R.A. Martinez explores the unique characteristics of the church in Antioch as a blueprint for “Antioch Sending Centers” God is raising up in our day.

Antioch Series: When Worship, Prayer, and Missions Collide

#5- A Barnabas Company


At the core of Jesus’ invitation in the Gospels is the simple call to “follow him” and the radical cost associated with that decision along with it’s immeasurable reward. In Mark chapter 10, a wealthy young man came to Jesus. Here was a guy who was young, rich, intelligent, and influential. Think of all that this guy, with this kind of wealth and influence, could accomplish for the kingdom! He had a clean record and a good reputation. Not only that but he was ready to go! Jesus, make it easy for this guy, don’t scare him away.  If we can get him saved then he can start sharing his testimony among the other wealthy and affluent citizens, maybe even write a book, and do some fundraising for the cause.

Yet he lacked one thing. The bible says when Jesus looked at him He loved him. He knew that this guy wanted into the leadership team for what it could provide for him. It would give him the visibility, position, influence that he craved. Jesus looked into his soul and saw all of his wealth and affluence. Something else had so possessed his heart that he could never see Jesus as supremely valuable and worthy of all that he had.

You may be asking, “well what does that have to do with me?!?” If you live above the “poverty line” in America, you are in the top 2% of the wealthiest people in the world. If you live on or above the median income level in America you are in the top 1%.

We are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with. A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who want us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.  – David Platt

 

Christ is fighting for our greatness! Not only in this age but in the age to come.  Jesus wasn’t trying to strip this man of all his pleasure. He was fighting for his greatness and for a reward that will last forever! Money and possessions are not inherently evil, but according to the Bible they can cost you your life and the love of them can cost you your destiny. This young man walked away from an opportunity of a lifetime. He could have been on Jesus’ apostolic leadership team.

There was another wealthy man who, in the grace of God, actually said yes to the invitation from Jesus. Luke introduces us to him in Acts chapter 4. Acts 4 is a snapshot of a community of people whose hearts and lives have been utterly revolutionized by believing in Jesus. They found themselves freely caring about people and freely selling land and houses, giving the money to the church for distribution to those with specific needs. Luke attributes this to the great grace that was upon them all. When grace moved, all of a sudden, people started falling out of love with “things” and started falling in love with the Lord and with His people. They had found something of more value than houses and comfort and possessions. They were becoming disciples of Jesus. Heavenly people. They were transitioning from their “ownership” mindset to “stewardship” for the glory of Jesus Christ.


Luke focuses in on two stories that are meant to complement and contradict what was going on in the community there in Jerusalem. The first account is of a man that will become one of the most influential and beloved men of the New Testament. Luke chooses to introduce Joseph. A wealthy man from Cyprus who owned land and was an affluent citizen in Jerusalem. He wasn’t a young and irresponsible man being swept up in a fad or a trend. He was being radically transformed by grace, from the inside out, into a heavenly minded vessel for the kingdom. And he was full of joy. So much so that the Apostles had nicknamed him “son of encouragement” or Barnabas.

He shines as one of the most mature, reliable, loveable leaders of the early church. Right here in Acts 4:36–37, Luke shows us how Barnabas’ trusted ministry began. It started with a demonstrated freedom from the love of things and a heart of love for the presence of God and the people of God. He sold a field that belonged to him and gave all the proceeds to the apostles to use for the movement. In this story he stands as the example of what the grace of God and the Spirit of Revival does in the human heart. It creates a bond of love for people and cuts a bond of love for money and possessions. These three things were distinguishing marks on Barnabas’ life.

Love for people, radical generosity, and great joy.

He was a Levite, well acquainted with Levitical law. Barnabas in this one act gives us a glimpse into “New Covenant” giving. “Old Covenant” required 10% tithe. The New Testament writers never give a number as a law for giving because giving was meant to flow out of a heart of joy and love, struck by the worth of the Lamb. Instead they write about Barnabas and others…

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints-– – 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Do you see that? The grace of God was producing a wealth of generosity even in their severe affliction and extreme poverty. Old testament giving was 10%, New Testament giving is Barnabas. Barnabas found a greater joy then having influence and a greater possession than having wealth. He found a treasure hidden in a field and in his joy he went and sold all that he had. 

He sold his little field and he gained an apostolic assignment. He laid down his field at the apostle’s feet and picked up a mantle for a greater field called the nations of the earth.

Radical generosity changes history and unlocks destiny.


Immediately after, Luke then juxtaposes another story with Barnabas’. A man named Ananias who also sold a field.


What was wrong with Ananias and Sapphira? They loved their money and they loved position. They made the sale, they looked at all that cash, and they couldn’t bear the thought of giving it all away without getting something in return. So they kept some back (v. 2). They, like the rich young ruler who, thought if they followed some external religious law, could manipulate their way into the promises.  They wanted to look more generous than they really were. They wanted the apostles to think that they were like Barnabas perhaps. They not only loved money, they loved the praise of men. They wanted approval. So they lied to cover their covetousness, and to give the impression of radical generosity. If you love possessions and you love the praise of men, your love for truth will dissolve into deception and fraud. That’s the meaning of hypocrisy. Half hearted obedience is no obedience at all. They were struck dead at the altar so that all the church would know this one thing. The love of money and the love of the praise of men will lead to a wasted life.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:7-9

The truth is: You are reaping what you sowed five to ten years ago and what you do today is setting the stage for what you will walk in five and ten years from now.

Barnabas shows up next in Acts 9 about 6 years later. At this point, Saul has had his conversion experience and spent a few years in the wilderness before coming up to Jerusalem to try and join the apostolic leadership team. Everyone was afraid of this young “convert” and no one wanted to associate with him. But one man, full of love, grace and joy took Paul by the hand and marched him right up into Peter and James’ office and said, “You gotta hear this young mans story.” Barnabas believed in Paul and his calling when no one else would. He saw this diamond in the rough and was determined to put his arms around him and make sure was successful. He was a true spiritual Father.

