Welcome to Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Thank you for listening to episode 178 of Missions on Point. We're in a series on missions insights from the New Testament, and today we're going to be talking about the first missionaries as seen in Acts chapters 11 through 15. When we talk about mission's insights from the New Testament, of course, we'll have to spend more time in the Book of Acts because it is the Spirit inspired record of the history of the progression of the church, which is missions. For our purposes, we won't drill down deeply, we'll be just taking personal insights into some elements of missions from these chapters. In Acts chapters 11 through 15, we will see the introduction to Cross-cultural outreach accepted, the beginnings of the influential church in Antioch. It's the first anchor, multi-ethnic church, and it's the place where the believers were first called Christians.
The church at Antioch also became the first intentional sending church. The term church is explicitly used five times in chapters 11 and 12 and seven times in chapters 13 through 15. Chapter 11 begins with a long story of Peter's report back to the church in Jerusalem after he had the experience of being called to Caesarea, and seeing Gentiles saved in the same way that Jewish believers had been saved without any kind of precondition or legalistic requirements of the Jewish law. Those Jerusalem church leaders and people that heard Peter's report were amazed. If you think about it, it's natural because that has been their life. The Jewish law and the oppressive legalism of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin had been their life for thousands of years. It says in chapter 11, verse 18, "When they heard these things they fell silent and they glorified God saying then to the Gentiles, also, God has granted repentance that leads to life."
Luke, the human author of Acts, plugs in immediately after that report and conclusion, information about the church in Antioch. He says, "Some of the believers that were scattered due to the persecution in Jerusalem went as far as Antioch, and believers from Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists, also preaching the Lord Jesus, and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord." When the church leaders in Jerusalem heard this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check it out. The church leaders in Jerusalem knew that Barnabas was a faithful man, and that he was a Levite. By that we would know that he grew up especially concerned with the law. He was also known for gracious generosity and encouragement. Thus, his name Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, was how the leaders knew him, not as Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus.
It says in chapter 11, verse 23, "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and a great many people were added to the Lord." Then the dilemma that Barnabas has is how can I teach and encourage and shepherd all of these new believers that are primarily Gentiles. And he remembers Saul, so he leaves Antioch to go to the neighboring province and look for Saul. He does find him and brings him back. Then Barnabas and Saul become lead elders and teachers at the church at Antioch. Luke writes, "For a whole year, they met with the church and taught a great many people. And at Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians."
When this young church discovered that there would be a great famine all over the world, particularly in the area around Judea, they very thoughtfully and generously sent a gift for relief to the brothers living in Judea, and they did so sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Chapter 12 begins by telling us that Herod the king decided to be violently persecuting Christians, and he took James, the brother of John, one of the 12 apostles, and killed him. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he also arrested Peter. If you remember, being in jail was not an unfamiliar experience for Peter. The difference was that the one who preceded him in capture was killed by the Roman ruler. We see a significant story of Peter being released from prison without the guards knowing, and then getting out of town. Herod is angry with the guards and has them killed. Then not too long after the story goes that God judged him by the angel of the Lord taking Herod's life. Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem for this whole thing, and then they returned back to Antioch.
So chapter 13 opens with this really incredible passage of how the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul as missionaries. It's clear from the listing of the elders' names at the beginning of chapter 13, that these were primarily Gentile men. Barnabas and Saul are listed among them. And it says that the Holy Spirit said, however he communicated to them, "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." It's fascinating to me that Saul, who we know later as the apostle Paul, had been called and specifically designated by the Lord about the time of his conversion in those first few days, and confirmed by Ananias, that he was called by God to be a missionary. He was appointed by God to go to the Gentiles. He probably did that in Tarsus, and then Ananias fetched him to Antioch where he was one of the leading teachers and elders in the church there. It doesn't seem like Saul made a bunch of noise about being called to be a missionary.
He just faithfully worked in the church, taught the people, shepherded the people, and eventually, through the Holy Spirit, they came to recognize this guy should be sent out as a missionary. So how long did that take from the time of Paul's conversion to the time that they laid hands on them and sent them out was probably about 12 years, maybe a little bit more. Imagine Paul's patience as he waited for the believers around him in the church to recognize that he was going to be sent out as a missionary. The training and ministry experience he had in the local church were essential to him being a good missionary. So we want to say to missionary candidates, no matter how urgent you feel it is for you to get to the field, don't go until you are sent. And local church leaders, if someone in your church comes to you and says, "I think God may have called me to be a missionary, I think God is moving me in the direction of a commitment to missions for vocational ministry," don't accept that at face value.
