Called to Missions.
Copyright © 2008, J.W. Carter
God's plan and purpose for mankind is one that has been shown to us He has revealed Himself throughout history, first in the lives and testimony of the prophets and patriarchs, and finally in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came with the clear and simple message of the gospel: salvation from the consequence of our sin is found in placing our faith and trust in God, and Him alone. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of all who place their faith and trust in God when He took them on Himself on Calvary's cross. This message of grace is the most important message that any person receives throughout their entire lives. The opportunity to respond to that message is the greatest gift that God has given us: eternal life with Him.
God has communicated that message of salvation through various means over the ages, and continues to communicate that message today through His Word and through those who are faithful to share it. Prior to His ascension, Jesus commanded the faithful to continue to share that message as we are to be witnesses of Him (Acts 1:8 ff.) and make disciples (Matt 28:28 ff.)
Just as God calls upon every believer to be a witness to His love and purpose, He also calls upon the church and individuals in the church to take the message to those who need to hear it. This is one of the primary missions of the church, hense, we often refer to the work of sharing the gospel with the lost world as the work of missions.
The book of Acts, or the Acts of the Apostles, is an historical account of many of the events that took place from Jesus' ascension through the early years of the church as it came to embrace this mission. We find a wonderful example of this call when the church in Antioch ordained two if its own to missions ministry.
Chapter 12 in the book of Acts saw the imprisonment of Peter under the authority of Herod grandson of Herod the Great, Peters miraculous escape from prison, and the death of Herod. This took place during the Passover when many people had come to Jerusalem for the celebration. The persecution of the church ebbed with the death of Herod. Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark left Jerusalem for Antioch where Barnabas and Saul had previously been working with the church there. Chapter 13 picks up shortly after their arrival in Antioch.
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
Some of the leadership of the church in Antioch is described here, and the variety of the backgrounds of these men is interesting. First mentioned is Barnabas, a Jewish Christian from the Greek island of Cyprus. Simeon is assumed by many scholars to be a black man from the continent of Africa because the name "Niger" means "black." Cyrene is also in Northern Africa, so it is likely that Lucius was black. Manaen, brought up with Herod the Tetrarch, was brought up in an upper-class Jewish setting. Saul was a leader of the Pharisees. If there is one common thing about these men, it is that they have little in common in their backgrounds. This diversity describes the nature of the church at that time. There was a genuine love among the members that broke down walls of prejudice that could not have been broken any other way. Their leadership represented the diversity of their congregation.
1. CALLED TO REPRESENT THE TRUTH.
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."
What part did Barnabas and Saul have in the church in Antioch? They had been there at least for a year, providing leadership, encouragement, teaching, and serving the congregation. The sincerity of their calling in that church was evident in their worship and fasting. The rest of the congregation recognized their spiritual maturity as they subjected themselves to their leadership. As they were in worship, the Holy Spirit made it known to the church that it was time for Barnabas and Saul to leave the congregation and start on a missionary "journey."
Would it not have been easier for Barnabas and Saul to stay in the church in Antioch? What would have been some of the advantages of staying there? They were comfortable there, they had friends, positions of respect and leadership. When the Holy Spirit prompts the believer to action, most likely it is prompting a change, something that does not come natural to many people. Such a prompting was taking place in the lives of Barnabas and Saul.
