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BRUCE C WEARNE looks at what Acts 13:1-3 says about the the sending out of Barnabas and Saul by the church at Antioch…

Now the church at Antioch was well resourced with prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was nick-named Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been raised with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they led them in worship of the Lord with fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Specifically commission Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And so, having fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them sending them on their way. – Acts 13:1-3/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne


SENT OUT: “And so, having fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them sending them on their way.” PICTURE: Krzysztof Isbrandt/

The church at Antioch, with the guidance of God’s Spirit, sent out Barnabas and Saul to preach far and wide. They sowed the seed in order to gather a Gentile harvest. 

The Christians at Antioch were spared Jerusalem’s tensions. The fact that at Antioch they were called “Christians” indicates the busy working of God’s Holy Spirit making Jews and Gentiles together into one community. When Peter returned to Jerusalem from the “Gentile Pentecost” at Caesarea, he affirmed the principle: who am I to withstand God? (Acts 11:17). In other words: what God has cleansed we should not consider common! (Acts 11:9, 10:28, 10:15).

The laws forbidding Jews from eating with Gentiles had now been set aside. They were from the past. The Messiah had come. Peter recalled how Jesus by His teaching and His actions had opened the gates for contact with Gentiles. He had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). But more than this. He had eaten with His disciples after His resurrection even when they were still in a state of unbelief and hardness of heart (Mark 16:14). By doing so, Jesus had cleared the way for them, as witnesses to His resurrection, to eat with all believers, whatever their background. By recalling what Jesus had said and done, the apostles could set about the task of addressing and resolving difficult issues that continued to vex them and their Jewish neighbours.

Christians often talk about “going into all the world to preach the Gospel” as if it is heroic. Such a way of talking about the Christian life only confirms our delusions about ourselves. How did we ever get it into our heads that God is going to have a difficult time if we are not available to help Him? Luke develops his story in another way, from another mindset: he tells us that after prayer and fasting Jesus’ disciples realised that the Holy Spirit had made the way ahead plain. Later Paul would write: All the promises of God find their “Yes!” in Jesus.

James and John, who had suggested to Jesus that fire be called down on the inhospitable towns of Samaria, had to later confront the incredible Samaritan harvest begun by Philip – the seed had been sown by the Sower Himself. The Samaritan lack of welcome of Jesus on His way to Jerusalem’s temple did not nullify the seed. In fact, the seed still germinated and grew to yield a good crop. Arriving back in Jerusalem, continuing to meet in the temple, Peter and John were warmly received. The indiscriminate broadcast of the Gospel was further confirmed as the Lord’s messenger prepared Cornelius for the visit of Peter. That visit became a further revelation for Peter and his companions. The apostles agreed that God had made it possible for Gentiles to find repentance.

And so at Antioch the Holy Spirit was busy forming a centre of Jewish-Gentile discipleship. Barnabas and Saul were sent out. Those called must go where the Spirit directs so that many can hear how God has kept His promises. But the story, as Luke tells us, has its own twists and turns. Here Paul and Barnabas are set aside [‘APHORIZATE] for the work given them by the Holy Spirit. Some time after this “setting aside”, there was a fearful split between them [PARAXUSMOS] which meant they henceforth went their “separate” [‘APOCHORISTHENAI] ways (Acts 15:36-41). This is also an important part of Luke’s story. We shall have to keep it in mind as we follow Luke’s detailed account of how the work Jesus had begun continued to develop.


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