A Spirit-Led Church on Mission (Acts 13:1-12)
We are in a series called, “Pulled in, Pushed Out.” The idea is that God, through the Gospel, pulls you in. You are more sinful than you thought, but more loved than you ever imagined. Now go—you are pushed out to pull others in so that God can do the same thing in their lives. My daughter Abbie saw the bulletin this past week and now that she can kind of read, she read the series title and asked what it meant. Of course, in my zeal to take advantage of a teaching moment, I decided to demonstrate it. I pulled her arm in, grabbed her and looked her in the eye and told her that Jesus says, “I love you more than anything. I died on the cross for you.” Then I had the brilliant idea to push her out of the room, forgetting that she weighs like -2 lbs, so she went flying. I gulped, but she was ok. “Now go pull Annabelle in,” and she started yanking at Annabelle and Annabelle started getting annoyed. I stopped the lesson.
Perhaps this not the best series title ever. God does pull and push at times, but that might give the idea that you are forced to do something you don’t want to do. Without getting into doctrines of predestination and election, perhaps the better idea I am trying to convey is that God draws you into His heart and then sends you out on mission. But “Drawn In, Sent Out,” sounds a little too hallmark-ish to me, so we’ll keep the original.
What we’ve been seeing is that the Gospel is on the move! The church began in Jerusalem, and then spread to other cities, including Samaria, Damascus, Caesarea, and Antioch in Syria. At least forty different cities are named in Acts. From Antioch, Paul and his helpers carried the Gospel throughout the then-known world. Until now, Jerusalem had been the center of ministry, and Peter had been the key apostle. But from this point on, Antioch in Syria would become the new center (Acts 11:19ff), and Paul the new leader.
We often associate missions as just an activity of the church. It’s something Christians do “out there” somewhere as a project or trip. But in the second half of the 20th century, the term Missio Dei was coined. It’s a Latin term that means, “the mission of God” or the “sending of God.” In other words, missiologist David Bosch in his book Transforming Mission says: “Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.” In other words, as God the Father sent the Son, and God the Father and the Son sent the Spirit, it was expanded to include yet another “movement”: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world. Bosch adds, “Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world. God is a missionary God.” So the church doesn’t have a mission, but the mission has a church. The church is the instrument where God continues His mission.
We, as a church, are still figuring out where we fit into God’s mission here. Please keep praying for us! Though we are trying to figure out what we should do, today’s text does give us clues as to some more things we are to be as a Spirit-led church on mission. First of all:
I. A Spirit-led church sends people on Spirit-Led Mission (vv.1-3)
So Acts 13 opens up and we see a thriving church. Some unknown people started this church, Barnabas, Mr. Encouragement, came and helped to water and grow the church. He brought Paul, Mr. Theologian, to help with teaching and training. The church was built up. The church grew. It was also the first multi-class, multi-ethnic church with Barnabas a bi-cultural Jew from Cyprus, Simeon a black African (most probably), Lucius from North Africa, so you have Gentile Christians, Manaen, who must be wealthy guy growing up in Herod’s household (this is not Herod from the previous chapter, but the son of baby killer Herod in Jesus’ time and the one who beheaded John the Baptist) and finally, Saul the Jewish professor.
We have the A-Team! Notice there is a plurality of godly leaders here. It’s not a one-man show. Also, I don’t think they were intentionally trying to be multi-ethnic. It was a consequence not a goal. Besides, that is not what Luke highlights here about them. What does it mean to be a Spirit-led church that sends people for God’s work?
a) Worshippers before workers
Notice also “while they were worshipping the Lord.” That’s the point of church. Would people walk in here and say that about us? That we worship the Lord here? We are not here primarily to hear a good sermon, listen to good music and meet some good people. We are here to lay ahold of a great Savior. You have to proactively go after Him. No matter who’s preaching or what team is leading worship or who’s here or not here, it is our job to get something out of our worship to the Lord every week. As Pastor Joshua Harris says,
Don’t love the church because of what it does for you. Because sooner or later it won’t do enough.
Don’t love the church because of a leader. Because human leaders are fallible and will let you down.
