St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Divine Call

Sermon on Acts 13:1-5

Text: Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

In May of 1990, I was sitting with my wife in the gymnasium of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, anxiously waiting to see where I would be Called to serve upon graduation. I heard WELS President Mischke say, “Steven R. Kahrs to Zion Lutheran Church, Mission, South Dakota, Nebraska District.” It was on April 1, 1997, that I received a telephone call informing me that I had been Called to serve at Zion and St. John. As we study our text for this morning, we are going to use it as an opportunity to study THE DIVINE CALL. Now is a good time to talk about this subject, as there are no emotions connected with a Call being held at the present time. We see that the individual is 1. Called By The Holy Spirit and that they are then 2. Sent By The Holy Spirit.

The church of God was thriving in the Syrian city of Antioch. At the time of our text, Antioch had the largest number of believers in Jesus. In Acts 11:26, we read “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” When there was a famine in the land, the Christians in Antioch sent a gift to their fellow believers in Jerusalem.

In speaking of this congregation, we read “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers” (Verse 1) and it goes on to list these men. First of all, we find Barnabas. His name meant “Son of Encouragement.” We find mention of this man scattered throughout the previous chapters. He sold a field and gave the proceeds to the early church. He vouched for Saul to the church, when Saul came to Jerusalem. He went to look for Saul, when Saul returned to his hometown of Tarsus. The next man is Simeon called Niger. We know little about this man other than, he was probably dark-skinned or of African descent, due to the word “Niger.” Next we hear of Lucius of Cyrene. Again, we know little about him, other than the fact that he came from the city of Cyrene, which was on the northern coast of Africa. The next man is Manaen. It says that he was brought up with or was foster brother with Herod the tetrarch, also known as Herod Antipas. This was the Herod who put John the Baptist to death. Finally, we come to Saul. We know him better by his other name, Paul, who would become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, missionaries of all time.

What could possibly bring these men, with their varied backgrounds and life experiences, together? It was a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. It was a commitment to the Word of God. It was a love for souls and a zeal to go wherever God put them to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what unities us today, as well. We are joined together as a congregation and as a church body. This is because we, first of all, know what and who we are by nature. We are sinners. We have sinned against God with our thoughts, words, and actions. We are lost and condemned creatures, who should hear God’s sentence of an eternity in hell. However, we have also been brought to believe in Jesus Christ as our only hope for salvation. We believe that Jesus came to the earth to be our Substitute. We know that he lived a perfect life in our place. We know that our sins were paid for because Jesus took our punishment on the cross. We rejoice in the news of Easter, because we heard Jesus’ proclamation of victory. This common faith brings people of different backgrounds and experiences into one body.

It says in verse 2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” In some fashion, the Holy Spirit let it be known to this group that he had chosen, that he had Called Barnabas and Saul to continue their gospel ministry elsewhere. There was no doubt as to what Barnabas and Saul were to do next. The Holy Spirit directly Called them to go and serve.

Today, the Calling process is different. The Holy Spirit doesn’t directly Call pastors or teachers to go and serve in particular places. Rather, the Holy Spirit does his work through a Calling body, which is usually a local congregation, though it could be through a school or a mission board. However, this does not make the Call any less divine. As the Call lists that are provided are discussed, a prayer is offered before a vote is taken to Call that the Holy Spirit would bless the Calling process and that he would lead them to Call the individual that he has in mind. Because we know that God answers prayers, we know that he blesses this process and leads the Calling body to extend a Call to that person.

Does this mean, if a person receives a Call, that they must accept it, since the Holy Spirit is the one who led the body to Call them? The answer is, “No.” You see, that person is already serving God in their current Call. They use this opportunity to see where they can better use the talents and abilities that God has given them. It might be, after prayerful consideration, that they see that they can better use their gifts at a different location. It may also be that they see that their talents and abilities better fit where they are, at present. One more note about the Calling process. Barnabas and Saul didn’t go looking for a different Call than what they were doing presently. The individual Called worker is not to go looking for some other place to serve. Since this is where the Holy Spirit has Called them to serve, this is where they are to be and this is where they are to find their joy and satisfaction.

Having been released from their previous Call, verse 4 continues, “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.” The Holy Spirit led Barnabas and Saul to where they were to serve. They went to the seaport of Seleucia and, from there, sailed to the island of Cyprus. Barnabas had grown up on Cyprus, so he would have had at least some familiarity with the place and the culture. This would not always be the case. The events recorded for us in these verses are the beginning of what would be three missionary journeys for the apostle Paul. He would go to other place in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. He would go to various cities in Greece. He would be arrested in Jerusalem, which meant that he would spend time in Rome. It was a far cry from where Barnabas and Saul (Paul) had come from.

This reminds us that the Holy Spirit, as he Calls individuals to serve him, may send them to places that are far away from home. It may be hundreds or thousand miles away from where they started. They will be asked to serve individuals who may be different from where they grew up. They may have to learn a new culture. It may be something as minor as rural versus urban. It may be a different culture because of the nationalities present. It may even entail learning a new language. The Call that comes from the Holy Spirit may be inconvenient or difficult. Yet, it is a Call that comes from him and he promises that he will be with those he sends.
We see the beginnings of a pattern that Paul would follow on all of his missionary journeys in verse 5, “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.” Usually, Paul would go to those places where the people had at least some knowledge of the Old Testament. He did this so that he could tell them that the one they had been waiting for had come, and his name was Jesus. This is not to say that, if there were no synagogues, Paul wouldn’t tell anyone about Jesus. He used whatever circumstances he found himself in to tell about Jesus. May we learn from this example of Paul. We will run into people every day with varying knowledges of what and who Jesus is. May God help us to meet people where they are at to share the wondrous news of salvation with them.

Our text concludes with the words, “John was with them as their helper.” (Verse 5) We learn from the book of Colossians that John was Barnabas’ cousin. John went along with Barnabas and Saul to be their helper. We don’t know exactly what help John had come along to do. Some scholars think the John came along to teach the children the gospel message. Whatever his duties were, he went to help Barnabas and Saul, even though he wasn’t Called to be a missionary. This is a good reminder that every person has a role to play in the gospel ministry. We use the talents and abilities that God gives to help with the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior of all. What can be done in our congregations by us? We use the financial resources that God gives us to support the gospel ministry at home, in our country, and around the world. We certainly can pray for those who carry out the gospel ministry. God gives us opportunities to serve him as John did on Cyprus.

The fact of the matter is there will always be a need for gospel ministry until Jesus comes back in glory. There will always be people who haven’t heard the good news of salvation. We are reminded of the account in Matthew 9: “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38) May we join our voices in asking that God would continue to send out people with the gospel message, ones who will respond to God’s Calling by saying, “Here I am. Send me.” Amen.