When the Apostles heard the report of what was happening in Antioch, they knew there was only one man right for the job of shepherding this young revival community. They sent Barnabas. When he saw what was happening in Antioch, he knew that it was the perfect place for the young Paul to cut his teeth in ministry and leadership. Only one problem, he hadn’t seen Paul in a few years and heard that he had returned home to pursue a different path for his life. Barnabas believed in Paul’s calling even when Paul didn’t have the courage to believe in it himself.

I often say that Acts 11:25 is one verse that changed all of history,

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch…” – Acts 11:25


Barnabas goes and searches for this young man and finds him living at his parents house, completely resigning from his calling because of hope differed, disappointment, and wounds from leaders.

Imagine the conversation in the living room of Paul’s parents house. Whatever was said changed history.  

Barnabas returns to Antioch as an Apostolic leader to care for this young revival community and nuture it into maturity while mentoring Paul in Antioch. Pretty soon the community starts to reflect this DNA of radical generosity and love for people under the leadership of Barnabas. After he returns from Tarsus with Paul, it says they spent a whole year teaching a great many people (Acts 11:26). Two verses later, an offering is being taken up to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. This was no small love gift. Everyone in the church of Antioch pitched in. In fact it says that everyone according to their ability or NASB says it this way, they determined to send a contribution according to each of their means. Sound familiar? Love for people and radical generosity with joy!

In just a year or two he and his young companion would be launched out as the first Apostolic mission’s movement that will raise up revival communities all across Asia minor and be one of the few catalytic leaders in the rapid expansion of the church in the first century.

 

All because he sold a field.


Antioch Sending Centers are always marked by the lives of fathers and mothers who, like Barnabas, long ago “sold their field” to be a part of what God was doing on the earth. These ones are so marked with love, generosity and joy that they provide a safe place for young laborers to be formed and fashioned without the fear of over-correction, manipulation, or punishment. Their lives of faith and obedience over decades give permission for a new generation to go hard after God no matter what the cost. I believe that there are hundreds and thousands of Barnabas’ out there that God is sending to serve these emerging prayer, revival and missions centers across the earth so that hand in hand, not passing the baton, the generations can experience the greatest outpouring and missions thrust the earth has ever seen.

 

R.A. Martinez

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Antioch Series: When Worship Prayer And Missions Collide // A Heavenly Family


#4- A Heavenly Family


By Acts chapter 6, the Apostles are so overwhelmed with the work that comes with revival that they call a meeting to figure out how to raise up and train “second tier” leaders to help carry the load of administration that comes with thousands of people under your pastoral care. They were in desperate need to return to the things they did at first anddevote themselves to the word of God and prayer.”  It is now about a decade since the day of Pentecost and they still haven’t left Jerusalem and there are no indicators that they were even considering the possibility of sending out laborers for the task that was given to them by the resurrected Lord Himself.


Something else was beginning to rear its ugly head in Acts 6 that was subtly going unnoticed in the Jerusalem movement. There was a deep undercurrent that was causing an ambivalence, yea even an aversion to the mandate to disciple all nations.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. – Acts 6:1


Yes, the busyness of revival was real, but something even more real was lurking in the shadows. We see the first glimpse of it in Acts 6 but it doesn’t come to the forefront until about another decade later in Acts 15. It finally comes to a head in ANTIOCH with a rebuke of an Apostle by another Apostle in front of the whole church.

Antioch becomes the flash point where God deals with the sin of racism in the global church in the first century. Antioch is the first place we see a multi-ethnic leadership over a multi-ethnic community. God was doing something unique in this community that was preparing them to be the sending center to the ends of the earth. God was tearing down strongholds that were preventing the church from fulfilling her destiny.

RACISM IS ANTI-GOSPEL AND THE ENEMY OF MISSIONS

 

As Gentiles begin to come into the kingdom and Antioch rises to prominence in the first century Christian movement, some teachers from Jerusalem, feel it’s their duty to visit these “barbarians” and bring some theological correction to their movement that was clearly “out of order”. Paul and Barnabas, who have been a part of this new multi-ethnic leadership team take issue with these racist ideas parading around as inspired words.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15:1

Paul and Barnabas, who then were based in Antioch, challenge these ethnocentric, anti-gospel teachings and the debate makes its way to the very top. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) was the first church council recorded and its purpose was to tear down cultural ideas that were masking themselves as theological truths and obstructing the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” – Acts 15:6-11

As the council reached its’ conclusion, those present penned a letter recognizing the legitimacy of these Gentile believers and exhorting them continue in the faith. The sent this letter to Antioch with a team of prophets accompanying Paul and Barnabas. This marks a significant transition in the Book of Acts where the church and leadership in Jerusalem no longer remain the central component to the Holy Spirit record of the God’s activity in the first century. From this point on Antioch and its multi-ethnic leadership team become the “central hub” of New Testament Christianity.

Even though Peter had the correct theological stance of “inclusion of the Gentiles through the gospel” at the Jerusalem council, we soon find out that having the right theological stance can be much different than acknowledging your own ethnocentricity and allowing God, by the power of the Spirit, to search you and fully deliver you from the culture that nurtured your fallen mindset.

When Peter finally makes it down to Antioch to see what is transpiring in this new apostolic center, he comes face to face with his own racism.

For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:12-14

Paul’s rebuke to Peter’s conduct in Antioch is simple yet profound. I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

In other words…

 

The cross is the end of racism.

 

Paul says that his confrontation with Peter was over the truth of the gospel itself. Christ not only died for us, but died with us and as us. Now if you became one with Jesus on the cross and joined with Him in the grave, then it is impossible for you not to be raised with Him with a new nature. You died with Christ so that He could raise you with Him and justify you as righteous, holy, and blameless. God raised Jesus, vindicating His life of obedience, and in the same moment destroyed the power of death and the curse of the fall over you, having been raised with him. When he came out of the grave, you were reborn and now have a new nature inherited from the Second Adam.

