“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. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3 ESV)
We often misunderstand the power of the resurrection of Jesus. Even those of us who believe the resurrection to be factual tend to only look at the effects it had on that first Easter Sunday, over 2,000 years ago. However, the true power and effects of the resurrection are still being seen and felt today. In fact, Paul references this same incredible power when he writes to the believers in Philippi:
“…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:10 ESV)
In today’s passage, the church at Antioch has been worshiping, fasting and praying for guidance. Luke notes that there are several prophets and teachers in the group, including Barnabas and Saul, who are participating in this period of focused worship and fasting. There are three specific areas of significant change that I want us to focus on from this passage: 1) the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ ushers in a new era of Holy Spirit guided, resurrection empowered, worship fueled leadership in the church; 2) the resurrection destroys man made cultural, social, economic and ethnic boundaries; 3) this results in a laser-focused ministry of global missions. Let’s look at these one at a time…
First, the resurrection and ascension of Christ ushers in a new era in man’s religious understanding and experience. During the passion and just prior to the ascension of Christ, the Apostles receive the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells the eleven Apostles just before his arrest, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 ESV)
The Holy Spirit is called “another Helper” or one who comes alongside us, walks with us and provides guidance. It is a term that refers to “legal counsel” or someone who is close enough to the situation to understand it intimately but also has specialized knowledge and can provide much needed guidance in the circumstances. Jesus calls Him the “Spirit of Truth” which implies that His knowledge and guidance are not swayed by our desires or bias but which accurately reflects God’s desires and purpose.
This is precisely the kind of help we need in our churches and precisely the kind of help that is most often missing from our churches, today. We have become a culture of self-help people and self-sufficient churches. Instead of seeking God’s desires and guidance for our lives and our churches, we seek the advice of the daily talk show hosts, the “church growth gurus” and the marketing specialists. Many churches are simply looking for the next “fix” that will help them keep the doors open and the utilities paid. We tend to think that the “program” that helped make the mega-church in California or Illinois grow will cause us to grow. Seems to me, something is missing…
“For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (emphasis is mine).” (1 Corinthians 3:3-7 ESV)
…And that’s precisely where the church at Antioch shined. They knew they needed God’s guidance for the next phase of their ministry. Instead of seeking wisdom from the church growth gurus in Jerusalem, they sought the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit through worship, fasting and prayer and God responded through the power of the resurrection and guidance of His Spirit.
Next, I want you to notice regarding the power of the resurrection at work in Antioch is the diversity and social make-up of the church as reflected in the leadership. Luke notes that the “prophets and teachers” in Antioch specifically included “Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” A diverse group of leaders lends itself to socially diverse and culturally sensitive service and ministry. Just in case you didn’t pick up on it, we have multiple ethnic, cultural, social and economic cultures represented in just that list of leaders. In all likelihood, this diversity is also reflected in the church and across the ethnic, cultural and social/economic character of the city of Antioch.
God’s purpose and plan must not, will not, indeed, cannot be thwarted by the ethnic, cultural, social and economic barriers that men raise. The current ethnic, cultural, social and economic barriers that stand between the church and the global mission of God are nothing more than mere speed bumps in the path of God’s plan and we must view them as such, and nothing more than that. My prayer this Easter is that our church, and your church, will view these barriers as nothing more than speed bumps in our path. I’m not suggesting we ignore them, but that we refuse to let them stop us. They may be ministry challenges, but they can be properly addressed through the prayerful guidance of the Holy Spirit. An ethnically diverse, culturally sensitive, and socio-economically inclusive church is desperately needed for the next part.
Finally, while God’s plan of redemption has always been aimed at the peoples of all nations, tribes and tongues, the people of God (Jews) had become very myopic (near-sighted) in their religious understanding of God’s plan. It has taken the direct work and intervention of God to open their eyes to the diversity of God’s plan and nowhere is that more evident than in Antioch. As mentioned a few weeks ago, Antioch is the third largest city in the Roman Empire, at this time. It is behind only Alexandria of Egypt and Rome, itself. God is at work in making this church the hub of mission outreach for all of the Roman Empire.
As the leaders of Antioch gather for worship, fasting and prayer to seek God’s guidance for their church, the Holy Spirit guides them into a new area of ministry – global missions. Notice how it is stated, “set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” God had already called the men and already planned the work, the church is just affirming the plan. God has been preparing this church through the powerful guidance of the Holy Spirit and the ethnic/cultural/social/economic diversity, mentioned above, for the work of global missions.
If the message of the resurrection is one of new life in Christ, then it is a message intended for all men for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (see Rom. 3:23). All men, all women, all nations, all tribes, all colors, all tongues… a diverse church with a powerful message of reconciliation for all people. It is a need that all men have and, thus, it is a message for all mankind. It was the plan that God revealed to the church at Antioch, but it was not a plan that was confined to the church at Antioch. It is the same plan given to your church and to my church and it requires the power of the Resurrection for its fulfillment.
The real success of your church and my church will not be measured by its building size or its budget but will ultimately be measured by our faithful participation in the global mission of God. By the way, what’s true of our churches is also true of our personal lives. You and I will not be measured by our personal economic or social successes, but we will be measured by our personal participation in the mission and plan of God. How do you measure up?