This is the fourth sermon I have prepared following the Missionary Mandate. This calling was first extended to a man named Abram. At the time of his call he was 75 years old. I am encouraged by these men, such as Moses and Abraham, who were called into service in their later years. In Genesis 12:3 we find these words, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abram, who would later have his name changed to Abraham, did not have a Bible nor a fellowship. He had only the word of God instructing him to go to a place that he would later be shown. The Mandate I have spoken about was “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We know today with absolute certainty that this message to Abram concerned Jesus! More than 3000 years before Jesus was born of Mary these prophetic words were spoken to a man who had only the spoken word to go by. Last week we reached a point in the history of God’s outreach to the world where a kosher Jew was used by God to bring the gospel message to a Roman Centurion and his household. That story is found in Acts 10:9-11:18. Today, we will go ahead and see what happens as this missionary movement fulfills the Mandate given to Abraham.
Looking back to Acts 8:1, after some time of growth the church in Jerusalem had grown to several thousand including many priests. Then the leaders of the synagogues increased their persecution of the church. One of the leaders of the new church was questioned, allowed to testify, and was executed for his faith. The first martyr of the Christian Church was Stephen, he was one of seven men usually considered to be the first deacons. With his execution, fear filled the minds of many believers and the church was scattered. However, the men who were given the first commission to take the good news of Jesus to all the world stayed behind in Jerusalem.
Until now, we have seen the growth of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. We will go back to that beginning and see what happened.
Acts 11:19ff. Those who were scattered because of the persecution at the time of the execution of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. As they traveled they preached only to the Jews. Some of these believers came to Antioch, a city that was located in modern-day southern Turkey. Luke pointed out the fact that those who were scattered only preached to Jews. So the Mandate was still being avoided by these followers of Christ.
Let’s look at Luke’s account. Acts 11:19-22, “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.”
The Jerusalem leadership did not break up their board of elders instead they sent the helper, Barnabas! There could not be a better choice. Remember, the original Apostles had been commissioned by Jesus to begin in Jerusalem and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. They had been extremely successful in establishing the Jerusalem church. There were by now thousands of believers in and around Jerusalem. Luke makes the point that these new churches resulted from the persecution that began with Stephen’s martyrdom. Even so, they began by preaching to the Jews only. After some time, some of them began to preach to the Greeks, or Hellenists, indicating that some of their converts were not Jews. The people who were doing this had traveled from the island of Cyprus and even North Africa. They had lived in largely Greek cities and were very comfortable with the opportunity they were given to share the gospel with non-Jews.
The result of letting down the wall of separation was a great number coming to faith in Christ. An internal result was the word got back to Jerusalem! Just as Peter had to answer to the Apostles after he had witnessed to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, now the Jerusalem church leadership sent a representative to check out the work in Antioch! I don’t want to make too much out of it but it is pretty clear to me that this should have been a job for one of the original Apostles.
Let’s look at Luke’s account of what happened. Acts 11:23-244 “When he (Barnabas) came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” This was a totally unexpected result! Barnabas arrived and immediately approved and encouraged the church at Antioch to get on with the business of winning people, no matter their race, to the Lord Jesus Christ! The immediate consequence was a rapid growth of the church. Rather than returning to Jerusalem and reporting Barnabas took a totally unexpected direction. What was it? “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
Remember, it was Barnabas that brought Saul to the attention of the Apostles in Jerusalem. Saul had been such an effective preacher there that the unbelievers in Jerusalem prepared to kill him. In order to protect him from the Jews he was sent back to his hometown of Tarsus.
Now, more than 10 years later Barnabas remembered Saul and he went to Tarsus to find him. We do not have any record of what happened during those years. We can assume that he was effective in his preaching and that it involved a cross-cultural aspect. Saul could be the bridge over which the gospel passed from the Jews to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Saul spent the next year strengthening the church in Antioch.
Their ministry was so effective that they were first called “Christians” there. This created a new category of believers. They were not just a branch of Judaism they were a whole new category of believers. The church in Antioch was visited by prophets from Jerusalem. These men reported there would soon be a worldwide famine. And the church in Jerusalem was not prepared for it. Immediately, the Christians took up an offering and sent it to Jerusalem with Saul and Barnabas. While they were there they met with the leadership of the church in Jerusalem and were extended the right hand of fellowship. We know from Paul’s own words that these things happened. He reported these events in the Galatian letter. The gift that was raised was given to the “elders” of the church in Jerusalem. May be of no significance but they are not called “apostles”! It seems to me that there came about a change in designation. The period of the Apostles is now past! Those who had received the great commission to go to all the world were now local church leaders keeping the doors open and in need of financial support from the missionary churches.