You now are altogether different than who you once were. You no longer are identified with the nature you inherited from the first Adam. The finished work of the cross makes you a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.Colossians 3:10-11 

This new nature you have inherited is Christ’s nature within you. You in Him and Him in you. This nature is shared by all who believe in Him.

Something finally clicked with Peter in Antioch. Maybe it took a public rebuke for his racist attitudes and actions to finally be purged. Later he writes, near the end of his life to the church dispersed all over Asia minor, You are a chosen race [genos], a holy nation [ethnos]…once you were not a people [laos], but now you are God’s people [laos]…”. 1 Peter 2:9-10

These words from Peter take aim at any remnant of ethnocentrism that may have been lingering in the dispersed believers throughout the Roman empire. The same Peter that pulled back from fellowship with brothers from different races is now declaring that through the body and blood of Jesus, God has created a whole new genos, ethnos, and laos. This new family, race, and nation is made up of believers from every ethnic group on the planet. The Blood of Jesus has freed us from every earthly, Adamic, unspiritual, means of separation. We no longer are defined by our Socio-Economic status, Politics, or cultural preferences. Jesus is the end of Ageism, Sexism, Nationalism and most of all Jesus is the end of racism. The church is a global family of affection and the ruling aristocracy in the earth. You have more in common with the brethren in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and Indonesia than you do with your closest unbelieving friend that has the same political, cultural, and social views as you. You share the same spirit, blood, and nature.

Jesus displays this on his leadership first leadership team. The Lord handpicked men from polar opposite sides of the spectrum and turned them into something altogether new. He takes them through such a magnificent transformative journey that their former political allegiances, passions, paradigms, all melt under the power of the leadership and love of Christ and they in turn begin love each other in the same manner.

Racism denies the power of the cross and clings to the nature that we inherited from Adam. Racism and the Gospel are mutually exclusive. One cannot “deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Jesus” and at the same time attach themselves to ethnocentristic mindsets and racist attitudes. As Russell Moore so eloquently states, “You can’t serve Jesus Christ and Jim Crow at the same time.

We learn to love beyond ourselves when we embrace those that are ethnically and cultural different than us. The comfort of the homogenous bubble of Jerusalem Christianity was robbing the apostolic church from entering into the John 17 “glory” of being united in Jesus Christ across the diving wall of hostility that separated races. When we are surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and dress like us, our love is fenced in by our own comfort and self-importance. We are not loving like the cross teaches us to love, we are loving our self-reflection.

Racism makes us irrelevant because it refuses self-sacrificial love. Racism strips us of our authority as peacemakers standing between two parties at odds because it attaches itself to one side of the argument.  

Racism makes us deaf because we cannot hear the wounded groan of our brothers and sisters while our ears are clogged with cultural narratives. Therefore, we cannot “weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)

Racism makes us blind because we cannot see glaring injustices through the fog of political rhetoric. Like the lawyer in Luke 10, desiring to justify ourselves, we smugly ask Jesus, “WELL WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?!?!”

Racism is the enemy of missions because true missions is born out of a vision of the worth of Jesus that produces a self-sacrificing love for peoples and nations. These nations we would have nothing in common with on our own. Now the commonality we have with the unreached of the earth is the compassion of the Lamb that compels us towards and not away from our “enemies”. 

Here in Antioch they began to call themselves not by their ethnic identities, not by their national allegiances but simply by one word that described what they now were together, “Christians”. (Acts 11:26) Little Christs… crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised with Him in the newness of life where there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

What is the indicating marker in your life that tells everyone you are have been so radically transformed by the gospel and ripped out of your former passions, former mindsets, former allegiances? Is it not that we love what we formerly hated? And what does that love look like except to lay our lives down to serve those that could never repay us? Is it not that we care for our brother in his need?

 

Then we can truly call ourselves, “Christians”.

 

Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group. Jesus is calling the church to stare its racism in the face and repent. The current conversation about racial tension in America is an opportunity to do just that. Somewhere along the way we lost the biblical command to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to angerand in its place we have inserted “categorize the opponent, attack with counterpoints, win the argument”. Make no mistake, God is using the discussions around police brutality, institutional racism, criminal justice reform, income disparity, educational inequality, southern strategy politics, privilege, ect… to refine us in love and humility. What’s at stake here is more than losing an argument, it might be losing our soul. The church in America divided over social, political, and economic issues says to the world that the gospel is weak, the kingdom is fractured, and Christ is an inadequate leader.

What we don’t realize is, by ignoring, dismissing or worse, actively emboldening one side of the conversation, we could actually be forfeiting our destiny as the church in this nation to become an Antioch at the end of the age. I believe that the church in America is called to be a sending nation that participates with the Lord of the Harvest in praying, training and sending laborers to the ends of the earth. We are throwing away our destiny with every dismissive, apathetic or argumentative attitude when it comes to race in America. The current racial climate is a training ground to teach us to love like never before and to cleanse us of our ethnocentrism so that we can actually look up and see the white fields ready for harvest in the nations of the earth.

 

R.A. Martinez

 

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Antioch Series: When Worship, Prayer, And Missions Collide // Sojourners

#3- Sojourners on the Earth

 

“Those that were scattered”… Arguably the most influential church in history was started by a small band of refugees who, in the midst their most painful season, took a simple step of faith and obedience that changed history.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch… But there were some of them…who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” – Acts 11:19-21

Luke, the writer of Acts, gives us no insight into how the decision was made for these displaced believers to reach out across the “dividing wall of hostility” to share the gospel with people who were ethnically, culturally, politically and socially different than them but I am sure that the journey of their displacement from the Jewish “hub” of Jerusalem and their pilgrimage throughout the Greco-Roman world had much bearing on their eventual conclusion to preach the gospel to “the Hellenists also” and thus change history.

