Summary: Paul’s first missionary journey is a model for our own missionary endeavours in the modern world. God continues to call us to preach the gospel for thesame reasons as he did Paul.
Why do Mission?
One of the questions often asked by Christians over the last 30 or so years has been the question, "Why should we still be sending people out to preach the gospel to other nations and cultures?" Sometimes the question is asked in a slightly more negative way: e.g. "Do we have the right to try to change the way people worship God? Do we have the right to go into other cultures and tell them they’re doing it the wrong way?" That’s because part of our reaction to our colonial past has been to fear the perpetuating of colonial attitudes through missionaries taking their western culture to other countries, along with the gospel. And you can understand why those sorts of questions arise when you see African and Asian and South American church leaders dressing up in clothes that were designed to keep you warm in freezing English Churches in the middle of winter.
But is that enough reason to stop taking the gospel to other nations, to people who haven’t yet heard it? And even forgetting other nations, people want to know do we have a right to share the gospel with our fellow Australians who all have their own sets of beliefs and values? These are the sorts of questions that people are asking, even some Christians are asking, particularly those of a more liberal bent. They want to know whether in this multi-faith society of ours we still have a reason to go and share the gospel with others?
Well that’s the first of two questions we’re going to address today as we look at this passage from Acts 13. It’s interesting that those sorts of questions never seem to arise in the New Testament. Despite the fact that theirs was just as multicultural and certainly more multi-faith than ours, they had no hesitation in sharing the gospel with those who hadn’t heard it. So why is that?
Well, first of all, I guess, because they had Jesus’ direct command, his last words to them, still ringing in their ears: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." And as you saw a couple of weeks ago when Michael preached on Acts 11, there was an inevitability about the spread of the gospel as people moved out from Jerusalem and simply talked to their neighbours about this new found faith. They couldn’t help themselves, could they? They just had to tell people this amazing message of a man who’d died and then risen again.
What we find here is that as the church grows God steps in to make sure that it grows even faster. God’s Spirit comes to the Christians in Antioch and gives them an even greater impetus for sharing the gospel. He tells them to send out Saul and Barnabas for the specific ministry of sharing the gospel with the wider world.
Now you could ask the question whether they’d eventually have thought of this by themselves. Perhaps they might have. But then maybe they wouldn’t. Remember that Saul had been brought to Antioch by Barnabas to teach the new converts, particularly the Gentile converts, about their new faith. And we could probably assume that the work of teaching people could have gone on for years. As you know there’s a lot in the Scriptures to teach people and presumably Saul could have kept going for years and years expounding the Scriptures to this small church. And it’s a natural inclination for churches to want to hang on to the good ministry they’ve been receiving. But God had a wider world in mind. He’d chosen Saul right from the beginning to take the gospel to the Gentile world. We saw that back in ch 9:15 where we read about his conversion. And in fact, by the end of this passage that’s exactly what he’s driven to, as the Jewish leaders reject his message. But in the meantime God needs to motivate them to get moving. So he gives them a message through his Holy Spirit, while they’re together at worship, and says "Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Now before we move on to the second question we need to address today, let me ask you, does this help us with the question of whether we should still be sharing the gospel with those of other faiths and other cultures? I think the answer hinges on what God’s desire is for those who haven’t heard about Jesus today. It depends on whether God is still calling people out through the inspiration of his Holy Spirit to take the gospel to other people. More importantly, is he still speaking to churches and saying set those apart for me who have the gifts to do this work? Well, my experience is that that’s exactly what he’s doing. What’s more, my reading of his word is that the call to share the gospel is as important now as it was when Jesus first gave it. When Jesus said to go into all the world, he meant just that. When he talked about the ends of the earth he was including every area of the world. That means Namibia where the Prentices are. It means Chile where the Peters are. But it also means Surrey Hills where we are; or Box Hill or Blackburn or Balwyn, or Burwood, or Canterbury. Wherever we live or work or play we’ll find people who are still in great need of the salvation that Jesus offers them. And if you think about it "All the world" is a much larger group of people today than it was in the first century. So, yes! The call to share the gospel with people is as great today as it ever was. And the basis on which we take that gospel to those people is the same as it ever was. We do it because God commands it. First through the direct command of Jesus Christ and second through the instructions given by the Holy Spirit to the Church.