What are some of the ways the Holy Spirit prompts Christians to take action? Through Gods word, through the testimony of other Christians, through prayer, and through circumstances we learn of a need that exists in Gods Kingdom. The Holy Spirit takes this knowledge and places it on our hearts, and the agape love that we share gives us a desire to see that need met. Often, it may simply be a prompting to be faithful in prayer concerning that need. On other occasions, it may be a prompting to take action and take part in the meeting of the need. In yet other occasions when we feel the prompting to pray, that may be the indication that we are also to be part of meeting that need since we have been inspired to take the need to the Lord in prayer. Barnabas and Saul could see that their ministry in Antioch was now one of maintenance. There were other leaders there who had the gifts that were needed to continue the ministry. The Holy Spirit placed in their hearts a burden concerning the lost people in other cities, and that burden translated to their clear understanding of the part that they would play in meeting that need: they would have to leave the comfort of the Antioch church and strike out on the road, in faith, spreading the gospel to new and different cities, starting more churches.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Who was fasting and praying here? Obviously, the church. This illustrates the sincerity of the people and their seeking God in the decision that was about to be made. These people were considering giving up the daily fellowship and ministry of two of their most beloved leaders. Maybe they were concerned that they would have difficulty without their leadership. Maybe they doubted their sufficiency in the knowledge of doctrine. After seeking God in prayer, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul, and sent them out. The laying on of hands was a common practice in their time. It brought them close together. It brought affirmation. In this situation, it gave Barnabas and Saul the affirmation of their support. By laying their hands on them, they were telling them that they agreed with their call to ministry, and promised to continue to be part of it.
We still practice laying hands on others in prayer and in ordination. It is a powerful form of expression that should not be overlooked. When you pray for someone who is in your midst, go to that person and place your hand on them when you pray. If someone around you asks for prayer, consider having that person kneel, and have everyone surround that person, place their hands on them, and pray. The one being prayed for will sense an affirmation that will never be forgotten, and the context of your prayer takes on new life.
So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. 5And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. Seleucia was the seaport closest to Antioch. So, Barnabas and Paul left Antioch to travel to Cyprus. What did Cyprus mean to Saul and Barnabas? Cyprus was Barnabas home. The Holy Spirit did not send them off to a strange and foreign land right away. It was Gods grace that brought them to Barnabas home where Saul would learn more of who Barnabas is, and would experience some of Barnabas life. This would serve to bring them closer together, making them a stronger team. The first recorded point of ministry was in the city of Salamis, a city large enough to have several Jewish synagogues. This became the pattern for evangelism for Saul and Barnabas. They would start their ministry in the synagogues, taking the gospel first to the Jews. God intended his gospel to be brought to the Jews, since this was the very purpose of everything that God had ever revealed to them. However, the Jews were so steeped in traditional thought, they could not see the truth of the gospel through the complex web of legalistic dogma.
Notice that Saul and Barnabas did not leave Antioch alone. Who did they take with them? John Mark, who would later be attributed as the writer of the second gospel, came with them from Antioch as their "helper." Notice that it is possible that the congregation did not lay hands on John Mark. It is likely that John Mark came on the trip because it sounded like a good idea. John Mark had one asset that neither Saul nor Barnabas had: John Mark had been one of the disciples (not one of the Apostles) who witnessed Jesus ministry. This would greatly help Saul and Barnabas providing their troupe with an authoritative testimony of Jesus ministry. It gave their testimonies additional credibility.
It is also possible for us to jump into a ministry because it sounds like a good idea. We may feel ideally suited to a ministry, or we might feel particularly coerced into that ministry for a similar reason. However, what can happen if we jump into some activity in an attempt to do what we think is Gods work, but do not have a real calling from the Holy Spirit? Most likely, we will become frustrated, exhausted, and disillusioned when we depend on our own strength and are not empowered by the Holy Spirit. We may be exhausting ourselves doing things in one area when God would prefer that we are ministering somewhere else where we will receive empowerment and joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.
It is evident that John Mark came on this trip out of altruism rather than as a heartfelt call of the Holy Spirit. It is tacitly evident by the "ordination ceremony" in Antioch, and overtly evident through events that are about to take place.
2. CALLED TO DEFEND THE TRUTH.
And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: 7Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
The Roman Empire was divided into two types of governance, one where the lands came under the direct control of the Roman Emperor (imperial), and another where the lands were granted to the authority of the Roman Senate (senatorial). Cyprus was senatorial, and came under the governance of the proconsul. Sergius Paulus was, literally, the governor of Cyprus, appointed by the Roman senate. His influence would greatly shape the nature of life on the island. Satan never rests when there is opportunity to block the work of God. Paulus was curious about the teaching of Saul and Barnabas and was willing to hear their message. He already had a "religious" man as his attendant in a turncoat Jew who called himself Bar-Jesus, or literally, "Son of Jesus." However, Bar-Jesus is described as a false-prophet, a sorcerer, who used is knowledge of Jewish tradition for his personal gain rather than as a platform to share God with others.