What was it that God was doing with this company of people that prepared them to pioneer the apostolic missions base of the New Testament? I believe that was God using their displacement according to His purposes and for His glory. I would go as far to say that it was necessary for them to go through their scattering in order to dislodge some fatal value systems they inherited from the Jerusalem church that would have prevented them from ever becoming the sending center they were destined to be together.

What was God aiming to dislodge and ultimately expel out of the hearts and minds of these Jewish believers by driving them from house and home, out of the bubble of “Jerusalem Christianity” as refugees into cities and towns to which they did not belong? I believe the Lord was warring against two subtle and lurking enemies of the gospel that were settling into the culture back in Jerusalem.

What was this monster hiding in the shadows right under Peter and James’ nose?

Well it is Pride but it has two ugly heads and they are named Nationalism and Ethnocentrism (Racism). They were and still remain the biggest enemy of the gospel and of missions.

These enemies of the embryonic missions movement had to be dealt with in order to see the fullness of what the church in Antioch was intended to be.  In this blog we will tackle the first and in the next blog we will take on the latter.

 

nationalism – exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups; loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness

 

NATIONALISM IS AN ENEMY OF THE GOSPEL

When you believed in the Lord Jesus and were baptized into the faith, you were re-born into an entirely new reality called “the kingdom”. Jesus says in the gospel of John, chapter 3, that you were “born from above” into a kingdom and a city that is from heaven.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [anōthen // from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” … That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. – John 3:3, 6

Jesus Christ, the God-man, was born of a woman but inherited a divine nature through the virgin birth from heaven outside of the curse Adam’s fall. He would live the life of complete agreement and total obedience to the Father that the first Adam failed to do. Then, he would allow men fueled by demonic rage to execute Him as a criminal in order pay the price of our broken covenant by death on a cross. In this, he removed the requirements of the curse from us by fulfilling the law on our behalf and it’s legal demands. By dying sinless, he could both pay our debt and take into himself the entire created order under the curse of Adam including you and I. He, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, would take us into Himself on the cross, not only dying for us, but dying with us and as us. When He came out of the grave, He did not come out by himself but instead brought with Him an entirely new order and creation that was re-born. What you formerly were and what you formerly belonged to has died in Christ on a tree. Paul tells us in Colossians 2 that we have died to the stoicheion of the cosmos. (Col 2:20) This is literally means that you no longer are governed by or belong to the fundamental principles and elements that govern this universe.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

You have died in Jesus and God has raised you with a new nature, not inherited from the first Adam but received from the perfect Son, the Second Adam, your older brother, Jesus Christ. You are altogether new and unique from what you once were. He has justified you as righteous, holy, and blameless because your life now is Christ’s and by nature you are joined with the Godhead.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself… – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

You are not from here. You were born from beyond the cosmos. The New Jerusalem has birth right citizenship. Therefore, nationalism at it’s core is anti-gospel because it is a lie that deceives the believer into thinking that where they live is where they are from and the culture they are surrounded by is the culture they belong to and must fight for.

The New Testament writers confronted this stronghold head-on. This was no side issue to the Apostles.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith. – 1 John 5:4

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. – 1 Peter 2:9-11

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. – Philippians 3:20-21

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. – Galatians 4:26

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, – Hebrews 12:22

…but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. – Galatians 4:26

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. – 2 Corinthians 5:20


This is the reality of the “sent-ness” of every believer. You do not belong to your nation, culture or social sphere, instead you have been sent as an ambassador of the New Jerusalem to those realms to live out your days as representative of the city that is to come.

Most of us live our lives with far too little awareness of the heavenly realities around us. Most of us go through day after day and seldom feel the impact of the magnitude of what we are caught up in by belonging to Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the ruler of the universe. We woke up this morning and stumbled out of bed into the cosmic significance because of the finished work of the cross. We give little thought to it and consequently our lives often lack the flavor of eternity and the aroma of something ultimate.

When we lose touch with our heavenly citizenship we default back to our Nationalistic existence that finds it’s identity and feels it’s passions and claims it’s ownership over our political parties, economic status, social spheres, and cultural biases. When this happens, we lose that heavenly aroma on our lives and we can no longer be “peacemakers” standing between two opposing parties and bringing them together at the foot of the cross of Jesus. We forfeit the ministry of reconciliation when we become entrenched in the rhetoric of one nation opposed to another, one political party opposed to another, one race opposed to another, ect… We lose our ability to evangelize what we have antagonized, marginalized or tried to run out town with a court order or zoning law.

Nationalism confuses “the kingdom” with “my nation and it’s government”. When this happens, the church abdicates its role and authority and looks instead to the government or a political party as the manifestation of  “the kingdom”. We look to presidents, kings, senators and legislators to write laws that create the “Christian utopia” we expect to enjoy by coercing, pressuring or smothering anyone opposition to our “way of life”. When we confuse the advancement of political ideas with the advancement of the gospel, the believer then promotes that government and that nation as the primary catalyst for the advancement of the kingdom in the earth. So the nation, as we want or suppose it to be, must advance at all costs, especially at the cost of other nations. This is at its core anti-gospel and the enemy of the great commission.

When these lines begin to blur in the mind of the believer, then the enemy of the state becomes the enemy of the church. This will inevitably produce a prejudice and animosity towards any nation or people that is perceived to be a threat to “my nation” and “my way of life”. The litmus test of Nationalism in the church and in the heart of the believer is in whom we declare to be our enemy. This dangerous mixture of nationalism and so-called “Christianity” that identifies its enemy in opposing ethnic or political entities has born devastating and evil fruit throughout history. If we look in the rear view mirror, we will see Crusades, Inquisitions, and Genocides. One does not have to dig to deep to find the origins of thought that massacred 6 million Jews during the holocaust to be nurtured and endorsed by the church of that nation all in the name of God and country.

