The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
THE CHURCH AT ANTIOCH, A MODEL CHURCH
- Chapter 13 marks a major turning point in the book of Acts. Chapters 1--12 trace the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Antioch, and then chapters 13--28 record the movement from Antioch to Rome.
- We saw in Acts 9:31 that churches were now established "throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria."
- One notable church was the church in Antioch, and we saw in chapter 11 how the church in Antioch was established (cf. 11:19-26).
- Antioch was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria. It was the third greatest city of the ancient Roman world, after Rome and Alexandria.
- This Antioch is not to be confused with Antioch in Pisidia (cf. 13:14).
- The work in Antioch was led by Barnabas, who went to Tarsus, for to seek Saul, i.e., the apostle Paul (11:25, 26).
- In many ways, Antioch was a model New Testament church. This church had come into existence through the preaching of the word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the way a true New Testament church comes into existence. Therefore, in many ways, Antioch was a model New Testament church.
- Dr. S. Lewis Johnson said something about this that is very helpful. He said, "Put very simply, it is the word and the Spirit by which the church came into existence. Now, if we could keep that in our minds and keep it straight in our minds, it would deliver us from a lot of error. The church is not that which justifies the word of God. The church is not that organization which gives authority to the Bible. It is the word of God that is responsible for the church. And so we should never think that because we have a church, and the church makes certain pronouncements concerning the word of God and even occasionally in some parts, raises tradition to the same status as the word of God, that that is true. For it is not the church that authorizes the Scriptures; it is the truth of the Scripture in the power of the Spirit that is responsible for the existence of a Christian church. And so the church is always to be judged by Scripture; not Scripture by the church. That simple principle would deliver us from a great deal of error."
- For example, the Roman Catholic Church claims to have given us the Bible. That is not true. First came the Word of God, then churches.
IT WAS A DIVERSE CHURCH (13:1).
- The word "diversity," like the words "tolerance" and "multi-cultural," and other words, has been misused in recent years. However, in its original meaning it is a good word.
- Just as heaven is diverse, the church should be diverse -- new believers, older believers; some are poor, some are better off. Some are well educated, some are not as educated -- but all are saved by the grace of God.
- One of our Baptist distinctives is: Saved, baptized church membership. The Baptist distinctives are:
Autonomy of the Local Church
Priesthood of the Believer
Individual Soul Liberty
Saved, Baptized Church
Two Offices (pastor and deacon -- I Timothy
Separation of Church and State
- The local church should be like heaven on earth, and there will be all different types of people up in heaven. Revelation 5:9 refers to people redeemed by the blood of Christ "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation."
- The church in Antioch was diverse. Barnabas, their first pastor, was a Jewish man from Cyprus (13:1).
- Simeon, "that was called Niger" (13:1), may have been from Africa, perhaps from the area of Africa now known as Nigeria. Simeon is a Jewish name, but Niger is Latin for "black."
- "Lucius of Cyrene" (13:1) is mentioned next. Cyrene is in North Africa, which would be modern-day Libya. Acts 11:20 tells us the church in Antioch was established by converts from Cyprus and Cyrene, so there were probably quite a few Africans in this church.
- Manaen, "which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch," was a foster brother of Herod. This is the same Herod the tetrarch who cut off the head of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:10).
- John Phillips said, "Manaen became a believer, Herod became a beast; Manaen became a minister, Herod became a murderer; Manaen found salvation in the arms of Jesus; Herod found shame in the arms of Herodias," his brother's wife "who goaded him on to ruin" (Exploring Acts).
- Albert Barnes said Manaen's "conversion shows that the gospel was not confined entirely in its influence to the poor." Again we are reminded the church in Antioch was a diverse church, and a model church.
- And last -- but certainly not least -- Saul (13:1).
IT WAS A SPIRIT-LED CHURCH (13:2, 4).
- A.T. Pierson, the great 19th century missions statesman, said, "This thirteenth chapter of the Acts must be set side by side with Matthew 9:37, 38. There we have the precept and principle: 'The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.' Here we have the practice and example: a praying church and the divine calling out and sending forth of the workers...Here we see the way in which the Lord supplies workers when the church offers believing prayers" (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).
- Here we see the personality of the Holy Spirit -- He speaks (13:2); He calls (13:2); and He sends (13:4).
- Furthermore, He calls by name: "The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them..." (13:2).
- A.T. Pierson said, "Behind all the action of the Antioch church, behold the acts of the Holy Ghost -- a designation, a vocation, a separation, a commission," all expressly attributed to the Holy Ghost (The Acts of the Holy Spirit).