But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
When Bar-Jesus learned of the proconsuls desire to hear what Saul and Barnabas had to say, he tried to convince the proconsul to ignore them. He tried to turn the proconsul away from the ministry of Saul and Barnabas. Why? His position with the proconsul was threatened by these two missionaries. He had managed to bring himself into the center of life at its highest level through lies and deceit, claiming to be of Christ, yet fully aware of his own hypocrisy. These two missionaries carried the truth, and his position was consequently challenged. He had to do everything he could to keep Saul and Barnabas away from the proconsul.
Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. 12Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
This is the first recorded use of the name Paul. Paul is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Saul. What does this change from Saul to Paul signify? Though he was a Jew and a Pharisee, Saul started using the Greek form of his name in order to be able to minister more effectively with the Greeks. This willingness to identify himself with those he ministered to is a very evident part of Pauls ministry. We might often think that our identity is so fixed that we minister to others who are much different than ourselves. Paul looked at ministry quite differently. He became one of those to whom he ministered. Just as Jesus taught the disciples to take what was offered to them when they went from place to place in the ministry, Paul did the same.
We have the potential of insulting and embarrassing others when we are unwilling to accept their cultural differences. Sometimes we must put aside the pettiness of our culture and immerse ourselves in the culture of those that God has called us to minister in order to do so more effectively. Of course, this implies that we undergo this cultural tolerance without taking on sinful practices.
When Bar-Jesus stood between Saul and the proconsul, the Holy Spirit illumined an experience from his past. What happened to Saul on the road to Damascus about four years before this event? As a persecutor of Christians, he met Jesus, who blinded him for a time in order to get his attention. Like Bar-Jesus, Saul was a Jew who was striving against Christ. Bar-Jesus, who was thought of as the great religious authority would be struck blind, and like Paul would lose all access to the synagogue, and would lose his position with the people, becoming dependent upon others for his care. Much was taking place in the life of Bar-Jesus at this point. We have no knowledge of what happened to Bar-Jesus after this event, but historical documents may help us out, based upon the results of what happened next.
The explanation that Paul made before Sergius Paulus is not provided in scripture, but it does not take much imagination to see Saul starting his explanation of the gospel with a testimony of his own blinding experience on the Damascus road. Through the testimony Paul shared with the proconsul resulted in his belief in Jesus Christ, and his salvation. The scripture says no more about Sergius Paulus, but historical documents do. His name comes to the surface as one who was involved with the spread of Christianity in Rome. By his conversion, the gospel was able to be spread on the island of Cyprus without persecution from the Roman government. Paulus true salvation is evident that he was active in the spread of the gospel even when the government did not sanction the practice. One would speculate that since Paul stated that Bar-Jesus blindness would only be for a time, that like Paul, Bar-Jesus would repent, return to his original name, and be part of the work of the gospel that God did through the Roman Proconsul of Cyprus.
3. CALLED TO SHARE THE TRUTH.
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. 15And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.
When Paul and Barnabas returned to the mainland, what did John Mark do? He left the two missionaries and returned to his home in Jerusalem. Though little is said here, we will find later that Marks leaving them was perceived, at least by Paul, as desertion. When Mark would later desire to come with them again, Paul would remember this event and would not allow it. When Barnabas defended Mark, Paul separated himself from both of them, resulting in two missionary teams: Paul and Silas in one, and Barnabas and Mark in the other. This sounds a lot like the method that some modern churches use in order to create new churches.