This violent spirit will, in turn, will cause the church to sell her birthright to disciple all nations (Matt 28:18) through the preaching of the gospel for the bowl of soup of political rhetoric and cultural biases that have little or no priority in the gospel. In short, nationalism makes the main thing, the tertiary thing (the gospel) and the peripheral things become of “supreme importance”.  

Whether we, as believers in America, can admit it or not, the money does not lie. How much money, time and passion the church in America spends on frontier missions and the advancement of the gospel among all peoples vs the money, time and passion we spend on partisan politics, culture wars, or maintaining our social-economic statuses does not even compare. As we say, “the proof is in the puddin’.”

All of the men and women commended for their faith lived and died in the light of the New Jerusalem and understood that they lived on the earth as “sojourners”. They lived in light of their position and reward in the New Jerusalem. This is Christianity 101. This enabled them to hold loosely to material possessions and national identities and emboldened them in radical acts of courage and love with martyrdom spirit.

By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God… These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. – Hebrews 11:9-10, 13-16 

Only the cross frees us from Nationalism. Only in the denying of oneself, picking up the cross, and following Jesus can those thick cords of nationalism begin to break off of our hearts and minds. Through their suffering and pain, these scattered, sojourning believers in Antioch had experienced a revelation of the power of that cross. Clinging to national and ethnic identities had to be dislodged by the shaking of displacement and persecution. God, in His sovereign kindness, would allow them to be scattered from the comforts and securities of home, familiar, and roots so that they would be able to experience the reality of “seeking a homeland” and being “sojourners on the earth”. They had to experience the reality of having no homeland for themselves to discover that in fact they belonged to the “city to come”.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. – Hebrews 13:14

Antioch could have never been a “plant” of the Jerusalem church. If it was, it would have carried this ethnocentric and nationalistic culture with it. Those two realities would have choked out the destiny of the missions movement that in the prophetic womb of this company of believers. The mandate to the nations of the earth would have always taken a back seat to needs at home. The gospel would have been primarily to unto building their own nation. Their interpretive grid for the blessings of God would have caused them to spend it on themselves with no second thought about the unreached nations of the earth.

Instead, God took them on a journey of understanding the cross, doing a work in them through years of displacement that would culminate in arriving in Antioch and preaching to the Greeks also. And when the Holy Spirit would say to them a few years later,Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”(Acts 13:2-3), there would be no competing value, prejudice or indifference that would have to first be untangled before they could joyfully send their best to the ends of the earth.

 

R.A. Martinez

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Antioch Series: When Worship, Prayer, and Missions Collide // God rewrites our stories

#2- God rewrites our stories

How Jesus chooses and trains young leaders is profoundly important to the Antioch story and it is important to what God is doing across the earth as He is raising up Antioch Sending Centers”. These communities of prayer and worship are the “greenhouses” where God is cultivating laborers for the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the promise of the global harvest. There are leadership lessons that every young leader must learn if they are going to carry the weight of the much fruit that God intends to display through their lives for His glory.

Jesus is looking for something dynamically different than the world is looking for in leadership potential. Men are enamored with giftedness, intelligence, charisma, skill, and strength. Jesus is looking for purity, love, humility, and a willing spirit. Our destiny and assignments are dynamically affected by how we respond in the grace of God to Jesus’ leadership in every season of the journey. In this school of leadership there is promotion and demotion, fruit and pruning, favor and testing. Each season is an invitation to greater intimacy with Him and authority in the Spirit. He is forming leaders to be able to carry the weight of what He wants to release on the earth in the generation of His return. Each promotion and each test is sovereignly orchestrated by the Lord to address the deep issues of pride, ambition, fear and carnal wisdom that is currently operating in our souls that we cannot fully see outside of His help. Jesus is a tender leader, he walks with us gently. He does not show us the sin issues hindering our destiny all at once. Instead, He leads us through seasons, allowing us to cooperate with Him in grace. In the tests of delay and promotion, Jesus pries our grip off of what we imagined the fulfillment of the promises over our lives would look like so that we don’t reject the promise when it comes. In the delay, Jesus addresses the levels of our identity and self- confidence that are wrapped up in what our “dreams” and our “callings” are supposed to look like so we can be useful in stewarding what he actually wants to release. He breaks down all the confidence in what we think qualifies us and produces a brokenness that is a sweet fragrance to God. Many of you have already taken a few courses in this leadership school and know full well what I am speaking about.

Jesus is more committed to our destiny than we are.

He is currently developing the wisdom, humility and love you need to actually steward the fullness of the anointing and favor He wants to give you. If we remain unoffended at His ways, even when they seem contrary to our good and opposite from the prophetic promises given to us, we graduate each season. Soon we come to realize that the fulfillment of the promises are never like what we imagined and the fruit of obedience is not our primary reward, it is actually the intimacy we experience with Jesus on the journey that deeply satisfies us. He is our reward.

Jesus prepares apostolic vessels in the fiery furnace of delay. Those who won’t turn to the right or the left emerge as voices.

Peter declares to us that, if necessary, fiery trials are part of Jesus’ leadership over our lives to expose those hidden areas hindering our destiny. How we respond to those tests will determine how long and how often they are necessary. These fiery trials often have to do with the things that are closest to our hearts and emotions.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7

Once, as a young leader, Peter had confidence in his own giftedness and zeal. He could remember firsthand what it felt like to go through Jesus’ leadership school.

Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night…” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” – Matthew 26:31-35

Fast forward, Peter is utterly broken and quitting on his calling on the shores of the Sea of Galilee after denying Jesus three times. In his greatest hour of brokenness and need, Jesus, the tender shepherd, meets him and redeems his worst moment. Then and only then was he ready to “feed the lambs” and “tend the sheep”. Only about a month after this, Peter is standing up on the day of Pentecost, preaching with power and authority.


