Sent Out: Acts 13: 1-12; 42-52
1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
6 Now when they had gone through the island[a] to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time."
And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue,a] the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
' I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"[ b]
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Last week, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Once Jesus rose from the dead, it was very clear that the world would never be the same.
For a while his disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Then, around the holiday of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus began to go out and share the good news of Jesus with people under the power of the Holy Spirit. Off and on for the last 9 months, we have looked at how this church began to develop. As we have looked at the first church, we have at times found cautionary passages that have shown us pitfalls to avoid as God's church. At other times, we have studied the early church and found a model for how we are called to be. Most of all, though, we have been able to learn from how God was working among those first believers, and begin to think about how he might work among us as well.
Now as we return to Acts 13, we come to a significant point in the book of Acts.
What has happened in the church is that they have begun to be persecuted. Many Christians grabbed their family heirlooms and a few changes of clothes and ran to new places to live, work, and live out their faith. This had the unexpected benefit of expanding the church to other cities. One of the cities that began to be filled with refugee Christians and new Christian converts was the city of Antioch, in what is modern day Turkey, but was then called Syria.
The Christians in Antioch were bold and courageous. They were also often mocked and persecuted. The Bible says that the church in Antioch was the first place where believers in Jesus were first called Christians. They were called "Christians" by people outside of the faith actually, and it wasn't a compliment. People were saying, "They are trying to be like little Jesus', or to put it in more contemporary terms 'they were trying to be Jesus' mini-me!"
Even though the term was an insult, it was also a backhanded compliment. The people around the church in Antioch could see that there was something different about these believers in "THE WAY". They were changed by Jesus. They talked about Jesus. They claimed to have a relationship with Jesus. They asked for other people to surrender their lives to Christ. They urged people to love like Christ. They constantly spoke of the good news of Christ. The people in Antioch could see that the people inside the church were different. And that is something that came out in their insult. They were acting like Christ and talking like Christ. Even their enemies noticed.
Acts 13 says that the leaders of the church in Antioch had gathered together and were praying. Among the leadership was Barnabas, who had been with the church from the beginning, and was most likely the de facto leader of the Antioch church. Barnabas was from Cyprus. Also on the leadership board was a black man named Simon, most likely from the Ethiopian region. Lucius was from Cyrene, which is modern day Libya. A man who had been raised in the King Herod's court, and was maybe his brother, named Manean was also a member of the leadership group. Also there was Saul, who was raised in Tarsus, and schooled in Israel under the most respected Bible scholar of the day.
The leadership board began to sense that God was leading them to send out missionaries. They sensed that God was leading Barnabas and Paul for this work, and after more prayer, the church set apart these two men for this ministry, laid hands on them, and sent them out. The church in Antioch was the first place that the church sent out missionaries.
In case you are not following along in your bulletin, the church in Antioch was the first place people started calling believers Christians (point 1), and it was also the first church to send out missionaries (point 2).
I believe these two facts are intimately connected. That is because a church that is living like Jesus is going to be a church that is sending out, and going out into the middle of their communities on a mission to teach, serve, preach, and reach people. It is in our DNA. The church, when it is healthy, whether we are sending people across town to serve their neighbor, or across the world to reach out to the third world, is always sending out its people on a mission in the world. A church that is worthy of the name "Christian" are the ones that are sending out and going out into the world.
This sending out of the early church is nothing like the world we send missionaries into today. I have been on several outings called mission trips here in the United States and in Mexico. All these were life-changing, noble ventures. When we went we left behind our families for 10 days or so. We slept on floors. We went without showers. We served people in need. We shared the gospel with people, especially with children. We sensed the presence of God working among us. I saw lives changed, both with the teens that often went as missionaries, and among the people we served. But we also visited an amusement park on the way home, and we had a good meal and warm bed to look forward to when we got home.
Even missionaries sent out by our churches for permanent placement around the world have a different experience than missionaries in days gone by. They are able to fly home every few years. They often have internet access and access to a phone. They have cars, and boats with motors.
When a missionary went out in the ancient world, it was not always a given that they would make it back home. Travel was dangerous. Christians were persecuted. They didn't necessarily have the luxury of having someone to call to set up their trip, or know that they people were not going to run them out of town or try and kill them when they arrived.
Being sent out was dangerous. It took courage. One prominent person that went with Paul and Barnabas on their mission decided to head home halfway through their missionary adventure it was so scary. The early Christians went out on mission because the Spirit led them to. They went out on mission as well because they were following the example of Jesus.
Jesus was always talking to people he wasn't supposed to, telling stories about people who went out of their way and outside of their plans to help a person in need like the Good Samaritan, and demonstrating His love for the hurting, lost, and spiritual seekers in real, direct and tangible ways.
The church of Jesus, when it is faithful, is always a church SENT OUT. It is always EXTERNALLY FOCUSED when it is doing God's will, and not consumer-driven.
