Thursday, March 16 “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul . . .”

Scripture: Act 13:1-5

1 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.

On Cyprus4 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.

Some thoughts:

The context of this setting is that the church is rapidly expanding amidst persecution. Herod had recently killed James, the brother of John. (These are the brothers who were fishermen and disciples of Jesus.) Herod had arrested Peter and put him in prison only to have an angel of the Lord lead him out of his cell in the night. Barnabas and Saul had just finished a mission trip to Jerusalem and had returned to Antioch. There were a group of believers in Antioch who were prophets and gifted teachers. They sensed an urgency in spreading the gospel to the Roman and Greek world. As this group was worshiping and fasting waiting on the Lord, we read that the Holy Spirit spoke to them in a clear way telling them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which they had been called, namely that of carrying the gospel to the Gentile world.

In the early days of the church, weekly fasting was a normal practice. The early Christians regularly fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. Fasting was commonly practiced by the Jews on Mondays and Thursdays. Being already familiar with the practice, the Jewish Christians simply changed the days, wishing to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion. The believers at Antioch had a decision to make as to who should go on the mission. Prayer and fasting were their normal course of action in cases. As you read on, you see evidence of the Lord’s blessing the ministry of Barnabas and Saul through the Holy Spirit’s working through them. As their ministry continued, Saul evidently took greater leadership of the pair, for by the end of the chapter they are referred to as Paul and Barnabas. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Roman name. As they ministered in a Gentile world, it was likely more advantageous to use his Roman name, Paul.

As significant decisions confront you and me, praying and fasting to find the mind of the Lord is a centuries old practice and well worth doing.

Music: “Facing a Task Unfinished”         Keith and Kristyn Getty 

Prayer: O God, our Great Shepherd, you tenderly gather us as lambs, carrying us with your all-embracing love. Yet, like sheep, we wander from you, following our own ways, ignoring your voice, and distrusting your provisions. Forgive our stubborn rebellion, our arrogance, our hardened hearts, and our lack of trust. Refresh us once again by your flowing waters of mercy and restore our souls by your redeeming love that we might follow the narrow path more closely through Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, we pray. Amen      –Daniel Sharp