Don’t love the church because of a program or a building or activities because all those things get old.
Don’t love the church because of a certain group of friends because friendships change and people move.
Love the church because of who shed his blood to obtain the church. Love the church because of who the church belongs to. Love the church because of who the church worships. Love the church because you love Jesus Christ and his glory. Love the church because Jesus is worthy and faithful and true. Love the church because Jesus loves the church.
They were also fasting. I don’t think I have preached on this spiritual discipline enough, and a lot is due to the abuse of this when I was growing up. It was legalistic and ritualistic. One kid got kicked out of church for not fasting once. But the Lord is redeeming it in my life. But I think though the Scriptures do not directly command us to fast, Jesus assumes His followers do fast. Jesus said, “When you fast,” not “If you fast” (Matt. 6:17). By fasting, I don’t mean not just eating a meal, but deliberate time that would normally be used for eating a meal is taken for prayer and seeking the Lord. John Stott says, “For seldom if ever is fasting an end in itself. It is a negative action (abstention from food and other distractions) for the sake of a positive one (worshipping or praying).” By fasting, you are saying, Lord, I am willing to set aside the normal demands of life in order to concentrate for a time on what you want.
A lot more could be said regarding fasting, but that’s not the point here. As they were worshipping and fasting, the Spirit said…we don’t know if it was an audible voice or what exactly. Most probably one of these prophets must have said something. The apostles were in charge of doctrine and prophets spoke practically into the life of the church, usually a word specifically from God. They can say, “Thus saith the Lord…” I don’t think prophets like that exist today in the church. Ephesians mentions the prophets and apostles were for the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). We hear from God today primarily through the Scriptures. This is a whole another topic, but if you don’t agree with that, send an email to Alvin, Kenny or Jiju. They can square it away with you. Just kidding. Email Steve.
Luke wants it be clear of who’s in charge of the mission: The Holy Spirit. God sent Jesus, then sends the Holy Spirit and now the Holy Spirit sends the church. Notice again the same thought in verse 4. By the way as one author says, “Worship and service go together and should never be separated. If we try to work for the Lord without worshiping him, we will settle for legalistic, self-centered service. And if we worship and never work, we will end up with a form of godliness but no power.”
Look what happens. They worship Him and God calls them to work for Him. God comes along and uses this church to send people on His mission. Like the old adage goes, the measure of a church is not in her seating capacity, but her sending capacity. I tell people all the time that the people that come here to LH are honestly solid quality men and women of God. And there have been times I am think, “All mine! My precious!” and I just want to hoard all these gifts. But this text is a reminder that we are called to reproduce reproducers. We are called to send or to go! So I would love for us to plant church planting churches.
People ask me what we are going to do if we keep growing. I think about it often and I don’t have any answers yet. But I do know that when we are born and we start growing physically, there comes a time, probably in our 20s or so when we stop growing, then eventually meet someone and make babies. This is pretty much the norm of a person’s life span. We don’t keep growing into a massive giant that is 30 feet tall. Don’t read into anything I’m saying, but my point is, God comes to us with His mission and wants us to continue to multiply and fill the earth with His glory. We are not called to hoard and be reservoirs, but to send people and be channels of His glory.
We are blessed here already in our small church to help send Sophia to Northwestern and Jimi to NIU for the Lord’s work. We had a member named Jenny Hawn, who was sent from here to East Asia. And we’ve helped send Anil to Haiti short-term and our sister Anna is also being sent short-term in a bit. As much as I want to keep Jimi, I would be standing in God’s way in hoarding him. But not just full time ministry people, but coming to church on Sunday should be a time to pull us into the Gospel to send us out on mission this whole week! Good lesson here. Build friendships here at church. Get to know people. But hold them loosely because God is not interested in building monuments, but churches through movement and movement is always through moving of people. Some are called to stay. Some are called to go. We are either sending people or we are going ourselves. To do neither, as Piper says, is to disobey.
b) Church and Spirit work together
Let’s also be careful of extremes. Who sends these guys? Is it the Spirit? Or the church? The Holy Spirit takes the initiative, but as Stott says, “we should not depict the church’s role as having been entirely passive. Would it not be true to say both that the Spirit sent them out, by instructing the church to do so, and that the church sent them out, having been directed by the Spirit to do so? This balance will be a healthy corrective to opposite extremes. The first is the tendency to individualism, by which a Christian claims direct personal guidance by the Spirit without any reference to the church. The second is the tendency to institutionalism, by which all decision-making is done by the church without any reference to the Spirit.”