I do not see most of America's churches having this spirit of sending out. Of going into all the world. Of being externally focused. Much of our church culture in the US has been co-opted by our dominant culture. We come to church wanting a consumer experience. We try to find a place where we can "get something out of it". Where we "get our needs met" and where we feel comfortable. We ask "what did I get out of it". We whine when we are uncomfortable.
We treat our church experiences like a dining experience at a Subway restaurant. When I go to Subway my order goes something like this: I want whole wheat bread, I want an Oven Roasted Chicken Breast, toast it but not too much, pepper jack cheese not American or cheddar, no lettuce or spinach, but I would like onions, green peppers (but not the big chunks there), banana peppers (not too much), jalepenos (but just a few spread out across the sandwich), no oil and vinegar, spicy mustard not honey mustard, just a little salt and pepper.
And in America, we can approach our church we can have the same attitude. I want a small church, but I don't want it to be too small. I want a variety of songs, but not songs that are too hard to sing. I want a good sermon, but not one that has the worship service go over an hour. I want a biblical message, but not one that offends me. I want programs for my family. I want to have friends at church. I want people to be clean, but I don't want to have to dress up too much. I want a church with a bunch of people I can relate to. You know what I mean.
But the truth is, the church is not just a filling station. The church is a filling station and a MISSION CENTER. It is a place where people are equipped to love one another, and to go out in love to a world that is hopeless, helpless, and heartless, and bring that world the hope, help and heart of Jesus Christ through word and deed. The church is called to be EXTERNALLY FOCUSED not CONSUMER DRIVEN. God did not make the church to be a building people come into, God made the church to be a community that is SENT OUT into the world.
In Acts 13 we begin to see what happens when people obey God and are going out and sending out people into the world. We see a life and a ministry of unexpected blessings and challenges.
The missionary team led by Paul and Barnabus go to Cyprus. As they get there they go from one end of the island to another. Eventually the governor of the island asks to speak with them. As they are about to get this opportunity, a Hebrew sorcerer seeks to oppose the ministry of Barnabus and Paul. Paul confronts the man for his opposition to the gospel. Then he makes the man blind. The governor of the island then becomes a believer in Jesus.
We quickly see that when we are sent out some unexpected things happen.
First, we have unexpected opportunities to make an impact in other people's lives.
We also face unexpected opposition.
In the face of this opposition the disciples receive unexpected power and strength to carry out the mission that God has given them to do.
As Paul and Barnabas go on, they move into Asia Minor. As they begin to preach and teach there, they find unexpected grace and blessings with the receptiveness of non-Jewish people.
As this happens, they again find unexpected opposition, as their fellow Jews become envious of their message.
As the missionaries study the word, and they are led by the Spirit, they confront the Hebrew people with their responsibility to be people who are sent out as a light to the Gentiles. This begins a pivot in Paul's ministry, which will be more and more focused on Gentile believers. The new church discovered an unexpected ministry field.
The Bible says the missionaries experience unexpected success in that ministry to the Gentiles.
Finally, the missionaries, even as they are opposed so much that they must move their ministry to a new place find unexpected joy in serving the Lord and loving other people into faith in Christ.
Which is quite amazing isn't it. As the believers were being expelled from the region, and forced to move forward on their journey and go to a new place, they are FILLED WITH JOY. How can that be? Don't they have a lot to be discouraged about?
Of course they have things to be discouraged about. But that is not the point.
The point is, as we begin to have our heart softened toward those who are outside the church and who need the love, grace, and truth that Jesus offers, what we find is that God is doing a work on our heart.
As we seek to bless others, we find that God blesses us.
As we seek to focus our efforts on reaching out to others, we find a very real sense that God is reaching out to us in a way that we cannot experience in any other way that being a church and a person that is sending out, going out, and being externally focused instead of being consumer- driven.
Many of us have experienced this as we have went out into the community to serve our neighbors, or when we have had the opportunity to share our faith with someone who does not yet know Jesus. When we step out to care for others, we find God taking care of us.
It is how God's kingdom works. It is how Jesus blesses us. As we live our lives on mission for God and others, God makes it his mission to take care of us in ways we never dared to hope for or imagine.
First Baptist Church, do not become weary in doing good. Hold on to your mission. Hold on to your priorities. Continue to take steps to take the focus off of us and ours, and to look out into a world that is longing to here the good news that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and offers victory to all those who will trust in Him.
So today we come to the Lord's Table. And I want to challenge you to approach the table a little differently this morning. Instead of focusing on your relationship with Jesus, I want you to bring someone else on your heart to the Lord's Table. Perhaps pick someone in this room. Or someone you would like to see come to Christ. You choose. And as we come to this table, think about God's love for them. As we take the bread and the cup, remember that God died for THEM and YOU. Pray for them. Put yourself in their shoes. Know that Jesus died for us, not just me. Get the focus off of just you. You will be surprised what God might say to you.