Pisidian Antioch is not the same Antioch from which they were sent. There were three cities that bore this name in the region. As was the case on Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas started teaching in the synagogues, sharing the gospel from the context whereby the listeners could identify with it: in this case in the Law and the Prophets, since these were devout Jews. Initially, the church leaders were pleased by what they were hearing: a message that contained scriptural authority. These two travelers appeared to know what they were talking about, so their continued teaching was encouraged. As the Jews shared the scriptures amongst themselves in the synagogue, they shared its poetry and its history. However, without the Holy Spirit they could not share its power. When Paul and Barnabas spoke the Jews heard a context of power and confidence that they had not experienced. Consequently, they invited them to speak on. When a Christian shares God's Word there is a power in it that is absent when one who does not know the LORD attempts to do the same. The call to mission that is placed upon the heart of every Christian is a call to share His word with a lost world, and when that word is shared, it carries the the power of God to bring repentance and salvation.
What follows in the next several verses is another one of Pauls apostolic sermons. Lets jump to verse 44, a week after this sermon was delivered.
And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. 45But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
The sermon that Paul presented became known throughout the city. Consequently, the next Sabbath became somewhat of an event. What was an enlightening sermon one week, became a major movement the second, and the religious leaders started to get nervous. All of a sudden, they saw themselves pushed to the rear of the action rather than being those prominently in front, and they were filled with jealousy. As was invariably the case, they were not able to place this "new wine" into their "old wineskins" and rather than hearing the gospel and responding, they were filled with fear of the loss of their own position. In order to counter this movement, the religious leaders started using their position to argue against what Paul and Barnabas were teaching, trying to restore their own prominence.
One can expect God's word to be accepted as long as that word does not affect people's lives. However, when God starts to work on a person's heart, true change takes place, and people are resistant to that change. As the religious leaders started to see real things happening around them they began to see the message of Paul and Barnabas as a threat.
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Though we make ourselves available and share the word of God with others, not all will respond positively to its message. The religious leaders were not rejecting Paul and Barnabas, they were rejecting the message. Paul and Barnabas had the confidence in their faith to know that they were obedient in sharing what they know is the truth. One of the most common arguments that people use to defend their timidity towards sharing the gospel message is their own fear of rejection. Note the response of Paul and Barnabas to the rejection they received. They simply acknowledged the rejection and politely took their message elsewhere. By so doing they continued to show respect for those to whom they witnessed, and they left the encounter with the full knowledge that they had been obedient to the gospel.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. 48And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. 49And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. 50But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. 51But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.
As the people of the city heard the dynamic message of the gospel, many responded in faith. Most of those who were coming to the Lord were Gentiles, further inciting the religious leaders to action. As a result Paul and Barnabas were forced out of the coastal region for a time. However, what did they leave behind? A few Jews came to the knowledge of Jesus, and many Gentiles did the same. These would fellowship together and the gospel of Jesus Christ would flourish in the region.
The response of Paul and Barnabas is curious. What did they do when they left the region? They shook the dust from their feet when they left, leaving it behind as a testimony against those who would not hear their message. This concept was instructed by Jesus, recorded in Luke 10:10-11. Leaving the dirt behind has a significance to the ancient Jew. The ancients had a belief that the domains of gods were local to the communities that worshipped them. When one would leave a territory they would honor the local gods by taking some soil with them, and by so doing bringing their god with them. To reject the dirt is to reject their god in a form of subtle recognition of that god's powerlessness. To leave the dirt behind is to state that
What should we do when someone rejects our attempt at sharing Christ? Rather than getting all worked up, feeling failure, or taking on any other negative feelings, we are instructed to simply shake the dust off of our feet and go on. When one rejects our testimony it is not we who are being rejected, but Christ. Jesus has big shoulders. He can handle the rejection better than we can, so we are taught to simply recognize their rejection as their own choice and walk away knowing that we have been obedient to Gods call to witnessing.
This chapter provides us with some guidance concerning Gods call in our lives concerning the task of evangelism. We need to listen to the Holy Spirits call to be involved in the spread of the gospel through prayer, giving, learning, and going. When going, we should be doing so in response to Gods call, not through some altruistic or logical motive. We should not allow opposition to our message to deter us in our ministry, but rather we should expect it, and not take it personally. Such rejection should not discourage us, it should encourage us by clearly identifying the scope of our obedience to Christ. When we are obedient to the Spirit in this, we will see people come to Christ, and we will receive the blessing of our lives.