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The First Missionary Journey
"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. 
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.'  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."
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.  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:
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