Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed . . . (Acts 13:1-4a).
Barnabas and Saul/Paul (13:9) departed on what our Bible maps call “Paul’s First Missionary Journey.” Thus Dr. Luke records the beginning of the world-wide missionary movement that thrust Christianity “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This is where the risen Lord had promised the apostolic witness would go when they were “immersed in the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 1:5-8; Luke 24:46-47). Acts 1:8 is the key verse of Acts, giving us the outline: Holy Spirit empowered witness (1) in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), (2) Judea and Samaria (8-12), and (3) to the uttermost part of the earth (13-28). Beginning with the model revival, Pentecost (Acts 2), the movement progresses from Jerusalem to Rome (28) with periodic progress reports given by Luke (2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31). Note that one of these is 12:24, summing things up and preparing for the new move out of Antioch in Syria.
Acts 13:1 begins with a simple connective, de (“Now”), denoting a continuation of 12:24-25. When the prospective missionary party arrived (Paul, Barnabas and John Mark, v. 25; cf. vv. 2, 5), it was time to send them out. Normally Luke begins a new section with men oun (1:6; 8:4; 11:19). This he does in verse 4 where the new venture commences, thus 12:24-13:3 is an introductory bridge. Verses 24 and 25 are important for the following reasons:
- They conclude the sections on Jerusalem and the homeland. In spite of the rejection of the gospel by Israel in Jerusalem (1-7) and the homeland (8-12), “the word of God grew and multiplied’ (v. 24). There was a church in Jerusalem (8:1), and there were churches in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee (9:31).
- They set the focus on Antioch, the new center of world evangelism. Luke gets the scene back to Antioch with the return of Barnabas and Saul from their mission of mercy to Jerusalem (v. 25; cf. 11:29-30). Scattered persecuted Jewish saints had ventured beyond the boundaries of their homeland to Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch, first evangelizing only Jews but then also Gentiles, resulting in the founding of the primarily Gentile church in Syrian Antioch (11:19-21). Barnabas and Saul were the chief instruments of the formation of this gifted assembly of “Christians” (11:22-26).
- The narrative of Acts now shifts from Peter (Acts 1-12) to Paul (13-28). Jesus saved the apostle to the Gentiles in chapter 9, revealing his life-work at conversion: “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (v. 15). Peter opened the door to the Gentiles in chapter 10, and now there was a primarily Gentile church in Antioch. Paul would lead the missionary team (13:13) into Gentile territory, going to the synagogues first, but will find the Jews of the Dispersion will also reject the gospel, necessitating a “turn to the Gentiles” (13:46; 18:6; 28:28). The scene was set to launch out.
Our text reveals that this move was anticipated, awaiting the divine go-ahead. How did God do it? By chosen men in and through a local church―a local church in revival (11:21-24), moving in a united, concerted, deliberate effort to evangelize the world. Vv. 1-4a reveal to us the importance of the local church in God’s purpose for this age.
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE SOURCE OF MISSIONARY PERSONNEL.
Where are the missionaries? Where would God look for a missionary? Our text tells us where. “Now there were in the church which was in Antioch.” The local church in Antioch. Examining the Greek text we find a unique construction, what one commentator calls “a quasitechnical term in Greek” that “seems to indicate its new status.”
This doen’t tell us much, except it must be important. It is different from every other reference to a local assembly in the NT. Usually you have ekkljsia (assembly/church) with en, such as, “the church in Pergamos” (Rev. 2:12), or “the church, the one in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).
There is also the genitive, “the church of Ephesus” (Rev. 2:1), or “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess, 1:1). Acts 13:1 has a prepositional phrase with a participle of the verb eimi, “I am.,” e.g., “the church of God, that is [tÛ ousÛ] in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2).
Acts 13:1 reads: en Antiochei kata tēn ousan ekklēsian Peterson suggests the participial construction has the “meaning ‘the church in that place’ or ‘the local church.’” Thayer states this use of the preposition kata denotes, “belonging to the church that was there.” Thus, instead of emphasizing the location of the church in a place, Antioch, Luke is emphasizing the location of the pool of missionary candidates as being in the local assembly in Antioch.