- Because it was a Spirit-led church, they were busy "ministering to the Lord" in their local church (13:2).
- Acts 13:2 and 3 says they "fasted and prayed." This is not being emphasized in most churches today. Today's churches are worldly and entertainment-oriented.
- The other day I read something by A.T. Robertson that got me thinking. He said, "Fasting was not obligatory on the Christians, but they were facing a great emergency in giving the gospel to the Gentile world." Don't we face an even greater emergency?
- Because it was a Spirit-led church, they were missions-minded. They sent out their two best members on a missions trip (13:2-4).
- These men were chosen by the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:2 says, "The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them."
- The Holy Ghost speaks, and chooses, and calls, and sends workers off to the mission field.
- Furthermore, the Holy Spirit can be grieved. Ephesians 4:30 says, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption."
- And the Holy Spirit is grieved when Christians and churches do not follow His direction. We see this very clearly in Revelation 2 and 3 in the seven letters to the seven churches.
- First Thessalonians 5:19 says, "Quench not the Spirit."
- The Holy Spirit is the life of the church, and the church is the instrument of the Holy Spirit.
IT WAS A SOULWINNING CHURCH
- A soulwinning church has members who are reproducing themselves.
- A soulwinning church has members who are always looking out for opportunities to win souls.
- Spurgeon said, "Oh, that...every Christian (was) a fisher of men, each one doing his best, as the fisherman does, by every art and artifice, to catch those he fishes for! Well may we use all means to win so great a prize as a spirit destined for eternal weal or woe. The diver plunges deep to find pearls, and we may accept any labour or hazard to win a soul. Rouse yourselves, my brethren, for this God-like work, and may the Lord bless you in it!"
- A pastor was talking to a new convert and asked him, "Brother, how long have you been saved?" The man answered, "About three months." The preacher then asked, "And how many people have you led to Christ?"
- "Oh, Pastor," he said, "I am only a beginner. I am still learning."
- The pastor replied, "Brother, the Lord does not expect you to be a full-fledged preacher, but he does expect you to be a faithful witness. Tell me, when does a candle begin to shine -- when it is already half-burned up?"
- "No," the young convert said, "As soon as it is lit."
- The pastor then said, "That's right. So start letting your light shine right now!"
- In the book of Acts we see the early Christians first started by evangelizing and planting churches in the big cities, and then they spread out to the smaller towns and rural areas.
- Missionaries were sent out by local churches (Acts 13:1-5).
- The local church sent them (13:3). And the Holy Spirit sent them (13:4). The local church is the instrument of the Holy Spirit. God's program is the local church!
- The local church trains missionaries, sends out missionaries, supports missionaries, and prays for missionaries.
- By laying hands on Barnabas and Paul (13:3), the church in Antioch was signifying prayer and partnership. They laid hands on them to show that they were identifying with them.
- The laying on of hands was the recognition that God had called them and that God was directing them.
- Notice also that it was the church in Antioch that was sending forth Barnabas and Paul -- not the church in Jerusalem. The idea that one church can be over another church (this is taught by the Roman Catholic Church) is unscriptural.
- One of the Baptist distinctives is the autonomy of the local church.
- This marks the beginning of Paul's first missionary journey -- from here to Acts 14:26.
- Paul's secondary missionary journey starts at Acts 15:36.
- Paul's third missionary journey starts at Acts 18:23.
- Paul and Barnabas' first stop was at Seleucia (a seaport about sixteen miles from Antioch); and from there they sailed to Cyprus, the homeland of Barnabas (13:5).
- Acts 13:2 says, "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said..."
- We know the Holy Spirit speaks, and we also know many people do not hear Him. Seven times in Revelation 2 and 3 we read these words, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
- I read something interesting about this the other day. When S. Lewis Johnson was a new Christian, he had the privilege of attending Dallas Seminary and sat under the teaching of Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer.
- One day he heard Dr. Chafer say: “God is able to speak loud enough to make a willing heart hear.”
- At the time, S. Lewis Johnson thought that was a great saying -- “God is able to speak loud enough to make a willing heart hear.” He went home and rejoiced in that saying, for about five or ten years. “God is able to speak loud enough to make a willing heart hear.”
- After a number of years Dr. Johnson moved away from Dr. Chafer's doctrinal position and became more Calvinistic in his doctrine. But I agree with Dr. Chafer -- “God is able to speak loud enough to make a willing heart hear.”
- God used Paul and Barnabas and many others because they were willing. They were surrendered, and therefore God was able to move them.
- Are you surrendered? Are you willing?
- If God was speaking to you, would you hear Him?
- Would you obey?