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Bible Gemz 1606 - Our First Look at the Church in Antioch (Acts 12:24-13:3)

February 21, 2019

 

Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. 

When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them. (Acts 12:24-25)

 

Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called "the black man"), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them." 

So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3)

 

 

Some of you have asked why I gave the last Gemz a title that related to the earthquake in NZ and not a title related to Acts. If you think that you miss the point. I did give Gemz 1605 a title related to Acts, it is just that by sovereign serendipity it also related to the earthquake in the NZ before I knew it had happened. That is what was curious to say the least. Rather in terms of the book of Acts, it seems to me that the break between chapter 12 and 13 is like the fissure between two giant plates of the earth’s crust. All that has gone before is linked to what follows but there is a movement and change occurring between the two on a grand scale. Hence I gave it the name “At the Edge of a Plate Boundary”. Between these two chapters is a major shift, a quantum leap, a change of direction, a change in the centre point of operations and a lot more. We will unpack it as we go.  

 

Suffice to say at this point, with this new chapter there is a major shift in the focus of what Luke was writing. Chapter 13 begins literally with the words: Now at Antioch, in the local church, there were prophets and teachers. . . This beginning is atemporal – there no time link between the action described previously in Chapter 12 and the event Luke uses to introduce the next phase. Thus we have no way of knowing just how the events which preceded the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul to the special work for which God had called them related to this event chronologically. From this point onward Saul/Paul is in focus and Peter fades from the focus. He is now off centre stage and Paul moves onto centre stage. Furthermore the stage is not in the same place. The geographic focus has shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch; Antioch has come of age. This break also marks the boundary of a new structure and approach by Luke as the chronicler of the events of the spread of witness from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the outer most parts of the earth. The events are not now in historical order but rather are arranged geographically as Paul moves from one place to another. Now also the switch has been thrown between Jew and Gentile. From this point on the Gentiles are more in focus. But we don’t leave the Jews behind. They are still there in opposition and Paul will begin with preaching in the synagogue in each place he goes but then moves quickly to the Gentiles when the Jews fail to respond. 

 

Now it time for us to look at this interesting opening statement of Chapter 13.    

 

Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called "the black man"), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them." 

So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1-3)

 

I trust you have had time to look at the details of what Luke has served us up and not just taken in the panorama of the bigger picture. Remember we always have to do both: juggle the details and the bigger picture at the same time. There are some features to note about these three lines of text. The focus has changed from Jerusalem to Antioch. The base of operation is now Antioch. Notice too how the flow at the end of Chapter 12 was from Antioch back to Jerusalem, not from Jerusalem to Antioch. The so-called daughter church, plant church is not a fledgling entity but one which can gather funds and send them back to the parent church. Interesting to say the least. 

 

What does Luke mean by referring to the church in Antioch? Is it that there has been a large building purpose-built in which Christians can meet for fellowship and worship and to hear the Word of God preached? No, that is not how Luke is using the word ekklesia. The word simply refers to the body of Christ, those who bear this new name who happen to be present and functioning as Christians in the local area around Antioch. There was no building with a sign outside saying “The Church of Antioch” and of course it wouldn't have had a denominational label even if there had been sign. The division and sectarianism happens later. The term just simply refers to those in the area who took on the name of "Christian - a follower of Christ". It reminds me again of my pastor friend who loves to challenge people when once people know he is a pastor and then ask him where his church is, he loves to reply, “I don’t know.” Now you have to admit that is odd – a pastor who doesn't know where his church is! What kind of pastor is that? He must always arrive late to the office if he is confused as to where his church is. No, my friend’s point is that the church is not a building but a body of people. To ask where a dispersed body of people are is hard to answer. He will often say after his reply, 'I don’t know’ - some are at their own individual offices, some are driving, some are in school, some are busy doing their own personal things and I have no idea where they all are at this present point in time. There you have it. That is the way this word ekklesia is being used. These are the ones "called out” by the LORD from among those around them who are not followers of Christ. Thus Luke is referring to something different when he refers to them as "the church in Antioch”. It is an all encompassing term – it includes all of the groups of people who meet in homes and different places across the city irrespective of background, personal situation or theological viewpoint – if there even were such by that time. 

 

In that framework Luke writes, there were functioning prophets and teachers. These men are named for us – Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul. There were five men who were recognised to be prophets and teachers among the believers in Antioch. I will leave you at this point to find out all you can about them using whatever resources you have – the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia on E–Sword is a helpful resource if you have no other. Take the time to look up the three you don’t know - Simeon, Lucius and Manaen apart from what you wish to do concerning Barnabas and Saul’s background. If you were calling a leader for the church at Antioch would you choose these men? I know a number of churches in that position at the moment – on the edge of calling a pastor and considering the applicants. So check these men out. See if you would have called any of these men? And don’t forget by all accounts, Barnabas and Saul are nothing but rabble rousers. Be careful of calling them to your church.

 

Notice too the order of the men listed: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul. The list is intriguing, isn’t it? How would you have listed them? I imagine some of you having heard the names read out and then having to recall them by rote later may have ordered them like this – Saul, Barnabas, Lucius, Simeon and Manaen - based on fore-knowledge, familiarity, reputation and background. Well whose to say that is not how they are ordered. Notice at this point that Barnabas is first and Saul is last. That alone is interesting, isn’t it? It is probably not how you would have done it. 

 

Now with that thought I will leave you for this morning. A smaller Gemz to ease you back into the process. Have a good day, one filled with fruitful kingdom thinking. 

 

 

The more intelligence one has, the more one finds people original. Commonplace people see no difference between men. Blaise Pascal

 

We don’t want form and formality, we want the breath of God on our leader. Ian

 

Some one will always be prettier, smarter or more talented than you. Yet they can never be you. Always remember to be a better you everyday. Melinawati Lioe

 

Give someone else more of you and you will experience more of God.

 

Creativity is the new currency , so are you credited with new thoughts or overdrawn in old thinking? Ian 

 

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