Pastor David B. Curtis


The Church at Antioch

Acts 13:1-3

Delivered 05/03/2009

We are going to be looking today at the church in Antioch. We first heard about this church back in the end of Acts chapter 11:

So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. (Acts 11:19 NASB)

We saw in chapter 8 that when Stephen was martyred, Christians began leaving Jerusalem under persecution. Brand new Christians were being dispersed across the map. They went to Samaria and Caesarea on the coast. Now in chapter 11 we observe that they went farther north to Phoenicia and Antioch, and they went to the Island of Cyprus.

But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. (Acts 11:20 NASB)

This verse documents another significant advance in the mission of the Church: for the first time Luke recorded Jews aggressively evangelizing non-Jews. Now believing Jews were taking the initiative to reach out to Gentiles with the Gospel.

The prophet Agabus came to Antioch and predicted a famine would hit. So in fulfilment of prophecy, the Gentile believers took up an offering and sent it to Jerusalem:

"Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. (Isaiah 60:5 NASB)

God said that when Israel was saved, the Gentiles would also come to the light, and the Gentiles would give their wealth to Israel. When the believers at Antioch sent a contribution to Judea, the Gentiles were bringing their wealth to Israel. They were, in fact, fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah:

And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. (Acts 11:29-30 NASB)

Then chapter 12 takes us back to Jerusalem and the persecution of Herod. God sets Peter free from prison, a picture of resurrection; and kills Herod, a picture of Jerusalem's judgment. God resurrects His true people Israel, the Church, and judges Jerusalem, who is now the enemy of God.

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark. (Acts 12:25 NASB)

After delivering the Antioch Christians' gift to the church in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch taking with them John Mark. The round trip between Antioch and Jerusalem would have been a distance of about 560 miles.

We have already seen that Barnabas and Saul had labored one whole year together in the city of Antioch, and we now learn that at the close of this period there were other inspired teachers associated with them:

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1 NASB)

So now we are back at the church at Antioch. Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, was the capital of the province of Syria. A city of natural beauty, it was known as the "Heathen Queen." It was a center of government, commerce, and theaters. Roman emperors, Greek poets. and Chaldean astrologers were frequent visitors. In the midst of that spiritually darkened city, however, God had His fellowship of believers who were faithfully spreading the spiritual light of the good news of Jesus Christ. Among them He had placed spiritually gifted leaders, prophets. and teachers, to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry throughout the city and within the church.

Do you remember what we said last week about the transition that takes place here? Acts 12 is the end of one era, and chapter 13 is the beginning of another. We see in this chapter the transition from Peter to Paul, from the Jews to the Gentiles, and from Jerusalem to Antioch. >From here on out, the churches that are founded and that grow are predominantly Gentile in makeup. The new center for world evangelization is now Antioch.

Do you remember what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:?

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. (John 4:21 NASB)

Jesus predicted a time when Judaism would fade, where Judaism would cease to be the prevalent issue. And we find that in Chapter 13 this begins to be true.

"Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers": We know already that prophets had come from Jerusalem to Antioch (11.27). But here we see that Antioch had its own prophets.

Although there is much difference of opinion about the description and function of New Testament prophets, it would seem that their main role was to proclaim to the Church direct revelation that they received from God. Sometimes it would be to predict a future event (11:27-28; 21:10-11). At other times, it would be a word of edification, exhortation, or consolation (1 Cor. 14:3). Paul tells us the importance of prophets in Ephesians:

having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, (Ephesians 2:20 NASB)

This is not a very good translation. Young's puts it this way:

being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being chief corner-stone, (Ephesians 2:20 YLT)

The process was still occurring. They were "being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophet." So once the foundation was laid, these gifts ceased. Another way of saying that is: We don't believe the Scriptures are still being written today. Once they were completed, as we have them, the need for that unique gift of a prophet had ended.

One commentator writes, "Since we too live in the last days, should we in the church expect to find prophets foretelling the future?" What is wrong with that question? We are not living in the "last days." The last days ended in the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70. And when the last days ended, so did the ministry of prophets. There are no prophets today! There aren't any prophets today because the Word of God gives us all we need. If you want to know God's mind on a matter, read your Bible.

