Elon, North Carolina
Acts 13 begins a news section of the Book of Acts. It deals with the missionary journeys of Paul. Paul and Barnabas go on the first missionary journey. They are sent off by the Church of Antioch. What is the Church of Antioch? How did they get there? Let’s backtrack for a minute and see how this church was founded (11:19-30)
Founding of the Church
1. Persecution of the church leads to scattering of believers outside of Jerusalem
2. The scattering of believers leads to evangelism in other cities
3. Evangelism in other places leads to a church starting in Antioch (300 miles away from Jerusalem).
Antioch is right on the border with Syria. It is called Antakya today.
4. The starting of the Church in Antioch led to Barnabas coming to Antioch to check it out.
5. When he gets there, he finds out that a revival had broken out in Antioch and he needed help.
People were getting saved so fast that the church needed some additional staff. He needed help and he knew exactly who to get – his old friend Paul but first he had to find him. Barnabas didn’t know where he was. He had to look for him (11:25). He found him in Tarsus 147 miles away. Tarsus was where Paul was from. It is also in Turkey today. Tarsus is a Turkish city. It is in south-central Turkey. This was where Paul was born.
6. When he finds Paul, he brings him back to Antioch to minister where they both stayed for a year teaching (11:26).
Barnabas found Paul there and convinced him to come back with him and help him with this new church. He recruited him for ministry. Both of them stayed in the church for a year before they were sent out on the first missionary journey.
Importance of the Church
The Church of Antioch was almost as important as the Church of Jerusalem where the church began. It was extremely important for three reasons.
1. Antioch was where the first Gentile Church was located.
In Acts 10, we have the first Gentile convert (Cornelius). In Acts 11, we have the first Gentile church mentioned in Acts. The center of Gentile Christianity is not Jerusalem. It is Antioch.
2. Antioch was the center of Paul’s missionary journeys.
Antioch was his base of operations. The center of operations for Paul’s missionary journeys was not Jerusalem. It was Antioch.
3. Antioch is where the term “Christian” originated (11:26).
There are many people who do not believe in denominations. They believe that denominations are unbiblical. They divide the body of Christ. They just want to be called “Christians”.
There is just one problem with this. Christian is not a biblical name either. Jesus never called his followers Christians. The apostles never called each other Christians. Luke does not call believer Christians. Luke says, “ (11:29). Luke calls them “disciples,” not “Christians”.
How did the term “Christian” originate? Christian has the word “Christ” in it. Many think the word “Christ” is a proper name. They think it was Jesus’ last name. It wasn’t. The word Christ is taken from the Greek word χρίστος which simply means “messiah”.
It is not a name but a title. People in the ancient world did not have last names. They were identified by what they did (Matthew the tax-collector and Simon the tanner) or who their parents were (Simon son of Jonah, James the son of Zebedee) or where they were from (Jesus of Nazareth, Saul of Tarsus).
Someone in Antioch started calling believers Christians because they are followers of Christ. No Jew would have given them that name because Christ means messiah and they did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It was a term given by Gentiles. It was most likely given as a term of reproach (like Methodists). It was originally given as an insult but later became a badge of honor
What was this church like? We could learn a lot from this church. It is a model New Testament Church
Characteristics of the Church of Antioch
1. It was a growing church
This church was not stagnant. It was growing. It was on fire. It was not a tiny church. It was big (cf. 11:24, 26)
2. It was a metropolitan church
This was not a country church. It was a city church. It was in a very large city. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Rome was first. Alexandria was second and Antioch was third. There were 500,000 (half a million) people in this city at the time.
3. It was a diverse church
Diversity in Church
Many churches today are not very diverse. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is “the most segregated hour in America.” Times have not changed too much since had made that statement fifty years ago. The Church at Antioch was different. It was diverse in three ways.
1. The Church at Antioch was diverse linguistically.
Not only were there Jews and Gentiles in the church, there were different kinds of Jews. There were Greek speaking Jews and Hebrew speaking Jews (Paul).
2. The Church at Antioch was diverse economically.
Manean was probably wealthy. He was the foster-brother of Herod. He grew up in the palace. He was part of the upper class. He turned out a lot differently than Herod Antipas. One turned out to be a murderer and one turned out to be a preacher.
3. The Church at Antioch was diverse racially.
There were some people of color in the church. Simeon was called Niger because he was dark-skinned. It is the Latin word for black. He was most likely from Africa. Nigeria is in Africa and Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa.
Cyrene is in Libya today. There you have diversity, not only in the congregation, but also in the pastoral staff. There are many churches today that have a diverse congregation but the leadership is not very diverse.
4. It was a gifted church
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul” (13:1).
This was a gifted church. Paul and Barnabas were in the church. This church had great leaders. Their spiritual leadership team was made up of five men. One writer called this “the dream team”. It began with Paul and Barnabas. A year later three other men were added.
There were prophets and teachers in the church and they are spoken of in the plural. Which were prophets and which were teachers? Luke does not say.