Simply work with them, mentor them, care for them. See them in action in the local church. Have them prove out their calling and their ministry competencies in the context of the local church until you feel they are recognized as missionaries, they are ready to be sent, and then send them out. The two main reasons that missionaries flame out or bailout of missionary work are because of unrealistic expectations and lack of shepherding care. And both of those can be solved at the local church level, by and through the local church as the primary agent of preparing them for the field. Unrealistic expectations are met with good preparation. Only the local church knows their missionary so well that they can integrate, into their preparation for the field, all the things that help them build their godly character to qualify for ministry, build their convictions in biblical and theological training to enable them to handle whatever they face on the field, and build their competencies in ministry skills, in people skills, in strategy, to be able to do the job effectively and well.
On the shepherding care part, obviously the local church knows them best. Because they love them, they communicate with them regularly, and visit them on the field with a good frequency, say at least every 18 months or so. So that they see how they're living. They see what their marriage is like, their family, their children in the home, the education of the children, the relationships with the neighbors and friends and their missionary team. That's all part of shepherding care. Too often the mission agency never gets involved until there's a crisis, and then it's too late. Here we see a pretty good model, at least the beginnings of a model of Paul submitting to the local church so that he has this strong bond of sending church accountability to the church in Antioch. And we see it repeated through the book of Acts that he keeps relating back to the Church of Antioch as his primary sending church.
There are other churches that take care of his support, and he has some level of accountability to, but this first church in Antioch was a very important stepping stone for Paul. Another interesting note is that they chose to go to Cyprus, which was the ancestral home of Barnabas. So they took natural bridges, natural relationships to go to Cyprus. And after traversing the island of Cyprus and getting to the far side, they went up into what is now modern day Turkey into the area of Galatia. Chapters 13 and 14 give the story of the cities that they visited and the response that they had, as well as the persecution that arose. It also shows us that there was a switch in leadership. Initially it looked like Barnabas was the leader, and then very shortly it appears that Paul took the leadership with regard to communication and direction for the team. Toward the end of this first missionary journey, we have this summary in chapter 14 verses 21 through 23, which De Young and Gilbert use as the summary of the mission of the church in their book On the mission of the church.
It says this, "When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch." This is another city of the same name of the church that was their sending church. Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. So they preached the gospel, they strengthened the disciples, they appointed elders in every church, and committed them to the Lord. This is what they did in their first missionary journey, and it became the standard pattern or model for what they did every place that Paul went. They did this in the cities of the mainland and then returned to Antioch, their home church.
Verse 27, "And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples." Then in chapter 15, the troublemakers come, and they're coming saying that these new believers should be circumcised according to the custom of Moses in order to be saved. The elders in Antioch say, "We need to have a bigger decision on this because we don't believe this is true." They sent Paul and Barnabas down to Jerusalem to basically call the first Jerusalem council on this issue. Everyone that they told the stories of God's great blessing and salvation to the Gentiles as they went to Jerusalem was rejoicing. After what must have been a long church meeting. The leaders stand up and say, "This is what seems good to us." Verse 22, it says, "And it seemed good to the apostles and the elders and the whole church to relay the letter of decision to the Gentiles everywhere that they do not have to follow the Jewish law in order to be saved."
So this decision in chapter 15 of Acts is a huge milestone for all of us who are Gentiles, who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. They clearly decided and drew a line and said, "Salvation is not dependent upon works of any kind. There is no legalistic requirement or ritual that needs to be followed in order to be saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ." At the end of chapter 15, we see the missionary team basically split. Barnabas, took John Mark with him to Cyprus, and as far as we know, continued to do ministry in Cyprus for the rest of his life. Paul then takes Silas in chapter 16 and goes across the present country of Turkey to all of those provinces, along the way as God leads him and prevents him from going to some places. We'll see that in the next episode.
Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at propempo.com and missioserve.org. We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
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