Luke also mentions teacher--is the gift of teaching still functioning today? Most Christians would probably says yes. But in order to answer that question, we need to know what a spiritual gift is. The gift of teaching is a God given supernatural ability to understand and systematically pass on spiritual truth. The key here being "supernatural." When they were teaching in the New Testament Church, what were they teaching? They didn't have the New Testament Scripture, so what were they teaching? The fulfilment of the First Testament and the Apostles Doctrine.

There is a lot of confusion today about spiritual gifts; do you know why that is? It's because they were for the last days, and when the last days ended, so did the gifts. Just like the manna ceased when Israel entered the land of promise after forty years of transition, so spiritual gifts ended when the Church entered the fullness of the New Covenant after forty years of transition. This is why so many believers have no clue as to what their gifts are, they don't have any.

If I had the spiritual gift of teaching, " a God given supernatural ability to understand and systematically pass on spiritual truth," would I change my doctrine? Would I teach from an Arminian position and then later teach from a Calvinistic position? No. But I, in fact, have changed my theology many times.

If the gift of teaching was functioning today, wouldn't all teachers be saying the same thing? If it is a supernatural function of the Holy Spirit, would the Holy Spirit be teaching different things?

The talents and abilities that we have come from God and are to be used for His glory. God providentially leads, guides, and uses us for His glory. Spiritual Gifts were for the age of immaturity, they are no longer needed or given.

I have good news for you: You can stop wasting your time trying to figure out what you spiritual gift is and just be busy serving Him with all the talents and abilities He has given you.

Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1 NASB)

Luke tells us that there were five prominent prophets and teachers in the Antioch church at this time. It is not very apparent from the English text, but in the Greek version it is clear that there were three men who were prophets and two who were teachers. The Greek construction suggests that Barnabas, Simeon, and Lucius were prophets, and Manaen and Saul were teachers.

The prophets were: Barnabas, whom we know and have met before; Simeon, who was called Niger (that, by the way, is a reference to the area of Africa now known as Nigeria and indicates that perhaps this man was a black; many scholars feel that he was); and Lucius of Cyrene, also from North Africa. We may have met this man, Simeon, in the Gospels, as the one who was impressed by the Romans to bear the cross of Jesus on His way to the crucifixion [Matt 27:32].

Then there were two teachers. Manaen was a member of the court of Herod the Tetrarch. This is not the Herod we met in chapter twelve, whose death is recorded there, but this Herod is the one under whom our Lord suffered and before whom He appeared. The Greek text again makes clear that this man, Manaen, was a foster brother of Herod. Saul was, of course, a Roman citizen from Tarsus and a Pharisee. The amazing thing here is that he is listed only as a teacher. He is not called an apostle, he is not even a prophet; he is a teacher in the church at Antioch. At this point in his career, he was known for his ability to teach the Word of God.

Nothing more is known of Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen than is stated here in our text. The names of these men, along with details supplied by Luke, indicate that they were a diverse group. They appear to be functioning as the leadership of this newly-born church. As with all the churches at the time, there is no single leadership. Even Barnabas is numbered along with the five and not seen as a single leader. The same is true of the Jerusalem church, which is also not seen as having a single leader.

We have said this before, but when the word "elder" is used with reference to a local church, it is always in the plural; "elders of the church" (11:30; 14:23; 20:17). Sole bishops or overseers were unknown in the early church. The Church is to be governed by a group of godly men.

And 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." (Acts 13:2 NASB)

The word translated "ministering" is from the Greek word leitourgeo. It is a word that is usually employed in the LXX for the service of priests and Levites in the temple. To be "ministering to the Lord" would involve worship along with prophesying and teaching the gathered people.

Why were they fasting? The text doesn't tell us. It just tells us that they were doing it. We'll talk about fasting in a couple of minutes.

