Summary: Jesus sent his disciples out on mission. But Acts 13 is the first time THE CHURCH sent people out on mission. They were Barnabas and Saul. It wasn't all plain sailing. But it was still totally worthwhile.
INTRODUCTION / LEAD IN
I wonder if you’ve read The Lord of the Rings. In the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins throws a party. Then, he suddenly vanishes! Gandalf the wizard knows how he’s done it: Bilbo has a ring with very special power, a ring that is gradually gaining control over him. With some difficulty, Gandalf persuades Bilbo to give it up. He then tasks Frodo Baggins with destroying it. Frodo sets off with a few companions: Sam, Merry and Pippin. The four of them walk for quite a while. Then Pippin comments:
‘The road goes on for ever … but I can’t without a rest. It is high time for lunch.’
Pippin’s remark gets Frodo thinking and he quotes a poem:
‘The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.’
The companions chat a bit about it and Frodo mentions something Bilbo Baggins told him:
‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door … You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’
At this point, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin don’t know what lies ahead. They had stepped out onto a road and it was going to lead them into some extraordinary adventures.
Last week we started on a new series, looking at Saul, or Paul, as he was also known. Last week, we looked at Acts 9. Saul had been persecuting Christians. Those Christians were saying that Jesus had risen; Jesus was Lord. Now, Jesus appeared to Saul. In a moment, Saul woke up to the fact that the Christians were right and he was wrong. He did an about-turn. He accepted Jesus as Lord. He was baptized, washing away his sins. He was SAVED.
God told a man called Ananias to go to Saul. He told Ananias, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles.’ In the past, God had revealed himself mainly to Jews. Now, he was going to reach out to people who are not Jews, people the Jews called Gentiles.
In the following chapters we see God putting his intention into practice. He sends Peter to Cornelius, a Roman. Acts 10, 11 and 12 are mostly about Peter but Saul is mentioned. He goes with Barnabas to Antioch. Then the church in Antioch decides to send a gift to the church in Jerusalem and they send it through Saul and Barnabas. Acts 12 ends by telling us: ‘And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service…’
In Acts 9, Paul was SAVED.
In Acts 12, we find him SERVING.
In Acts 13, something new is about to happen. At the start of Acts 13, various leaders of the church in Antioch – this is Antioch in Syria – are worshipping the Lord and fasting. The Holy Spirit tells them, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Barnabas and Saul would be SENT. They will set out and, like Frodo Baggins, the road ahead of them will be full of adventures.
Acts 13 is 52 verses long. I didn’t think we could read all of it so I asked Jo to read three passages from it. I think these passages point to three things we can learn about mission:
1. Mission is the task of the church
2. People we rely on aren’t always reliable
3. People who should give support may be hostile
The first thing we can learn about mission from Acts 13, and I think the most important lesson today, is that mission IS THE TASK OF THE CHURCH.
In verses 1-3 the leaders of the church in Antioch were worshipping God and fasting.
In verse 2 we read, ‘the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”‘ The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart ... Barnabas and Saul.’ It wasn’t an instruction TO Barnabas and Saul. It was an instruction to the church in Antioch about how they were to use Barnabas and Saul. God gives his instruction about mission TO THE CHURCH. He was calling the church in Antioch to be involved in mission by setting apart two people – quite possibly their two best people.
This is something we – as in 21st century churches in Europe – need to hear. To a large extent we have forgotten God’s calling on us. If I was to ask you, ‘Think of a mission organization’, I expect you’d think of BMS or Interserve or YWAM or some organization like that. I don’t think most of us would immediately say, ‘The church.’ The rise of mission organizations has left some of us thinking that mission is their department, not ours.