What we do know is that this was not a church where one man did all the ministry and this was a fairly young church. In many churches today, there is one teacher in the church and that is the pastor and that pastor never lets anyone else in his pulpit. It is a one-man show. That is not the way this church functioned.
5. It was an evangelistic church
This believed in church planting. The church reproduced itself. It wanted to reach out to others. This church was evangelistic. This church sent out the first missionaries. There were missionaries before this. People preached the gospel before Acts 13. Remember that Philip was the first missionary that we know of. He was in Acts 8. This was the first time missionaries were specifically sent out by a church.
Acts 8 describes the persecution in Jerusalem. What happened next was that believers were scattered. They left Jerusalem. Wherever they went, they preached the gospel. This was the first time that a church sent missionaries out to do overseas missions.
They had three planned missionary journeys. These missionary journeys involved traveling seven thousand miles. The church is on the advance. Strategy is not defensive but offensive. Antioch became the center of operations. Jerusalem represents home missions and Antioch represents foreign missions.
6. It was a compassionate church
This church was not stingy. The Church of Jerusalem may go through some hard times economically and the Church of Antioch wanted to help out. The daughter church wanted to help out the mother church.
7. It was a Spirit-Led Church
How was the Church of Antioch church sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit?
Signs of a Spirit-led Church
1) A Spirit-led church is sensitive to the gifts of the Spirit.
They allowed people to use their gifts in the church. Every believer has a spiritual gift that God wants us to use. Some churches really encourage us to use our gifts, allow us to use our gifts and support us when we use our gifts. Other churches do not. Churches that do this quench the spirit.
2) A Spirit-led church is sensitive to the message of the Spirit.
Agabas was a prophet. He had a message from the Lord. He “stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world” (11:28). The church accepted this message and did something about it.
If the Holy Spirit had a message for the church today, how would it respond to it? Would the church be open and sensitive to the message of the Holy Spirit or would they reject it and say that God does not speak today?
Jesus says in Revelation, Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He said that seven times (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6; 11, 22).
3) A Spirit-led church is sensitive to the leading of the Spirit.
This church was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We see that in Acts 13:3: “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.” Here is the reality today. Some churches today are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and some are not
Lessons on Ministry
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with 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.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (13:1-3).
1. Ministry for Christ requires a divine call.
Paul and Barnabas did not just go, they were sent. You should not be a missionary unless the Holy Spirit calls you to do it.
2. The call to ministry is completely sovereign.
Ministry requires a call and this call was sovereign. The Holy Spirit picked out the men. He specifically picked Barnabas and Paul. He could have picked the other three men on staff but He did not.
The Holy Spirit did not just sovereignly pick one man, He picked two. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs. There were only five men on staff. The Holy Spirit chose forty percent of the staff for this mission.
The Spirit didn’t pick just any two members of the church, He picked the two best men. He chose two of the most prominent and gifted men in the church to go to the mission field. They were probably needed in Antioch. Antioch needed good leaders as well but the Holy Spirit chose them to leave and go on the mission field.
3. The call came to men who were already sold out to Christ.
He also chose people who were already working and serving Him. He chose people who were using their gifts in the church. “WHILE THEY WERE WORSHIPPING THE LORD AND FASTING, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”.
He chose people who were praying, worshiping and fasting. God often uses His servants who are already serving Him as they have opportunity rather than those who are not serving Him but just sitting by idly waiting for direction
4. Ministry is primarily to God, not people
“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.”
5. The role of the local church is to support the call of God in your life.
This church recognized what the Holy Spirit was doing in their midst and gave their blessing. They laid hands on them, prayed over them and sent them off (13:3). They supported them. When Paul and Barnabas finished their missionary journey, they came back a year later and gave a report to the Church of Antioch (14:27-28).
The First Missionary Journey
Acts 13-14 describes the first missionary journey. Two men are sent out by the Church of Antioch – Barnabas and Paul. I want to give you a brief overview of the first missionary journey. It involved fourteen hundred miles. It took place around 47 AD.
They were gone about a year. At the beginning of the chapter, Barnabas is mentioned first. “The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me BARNABAS AND SAUL for the work to which I have called them” (13:2). When we get to the end of the chapter, Paul is mentioned first (13:43, 46, 50). Why the change?
When they began on this journey, Barnabas was the leader of this missionary team. He was the most prominent of the two. He had been a Christian longer than Paul. Paul was the newcomer. Barnabas was probably older than Paul. Once they left, Paul seems to be the one who took over.
He became the leader. He may have had greater gifts. He does most of the preaching. He does the miracles. Barnabas did not have a problem taking the back seat and having their roles reversed. He was humble. He did not care about positions or titles.
So Barnabas and Paul are sent off on the first missionary journey and Barnabas takes his cousin John Mark with him (13:5) but he doesn’t last long. This was dangerous work. Paul almost died on this trip. Paul got stoned in one of those cities. People threw rocks at him and tried to kill him.
In fact, he was hurt so bad that they thought he was dead (14:19-20). Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7. In fact, Paul was present at that stoning and even approved of it. Now he is getting stoned himself. This missionary work was not for the faint of heart. After the first stop, John Mark bailed on them.
