The Purpose of Missions (Acts 12:24-13:3) | Jared Betts

The Fate of the Gospel

Our portion of Scripture opens with a statement that stands in stark contrast to the fate of Herod Agrippa I, who, in an attempt to gain approval among the people, took it upon himself to attempt to destroy the people of Christ and prevent the message of life they proclaimed from permeating through out the land. Herod, however, was found to be doing the very thing a man by the name of Gamaliel had warned against. He was found to be fighting against God Himself as He set out to destroy those who were inextricably linked to Him. So, after Herod refused to give God the glory for his life and took it for himself instead, God killed him. God stripped him of the very thing he gloried in, himself and his life. As Psalm 146:3-4 says:

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.”

Nothing of Herod continued on after that day.

The fate of the gospel, however, is recorded by Luke to have continued to flourish among the hearts and minds of the people. Herod was eaten by worms and died, but the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. Remember Gamaliel’s wise words to the men who wanted to do harm to the Apostles when he said in Acts 5:38-39:

38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”

Mankind will never prevail against God and His gospel. Think about the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:8-10 when he says to Timothy:

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.”

Mankind may be able to succeed in hindering us. They can ridicule us. They can beat us. They can imprison us and even kill us, but they can neither confine nor kill the living God and His gospel. Christ will build His church with it, and the world will never succeed in prevailing against Him. His word will continue to grow and be multiplied no matter what.

Luke says in Acts 12:25:

“25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”

Remember that they had been sent by the church in Antioch to bring a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea who were suffering because of a great famine that was devasting the known world at the time.[1] Having fulfilled their duty, they now returned to the church within Antioch Syria.

Beginning The Second Volume of Acts

We have now reached a point in the book of Acts where one could say we are starting the second volume of Acts. It would be helpful for us to recall from whence we first came. Call to remembrance the beginning of Acts, particularly chapter one verse 8, when Jesus says to His apostles:

“You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

We should understand that the book of Acts is an account of the Living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, building His church with His gospel through His apostles by the power of the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose. Chapters 1-12 contain accounts of the Father’s purpose being accomplished in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria. Chapter 13 is where we begin to see the Father’s purpose being accomplished to the remotest parts of the earth. The first part of Acts catalogued the Spirit’s work through Peter. The second part of Acts focuses primarily on the Spirit’s work through Paul.

Luke draws our attention to the church at Antioch, which was a body of believers that came into being because of the persecution that arose in connection with the death of Stephen. He first focuses us upon the leadership of the church, which consisted of not only Barnabas and Saul, two men who do not really need an introduction, but also:

  1.  Simeon (or Simon) who was called Niger –

This was his Roman surname meaning “Black”. Some theorize that this is the same Simon the Cyrenian that bore the cross of Christ, though there is nothing really to support this.[2]

  • Lucius of Cyrene –

There is hardly any information on this man. Some believe this to be Luke himself, the author of Acts, but like the theory of Simeon, there is absolutely no evidence to support this. This Lucious, however, may be the same man that Paul salutes in the latter part of his letter to the Romans, but that is still speculation.[3]

  • Manaen –

Manaen, might be the most intriguing person within this list. The Hebrew form of this man’s name is Manahem. As Luke points out, he had had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch. In other words, Manaen was Herod Antipas’ foster-brother. Herod Antipas, by the way, is not the one who became worm food in the previous portion. Herod the tetrarch is speaking of the Herod in Christ’s life. This means that Manaen was not only educated alongside of the very man who mercilessly mocked Jesus before He endured the cross, but that he was also cared for by the man who set out to slaughter the Christ when He was but newborn. I cannot help but quote Matthew Henry’s thoughts on this reality:

“What different course do men take who once were companions! Herod and Manaen, brought up together, one becomes a profligate, a persecutor, the murder of John, awfully mocking Christ, and dying in exile, – the other a disciple of Jesus, and a preacher of the gospel. By grace are we saved. The Lord makes us to differ from others. Had Manaen joined his young royal companion in sin, he might have gained worldly advancement. And was he a loser? He could not be a loser, for the lips of Truth have said it. His advantages were now sanctified, and he was usefully employed.”

Truly, by grace are we saved.

As we can see, these men functioned within the church as prophets and teachers. We realize that this was a time in the church when the canon of Scripture had not come to completion, and it was, therefore, necessary for God to speak to His people not only through the means of Apostle’s but prophets as well.