When God rewrites your story, He takes your worst moments and makes them the doorway into your destiny.


Here in Antioch, one verse changes all of history, “so Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul and he found him and brought him to Antioch.” (Acts 11:25) God, the great Author, was weaving a myriad of stories together in this one verse to bring about a historic moment. What happened in Antioch, like a earthquake in the spirit, sent shockwaves around the world that are still rippling throughout the global church today.

Without Barnabas, without Antioch, without those that were scattered, we do not get the greatest contributor to the spread of Christianity throughout the known Roman world, the majority of New Testament Epistles, our understanding of ecclesiology, missions, and Christian doctrine- we do not get the Apostle Paul. Yes, Antioch was the catalytic moment that launched the apostle Paul and therefore it stands as one of the most historic moments in church history. Before there were churches covering Asia Minor, letters written that would be read by countless men and women throughout history as inspired Scripture, there was a young anointed man with a historic calling on his life going through Jesus’ school of leadership.

God had to rewrite his story.

Barnabas went and searched for the young man, Paul, whom he had met a few years earlier in Jerusalem. Paul had all but quit. He was living back in his parents house trying to pick up the pieces of his broken life after a seemingly failed launch. Three years in the wilderness of Arabia, mistreatment by brethren, no acknowledgement by leaders, the disappearance of favor, dimming of vision for his ministry…. Not to mention everything he had was stripped away until he only has one thing left…. Jesus. The church in Jerusalem at that time did not want to associate with Paul and ended up sending him home to Tarsus. Back home in Tarsus, Paul had run out of ideas and opportunities to get his ministry up and running. He was back at his mom and dad’s house, trying to get a job as a tentmaker and trying to make sense of the last 10 years of his life.

But he was enrolled in the Lord’s leadership training program…

Barnabas finds him broken and discouraged. He was ready for one last leadership lesson from his gentle Instructor in the school of leadership. God uses even our worst moments and redeems our stories. 


The moment that Saul of Tarsus walked through the door at Antioch, God caught everyone into a glorious revelation of His divine plan and the goodness of His gentle leadership.

I don’t think we can appreciate the dynamics of this situation. The church of Antioch existed because of the persecution led by Saul against Stephen. (Acts 11:19) They were those that were scattered when they arrived in Antioch. And now, the man who was responsible for their persecution and the scattering of their families, driving them from their homes as refugees on the run for their lives, walks in the door behind Barnabas.

Antioch is where God rewrites our stories.

God brought Paul to the very place that was the consequence of his worst moment. His darkest hour- when he was a persecutor of the church and oversaw the systematic torture and imprisonment of every believer in Jerusalem- was now staring him in the face as he walked into the room.

God brought Paul to Antioch not only to launch him into his ministry but also to heal him from that orphan lie that constantly reminds him of the shame of what he has done and causes him to over compensate, over perform, and place unrealistic expectations on leaders and friends alike. He needed a father like Barnabas and a community like Antioch to walk with him as he begins to lean into a confidence that would carry him through the difficulty of his apostolic assignment. From this moment on he would know without a shadow of doubt…

Everything is Grace.

The Father doesn’t just redeem the good parts about us, He redeems even the parts we are most ashamed of and uses them for His glory. He doesn’t use us in spite of our weaknesses, He use us because of our weaknesses. He does He doesn’t choose men and women because they are talented, skilled or gifted. He uses whom He chooses and He chooses the weak things. Paul had to learn this  lesson before he could carry the kind of power and authority God intended to entrust him with.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

Luke doesn’t give us any indicator that it took any amount of time for the leaders of the church to embrace Paul. Not only did they embrace him, but they put him in leadership in Antioch. Through their difficulty, their suffering, their displacement, and through their hardship they had too discovered something about the cross. So much so that when Paul “the former oppressor” walked through the door, they didn’t see him as the monster whose past disqualified him from his future. No, instead they hugged his neck saying, “God has redeemed our story just like He has redeemed yours”. In that moment, as the elders and families of the church in Antioch embraced him as a brother, I can imagine there were many tears as both persecutor and victim experienced the washing of the love of the Father knowing that all along– the pain, the confusion, even the weakness and sin of others was part of His divine plan, “to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) Freedom from shame, unforgiveness, and hopelessness becomes the doorway to our destiny.

Every leader that God raises up to shepherd His people has to learn this lesson and it’s usually through much pain, brokenness, and difficulty in relationships. 

“On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses– … But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”. – 2 Corinthians 12:5, 9-10

Paul could own his past, not in a condemning, self hatred or shameful way. He could own even his worst moments because they cannot disqualify him from his destiny but instead exalted the grace of Jesus. Now Paul can walk in confidence knowing that his past does not define him but only the call of God through the finished work of the cross.

Later Paul writes to Timothy, hopeful that his spiritual son would take these same classes in Jesus’ leadership school so that he too can carry the weight of being a faithful and gentle shepherd.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-16

This is the foundational bedrock for the prophetic and praying community that sends apostolic laborers: A family who gets healed together, carries assignments together. When we say that Antioch communities launch apostolic messengers, I don’t think we have even begun to scratch the surface of what that means for the hundreds of thousands of young “Paul’s” who are right now back in their “Tarsus”, disillusioned and discouraged, sitting on world changing callings and don’t know that they are in Jesus’ leadership school. They need a Barnabas and they need an Antioch. I will tell you this, Antioch has a lot to do with God redeeming the stories of people that we don’t think are qualified to be missionaries yet. 

