Acts 13:1-2, 44-52
The Sending Church
1. As there is a pulpit exchange this morning, I am thankful to be able to worship God with you all.
2. This morning I would appreciate it if you would allow me to give today's message on the topic of "The Sending Church" from The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles, in which you have already been studying. When we read Acts chapter thirteen, we can see the figure of the church that sent forth Barnabas and Saul as led by the Holy Spirit. But, how did the young Luke decipher the fact that this was from the Holy Spirit? Just because of the explanation that the Holy Spirit was at work and that they sent out two people doesn't answer the question of how was Luke able to state with conviction of the manner in which they sent the men out, and with only that statement, that their being sent out was from the Holy Spirit. At least, Luke has been able to discern that the sending of the two men was through the Holy Spirit. If we understand the reasons that Luke discerned that this sending was [of ] the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will understand in a specific way how to follow the leading of the Spirit of God. So then, this morning first off, I would like to clarify from the Word right away why Luke was able to claim [their] sending [them] as the leading of the Holy Spirit. Putting it conclusively, the figure of "The Sending Church" should become apparent to us as the figure of "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit", and going further, "The Church That Is Loved By God." So, based on the figure of the Antioch Church, I would like to confirm what the Lord wills for the modern church and for us.
The Condition Of The Antioch Church
3. [I'm] at verse two; Luke tells us the conditions of the Antioch Church that, as always, they are worshipping the Lord and fasting. It wasn't that they had gathered with a mind to do missions and after wanting to celebrate their mission plans they worshipped the Lord and fasted. Just as always, when they offered up worship to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit, perhaps through one of the prophets, spoke to them. "So now, choose out Barnabas and Saul for me. [Do that] to let them undertake the work that I have decided for them in advance," (13:2).
4. This phrase "choose out" is translated "sanctify" in a previous translation of The [Japanese] New Interconfessional Version. In Greek it has the meaning "divide, separate." In other words, the Holy Spirit said, "present two men for me." At that time, surprise and suspense must have engulfed the Antioch Church. It may have been a contradiction but, had there been any mission plans at the Antioch Church, the communication from the Spirit of God would have broken them.
5. Therefore, verse three, it looks like the group immediately answered the message from the Holy Spirit and "they fasted and prayed and after laying hands on the two men they let them set out", but it just wasn't that way. The phrase of "let them set out" in verse three uses the phrase of "let them free" [in Greek]. In other words, it was that, according to Luke, the church did not "send off" two men, but permitted them to attach to the duties of the Lord, which "set them free" from the work [they had been] dutifully [bound to] at the Antioch Church. It was under these circumstances that in verse four Luke wrote that it was the Holy Spirit who had sent these men and not the church.
The Holy Spirit Hearing Church
6. In this way then the sending of the men out wasn't so positive for the Antioch Church. What we see in reading The Book Of Acts is that it was the Holy Spirit who had opened the doors of the church to the Gentiles. When the gospel came to the Gentiles, before the Holy Spirit fell on them and they had believed on Christ, the church was not able to deny them, but did no more than recognize them. Nevertheless, why has the early church up to this point been preached as a church fervent for missions? The only reason is that it was the position of the early church taken in response to their strong sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit. As a result, "The Sending Church" was really "The Holy Spirit Hearing Church."
7. With that, next, how shall we think about what "hearing the Holy Spirit" means? The Antioch Church held a common worship and fasted in accordance with the custom of the church. They did not worship the Lord or fast out of individual zeal, or for personal reasons, or even from the reasons within the Antioch Church. The word translated as "worship" means "duty, service," but literally, they were fulfilling their mission obligation of the church as the people of God. When people hear the word "obligation and duty" they may show a negative reaction to it. But, because "obligation" in this case has the meaning "the obligation" to receive God's grace and "the obligation" to respond to the God who calls us to worship, if we were to put this another way using a different word it would be "faith."
8. I'd say that many people think that "believing in Jesus Christ" is faith. That's certainly true. But, if one only believes in Jesus Christ with the heart alone, that is not faith, just "religion." Even though one believes in Jesus Christ, when he or she doesn't worship because he or she doesn't feel like it, that is just religion in him or her. I wouldn't call that "faith." "Faith" is defined as hearing and following, because if we borrow Luke's words, it is to keep the apostles' doctrine, maintain mutual fellowship, break bread together, and be fervent in prayer," (Acts 2:42).
