The church in Antioch must have been an incredible place! The congregation would have been reasonably big; at least 5 prophets and teachers are named here: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manean and Saul. And what’s more, these five are drawn from all over: Israel, Cyrene, and Africa. Oh – that the church today were so diverse. To our shame, we are so often mono-cultural. White anglo-saxon protestant churches separate from Aboriginal churches separate from Korean churches separate from African churches; churches divided according to culture or language or race. How is this so, when “in Christ there is no divide”? Oh!, that we could be one.
But I want to focus on the first 3 verses. We’re told that the five mentioned were worshipping the Lord and fasting. Why fasting? Because they were desperate for God. That’s why we fast. That’s why it was inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast while he was with them (Mark 2:18-22). Why long for the very person who is with you? Should Christians today fast? Yes. Not because we want to force God to speak to us or show us what he would have us do. We are to fast because we want to worship God, and because we long for his presence.
You see, what we’ve got here is a bunch of Christians loving and longing for God. And you know what? God responds. He tells them that he’s got a job for two of them. That doesn’t mean he was displeased with the other 3. It just means God wanted to re-task Barnabas and Saul. Even then, to their credit, they didn’t stop praying and straight away send Saul and Barnabas off. No. They kept praying and fasting. Seeking, perhaps, for absolute certainty that this is what God wanted. And then they sent the two out on their way with the blessing of the church.
They left the comfortable integrated, multi-cultural surrounds of the Antiochan church for the outside world. Heading for destinations that had yet to hear the good news of Jesus. The missionary journeys of Paul are remarkable. We see God’s kingdom crashing up against that of Satan. We see the kingdom resisted (twice here: Acts 13:8 with Elymas the Magician and 13:45 – the jealous Jews). And we see God’s kingdom triumph (Elymas is blinded whilst his master, the governor becomes a believer. Acts 13:48 – all those chosen for eternal life became believers!)
Sometimes, when we long for God with all our being, he calls us to serve him where we are – like Simeon, Lucius and Manean. Other times he calls us away from our comfort zones to serve him elsewhere. But regardless of where we are serving, I need to remember this one thing: God is real. His kingdom is real. And his kingdom is advancing more and more against that of this world. There is opposition. And wherever I am, I will face it. With all that Paul and Barnabas endure, let’s not forget that it was in Antioch that the Christians were first disparagingly called “Christans” (Acts 11:26). But God’s will will be done.
Lord, help me to love and long for you more and more and more. I know that I am not yet like you, Jesus. Thank you for forgiving me. And thank you for using me. Please make me more desperate for you. And please make me bold for you and your kingdom and your name wherever you want me to be. Amen.