The Church at Antioch Becomes the Center of Mission
Chapter thirteen marks a literary turning-point in the Book of Acts. Until now Luke has focused mostly on the work that branched out from the church in Jerusalem, reaching the rest of Judea to Samaria and even to the Gentiles. The primary character in the history was Peter. We were also introduced to Saul, persecutor and terror to the churches now turned apostle of the Lord Jesus. He shall now be Luke’s primary character, suddenly preferring his Roman name “Paul,” instead. The primary center of mission activity will move from the church in Jerusalem to the church in Antioch, a Gentile church where the believers were first called “Christians,” where Barnabas and Saul taught and encouraged the believers (11:19-26). And though Paul will preach first to the Jews when he enters a city, thinking such the divine order (13:46), most of the work will bear fruit among the Gentiles, with the Jews in hot pursuit.
So we read that in the church at Antioch, there were “prophets and teachers”: Barnabas (whom we already know), Simeon also known as Niger, Lucius of Cyrene (which was along the coast of Africa), Manaen who was a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch (Antipas, the pathetic man who had John the Baptist beheaded), and Saul (hereafter known as Paul). So in this church was one a long way from home, and a man of civic importance, Herod being aware that Manaen was a Christian or not we don’t know. (Also Paul greets “those of Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, so not all Christians of the ancient world were slaves or of the underclass as we are often told.)
But what is important is that these men were engaged in a certain holy activities: worshiping the Lord and fasting, and I assume, over a period of time. We are not told that they were fasting for a specific purpose; we may assume that it was part of their regular discipline. But it was as they were engaged in these holy disciplines that the Holy Spirit spoke to them. We must know that the Holy Spirit does not speak to us when we are engaged in sinful activities, unless it is to convict us. The Holy Spirit does not come calling us to great and wonderful deeds when we care more about receiving than giving, when we are not worshiping but only going through the motions, when we are consumed with self. No. The Holy Spirit speaks to us and calls us to glorious mission when we are walking lockstep with him. And as we see in this passage, two essential ingredients to receiving a message from him are worshiping (in sincerity and truth) and fasting.