While this church is worshiping, "the Holy Spirit said..." Now we know what He said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." When the Lord sent Ananias to open Saul's eyes just after his conversion, He told Ananias that Saul "is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel" (9:15). Saul had already been called by God, now he was being set apart for that calling.

So we know "what" the Holy Spirit said, but we really don't know "how" He said it. My guess would be that the Holy Spirit spoke to the church through one of these men whom Luke has listed and has designated as a prophet.

So the church at Antioch could say, "The Holy Spirit told us to set apart Barnabus and Saul," because He did, although we're not sure how.

How about today? Is the Holy Spirit still telling believers what to do? Yes, I would say that He absolutely is. The disagreement that I would have with many would be "how" does He speak? Is it an audible voice, an impression, a prophetic word, or through the written word?

Based on the Biblical revelation, there are four ways in which the Holy Spirit guides:

  1. Special Guidance--by divine voice, prophet, angel, dream, or miracle. This is what we see in our text. The Spirit supernaturally speaks to them through a prophet. This method of guidance ended with the New Age.
  2. Sovereign Guidance--by sovereign control over all things. This would be God leading you to a new job by eliminating your old one.
  3. Moral Guidance--by the revealed commands and principles in the Word of God. God's moral will is clearly laid out for us in His Word.
  4. Wisdom Guidance--by acquired wisdom; things learned from the Word and through providence.

This church in Antioch knew what God's will was for Barnabus and Saul. They knew because God had spoken to them. How do we determine the will of God today? We do so through the last three given above. God sovereignly leads us; nothing we can do about that. We are to have a thankful submissive attitude. God guides us by His Word and through wisdom. So how do we determine the will of God for us? We find out what the Bible says, and we seek wisdom, we submit to providence.

As an example, let's say that I want to know who to marry. How do I find God's will for who I should marry? Special--I hear a voice from heaven saying, "Marry Joe." Don't expect this. Sovereign--he, or she, also must want to marry you. Moral--what does the Bible say? Marry a believer! You are free to marry any believer you want. Wisdom--are we compatible, do we get along well, what do our godly friends and relatives say, does he, or she, help or hinder me spiritually?

Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:3 NASB)

"They" could be as narrow as the five leaders or as broad as the congregation. The laying on of hands does express identification. The others said, in effect, "We are entirely with you in your mission"; so that in full fellowship, and without jealousy or rivalry, they sent them forth.

The importance of this paragraph, verses 1-3, is that it describes the first piece of planned "mission." Up to this point, evangelism has occurred, but not missions. The persecution resulting from the death of Stephen scattered the saints from Jerusalem, and many of these saints shared their faith wherever they went. But had you asked any of these saints why they were leaving Jerusalem, they would not have told you that it was as a part of a massive missions program of the church in Jerusalem. They fled to save their lives, not to save souls. Evangelism happened providentially, but that was not the believer's aim. Now the church, directed by the Holy Spirit, made a conscious decision to send forth Barnabas and Saul for the purpose of what we might call "missionary activity." It is significant that evangelistic mission is going forth from Antioch and not Jerusalem.

Now I would like to spend the rest of our time this morning talking about the subject of fasting. You notice that twice in our text Luke mentions fasting:

And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting...3 Then, when they had fasted ... (Acts 13:2-3 NASB)

Why were they fasting? We don't know why they were fasting, but we do know that fasting was part of the religious life of Israel:

"And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:16 NASB)

Jesus was teaching a group of people who commonly practiced fasting. On Mondays and Thursdays it was usual with the more pious Jews to attend the public service in their synagogues and to fast. The Pharisee said in his prayer:

'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' (Luke 18:12 NASB)

So fasting was part of the religious life of Israel.

What about us, are we supposed to fast? We don't hear much about fasting these days; I have never heard a message on it, and there certainly are not many books about it. But like every other subject, all Christians have an opinion on it. There are those who feel that fasting needs to be bound upon all Christians as a matter of faith. They have made rules and reasons for fasting and try to control others in this exercise. On the subject of fasting, John Piper writes: "God has confirmed in my own experience this week the value of fasting in getting long-prayed-for breakthroughs. I believe that if we seek the Lord with the hunger of fasting, there will be many more such breakthroughs that we long for. Is there something you have been praying for a long time? Is there an unbeliever you would like God to awaken to spiritual things? Is there a broken relationship you would like God to reconcile? Is there a perplexity of direction on the horizon of your life? I believe that God is calling us to rediscover the place of fasting in appropriating his power."