Possibly as a part of that changeover, James the brother of John was killed by order of King Herod. At the same time, Peter was arrested, jailed, and rescued by an angel.
It was now time to look away from Jerusalem and even Antioch and get about the business of being witnesses to the end of the world. How did it begin? We will go back to Luke’s account found in Acts 13:1-3. “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of 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 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
At last! There was an organized campaign underway to get the gospel to all the world. While Saul and Barnabas were in Jerusalem they had picked up John Mark. It is not clear, to me at least, exactly how John Mark was related.
They began their adventure by going from Antioch to Cyprus. Perhaps they began there because it was the original home of Barnabas. Luke records that fact in Acts 4:36. At least that’s a human explanation. The word of God tells us that they were sent out by the Holy Spirit. The first intentional missionaries were now on the road carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. They had a plan and it wasn’t prepared by a mission board somewhere it was simply this. Go to a new city, do a windshield survey of the town. Of course they did not have a vehicle with a windshield! A windshield survey is this, ride around town, look everything over and see the most likely place to meet people. Then, on the Sabbath day go to the nearest synagogue and wait to be asked why they were there. When given the opportunity they simply preached Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and glorified as the Savior of sinners. Then, when the leaders of the synagogue could not stand it any longer they would block the missionaries from speaking on the Sabbath. Part of the plan appeared to be that they would be thrown out of the synagogue. They had now blessed the descendants of Abraham! They were given the opportunity to respond. Barnabas and Saul would then shake off the dust of that location and go on to the Gentiles. They would also take along with them any of the local Jews who had come to faith in Christ.
The Missionary Mandate was being fulfilled even though it was many years after it had been given. Also, it was being fulfilled by people who were not even part of the original commissioning ceremony. They traveled from Cyprus to the coast of a territory called Pamphylia. When they arrived there John left them. We are not told why he did. He just did! We find out later that Saul now usually called Paul was unhappy about his choice. We’ll see how God used that a little later. They came to a new town in Pisidia called Antioch — not their starting point. And on the Sabbath day Paul preached to them. You will find his sermon in the book of Acts 13:16-41. I really encourage you to read it all.
The result of that sermon was that many people begged them to come back the next Sabbath. In fact, several people left with Paul and Barnabas. The next Sabbath there was a crowd of opposition gathered to stop Paul from preaching. “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.’” (Acts 13:46). Then Paul quoted from Isaiah the promised Mandate. “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47). Again, they shook off the dust of that place and went on their way. They then traveled to Iconium and taught in the Jewish Synagogue where a great number of Jews and Gentiles converted to the faith. Other Jews stirred up trouble for the two missionaries. They left some time after arriving because of a plot against their lives.
Next was Lystra and Derbe where the Galatian church was planted. While they were in Lystra they were mistaken for Roman gods. After Paul healed a crippled man, the city erupted, claiming that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. This greatly distressed both of them, so they went out into the masses to set the record straight and to tell them the Gospel message, but as they were doing this, the crowds were won over by Jews trying to cause trouble for Paul and Barnabas. As a result, Paul was stoned, almost to death. (Possibly this was the time Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. If it was, he did die only to be brought back when the church prayed for him). The very next day he and Barnabas went back to Derbe.
After a time of preaching in Derbe, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. On this journey, their purpose was to strengthen the disciples and encourage them to continue in the faith.
Also, they appointed elders in every church with prayer and fasting. Normally individuals are recognized as elders in the churches only after they have proven themselves. There was no time for that. The Holy Spirit simply guided them to choose the right men for the jobs.
They returned to the church in Syrian Antioch to report to the church that had sent them out.
I promised to tell you how God worked out the conflict between John Mark and Paul. Near the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy he made a request. “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:12). How this was accomplished we will never know.
Next week we will look at the First Jerusalem Council. There Paul reported on the acceptance of the Gentiles.
Let’s finish up today with another walk down the Roman road.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory — Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord — Romans 6:23.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. – Romans 10:9.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Sin always has evil consequences. Just as Adam and Eve were promised a wonderful world of knowledge by disobeying God. Satan promises good things for us. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season.
But seasons always come to an end.
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? Today could be your day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.