Paul also got sick on this trip. How do we know that? Luke doesn’t tell us that in Acts but Paul tells us in one of his epistles. Galatians 4:13-14 says, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.”
We do not know for sure what his illness was but many believe it was malaria. Paul was in Pamphilia which was noted for its marshlands and swamps. These swamps were a hotbed of mosquitoes and a breeding ground for malaria.
The standard treatment for malaria was to go up into the mountains where there was clean air. That is where the Galatian Church was located. That is where Antioch Pisidian Antioch was where he went next.
What did Paul and Barnabas do on their first missionary journey around 47 AD?
1) They started churches on the first missionary journey
At least four churches were started. They not only started these churches, they appointed elders in these churches (14:23). The first missionary journey takes then to five cities. Their first stop was the island of Cyprus. Cyprus is an island in the Mediterranean Sea.
It was Barnabas’s home town (4:36). Their second stop was Pisidian Antioch. Their third stop was Iconium. Their fourth stop was Lystra. Their fifth stop was Derbe.
What is significant about these places (Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe)? They are all located in the Roman province of Galatia (modern Turkey).
Paul wrote a letter in the NT called the Book of Galatians. It was not written to one church but to several churches. It was written to the churches of Galatia (1:2). It was a circular letter.
2) They performed miracles on the first missionary journey
They used power evangelism. He did miracles in Cyprus (13:6-11), in Iconium (14:3) and in Lystra (14:8-10) where he healed a man who couldn’t walk. Paul first miracle was blinding Elymas. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine.
Paul’s first miracle was blinding someone. Paul knew what it was like to be blind. He was blind for three days after he saw Jesus. Now he blinds someone else temporarily. These miracles were effective. When the governor of the island saw Paul’s miracle, he believed (13:12).
3) They did some preaching on the first missionary journey
They went on a preaching tour in major population centers. Like a good preacher, he used hand gestures when he spoke. He motioned with his hands (13:16). They always started in the synagogue if there was one.
There wasn’t one in Lystra but wherever there was one, Paul always preached in the synagogues first (13:5, 13-16; 14:1). The Jews met on Friday evening for their service. Why did he start there?
Why did Paul preach to the Jews first. They were the chosen people. God made a covenant with the Jews. Jesus was the Messiah to the Jews. There was some common ground.
They both believed the Old Testament was inspired by God. Paul felt comfortable talking to Jews. He was a Jew himself and had been trained in one of the best Jewish seminaries of his day. That gave him an audience. People wanted to hear what he had to say.
What was the reaction? The message was divisive. The gospel usually gets that reaction. People respond with either revival or riot, Some loved it and some hated it. When Paul spoke in Pisidian Antioch they loved what he said so much that they asked him to come back next week (13:42).
When he came back the next week, the whole city came to hear him. The synagogue was packed with people (13:44). Other people hated him, persecuted him and kicked him out of their city (13:50)
We see the same thing in Lystra (14:1-20). At the beginning of the chapter the people loved him. They love him so much that they want to worship him. At the end of the chapter, another group of people hate him so bad that they want to kill him and almost do. Paul goes from being worshipped to being stoned in the same city.
Why in the world would anyone think that Paul was Hermes and Barnabas was Zeus? They thought this because of a man named Ovid who wrote a very famous book forty years earlier. Ovid was Rome’s greatest poet. In 8 AD, he wrote a book called The Metamorphosis. It was his greatest work. It is about gods changing form.
In Book VIII of the Metamorphosis, Zeus and Hermes disguised themselves as humans, went to the same province of Galatia and found everyone rude and obnoxious. Everyone turned them away, even the wealthy people. Then they went on top of a mountain and found some poor peasants. They found an old married couple named Baucis and Philemon living in a tiny hut.
They had no money. They were dirt poor but they were happy. When the visitors showed up, they showed them great hospitality. They took them in and cooked them some food. They gave them wine. The gods were so impressed they turned their little hut into a temple to Zeus and destroyed the rest of the town with a flood.
4) They experienced opposition on the first missionary journey
In every city there was opposition. When God is working, Satan is working. The opposition in each city got worse. In Cyprus, Paul encountered OPPOSITION from a Jewish sorcerer named Elymas. He opposed Paul and Barnabas. He tried to keep people from believing. His name was Bar Jesus (son of Jesus) but Paul calls him a child of the devil (13:10).
When he went to the next city, he experience not only opposition, he experience EXPULSION from Pisidian Antioch (13:50). They kicked him out of the city. In the third city ninety miles away, Paul experienced something worse. He experienced a DEATH THREAT. There was a plot to kill Paul in Iconium (14:5). In Lystra (eighteen miles away), he faced ATTEMPTED MURDER, as people threw rocks at him and tried to kill him.
This opposition was determined. Some traveled over a hundred miles to get Paul. They came all the way from Pisidian Antioch which was over a hundred miles away (14:19). Paul used to travel to hunt believers down and now people are traveling over a hundred miles to hunt him down.