrian and Palestinian mainlands. Now, it was time for the Gospel to go aggressively to the ends of the earth. But before we get to Chapter 13 today, let’s look at the immediate context (12:24-25):
But the word of God increased and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (Acts 12:24-25 ESV)
John Mark is the cousin of Barnabas; his mother Mary was a very prominent woman in the early church and it was likely Mary's home where the church had gathered to pray for Peter's release. John Mark's character and commitment to Christ had apparently made quite the impression on Saul and Barnabas, and so they not only took money to the saints in Jerusalem, but they received from those saints this young man Mark, an able, educated teacher.
So we find Saul, Barnabas, and John Mark in Antioch, as we look at this major turning point in the book of Acts. Let’s try Acts 13 again…
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. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 ESV) Note first
I. The Impetus for Mission: The Holy Spirit
We will speak more in a few moments about the context of the work of the Holy Spirit in this narrative, but notice that the initiative, the impetus, for mission is taken by God the Holy Spirit.
• The Holy Spirit "said"
In some way that was quite clear, the Spirit of God spoke to these men.
• "Set apart"
Separate these men from the rest of the leaders, for a special appointment:
• "The work...called them"
What's the work? Whatever it is, it isn't very specific right here, right? This is reminiscent of God's call to Abram, "Go to the land I will show you." Here, "set them apart for the work to which I've called them." Short on specifics, certainly, but the work was assuredly that which our Lord tasks us with: "as you are going, make disciples."
• "Sent out by the Holy Spirit" - :4
It is the Spirit Who is the impetus of mission; He is the One Who sends missionaries, who takes the lead. Notice next, though