God's Work gets done by His Church
Dear Christian friends,
California , Tennessee and Illinois have cities named Antioch . There are a number of churches from different denominations that have Antioch in their name. I have seen more than one Antioch Baptist Church . I am not sure I have ever seen Antioch Lutheran Church .
Antioch was an important city in the history of the Christian Church. It was a city that was 300 miles north of Jerusalem . After Stephen was martyred for his faith, many Christians fled to Antioch . The Bible says that Christians were called “Christians” in Antioch for the first time. Until then, they were known as members of the Way.
Historically, Antioch was a very important city within the Roman Empire . It was just one of three cities that had a population of more than 500,000 people. In the year 526 AD or about 450 years after the time when we are talking about today, the city of Antioch suffered an incredibly devastating earthquake. They estimate that 250,000 people died. Today, unfortunately, the city is under Muslim control. It is not nearly as big as it once was. In fact it is called “Antakia.” It has a population of only 6,000 people.
While the city is a far cry from what it was 2,000 years ago, God used that thriving church to be the church to take the Gospel of Jesus into the uttermost part of the earth. From Antioch the good Lord sent Paul and Barnabas into the pagan world. I pray that God renews in us the spirit that the church in Antioch had as we see how “God’s Work is Done by His Church:” 1) Through workers God sends with gifts; 2) Through workers he sends; 3) Through the message God’s workers proclaim.
The year was about 47 AD. It had been around fourteen years since Paul had been converted on the way to Damascus . The church in Antioch was a thriving church, very definitely a model for us today. I would compare the church in Antioch to Calvary Lutheran Church in Thiensville , Wisconsin . That’s the church that is nearest to our Seminary. Many Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary faculty members are members there. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the pastor there and have to preach in front of all those faithful scholarly men. The church in Antioch must have been like that. There was no vacuum of good spiritual leadership. “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.”
There was Barnabas, a name we hear about in the New Testament a few times. He was a native of Cyprus . He loved the LORD. He was a very generous man. He sold property and dropped it at the apostles’ feet so they could use it to support the work of the LORD. He was a very strong spiritual leader. His name was changed to Barnabas. It means “encourager.”
There was Simeon also called Niger . Simeon was his Jewish name; Niger was his Latin name. It would appear that he felt comfortable among Jew and Gentile alike.
There was Lucius. This is not Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the book of Acts. He was from Cyrene on the northern coast of Africa . Perhaps he was from a different ethnicity, proving that Jesus came for all.
There was Manaean. He rubbed elbows with royalty. He grew up with Herod Antipas. Herod was an immoral jerk. He had John the Baptist. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Manaean was a childhood friend or possibly even a half brother. By God’s grace Manaean’s life course went an entirely different way.
Then there was our buddy Saul - his Jewish name - Paul was his Greek name. He could work among Jew and Gentile alike. These were the spiritual leaders that God gave to the church in Antioch . God had put these men in charge of that church in Antioch to preach and teach the mysteries and wonders of God’s grace. God gives people who are gifted to work in his church.
I’ve been doing this for a pretty long time. Someone asked me a while back if I liked what I was doing. I didn’t bat an eyelash. Absolutely! What is so interesting and joyous for me is how God gives his church so many gifted people to work together to build up his church. I have served three churches and I have been privileged to have served on boards and committees for the good Lord. It is marvelous to see the gifts God gives to his church just like he promised he would. As a church body, we have a ministerium of faithful, scholarly people on fire for Jesus. What a blessing to know that we are on the same side with Jesus working together for him.
That certainly applies to Messiah. There is a vast scope of God given talents here and fervor for Christ to seek the lost. I see older folks with wisdom that comes from experience; I see younger people with zeal and energy. The only challenge is that no one can make a good bowl of chili. Seriously, as a pastor I am so blessed to be able to see and serve people that God brings together to serve him.
The second point we ought to think about is that God’s work is done by his Church through workers he sends. “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.”
One day as the church in Antioch was worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit somehow communicated with the church. It was time to break out of the shell of the local community and take the wonderful message of Jesus to the world.
I guess they did things differently then. They worshipped and fasted; we worship and eat chili. There is no command to fast. People have fasted as a personal liberty to clear the mind and body to focus on the spiritual and not the physical. The important point here is that the Holy Spirit called together the missionary team of Paul and Barnabas to go and preach Jesus Christ. That was God’s decision!