 

R.A. Martinez

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Antioch Series: When Worship, Prayer, and Missions Collide // The Divine Slingshot

#1- The divine slingshot

In Matthew chapter 9, it says that Jesus was moved with compassion as he saw the demonic harassment and oppression over the masses. The greek word literally means a gut wrenching sorrow or sick to his stomach as he looked out over the nations who were “like sheep without a shepherd”. His divine heart of love for the world could not stomach the oppression, affliction, injustice, disease, over the very ones he created in his own image for his own pleasure to display his own glory. He calls his disciples together and says,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out [ekballo] laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:37-38

The solution to the ache in the heart of Jesus was laborers. The problem was that there were no laborers that had yet been swept up into that torrent of compassion that was in the heart of Jesus and had gained the kind of authority in the place of prayer to be effective. So he calls his disciples together and gives them a divine prescription. He tells them to contend earnestly in prayer together until, like a slingshot, laborers start getting hurled out [ekballo] into the nations to carry his divine heart with apostolic power.

Jesus knew that 3 things would happen when they gather together.

1. They would see his worth. (worship)

2.The would feel his heart. (prayer)

3.They would be baptized with power for the assignment. (prophetic)

Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction (Matthew 10:1). You can be sure Jesus wanted the disciples to connect this kind of authority to the command to earnest corporate prayer.

Communities of corporate prayer and worship become the slingshot for laborers. The kind of laborers needed for the harvest in the nations are born, nurtured and sent from worship and prayer communities. Jesus has zeal that these laborers would reproduce this culture in every city and nation to which they are sent. (Mark 14:9, Malachi 1:11)

The majority of your New Testament can be traced to a House of Prayer in an city called Antioch. Many have never even heard of this prophetic community that could arguably compete with Jerusalem in terms of its implications for New Testament Christianity and lasting impact on the Church in the earth.

A little history…

In Acts chapter 1, Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives just before he ascends into heaven and gives the command to tarry in Jerusalem in prayer and worship until something happened. He points them back to the divine prescription of Mathew 9 that would, he promised, unleash an outpouring of the Spirit which would clothe them with power and thrust them out to declare his name and commandments in every nation.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”… But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”-  Acts 1:4-8

The outpouring at Pentecost was an empowerment for an impossible task that Jesus had mandated the apostles with. One small community led by a group of fishermen, tax collectors, rebels and prostitutes would touch the entire earth with power.

…..when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. – Acts 2:1-2

Overnight, the church in Jerusalem explodes from a few hundred to a few thousand. Luke records this season of revival in Acts 3-5. Numbers began to be added daily them and unprecedented signs and wonders were being done at the hands of the Apostles. It is clear by Acts chapter 6 that they are just trying to manage and administrate this revival. All the while the to the ends of the earth mandate, which was the purpose of this outpouring of the Spirit, had come to rest on the back shelf of the prophetic words of the Apostles.

Then something transitions in Acts 7-8.

About a decade into the movement in Jerusalem, the “second tier” leaders are moving in such power and authority that it stirs up resistance resulting in the arrest and murder of Stephen. This event marks the beginning of what the Bible calls a season of great persecution for the church under the leadership of an up and coming young Jewish leader named Saul. The church is scattered throughout the region, on the run, and Acts chapter 8 picks up with one of the apostles, Phillip, who escapes to Samaria and others who were scattered “traveled as far as Phonecia and Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19-20)

When these “no names” arrive in Antioch they decide to preach the gospel to whoever will listen. They figured that if they are going to be persecuted and scattered from their homes because of Jesus and the gospel, they might as well earn it!

But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. — Acts 11:20-21

All of a sudden something amazing happens, the hand of the Lord backs their simple obedience with signs, wonders, and miraculous power so that overnight they have a great number who believed. Up to this point they had only heard stories from decades earlier when Peter first preached on the day of Pentecost. Now they too were experiencing a Pentecost of their own! They were so taken off guard by this move of the Spirit that they sent word to Jerusalem asking for help.

Meanwhile…

…something strange and marvelous had happened to that zealous young Jewish man leading the persecution against the church. He had a life-altering encounter with the man Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and a word spoken over his life about his purpose and destiny (Acts 9:1-19). Over the next decade Paul is searching for how in the world he is going to fulfill this newfound calling and assignment to “carry [the name of Jesus] before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He retreats to the wilderness of Arabia to unlearn everything that he had been taught sitting at the feet of Gamaliel and by spending 3 years sitting at the feet of another teacher, who would “guide him into all truth” and “search the deep things of God…and revealing the things freely given to us”. Paul later writes of this season, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”. (Gal 1:11-12) Eager to launch his new ministry and declare everything he had received by revelation in the wilderness, he goes up to Jerusalem from Arabia hoping to receive the endorsement of the Apostles and get a seat at the table with leaders of this new movement. Maybe they would be able to vouch for him? Maybe they could send out a letter endorsing his ministry? Maybe they would even let him join their inner circle (Acts 9:26). Paul imagined this could be his big break and couldn’t stop dreaming of all the possibilities that were ahead of him.

His visit, however, does not go as planned. He spends a few weeks with Peter but no one else wants to associate with him because they are afraid. No doubt some of them had suffered personally at the hand of Paul himself, if not under the orders Paul had given a few year earlier. James, the brother of Jesus, finally agrees to grab a quick coffee with him. We don’t know what was discussed in the Jerusalem Starbucks that afternoon but after that meeting all of Paul’s hopes for strategic networking with the major leaders of his day were replaced with the stark reality that no one cares about his big ministry or his prophetic word that the Gentiles will be included in the kingdom. To make matters worse, he gets into a spat with the Hellenists and stirs up a trouble for the church in the city to which it says the brothers kindly, “brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” He leaves his first visit to Jerusalem without receiving the “right hand of fellowship” from the Apostles, with death threats on his life, no big break, no endorsement, and asked by the brothers to just “go home.” He says of this moment, “I was still unknown” to the churches of Judea and later he writes with a sting of pain but also great confidence that he is  “an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead(Gal 1:1)

Unbeknownst to Paul, this visit proved to be more strategic and fruitful than he could have ever realized in the moment. Although the apostles had all but snubbed him and all the believers in the city were afraid of him, one man in Jerusalem saw something in this young anointed leader that was intriguing and pulled him aside. He wanted to hear the whole story from beginning to end, listening intently to every word Paul had to say. His eyes glistened with excitement when he heard the vision on the road to Damascus. His face showed empathy and concern when Paul described being chased out of Damascus by Jewish zealots. His tone gave no hint of skepticism or cynicism when Paul spoke about the things he encountered by the Spirit over 3 years in the desert of Arabia.