Any lost man can be a doctor, lawyer, truck driver, etc., as the case may be, but only a Christian can be a missionary. Missionaries are to be found in our local churches.
Who are the missionaries? Five men are named in verse one, indicating the diversity that only grace can produce, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the Antioch church. Out of these the Holy Spirit chooses two: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (v. 2). Who are the missionaries? They are the gifted and called by the Administrator of the church, the Holy Spirit (cf. 20:28; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-12). Note they are the tested and tried (11:26; 1 Tim. 3:10), the “brightest and the best.”
This was according to the divine plan. The verb “separate” (aphorizō), means “to set apart, appoint” someone to something, here, a ministry. Paul uses the verb to refer to God the Father separating him from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15) and the Son separating him unto the gospel at his conversion (Rom. 1:1). Here the Holy Spirit separates him through a local church. It is a Trinitarian operation (1 Cor. 12:5-7). The Spirit says, “I have called them” (perfect tense of proskaleomai), in the case of Paul in 9:4-6, 15-16. So there is an individual as well as a collective call.
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE SANCTUARY OF MISSIONARY PRAYER.
Out of what kind of local church does God call missionaries? Verse two describes what they were doing when the Spirit spoke to them. “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted.”
They were a worshiping church. “They” grammatically would refer to the five-man pastoral team, but the passage points also to the involvement of the whole church, the prophets and teachers representing them. Looking ahead to the end of their first journey, they return to where they had been recommended to the grace of God and gathered together the church to rehearse their exciting venture (14:26-27; cf. 15:40).
“Ministered” translates the word leitourgeō, that originally meant “public service,” later including religious service. The Septuagint (LXX) uses it and the noun, leitourgia, to refer to priestly service in the temple, and so does the NT (Luke 1:23; Heb. 10:11). We get our word liturgy from it. They were “worshiping” and fasting. We must minister unto the Lord, before we will be able to minister unto men (cf. Ezek. 43:15ff).
Paul later uses the language of the believer priesthood to sum up the missionary ministry that came out of this beginning. See Rom. 15:16: “That I should be the minister (leitourgos, priestly ministry) of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering (hierourgeō, to serve as a priest) the gospel of God, that the offering up (prosphora, offering, sacrifice) of the Gentiles might be acceptable (euprosdektos, well pleasing), being sanctified (hagiazō, to sanctify) by the Holy Ghost.”
See this same kind of language to the Philippian church: “Yea, and if I be offered (spendō, to pour out as a drink offering) upon the sacrifice (thysia, sacrifice) and service (leitourgia, priestly ministry) of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all” (2:17). And see Paul’s final desire: “For I am now ready to be offered (spendō, to be poured out as a drink offering), and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). He was a worshiper unto the end.
When Jesus gave his Great Commission in Galilee (Matt. 28:18-20), it is said of his disciples that “they worshipped him: but some doubted” (v. 17). Who will fulfill the Great Commission? Worshipers or doubters? Mission must flow out of a worshiping heart!
They were a waiting church. It also says, “and fasted.” G.Campbell Morgan comments: “The word fasted indicates a special season of spiritual exercise, in which the Church, His Body, is separated from all activity save that of ministering to the Lord. To a church in that attitude the Spirit can speak, and the Church will not mistake His voice.”
It appears they were seeking direction. Paul would no doubt have told them of God’s purpose to evangelize the Gentiles. In Antioch they had already begun. The question was what to do next and when. The Spirit’s response indicates this. There is an emphatic particle, dē, in his command that must be noted. “Separate now to me” (aphorisate dē moi). The particle indicates the need for immediate action (cf. 15:36, “Let us go now”).
When our compassionate Lord saw the multitudes like fainting, scattered, shepherdless sheep, he said to his disciples: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” The first response to such a need is, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36-38). The answer must come from God, and only a church in vital fellowship with him, praying and fasting, will be able to hear the voice of the Spirit, saying, “Separate to me . . .” When prayer requests are called for at Prayer Meeting, may we not forget Jesus’ one recorded prayer request―for workers for the harvest!
We notice that prayer and fasting marked the beginning (13:2-3) and end of the First Missionary Journey (14:23).
It has been said that when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, he did not come to the morning or evening service, but to the PRAYER MEETING!