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The First Missionary Journey

Acts 13:1-3 

  

"Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. [2] And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' [3] Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." (NASB)

Acts 13 is a milestone text because it marks a radical shift in strategy for the young church.  Perhaps strategy isn't the best word because the change didn't result from hours of studying data, analyzing trends and debating the best course of action.  Instead, in the midst of a season of worship they heard the voice of the Holy Spirit and they obeyed Him.  Please don't let the importance of that statement get lost in this sermon introduction.  These Christians were in love with the Lord and put their heart and soul into worshiping him.  Their worship service wasn't a church growth opportunity or a performance tailored for those who gathered it was a time of "ministering to the Lord."  That unusual phrase appears elsewhere in scripture.  It is used of young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1 "Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions were infrequent." (NASB) and of Aaron in 2 Chron. 13:10 "But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the sons of Aaron are ministering to the Lord as priests, and the Levites attend to their work." (NASB) 

In the midst of their worship, God stood up and spoke to the church telling them to "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."  The church entered into a time of prayer and fasting, obeyed the words of the Holy Spirit and commissioned Barnabas and Saul for the work God had for them to do.

God called, the church set them apart and sent them.  These events mark the beginning of a new era for the church a missionary sending era. 

 The spread of the gospel began with CENTRIPETAL PROCLAMATION.  The Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples at Pentecost, empowering them to proclaim the gospel to the thousands of people who were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The people assembled together, the church and the Jewish prospect for the church, Peter preached and 3000 men were added to the church.  With the waves of persecution we've studied over the past few months continued the spread of the gospel through FORCED CENTRIFUGAL PROCLAMATION.  Instead of the prospects gathering with the believers to hear the word, the church was thrust out into the world where they proclaimed the gospel and brought Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles to faith in Christ.  But now a new strategy surfaces, INTENSIONAL CENTRIFUGAL PROCLAMATION.  The strategy was not to try to entice the prospects to attend their worship gatherings, but to send out some of their worshipers to proclaim the gospel to the prospect.  They didn't go because they were forced from their homes, they went because the Spirit of God told them to go.

 They didn't have a polished sales pitch or predetermined talking points, they just went where the Lord sent them and they spoke the truth.  For instance, on one occasion they encountered an advisor to the governor, a Sorcerer who was telling the governor not to pay any attention to them. Their response was to say, "You son of the Devil, full of every sort of trickery and villainy, enemy of all that is good, will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord?" (Acts 13:10 NLT) When I read their words, I don't get the impression that they were running for a political office or trying to get people to like them.  It is obvious to me that telling the truth was more important to them than being popular.

 In Antioch and in Iconium they went to the Synagogue first and then expanded their message to include the Gentiles.  This was an intentional strategy on their part.  In Acts 13:46, they said,  "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles." (NIV) This was the plan from the beginning.  Isaiah 49:6 says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (NASB) It was never God's plan for the gospel message to only go to the Jewish people it is an INCLUSIVE message, not an EXCLUSIVE one.  Psalm 98:2-3 says, "The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. [3] He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." (NASB)  Remember the words of the angel who said, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;" (Luke 2:10 NASB) Even in the Synagogue, Paul acknowledge the presence of the Gentiles.  In Acts 13:26 he said, "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent." (NIV) 
 Yes, there are eschatological implications here, namely that the gospel must move through the Jews to the Gentiles, but I think there is also strategic implications here too.  Saul and Barnabas began their proclamation with people like them and then moved to people they had nothing in common with.  There was an intentional effort to penetrate every culture.  But notice they began their work with their own culture before moving on to another.

 Today I'm not so sure that we practice this pattern.  It appears to me that the church has declared war with the culture and is trying to pull people out of it instead of insert missionaries into it. 

 In his book, The Radical Reformission Mark Driscoll quotes Crash, a 33 year old Christian Tattoo Artist who says, "For us to make any real difference in this age, we need to recognize the power of the gospel to change lives, that we were called from within a particular cultural setting, and that it is our duty to try to spread the good news of the gospel from within that setting.  To simply take the gospel and leave our culture, not its sin, is to steal potential from the kingdom.  We are able to be 'in the world but not of the world'; to me this speaks of our culture and how we are to affect those around us who might not otherwise receive the truth, all without being held captive by the sins which are within every culture.  'Sheep among wolves,' so to speak." (Http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Crash is saying that we are called to leave the sin that is in a culture, but that doesn't mean we lose our cultural identities or that we should leave our subculture when we come to Christ.  Instead, we are to be missionaries in that culture.

 If we follow the apostolic pattern we will proclaim the hope of the gospel in the darkest places and then let the listener decide whether or not to believe.  Most of the Jewish people, those from Saul's culture rejected the message, but that didn't keep the missionaries from continuing to proclaim the gospel.  Verse 51 says, "But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium."  (Acts 13:51 KJV)

Because they were on foot, the dust from Antioch would have remained on their feet as they walked to Iconium, so they shook the dust off of their feet.  In other words, they weren't going to take the experiences from one location into another.  Just because most of the Jews rejected their message in Antioch, didn't mean they needed to let those experiences color their future.  As it turned out, the Jews in Iconium became so outraged that a mob tried to stone them so they fled to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area (14:6).  In Lystra and Derbe there was a far different response, some of the hearers proclaimed Saul and Barnabas to be gods and tried to worship them.  (14:11-18) Which gave them the opportunity to again clarify who the one and true God is.

With time, they journeyed back home and gave a report to their home church about the wonderful work they were able to do as missionaries. (14: 26-28)

If the Holy Spirit moves on you like He did upon these members of the church of Antioch, would you be willing to be a missionary to your culture or to other cultures?  Do you see opportunities right now within your circle of influence to spread the gospel?  Will you pray that God will give you opportunities and empower you in your missionary calling?

Luke 10:2 says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (NIV) Shall we pray that God will thrust us into His harvest?

Want to find out more about being a missionary in your culture?  FreshMinistry recommends you check out Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll and Mission to Oz by Mark Tabb 

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