CALLED AND COMMISSIONED
"Meanwhile the ministry of God's word grew by leaps and bounds. "Barnabas and Saul, once they had delivered the relief offering to the church in Jerusalem, went back to Antioch. This time they took John with them, the one they called Mark." Acts 12:24=25 (The Message).
Barnabas and Saul -- up to this point Saul was still the learner. Barnabas had been the teacher and initiator and Saul the follower. His apprenticeship would soon to come an end and he would become the strong leader of the missionary enterprise that would take the gospel into the heart of the Roman Empire - the very household of Caesar.
Barnabas and Saul fulfilled their commission to take help to the church in Jerusalem. They quickly returned to Syrian Antioch which was fast becoming the new centre of the church, away from Jewish persecution and far more open-minded than the Jerusalem church which was still Jewish at heart.
Another character enters the story -- John Mark, a relative of Barnabas. His name has already popped up in Luke's record, as though he was known to his reader. Who was John Mark? Traditionally he was the unknown youth who fled naked into the dark during Jesus' arrest. His mother's home was a gathering place for the church in Jerusalem, where they prayed when Peter was in prison at the hands of Herod.
He was also traditionally the author of the second gospel, having at some stage either accompanied Peter or laid his hands on a copy of Peter's memoirs which he used as a base for his gospel story. He had a chequered career as a companion of Barnabas and Saul for a short while on their first missionary journey, and a quitter who was the cause of a serious rift between Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Mark were later reconciled and he became a valuable asset to Paul in his ministry.
"The congregation at Antioch was blessed with a number of prophet-preachers and teachers: Barnabas, Simon nicknamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manean, an advisor to the ruler Herod, and Saul.
"One day, as they were worshipping God -- they were also fasting as they waited for guidance -- the Holy Spirit spoke.’Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.' "So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on them and sent them off." Acts 13: 1-3 (The Message).
Is there a clue, in these three opening verses of chapter 13, to the success of the church which is largely missing today? It would seem that this group of leaders, incidentally, made up of an interesting cross-section of black and white, were aware that they must embark on another phase of outreach and growth. Barnabas and Saul had spent time instructing the new believers and it was time to move on. Who would go and who would stay?
What did this group of leaders do? Did they call a church meeting and take a vote? Did they meet in a huddle and draw straws? They worshipped, fasted and prayed and kept doing that until the Holy Spirit spoke to them. He had his men and it was up to them to find out who they were.
It was this intimate fellowship and co-operation with the Holy Spirit that gave Paul and his companions the courage and confidence to do what they did in spite of opposition and persecution. The did not quit because they knew they were called, ordained and accompanied by the Holy Spirit on a divine commission that could not fail.
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