So according to Piper, fasting is twisting God's arm. Then there are those who consider fasting totally unnecessary. Who's right? It is imperative that our view of fasting be Biblical.

What does the Bible say about fasting? Is fasting commanded in the First Testament, the Tanakh? Yes! How often? Once a year. The only fast that was commanded under the Law of Moses was on the Day of Atonement. So, only once in the First Testament is a fast commanded. How about in the New? Are believers commanded to fast in the New Testament? Not that I can find.

When Jesus was asked, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" He answered:

And Jesus said to them, "While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 "But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:19-20 NASB)

What does the initial reading of these verses tell us? While the bridegroom is present, the attendants are not to fast. Do you see that? To understand this text we need to know who the bridegroom is and who the attendants are. Who is the bridegroom? In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus pictures His Second Coming as the arrival of the "Bridegroom." Jesus was pointing to Himself as the great Bridegroom whose presence meant that men need not fast.

So, Jesus is the bridegroom. Who are the attendants? The word "attendants" is from the Greek word huios, which means: "a son." The attendants are the guests invited to the wedding--the kingdom citizens--Christians.

So in verse 19, Jesus is saying that as long as He is present, it is not a time to fast but to rejoice. Now look at what He says:

"But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:20 NASB)

The "bridegroom," who was now here, would one day be "taken away" (this is the Greek word apairo). The root word from which it comes is used of "death" in Acts 8:33. This same verb is used by Isaiah in speaking of the Messiah in Isaiah 53:8. Jesus knew that He was called on to fulfil the ministry of the suffering Servant, and this was confirmed by John's words, "Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1.29). Jesus knew that He must face suffering on behalf of His people. And then, indeed, His disciples would fast. This is a reference to the cross.

Jesus, at a later time, spoke of the time immediately following the crucifixion in terms of sorrow and, therefore, possibly of fasting when He said to His disciples:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy.(John 16:20 NASB)

In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus pictures His Second Coming as the arrival of the bridegroom. In other words, the "bridegroom" is taken away until the "Second Coming of Christ," which is a time of great joy. So Jesus connects Christian fasting with the longing for the return of the bridegroom.

Now I want to ask you a question: Should we fast today? That depends on your view of eschatology! Is Jesus with us today or not? Are we waiting for Him to come, or has He come? What age are we living in?

I believe, based upon the time statements, that Jesus returned in A.D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. The Lord clearly told His disciples and us WHEN He would return:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. 28 "Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Matthew 16:27-28 NASB)

Verse 27 clearly speaks of the Second Coming, He comes with the angels to reward every man. Compare this with:

"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12 NASB)

So Christ is speaking to His disciples of His Second Coming. Now look at the next verse":

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."(Matthew 16:28 NASB)

Who are the "YOU" of this verse? Verse 24 tells us that Jesus is speaking to His disciples. So Jesus is saying to His disciples who were standing there that some of them would still be alive when He returned in the Second Coming.

Now some say He is talking about the transfiguration of Matthew 17:2, but that is only six days later, and none of them had died in that six day period. Did He come in the glory of His Father with His angels and reward each according to his works at the transfiguration? Of course not! How about Pentecost? No, that was only two months later, and they were all still alive except Judas.

What are the possible explanations to this verse? I see only three, if you have others, I would like to hear them. 1. There are still some of the disciples alive today. I met a man, a Marine Corp Major, who visited our church that actually holds this view. 2. Jesus was confused or lying. I hope I could not convince any of you of that one. 3. Hang on! Jesus actually did what He said and came in the life time of His disciples. I would like to convince you all of this one. This seems like the simple and clear answer that holds to the inspiration of Scripture. Jesus did what He said He would do. I am very comfortable with that, how about you?