The leaders of the church are responsible to listen to the Spirit. We don’t deny the Spirit is telling you something or to do something. However, it is healthy to have a body of Christ to confirm. You may think you sing really well and you want to start a singing ministry, but let the church confirm first. Notice they lay hands on them. You may have seen us do this here or in other places. There is no passing on of the Holy Spirit or magical powers when we do that. What does that mean? It is a symbol of identification, confirmation and unity. They were saying in effect, “Brothers, we are with you in this great enterprise. As you go, we go. We are part of you.” Again, the Spirit and the Church working together.
c) Work for the Lord
Look at the call. “Set apart for me.” These are God’s men for God’s use. This is for God. It is not for themselves to be great, or for people or the church primarily, but for God. If only I can get it through my thick head and my heart, it would change me! Everything that happens is FOR HIM.
Now if you were in that church and one of the prophets said, “God says, ‘Separate unto me two men for the work I have called them.” Let’s see, who do you want to send to the mission field? Everybody would probably say, “Well, I nominate Simeon. What’s he been doing? I nominate Lucius…are you free Loosh? Or I nominate Manaen, he has good contacts; but, oh, God, don’t take Barnabas and Saul. I mean they’re the best we’ve got!” And that’s exactly what God took, Barnabas and Saul, and called them into a special mission. God uses the ones in the middle of ministry.
d) Wait for God’s Timing
They were deeply involved in ministering to the Lord when the call came. As they were faithfully serving and doing what was entrusted to them, they call of God came. If you want to discern God’s will for the future, do His will in the present and that always means do what is in front of you. Faithfulness is doing what you said you would do. Trust in God’s Sovereignty. Secondly:
- A Spirit-led Mission proclaims the Gospel (vv.4-5)
We’ll go through these next two points a lot faster. The mission leader is clear here as they begin to travel, sent out by the Holy Spirit. We don’t know if God gave them the details of where to go. Nevertheless, they go to Cyprus, 130 miles away and get Barnabas’ cuz John Mark to help (the same guy who wrote the Gospel of Mark—this will cause problems later). Why Cyprus? Well Barnabas was from there. So the idea was go to your own people first and then go beyond from there…seems to be the pattern. Start in Jerusalem and work your way to the ends of the earth. So they go from one end of the island to the other, about 40 miles.
And what did they do as they travel? They proclaim the word of God. This should be understood, but nowadays the preaching and proclamation of God’s Word is done less and less. You get lots of self-help messages and people who want to popular more than faithful. A reality show is coming out in the Fall called “LA Preachers,” following five mega-church pastors as they drive around in their Ferraris. This is sad.
This is the trend now. Get a guy with a warm, smooth, and engaging personality and a gift for motivational public speaking. Then have him preach a nominal, man-centered, gospel whose core message is: “If you just obey well enough, God guarantees you blessing, health, wealth, and prosperity and he wants to make you great in whatever you do.” Then figure out what they like to consume? Provide a “hot worship experience” that feeds into their therapeutic co-dependent narcissism, with a great praise band and state of the art technology. Ask little but provide a lot.
It sickens me. It saddens me. And we are not far from it. But by the grace of God, we will continue to preach the Gospel for believers and unbelievers alike here. Whether people come or people go, the Word of God and the Son of God will continue to be preached. We have no other message and if the day comes if we are bored by it or want to be entertained with something else, it’s time to close up shop.
Let me also encourage you to speak the Gospel to your unsaved loved ones. I am all about, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” I understand that. Love people. Get to know them. Serve them. Listen to them. But there has to be a time when you open your mouth and share the Gospel. Boldness does not been obnoxious, but lovingly and directly. It’s great that you’ve been meeting for coffee for five years with that co-worker, but preach the Gospel now and since it’s necessary, use words. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).