Better than a decade earlier at the conversion of St. Paul , the Lord had said, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” God had made it clear that he was to go to the Gentile nations and preach. Lots of years had passed. Lots of education had taken place. He did ministry in the city of Antioch . Now it was time to go for the purpose which God had called him along with Barnabas. The Spirit had sent them to go where no preacher had ever gone before.
That’s a point to be made. The Spirit calls people into the public ministry. So often we hear people say that pastors got hired or fired. That’s a very worldly and ungodly way of looking at it.
That’s the way it has always been. The Writer to the Hebrews says that’s the way it was in the Old Testament regarding the priests, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.” Paul wrote in Ephesians, “It was (God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service…” At Ephesus Paul reminded the spiritual leaders of that church, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” God wanted a replacement for Judas as an apostle. Two men seemed to fit the credentials of apostleship. The Bible says, “Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen.” The Lord doesn’t give us a step by step chapter of the Bible that tells us how. He seems to allow some freedom. In some cases the leaders were put into place by appointment. Matthias was chosen by casting lots. The Holy Spirit made it clear somehow he wanted Paul and Barnabas in that position. We have our own way of doing a call meeting. When God decides someone else needs to be here, you will go through it. But be assured that whoever comes, as is the one who stands before you is here by the will of God.
That’s why we don’t speak in terms of hiring a pastor. The Bible would like better language like God calls a pastor through his church.
That means a lot to me and it ought to for you too. What does it mean for me? I am here because God wanted me to be here and be your pastor. What does it mean for you? I am here because God wanted me to be here and be your pastor. It teaches me that I am accountable to him first of all and most of all. It means that I am to be faithful to him. I have been around the block when it comes to the ministry. Younger pastors will often call and ask if I have ever handled a certain situation or ask for advice. Sometimes as a pastor you just get in the middle of things that you simply would not like to deal with. It happens to every pastor. I tell guys the same thing that I was told once told by someone who was much older and wiser than I am. If God didn’t want you to handle it, then he would never have called you to that place to deal with the situation. God gets his work done through workers he sends to oversee, teach and train.
God works through his Church through the message God’s workers proclaim. He tells us what to do. “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus . When they arrived at Salamis , they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” The church in Antioch sent them away. Actually the word is that they released them from the work they were doing in Antioch so they could go to the uttermost places of the earth. They went to the port city of Seleucia along the Mediterranean Sea boarded a ship for the island of Cyprus . They arrived in Salamis and preached “the word of God.” They went from the east coast to the west coast of Cyprus preaching the Word of God.
I find it interesting that there were no stats reported here. They simply preached the Word of God. They didn’t do Zumba classes; they didn’t even put a chili cook-off on their agenda. They went from the east coast to the west coast preaching God’s Word. That is what it is all about, isn’t it. There is something very seriously wrong about this world; it’s called sin. In fact, every person is a sinner. You and I are sinners and it doesn’t take long to prove it.
But God’s Word doesn’t stop there…not by a long shot. The basics also include God’s love for all. Jesus came, Jesus came for the world, Jesus came for you and me to forgive and supply the perfection everyone needs and God demands. That’s what Cyprus heard. That’s what we need to hear. As Luther said “It’s like a good song; you can hear it over and over again and never get tired of hearing it.”
We do two services for the elderly from Messiah -at Dogwood Forest Assisted Living and at Sarah Care, an adult day care in John’s Creek. Dogwood Forest is over ten years. Sarah Care is most recent. In both places the people are elderly or have had some serious health issues. At Sarah Care we do the service at 11 in the morning. People sit in recliners. Many have had a pretty long and full morning by then. By eleven in the morning, many are ready to knock off and truthfully some do. We sing hymns, we pray and I do kind of a sermon bible study. I try to make it interactive. I try to pour a lot of energy into it, because I know I am fighting Mr. Sandman.
On Friday as we were finishing, a woman who is very with it but having chemotherapy said to me, “I wish more people listened.” While there are 30-40 people and there are a good number who follow and answer questions when I ask them. Many of them just can’t seem to pay attention because they are elderly r suffering from the effects of some medical problem or medication they have. Yet they get to hear the words of “Amazing Grace” or “Just as I Am” that one woman who has some severe disabilities really liked singing. They hear the Word of God taught every time we go. The Spirit is in charge of making it grow. That’s the assurance that Paul and Barnabas had.
The same thing is happening here right now. It happens in the bible study time. The Word of God is being preached. Listen and listen intently! This is the work of God’s Church.