When I read through the language of the New Covenant, I do not see a case made for New Covenant fasting. What I do see is a huge case made for New Covenant celebration, because the bridegroom dwells within us. He is within us. Jesus referred to it as the abundant life. The bridegroom is among us! Even in the most difficult struggles of life, there is a place for joy--because in those moments, we remember what matters and what is eternal. We remember what lasts and what we have in Christ that can never be taken away. Sometimes in our deepest sorrows, we also experience our greatest joys, because the bridegroom is among us forever.

The text in Mark suggests that Jesus saw fasting as being mainly for the Old Covenant and the transition period to the New, but not for the New. The old world fasted, because they waited in penitence for God to act. But now redemption is accomplished and fasting is a thing of the past. Now is the time for rejoicing.

Then Jesus brings together a couple of parables that I think tie this whole text together. The absence of any conjunction in Mark's Greek indicates that these two proverbial expressions are intended to follow immediately upon Jesus' response about the bridegroom and members of the bridal party. In this context these proverbial statements indicate the impropriety of continuing to observe rituals of the perishing world-age in the New Creation. Understanding these proverbs in their context requires recognition of the radical character of what belongs to the New Age and its incompatibility with the institutions and observances of the perishing world-age. Jesus and His followers belong to the New Age; they cannot be expected to pay homage to the institutions or observe the ritual practices of the perishing age. The focus is sharply upon what is new:

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. (Mark 2:21 NASB)

In those days, clothes were made either from cotton or from wool. Both of these fabrics would shrink. If you had an old robe with a big hole in it and patched it up with a piece of new cloth, then the next time you washed it, the patch would shrink and rip the robe. The result would be an even bigger hole. If you wanted to patch an old robe, then you had to patch it with an old patch.

The Greek word for "patch" here is pleroma. The Greek text says: the new takes the pleroma of the old. This is a cryptic pronouncement of the destruction of the Old Covenant and the Jewish temple. The New destroys the old.

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:22 NASB)

Old wineskins were already stretched from the fermenting gas of the wine it had already carried. New wine would likewise release fermenting gas that would burst an old wineskin, which was already stretched to its limit, and both the wine and the wineskins would be lost.

In other words, The kingdom's new wine was coming in, and it was coming into the "old wineskin" of the Old Covenant. This new wine destroyed the old. The word "lost" here is apollumi, which means: "to destroy fully, to perish, or lose."

The New Covenant vitality could not be contained within the Old Covenant strictures of a racial people, a geographical land, and a typological temple, for you cannot put new wine into old wineskins. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus meant by His analogy: If the new is poured into the old, the old will burst. And burst it did. It was destroyed as the "newness of the Spirit" was "poured" into "the present evil age" of the Old Covenant principalities and powers.

The Old Covenant was a shadow of things to come. The New Covenant is the substance. Under the Old Covenant, the payment for sin was anticipated; under the New Covenant, it is realized! Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices were provisional and recurring. Under the New Covenant, the sacrifice of Jesus is eternal and totally sufficient. Under the Old Covenant, men's lambs could only cover sin, but under the New Covenant, the lamb of God takes away sin!

The Gospel is too weighty to fit into that Old Covenant kind of framework. The Gospel is not about what we do; it is about what Christ has done for us. It is not about how righteous we are, but about the righteousness of Christ for us. The Pharisees listened to the words of Christ through ears that could only think through their rigid forms. The Gospel did not fit, because it is centered in Christ and His work, so they rejected it.

The great central, decisive act of salvation for us today is past, not future. And on the basis of that past work of the "bridegroom," nothing can ever be the same again. The wine is new. The blood is shed. The Lamb is slain. The punishment of or sins is executed. Death is defeated. The "bridegroom" is risen and returned. The "bridegroom" is among us, and it is a time of joy, not fasting.

Fasting is not a discipline of the New Covenant, because Jesus Christ, the "bridegroom," is with us:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, (Revelation 21:3 NASB)

The Bridegroom is dwelling among us, and we have no need to fast.

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