According to Theyer’s Greek Lexicon, a prophet was a person who was:

“One who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as relate to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation.”

They were people that had been:

“Filled with the Spirit of God, who by God’s authority and command in words of weight pleads the cause of God and urges salvation of men.”

Concerning those prophets we see within the apostolic age, we find that:

“They are associated with the apostles. They discerned and did what is best for the Christian cause, foretelling certain future events.[4] In the religious assemblies of the Christians, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, having power to instruct, comfort, encourage, rebuke, convict, and stimulate, their hearers.”

Scripturally speaking, Apostles and prophets were used by Christ for laying the foundation of His church, with Him being its cornerstone.[5] All of us understand that when a person builds a house, the foundation only gets laid once. There is no need for a foundation to be continually laid. This means that with both the death of the Apostles and the completed canon of Scripture, there is no longer new revelation coming from God, because everything God wants us to understand pertaining to Himself, and the church, and life, and godliness, He was laid down within the confines of His Word through the apostles and prophets. Every time we turn out attention to the Scripture, we are gazing upon the foundation He laid through them, with Him being its cornerstone.

All Scripture is God-breathed. As Peter said, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”[6] The Word of God is from the very breath of God, and it is enough for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so that the people of God may be equipped for every good work.[7]

Teachers is the Greek word didaskalos, which speaks of a person who holds discourse with others in order to instruct through didactic discourses. They expound and explain in an attempt to impart instruction and doctrine into others.

I believe we should interpret Luke’s description of these men in the sense that all of them were prophets and teachers, and it is not that some were prophets and the others were teachers explaining what the prophets said. Much like in Ephesians 4:11 when Paul speaks about Christ giving Pastors and teachers to His church. He is referring to one specific office that would be occupied by a plurality of men known as an eldership. The terminology here denotes both their divinely given authority within the church as well as the precise way in which they exercised it. In other words, what they received from God, they then expounded upon in the hearing of His people to give the sense of what was said so that the people might live in accordance with what was revealed and taught. These men were the shepherds in Antioch.

Luke tells us in Acts 13:2 that:

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

Now, the word for ministering here is an interesting one, and it further reinforces the fact that these men functioned as the leadership of the church at Antioch. The word is leitourgeō. On a very basic level it is used to speak of someone who renders public service to the state. This is seen in Romans 13:6 when Paul says:

For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.”

It is also used, however, to speak of those who render service to God in the context of public worship. We see this in Hebrews 10:11 where the author of Hebrews says:

11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

The author of Hebrews even uses it in Hebrews 8:2 in reference to Christ who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens saying that we have such a High Priest who is “a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” The picture painted here is clearly one with the worship of God in mind.

Our word for liturgy is actually derived from this word. This word tends to cause some people to shrivel because people associate it with supposed “life-less” worship, but that should not be the case. Liturgy simply refers to the components and order of a worship service. Every local church, therefore, is liturgical to some extent.

What is being conveyed here in this portion of Acts is that these men were actively involved in directing the church in the worship of God, they were ministering to the Lord, and it is from this body of men that God the Spirit demanded that they set apart for Him Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them.

We see that the men fasted, which meant that they abstained from food for a prolonged period of time to demonstrate their utter helplessness and dependance upon God; they prayed, which we understand to be an act of worship whereby we declare our own insufficiency and cry out in dependency upon the living God who is all-sufficient; and they laid their hands on them, which was a visible way of showing that  Paul and Barnabas were being designated to a new work that all of them were in agreement upon. After all this they sent them away to the work which the Spirit had sovereignly called them to and separated them for.

Why Saul and Barnabas?

An important question for us to ask at this point is this: Why Saul and Barnabas? Why not two other people within the believing community at Antioch so that Saul and Barnabas could continue the work they were faithfully doing?

I believe there are at least a few reasons for this. The first relates mainly to Saul and what Jesus had said concerning him. The second is in regard to a principle that we see set forth in the Scripture, and the third directly relates to the purpose of the work the Spirit specifically called them to:

  1. Saul was a chosen vessel of Christ’s.

The Spirit separated Saul from the other men because Christ had already determined to use him for this purpose. In Acts 9:15, Jesus declared that Saul was a “chosen instrument” of His to bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” Consider the account Paul gives to king Agrippa about his conversion on the road to Damascus. In Acts 26:15-18, he recounts how Jesus said to him:

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”

Again, the Spirit called Saul to this work because Christ has chosen him for this purpose.

