“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.” Acts 13:1-3
The church in Antioch, though relatively new, had prophets and teachers. In this passage we have a list of five men from diverse parts of the known world. This is very significant because it shows that the gospel of Christ was spreading beyond Jerusalem. Furthermore, it also demonstrates that the church was rapidly maturing.
On this occasion Saul and Barnabas had just returned from Jerusalem where they had taken an offering from the church at Antioch to the needy saints in Jerusalem. As we have noted, when they returned they brought a young disciple with them. He was John Mark, who would later be the cause of Saul and Barnabas parting company. Saul, who expected young Mark to be more resilient and persevering, had little patience with him. Therefore, Barnabas would later take John Mark under wing, as he had Saul, and mentor him. Mark would prove to be a worthy servant and teacher. (Acts 15:36- 41)
When they all arrived back at Antioch, the Prophets received a message from the Holy Spirit. It was, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” This was the beginning of the missionary journeys of Saul, of which there would be three. It was the beginning of the spreading the gospel throughout all of the Roman world, which even went as far as Britain. It would be through Saul, who was to be called Paul on his first missionary journey, that the church would finally really break its’ ethnic cocoon. (13:9) And, all of it happened because there were people who received a message from God and acted upon it.
As always, the church began with a word from God just as Abraham’s wanderings began with a word from God. Likewise, a promise made to Abraham was being fulfilled that “all nations on earth would be blessed through him” and his people. (Genesis 18:16-19) What began with a small and insignificant family grew to a nation and that nation the catalyst for reaching the nations of the world with the wonderful message of God’s love and inclusiveness.