9. By the way, "the worship that you ought to give" in Romans 12:1 is translated in the previous Interconfessional Version as "spiritual worship that you ought to give," and we need to get a strong grip on the truth that "the spiritual" here has the meaning "reasonable, lining up with reason and truth." In other words, "spiritual" does not mean "being voluntarily and freely led by the Holy Spirit" but means to be in accordance with the Word of God, to be based on the Word of God. Please recall how many regulations the Old Testament made for the tabernacle and the festivals.
10. Even still though, one might counter argue that it doesn't have to include the heart. But, the heart of worship means the heart of Christ based on God's word, motivated by it, and taking its form through participation in the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, in the Japanese art of tea, the heart that will entertain others, the heart that treasures each time, is expressed by learning intuitively the proper forms of etiquette. For that reason, that the heart is important in worship is not about our feelings, but it is important that as we take part in the work of the Holy Spirit that the heart of Christ be formed in us, that is, that our fellowship would duplicate the heart and figure of Jesus Christ, our high priest.
11. In effect, it might be better to say that making Christ's heart our heart, or the subject of imitating Christ, is the real topic given us. In order to do that, we see that the lesson on "listening to the Holy Spirit" is necessary for us. This very lesson is about "fasting." "Fasting" is practiced in order to serve the Lord. What we call "fasting" in the church, also includes "temperance" and "self-control." It is not only claiming that you will not eat food, but a major fast is one in which you have stated what you will or will not listen to, will or will not look at and will or will not say. "Fasting" is a method by which to "listen to the Holy Spirit." However, as people think of fasting as only [the denial of food], they forget [fasting's] original purpose of listening to the Lord. So, Isaiah the prophet had to bring us God's word like this:
"Isn't this the fasting that I chose? You should break the shackles that come from evil, untie the knots of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. Also, you should break your bread with the hungry, invite the poor wanderer into your home, if you meet someone naked give them clothes to wear, and do not be stingy in helping your fellow man," (Isaiah 58:6-7).
13. I can't add any explanation to Isaiah's words, but in order to see how the ancient church looked at fasting and taught it after taking in Isaiah's message on this, I would like to introduce one passage that speaks on fasting from "The Teaching Of The Apostolic Fathers (The Didache)." The Didache was written about the same time as the New Testament or maybe a little afterwards. [This] is a quote from one of its writings called "The Shepherd Of Hermas."
...We ought to observe fasting in the following manner. Above all else, guard yourself from all evil speech and every evil desire. Also purify your heart from every vanity of the world. When you observe these things, your fasting will be complete. Again, ... on the day that you fast, you should not take anything but bread and water. And from the meals that you had expected to take, you ought to estimate the expenses of what you would have expected to spend on that day and should distribute it to a widow, an orphan or a poor person," (The Shepherd Of Hermas, Parable Five, thirty-six and seven, The Ken Arai Translation).
15. Thus then, "fasting" is strongly connected to sharing our bread in obedience to the word of the Lord. When we heed the teaching of "fasting" after we receive the Spirit's message, we might experience for ourselves the complications that the Antioch Church had once experienced in coming to the point of letting the two men go. When you think about the missionary development at Antioch and the formation of the church, the sending out of the two men so indispensable to the Antioch Church must have been a huge sacrifice for them. But, suppressing their own voices and desire of "We want them with us," they followed the Holy Spirit and presented their best to God. They decided to share the gifts of Barnabas and Saul. After receiving God's message the reason they still fasted and prayed was not only for the two men, but to leave the future church here after, with the two men gone, up to the grace of God. In looking at the figure of the church seeking God's will in the way it did, following the Holy Spirit, and still in prayer, Luke saw the work of the Holy Spirit, but also the image of Christ who was completely submitted to God, his Father.
The Church That Is Loved By God
16. Finally, I would like to state how that "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit" is "The Church That Is Loved By God." "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit" is a church that makes Christ's heart their heart and is a church that imitates Christ. As the body of Christ Christ's image should be recognizable in the church. But, how does the image of Christ become a reality? Putting it conclusively, "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit" ought to be "The Church That Is Loved By God." The basis for this is clear in the mystery of the Trinity.