- A Spirit-led Mission perseveres through opposition (vv.6-12)
We meet two people on this mission. First is a magician. John and Peter met Simon, if you remember, when ministering to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and now Paul and Barnabas meets one in ministering to the Gentiles. Magician doesn’t mean he pulls rabbits out of hats and does those “pick a card, any card” gimmicks. Rather, they were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, agriculture, mathematics, and history (like the magi). However some were involved in various occult practices and were famous for their ability to interpret dreams. He was Jewish and his name was “Bar-Jesus” which means “Son of Salvation” or “Son of Jesus.” He had another name Elymas, which means “skillful one.”
Politicians had these magicians at their side to help them make decisions. So it is not surprising that this guy has a bff in the governer of Cyprus, Sergius Paulus. He’s a smart guy that Luke notes, but dumb enough to let Bar-Jesus be a controlling influence over Cyprus. When the governor starts to show interest in Paul and Barnabas, Bar-Jesus realizes he’s about to lose status and power if the governor converts. You can see a battle about to brew right here.
John Macarthur says, “Leading someone to Christ is not merely an academic exercise, nor is it a matter of making a successful sales pitch. Rather, it involves all-out war against the forces of hell. Saul and Barnabas battled Bar-Jesus for the soul of Sergius Paulus.”
How many times have you invited an unbeliever to something and then all of a sudden, something happens and they cancel? That is not just bad circumstances, but a real Enemy at work. Again, be careful of the extremes. Some are too reductionistic in two extremes Everything is of the devil. Others of us say everything is rational and scientific. Be aware that there could be more involved than we think. So what does Paul and Barnabas do here? Oh well. The magic community hates us. Let’s pack up and go. We will see this pattern throughout Acts. The Gospel is preached, there is opposition and the disciples persevere and there is fruit. Fruit always comes from perseverance.
Paul, by the way, Paul was his Roman name, Saul was his Jewish name. Luke will call him Paul from now on. Supposedly Paul was this scrawny, short, bald guy, but I don’t think I would ever want to meet him on this side of eternity. This guy’s intense! No wonder he bought Barnabas to balance this team, son of encouragement, or parakaleo. Para—means come alongside and Kaleo means to call to truth. In other words, speak the truth in love. Paul is all Kaleo. He is a truther, though I think he understood the gospel of grace so much deeper than all of us.
He looks intently at him. How scary was this look? But it’s not Paul that is fighting this battle. Luke says that Paul was “full of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit sends to the mission the Spirit speaks in the mission and the Spirit overcomes obstacles to the mission. “Bar-Jesus, Son of the Savior? More like Bar-devil,” Paul says. “A righteous prophet? More like enemy of all righteousness. You are a fraud and deceiver.” What does it mean to “stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” It corresponds to verse 8. Piper adds, “Turn aside” (in v. 8) corresponds with “make crooked” (in v. 10). And “from the faith” (in v. 8) corresponds with “the straight paths of the Lord” (in v. 10). So the way you make crooked the straight paths of the Lord is to get in the way of people coming to faith.”
This tells us God is not passive in orchestrating circumstances for people to get to know him. He is not aloof and not caring about people we care about. In fact the opposite. He wants our unsaved loved ones saved more than we do! God sees a Sergius Paulus in Paphos, Cyprus, seeking and stuck in the occult. Hundreds of miles away he sees people of God worshiping and fasting, seeking the mind of God. And he sees a straight path that leads to faith—call the missionaries, send them out, guide them to Paphos, arrange a meeting with the governor, and bring him to faith. That is the straight path of God. Let’s be instruments on the path and not get in the way to make God’s straight paths crooked.
Paul pronounces judgment on Bar-Jesus and he becomes blind. Stott observes, “God’s judgment of him was fitting. For those ‘who put darkness for light and light for darkness’ forfeit the light they originally had.” “This blinding of the false prophet opened the eyes of Sergius Paulus.” And the Gospel triumphs yet again. Fruit coming from perseverance.
