As I was fasting and praying the Lord said to me. Set aside for me Friday Feb 28th, 2014. Partner with Dr. Toews for an online workshop giving a case study on how Virtual Biblical Community has developed at Grace over these years.
Well it wasn’t quite like that …though come to think of it I was on a juice fast, and had been praying for Ron that day. But the rest of it just morphed out of our Skype conversation.
Dr. Toews had been invited by ACTS to do two workshops. Both of which he was more than qualified to lead. Yet as he prayed about the seminars he was reminded of my involvement on the original In Service platform. And he knew how we as a church have been doing church online for many years now. And so the idea for a case study in one of the workshops was Ron’s idea. Or was it the Holy Spirit’s. Could it have been both? Was I being called out to a new phase in ministry?
Initially it seemed so. But time and more prayer would have to determine that. You see I’ve learned not to eagerly accept every request for my involvement over the years. If I did I suspect I would be going to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and other places in the world at the expense of Grace. Just because someone calls and invites doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a call of God. Though it quite well could be.
How does one decide? If it feels good do it? You know the North American mindset? Or more specifically if it pays good do it? Or if it’s not too much bother or if I have the time and want to then do it? Are those considerations or enculturation?
Or perhaps we should make it very spiritual, wait upon the Lord to reveal it? Of course the request came from out of nowhere. Wasn’t that already the Lord speaking? Private prayer and fasting may help one to better discern the call but to be perfectly honest, we can rationalize just about anything. We can talk ourselves into or out of anything and chalk it up to “hearing or not hearing from God”. So private prayer while critical must be only one of the determining factors. The prayer of the community is also radically important in determining the Holy Spirit’s leading as we’ll see in our passage today.
Turn with me to Acts chapter 13:1-12.
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. 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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. Acts 13:1-12 (NIV)
God gifts every church with individuals that proclaim and teach His Word. It’s part of the DNA of church life. Prophets, those who speak what God has said with His power and authority backing them. And Teachers, those who can enable us to better understand what the Lord has said are just two of the gifts that God gave the folks at Antioch to help them discern His will.
Paul would later write: “It was God who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV). Seems that we all need some help learning our roles in His community.
The wording in this sentence in the Greek seems to indicate that some of the men were Prophets while others were teachers. Since the word Prophet comes first in verse 1 …those who were named first were prophets. At least that’s what the Greek commentary I read inferred.
Barnabas we know having run into him several times in Acts already. Simeon called Black, that’s the literal meaning of the word “Niger”, is believed by several scholars to be the same Simeon who was forced to carry Our Lord’s cross on the road to Calvary. That’s found in Mark 15:21.
If it is the same Simeon, then he was also from Cyrene, as was Lucius, the third man in our list. He is only found here and in Romans 16:21.
Oregon an early church father linked Lucius with the Apostle Luke but there isn’t any supporting evidence to make that link. All we know for sure about this Lucius is that he was from modern day Libya, in the coastal town of Cyrene.
On a side note…that particular area was known for their export of a medicinal herb called silphium, which was known in those days to cause abortions. So even back then abortion was a profitable business that undoubtedly messed up plenty of people’s lives.
The main thing we can learn from Luke’s description of Lucius is that he like Simeon were both from Africa and they somehow met up with Barnabas and then later on with Saul. And all of these men were instrumental in bringing the Gospel to Antioch.
The next man on the list we seem to know even less about. Apparently from Luke’s description he was involved in the highest levels of local government. God seems to always have some Christians in political places throughout Church history. Luke makes sure this is not lost by connecting Manaen with Herod the tetrarch. We’re not sure if he was one of the teachers or the prophets but he was involved in the leadership at the Antioch church.
And the last person on the list was of course Saul. He hasn’t yet had his name changed to Paul but that will happen shortly. The fact that his name appears last both in this list of names and second in verse 2, according to some scholars has significance as well.
It seems that Barnabas was considered the Lead minister. And perhaps rightly so for if you’ll remember, Barnabas fetched Saul from Tarsus back in chapter eleven, bringing him to Antioch to teach the new believers. And of course Barnabas was the one who stood up for Saul when he came to Jerusalem after his Damascus road experience and he introduced Saul to the other Apostles. So we see in him that leadership potential.
This was a momentous occasion for the church. Up to this point the church was primarily reaching out to Jewish people and those who adhered to the Jewish faith. But as they were worshipping and praying, God nudged them to B.E.G.I.N. Another one of those words for you this year! Can we have two in one year? G.t.G.t.G. is our underlying motive for the year but it seems we need to B.E.G.I.N. somewhere if we are to have something to G.t.G.t.G. – And sorry Scott B.E.G.I.N. doesn’t stand for Believe Everything God Is Now. It is:
Bring Every Gentile Intimate News
God said in Acts 1:8, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 (NIV). It would start with the men who stood watching as Jesus ascended to the Father. But they were only the beginning of the great commission. For that was Jesus desire and command for every believer everywhere. Including you and me! We too must B.E.G.I.N. Bring Every Gentile Intimate News
Why intimate news? You may ask? Because it is all about relationship. Each believer has an intimate relationship to share! So intimate that no two can ever be exactly the same. And yet we all have the same relationship in common.
The black man who carried the cross, ….imagine the intimate story he told about that walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary. No one else had that witness! But everyone who heard of the event would have known of the cross bearer. Everyone …even you and me!
And Saul, who can forget his intimate witness of the risen Saviour that met him on the road to Damascus?