17. God the Father loves His Son. Therefore, to the Son, being the son does not mean he loves the father but that he is loved by his father. In receiving God the Father's love from the heart, the Son is the son. For, God the Father [proves] the reality that he is a father by the act of his love and the Son [proves] the reality that he is a son by his being loved. Because of the relationship between father and son, the Holy Spirit pervades more and more as the relationship between the father and the son gets deeper and deeper through the father loving the son and the son being loved by the father. This is the mystery of the Trinity.
18. If that is true, in the relationship of God and the church as the body of Christ, just as can be seen in the relationship between the father and the son, the true inner nature of the church, which is to be loved by God, becomes a reality. The way Christ lived as obedient to God his Father was certainly an outward loving of God and of his neighbor. But, in his inner life, Christ did not lose his inner nature of being loved by God as the Son.
19. So, is there a passage in the Word that supports that the church possesses the inner nature of "being a loved [entity]?" Showing you two passages should be sufficient.
20. Number one, first, is the conversation between the risen Jesus and Peter. The Lord asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?" Peter, who had denied the Lord three times was unable to say this time, "I love you." What did he answer? He answered, "[Whether] I love you, you know." In other words, the relationship between Jesus and Peter was not a relationship of mutual love. Their relationship was one in which Jesus first loved Peter and born out of that Peter responded to his love.
21. Number two, the next one, is the story of Martha and Mary. Martha, distracted from being busy playing hostess to Jesus and the guests with him, let a complaint slip out to Jesus. "Lord, my sister is making me do the hosting by myself. Isn't that selfish? Please ask her to assist me." To summarize it, [she thought it] was "unfair." As Martha saw Mary sit at Jesus' feet listening to him talk, she was driven by an envy [of sorts].
22. Jesus answered her, "Martha, Martha, your mind is troubled by many things and your heart is distracted. But, the needful thing to do is but one thing. Mary has chosen better. You should not deprive her." What we must take hold of here is that Jesus had loved the two women and that both Martha and Mary are loving Jesus. But, according to her own way of thinking, Martha loved Jesus. She would have troubled herself doing whatever she had to to please Jesus. Then Jesus said to her, "Why don't you come over by me and listen to what I want right now?" Because to Jesus the most important hosting he could receive was that she would long for him. On the other hand, Mary wasn't just sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him talk. She was there in answer to Jesus' request. In other words, Mary responded in order to be loved. The depth of the relationship between two people can often times be measured by how much silence is split between them. With people who do something, there are cases in which they are running from the problems existing between them. Actually, whenever a couple is confident that each one is loved, their being able to be together and do nothing is unstoppable.
23. For example, Elymas the sorcerer, who appears in the passage that was read aloud today and who obstructed the mission, or even the Jews also, were both people, in a certain sense, who wanted to be loved by God at the most fundamental of levels. But, deceiving those feelings, the sorcerer cursed God and hid his own poverty with sorcery. On the other hand, the Jews, while knowing God's grace but not placing their foundation on grace, wound up always having to keep their eyes ever upon observing the covenant, a covenant upon which they did not want to place their hopes. As a result, the jealousy of wanting to be loved by God manifested itself in a superiority complex towards the Gentiles who did not have the law. Therefore, when they heard the news that the Gentiles were also loved by God, the jealousy of the Jews became deadly to them. When captured by jealousy, a person can no longer hear the voice of the Lord.
24. I define jealousy as an energy that is born from the thoughts of wanting to be loved by the Lord and from being deceptive or cheating on this natural innate craving in all persons so fashioned by God. [Jealousy occurs when you don't let God love you his way as Creator, Lord, and Saviour and you go about trying to please god, God, an ideal, or whatever as you think best.]
By Way Of Ending
25. In having said all this then, "The Sending Church" is "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit." The figure of "The Church That Listens To The Holy Spirit," as seen in God's son Jesus Christ, must be "The Church That Is Loved By God." For, when we fret about worrying what to do in order to please the Lord, we will end up driven by the same jealousy that Martha had. Only by longing for a relationship with God, to be loved by the Lord, like Mary as she believed in the Lord's love for her and boldly withdrew herself to be by his side, will the church as the body of Christ take note of its own real position or mission [for the Lord]. Hasn't the modern church forgotten how to listen to the Holy Spirit? With our doctrines of you had better love God and you had better love your neighbor, aren't we going around working so busily in hosting and serving the way that we think best? The proper function of the church has first been demonstrated in being loved by the Lord and still is. Let's be loved as we boldly go to the feet of the Lord [to be by his side].