The church’s response
Acts 13:1-3; 10/8/2023; BCBC/IOUC; Rev. Paul Wang
When Peter was released from prison, the Bible records that the church brothers and sisters were surprised (Acts 12:16). Once the emotion has passed, things will inevitably settle down. What about the church? How should the church respond in this severe environment? Let’s look at the first point:
Three types of people in the church
The church’s response has everything to do with the people in the church, right? What’s more, the location in Acts 13 moves from Jerusalem to Antioch in the north. Therefore, today’s topic is a kind of metaphysical reflection, that is, what kind of people are there in the church? First, a few prophets. The Antioch church represents the first gospel circle of the church’s outreach, but it has reached the second mission circle, which is Samaria. From the perspective of the human category, it is also a stage of transformation from Jewish background Christians to Greek background Christians. Likewise, it is also a process of conversion from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The same goes for prophets, which are also a process or stage of transformation from the office of a prophet to the gift of a prophet. If we look at it in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”
Secondly, several teachers. The same applies to the apostles mentioned here. It should be noted that the apostles’ duties at that time were mainly responsible for world missions. This is also the reason why the church later accepted Paul’s apostleship. From the beginning, the prophet was only responsible for the ministry of his own church, or at most, his local area. The difference between a prophet and a teacher is that a prophet speaks God’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit, while a teacher is responsible for preserving, maintaining, and interpreting God’s words. Some of the teacher’s duties include those of Old Testament scribes, including copying texts. Evolving to this day, duties have transformed into gifts. Most of the apostolic positions are performed by missionaries, the prophetic positions are performed by pastors, and the teaching positions are performed by Sunday school teachers and fellowship mentors.
Finally, several people with names. The several people with names I am talking about here do not refer to famous people, but ordinary people who only have names. Barnabas means son of comfort, which means he has the gift of comforting people. He was a Jew from Cyprus who sold his property in Jerusalem and took the price and laid it at the feet of the apostles. The precious thing about Barnabas was that he had the mindset and vision to identify talents, and it was he who brought Paul out and became a person of great importance to God. Niger and Barnabas are both Aramaic names, meaning black. Lucius’ name is just the opposite, meaning white. This reminds me of what I learned this time when I went to Israel, which is that Israelis no longer rely solely on whether their mothers are Jewish. But whether you are black or white, as long as you believe in God, speak Hebrew, and eat Hebrew food, you are an Israelite. Manaen grew up with Herod, but in very different ways. King Herod was bitten by worms and died. Manaen was seventy years old and was still used by God. At this time, Saul was only briefly mentioned. Let’s look at the second point:
The Church’s trilogy
Have you noticed that the Bible’s perspective on observing characters is very different from ours, right? Likewise, the way the church responds to things is very different from the world. First, continue to serve the Lord. Luke’s writing is concise and he doesn’t say much. However, the phrase “they served the Lord” shows the daily life of the church. That is to say, those who believe in the Lord must embark on the path of serving the Lord. Judging from the information listed in the scriptures, Barnabas should have held the office or gift of an apostle. Niger may have been a black man, and he was given a Jewish name, Simeon, which means to hear. Could he be taking on the role of prophet? Many thinkers of that era were black, and coupled with the gift of hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, perhaps Niger was really the first preaching pastor in the early church. Lucius may have been a white man from Macedonia and other southern Europe. He became one of the founders of the church in Antioch and should have been the first elder of the New Testament church. Manaen grew up beside King Herod, and his gifts such as wide connections and strong work ability enabled him to become the administrator of the church.
Secondly, fast and pray to the Lord. When the scripture talks about fasting, it is just as gentle as when it talks about “they served the Lord.” It was as if fasting and prayer were their daily routine, just as they served the Lord every day. Remember that the Lord climbed the mountain and was transformed, and when he came down the mountain, he met his disciples. He said, Lord, why can’t some demons be driven out? We also took your name! Jesus said that some demons must be driven out fast and pray! What Jesus is saying is that the important thing is not what the devil is, but what your prayer life is. Including fasting and prayer, is it your habit or your method? In a word, prayer, or fasting and prayer, must become our life!
Finally, the Holy Spirit sends people. Judging from the context, it seems that when the church’s service and prayer life become normal, the Holy Spirit speaks to the church. Or to put it conversely, the church’s sendings, short-term missions, callings, ordination, blessings, etc. are all essentially from the Holy Spirit. The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church is to lead and inspire, and to do miracles according to the words of the Bible. The Holy Spirit does not even give us proof of His authority, but directly declares: “The Holy Spirit says”! It doesn’t seem to matter how you say it, when you say it, or to whom you say it. What matters is what is said. He said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Frankly speaking, Saul’s sending out puzzled many people. Let’s look at the third point:
Three Responses from the church
When the church receives the Holy Spirit, it also needs a response from the church. In addition to studying the Bible, thinking carefully and discerning, we must also continue to fast and pray, lay hands on confirmation, and send out missions. First, fast and pray. Fasting and prayer appear twice in these three verses, indicating that fasting and prayer are not only a need for believers’ personal lives, but also a necessity for the operation of the church. There are different ways to receive the Holy Spirit. It can be received during personal spiritual devotion, it can be received during listening to sermons, or it can be the product of church meetings, etc. At this time, the church needs a church-level response aimed at determining God’s will. At this time, church prayer meetings become an important way for the church to respond. In particular, fasting and prayer meetings are also a link that the church needs to strengthen and pay attention to. It’s not that fasting has any special effects. It’s simply because the Bible says that this is the way the church responds.
Second, lay hands and pray. The laying on of hands is usually accompanied by prayer, indicating blessing, healing, ordination, sending, and receiving the Holy Spirit. In the church at Antioch, it was because something big was happening. Even when the Holy Spirit says to send Barnabas and Saul on missionary missions, apart from finding peace in prayer, the church needs to confirm through the laying on of hands that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is from God. Formally, Simeon, who was probably called Niger, was the recipient. He may raise a prayer request in a prayer meeting and claim that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. At this time, Lucius also seconded the proposal to meet the requirement of two witnesses in the Bible. Therefore, there will be a fasting and prayer meeting in the church to confirm God’s will. Once they were sealed and had the same spirit, the leaders of the church laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul, leaving the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, sending. Of course, the testimony of Barnabas and Saul’s calling is essential. What if Barnabas and Saul said, “We don’t have this understanding!” This shows that there is still a missing link in seeking God’s will, which is objective confirmation. Judging from the records in the Bible, since they have accepted the laying on of hands, it shows that they agree with God’s call and the church’s mission. In this way, the church has all three elements in place to respond to God’s will: God’s word, inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and objective confirmation. In this way, the whole church united with one heart and sent out Barnabas and Saul on missionary missions by faith!
Well, thank the Lord! Today’s scripture allows us to see how, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the church responds to God’s calling and sending. God selected a group of people, did some right things, and finally sent the right two people to fulfill the Great Commission as the first missionaries sent by the Antioch church.
Let us pray……
1 Now 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.
2 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.”
3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.