But now it was time to B.E.G.I.N. T.I.M.E. to Bring Every Gentile Intimate News.
So God, through the Holy Spirit, told them to set aside Barnabas and Saul for this very work. And so they did! Verse 3 tells us that, “after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (3).
I kind of like the way Dr. McGee teaches on part of that verse. He asked a question, “What was it that was imparted to Saul and Barnabas by the laying on of hands?” And I suspect he’s heard many answers to that. But his answer was quite shocking at first. He said, “They imparted germs from their dirty hands!”
Yup, there was no transference of the Holy Spirit from the prayers to Saul and Barnabas. No lightning cruising through their veins out their hands into the new missionaries.
It was their way of saying we are together in this. You are not alone on this journey! Though we are staying here and carrying on the ministry in Antioch, we are connecting ourselves with your vision and are a part of your mission. Like missionary Daniel Ehmaan told us last year, the command in the Greek “to go” was not to and individual but it is in the plural….the community was “to go and make disciples”(Mat. 28:19).
Every missionary needs that! Every missionary needs people to connect with them, and pray for them. It is both physical and spiritual, and yes more than germs from dirty hands. But it’s also getting our hands dirty rather than spectating while others go and do the work of ministry.
Well, pumped up by the support they had received, assured that the Holy Spirit was indeed calling them to B.E.G.I.N. Luke tells us that the two of them went down to Seleucia where no souls were recorded as being saved but they did find a boat to sail to Cyprus. I suspect each step of the way they planted a few seeds for the Lord. I know that is the case with missions today. Someone always asks, “why are you here” or “where are you going”, or “what are you doing” and bam! Another seed is planted for Jesus. And we don’t always get to hear of the fruit of those chance meetings.
Actually they are not chance at all, they are “divine appointments”. Every time we witness for Christ “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). All you need to do is trust and obey. Make yourself available to the Lord.
Luke tells us that the first stop was Salamis at a Jewish synagogue. Both Barnabas and Paul were full blooded Jews. This would be the normal place to go for them. But God wanted them to B.E.G.I.N.
It seems from Luke’s observation that Barnabas and Saul had a stowaway with them named John according to verse 5. He came as a helper. Most scholars believe this was John Mark. And just how he helped Saul and Barnabas remains speculation. But he was there as they preached in the synagogues.
Somehow it never seems to take very long for trouble to show up when the Gospel is preached. This trouble came in the person of Bar-Jesus. With a name like that you’d think he be working for them not against them wouldn’t you? Bar-Jesus simply means “son of Jesus”. But this son was illegitimate to say in the least.
He was a sorcerer and a false prophet. Which means he was demonically influenced. And his influence reached the proconsul of the region whose name was Sergius Paulus. Bar’s other name was Elymus case you missed that. Elymus is the Greek word for sorcerer. So Luke is just making sure you understand that this guy was satanically inspired. And Satan doesn’t want the gospel to B.E.G.I.N. The only intimate relationship he wants is enslavement of all God’s children.
So when the proconsul demands an audience with Barnabas and Saul, you can be sure that Bar-Jesus isn’t far behind. In fact anytime someone is about to get saved, the devil works extra hard to disrupt the relationship. But it is all smoke and mirrors! Like a magicians box. Those knifes look real but they will not hit their mark unless it Gives to God the Glory.
I said the proconsul demanded an audience with the evangelists as the wording here in our modern translations makes it sound somewhat optional. It might have been optional on the proconsul’s end but not for those whom he invited.
Yet God is so gracious! This intelligent man not only listened to the missionaries but heard the gospel and was beginning to believe their message. Just then Bar-Jesus tried to oppose what they were saying and that’s when the excitement begins.
You see today we can look upon the Holy Scriptures and give you chapter and verse from God on many topics. The Scriptures themselves are an authority. We actually don’t need more authority than to say what’s in them. For example, we know that the Scriptures say, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). We have His Word on it!
But Saul couldn’t quote Romans or show the Proconsul from the book of Matthew. Those hadn’t been written yet. Therefore God gave Saul some extra authority to turn the tide and that seems to have changed his name to Paul in the process.
Bar-Jesus was likely thinking to that moment, ya well suck it up buttercup! I’m mister big here! And not at all expecting what was coming next.
“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?”
“Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand” (Acts 13:9-11 (NIV).
Our God is greater, Our God is stronger! God you are higher than any other! There wasn’t to be a shouting match that day. God took the spiritually blind man and completed the job with physical blindness. It would have been awesome to witness! In point of fact you have witnessed this from the written record. You know it happened! But when it happens in front of you, and you see it with your own two eyes!
I suspect your reaction will be similar to the proconsul’s who was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. He not only listened to the message but having seen the power of God s
top the sorcerer in his tracks, gave this influential man all the proof he needed. And Luke said it lead to salvation. He believed!
The Proconsul went in that moment from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light! His eyes went from blind to the gospel to seeing the truth. He went from ignorant of who God is to beginning an intimate relationship!
True missionaries are not simply vocational graduates who studied about God and learned the technics of evangelism. Though these things help immensely they are but tools in the field. True missionaries are sent by God and their community, empowered by the Holy Spirit to Bring Every Gentile Intimate News. News of eternal relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. If the calling is not borne out by the community of believers you are in, I would spend more time listening for God’s true calling before going anywhere. But you can always choose to learn the lesson the hard way.
As the church partners with those who go they too are empowered to B.E.G.I.N. to Give to God the Glory. Their partnership shares in the rewards of our Father who will say come the judgement day, “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23 (NIV)