  • God desires faithful men to be entrusted with His work.

This is not to say that God can never use certain people. If God can speak through the mouth of an ass, which His dealings with Balaam demonstrate that He can, he can certainly use whomever He wants. This, however, does not mean we put God to the test and live in such a way that He always works in spite of us.

It is possible for us as Christians to render ourselves as useless to the cause of Christ. If it were not so, we would not find such a statement made by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:21 where he points out that those who strive to keep themselves clean from sin “will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” Think upon Peter’s words as well in 2 Peter 1:5-8 when he encourages the church to press on in their progressive sanctification as they conform to Christ’s image, applying all diligence in their faith to supply moral excellence, and knowledge, and self-control, and perseverance, and godliness, and brotherly kindness, and love, saying in verse 8:

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Conversely, this means that if these qualities are not yours and are not gradually increasing you are rendered useless.

We should all have a healthy understanding of the fact that because God is sovereign, He does not need us to accomplish what He has purposed to do. He does, however, desire to use us as the means through which He carries out His eternal purposes. We are useful means when we strive to be vessels of honor, sanctified, and useful to Him for every good work.

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 when he says:

“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

It could be argued that this is exactly why Paul refused to take John Mark with them on their second missionary journey. At some point in the first journey, John Mark deserted them and did not go with them to the work. He showed himself to be unfaithful, and Paul marked him as such.

Again, a general principle set forth in the Scripture is that God uses faithful people who are actively serving within the context of a local church as the means through which He accomplishes His purpose. Not only had Saul and Barnabas shown themselves faithful by completing their relief mission to the church in Judea, they were faithfully ministered to the Lord in the church at Antioch.

  • The purpose of the work to which the Spirit called them.

This work they were called to did not supersede the work that was going on in Antioch, it was rather superadded to it. In other words, the work the Spirit called them to did not take over the work that was going on at Antioch. It became an addition to what was going on there.

The work to which the Spirit had called them was not merely to make converts, but to plant churches with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only people qualified to plant churches are those who have shown themselves to be men that are qualified to lead them in the worship of the Living God.

It is worth noting that before Paul and Barnabas completed their first journey, they went back through every church they planted and they appointed elders within each one.

The Purpose of Missions

At this point it is imperative we ask ourselves, what is the purpose of missions? Is the chief end of missions so that people might be saved? No! Eternal security in Christ is not the end for which we are saved. The end for which we are saved is so that we might worship God in spirit and in truth. It is so people might come to affirm the glorious nature of the Living God and worship Him rightly and live for pleasingly. Missions is necessary, because there regions upon this earth where God is not being worshipped for who He is and what He has done for sinner in His Son, Jesus Christ.

We must grasp this truth. The Great Commission is not a commission to make converts. Now, conversion certainly occurs when the commission is being carried out, but conversion is not the chief aim of the commission. The chief aim of the Great Commission is so that Christ might be worshipped with the heart, soul, mind, and strength of individuals whose hearts are truly His. It is to make students of Christ who love Him and who seek to obey all that He has commanded. Do not let it escape your notice what the apostles were doing before they received the commission to go into all the world and make disciples. Matthew 28:16-17 tells us:

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him.”

The Commission is essentially Christ’s way of saying:

“Go and make people who will do likewise. Go and make people who will worship Me in spirit and in truth for such people the Father desires to be His worshippers.”

Within the church at Antioch there was a thriving body of men in leadership that were faithfully guiding the church in the worship of God. The Spirit then separated for Himself Saul and Barnabas so that He might send them to areas where the Living God was not being worshipped so that people within those regions might come to know Him through Christ and proclaim the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Again, the purpose of missions is not merely so people can taste of the goodness of God, but so that God can be glorified for His goodness in Christ as it is revealed in His gospel.

Worshipped Locally and Abroad

We see in this text the Living God’s desire to be worshipped both locally and abroad. May we therefore do as Jesus says in Matthew 9:38 and “beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest”, for “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

May we understand that we will never be effective abroad if we are not first faithful locally. May we, therefore, be a pillar and support of the truth within this community. May we understand that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. May we, therefore, take God’s beautiful gospel and strive to ensure that people come to affirm the glorious nature of the Living God and worship Him rightly, for such are the people He seeks to be His worshippers.

[1] Acts 11:27-30

[2] Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26

[3] Romans 16:21

[4] Acts 11:27

[5] Ephesians 2:

[6] 2 Peter 1:21

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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