Pastor Kent Hughes summarizes, “There is a cost to sincere service for Christ. Never share your faith and you will never look like a fool. Never stand for righteousness on a social issue and you will never be rejected…Never practice consistent honesty in business and you will not lose the trade of a not-so-honest associate. Never reach out to the needy and you will never be taken advantage of. Never give your heart and it will never be broken. Never go to Cyprus and you will never be subjected to a dizzy, heart-convulsing confrontation with Satan. Seriously follow Christ and you will experience a gamut of sorrows almost completely unknown to the unbeliever. But of course you will also know the joy of adventure with the Lord of the universe and of spiritual victory as you live a life of allegiance to him.”
The Spirit-led church is sent on mission to proclaim the gospel and persevere through opposition. I realize more and more that I am not missional in my heart. I am tribal. I like to run away from others and stick to my comfort zone. This idea–to be sent every week into my neighborhood and to my friends frightens me. My love for people is small. But our God is a missional God. He runs even towards His enemies and even dies for them.
Remember the Prodigal Son Story in Luke 15? The younger son who left his father and squandered everything was a picture of the Gentiles. The elder son who stays with the father and lives safely in self-preservation was a picture of the Jews, especially the Pharisees. Both were lost. This story is actually the third of three stories. The similarities among the three stories are obvious. In each parable something is lost— sheep, coin, and son. In each the one who loses something gets it back. And each of the narratives ends on a note of festive rejoicing and celebration when the lost one is returned.
Keller in The Prodigal God, says, “There is, though, one striking difference between the third parable and the first two. In the first two someone “goes out” and searches diligently for that which is lost. The searchers let nothing distract them or stand in their way. By the time we get to the third story, and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him. No one does. It is startling, and Jesus meant it to be so. By placing the three parables so closely together, he is inviting thoughtful listeners to ask: “Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?” The answer: the Elder Brother. The Jews were supposed to reach the Gentiles, but they became tribal instead of missional.
Keller continues, “This is what the elder brother in the parable should have done; this is what a true elder brother would have done. He would have said, ‘Father, my younger brother has been a fool, and now his life is in ruins. But I will go look for him and bring him home. And if the inheritance is gone— as I expect— I’ll bring him back into the family at my expense.’
Indeed, it is only at the elder brother’s expense that the younger brother can be brought back in. Because, as Jesus said, the father had divided his property between them before the younger son had left. Everything had been assigned. The younger brother had gotten his one-third portion and it was completely gone.
Now, when the father says to the older brother, “My son, everything I have is yours,” he is telling the literal truth. Every penny that remained of the family estate belongs to the elder brother. Every robe, every ring, every fatted calf is his by right. But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead. But we do not. By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one.
And we have him. Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth. We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater. Either as elder brothers or as younger brothers we have rebelled against the father. We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price— someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself.
Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place. There Jesus was stripped naked of his robe and dignity so that we could be clothed with a dignity and standing we don’t deserve. On the cross Jesus was treated as an outcast so that we could be brought into God’s family freely by grace. There Jesus drank the cup of eternal justice so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy. There was no other way for the heavenly Father to bring us in, except at the expense of our true elder brother.” He went on mission for us. He persevered through opposition. We are the fruit of His perseverance.
Now we come to the table. We need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring us home. As it moves us, Jesus says, “Now I send you to bring others home.” It’s hard to follow a missional God with a tribal heart.
Harris, J. “Wrong Reasons to Love the Church,”
http://www.joshharris.com/2010/01/wrong_reasons_to_love_the_chur.php accessed 12 July 2013.
Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The Message of Acts: the Spirit, the Church & the World. The Bible Speaks Today (p. 217). Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.
Hughes, R. K. (1996). Acts: the Church Afire. Preaching the Word (p. 175). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Stott, J. R. W. (217-218).
Hughes, R. K. (175).
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (326).
Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.
Stott, J. R. W. (220).
Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Ac 13:12). Galaxie
Hughes, R. K. (178).
 This section comes from Keller, Timothy (2008-09-25). The Prodigal God (pp. 80-86).
Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.