This man was generous and much loved, he was known for his gentle manner and encouraging words. Years earlier Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, introduces him as a wealthy man who was so happy to be a part of what God was doing and so sincere in his desire to serve, that he sold a field that belonged to him and laid all the proceeds at the Apostle’s feet. This man was name was Barnabas.

Paul sails home to Tarsus. His hopes for an apostolic ministry are shattered. He has no endorsement from major Christian leaders. He has no network to pull from. He has no idea how this word he heard from Jesus himself would become an assignment he could actually walk out. Paul arrives in Tarsus to try to pick up the pieces of his shattered life.

In Tarsus, Paul’s family was of a strict Jewish order. They were wealthy, prominent, landowners and strictly conservative. No doubt they had already heard about their son’s “psychotic episode” and his subsequent abandonment of the Jewish faith, his future, his career and his family. It is safe to say that by this time they had already publicly renounced him as an unbelieving gentile who was unworthy to even sit and dine at their table. He had shamed the family name. To make matters worse, some scholars believe that Paul was married prior to his encounter on the road to Damascus and that his wife, upon hearing of his conversion, left him and returned to Tarsus where she would be taken care of by his family.

Everyone in his hometown knew what had happened. As he lands in Tarsus, he made his way up to the house that was so familiar to him from his childhood, to beg his Father for permission to stay on the property. His family can’t hide their embarrassment that he is back home. His estranged wife didn’t want to hear the story of how he met Jesus, she just wants Paul to stop this crazy talk. She just wants her old husband back. He has to eat with the other servants of the house. The world seems to be crashing down on Paul. Deep questions arise in his heart about whether he had heard Jesus rightly. If he had obeyed, why is everything seemingly going wrong? Why, at every turn, is he getting farther and farther away from his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles? Should he just quit and settle in to being a tent-maker in Tarsus? At least he knows he is good at that. Here in Tarsus the pain of promises delayed turn into questions of whether the promises were even real in the first place. Here in Tarsus, Paul is sitting on a history shaping, earth shattering, apostolic calling while he stretches the next goat skin over another tent frame to sell just to make enough money to live on. Hope deferred has made his heart sick and he is ready to throw in the towel on his calling. He remembers his excitement on his way up to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and scoffs at his once “big dreams”. Now it was time to get on with real life.

There was only problem with this plan. He had seen Jesus.

Back in Antioch…

The report comes to Jerusalem from the revival in Antioch. Gentiles are receiving the gospel, numbers are being added daily, power, signs and wonders and who was leading it? Just a group of ones that were scattered from the persecution. Peter reads the letter out loud to the leadership team and as he finishes, he looks up and surveys the room. Finally with a twinge of hesitancy he asks, “Anyone want to go Antioch?” Everyone has a perplexed look on their faces as the silence grows thick. Peter, looking for any hint of willingness in the eyes of his leaders, sees one man in the corner with a with a smile from ear to ear.

“I’d be happy to go if it I could serve in anyway”, the unmistakable voice comes from the corner.

So they sent Barnabas to Antioch. (Acts 11:22)

When Barnabas arrived he saw what was happening in this amazing church. This group of refugees were praying and worshipping day and night, fasting, preaching the gospel with power signs and wonders, embracing people from all different ethnicities and had an unusual prophetic spirit operating in their midst. He was so excited to see this move of God. It reminded him of the revival he got saved in over a decade earlier. He encouraged these inexperienced leaders to keep going, keep pressing in, keep hosting the presence! He wasn’t there to take over, he was there to be a father to this budding new movement. Soon Barnabas began to wonder what the Lord may be up to in this new outpouring. Why here in Antioch? Why with these scattered, unseasoned leaders? All of a sudden it dawned on him. It was so obvious that at first he couldn’t believe he didn’t see it earlier. All the elements were there.

God was building a slingshot.

What Barnabas did next changed the course of human history.

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. – Acts 11:25-26

He had believed in Paul ever since he met him years earlier in Jerusalem. It pained his heart when the brothers sent him off to Tarsus. He knew this young man had a history-shaping calling on his but he needed to be put into the slingshot of Mathew 9 until he got an assignment.

Antioch was the place.

Barnabas went and retrieved the broken man from Tarsus and brought him to the family in Antioch that embraced him with open arms. It says for a year Paul, Barnabas and the church of Antioch met together contending in prayer, fasting, worship, saturating themselves in the word and warring with the prophetic promises.

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.” – Acts 13:2

One day in the prayer meeting, while they were worshiping the Lord, the Holy spirit broke in and took over the meeting. It was time for an ekballo. It was time to hurl forth laborers into the harvest field. Jesus had formed the kind of laborers he desired to send in Antioch and was ready to clothe them with power from on high.

Paul and Barnabas.

Then, after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and commissioned them with that divine commission that Jesus first uttered to those in the upper room years earlier, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that he has commanded you. And behold, he is with you always, to the end of the age”. Then they sent them off…being sent out by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:4)

This commissioning wasn’t given in the strategy meeting about how to reach the nations, it was born in earnest corporate prayer. It was nurtured in a community that hosted the presence of God in worship. They did not despise the prophetic spirit but eagerly awaited the in-breaking of a “now” word that they could pray through into completion. (1 Tim 1:18) They were the slingshot that God used to launch Paul into his apostolic ministry that is still bearing fruit in the nations to this day. The expansion of Christianity across the Roman world, majority of your New Testament and the understanding that the Gentile nations are being grafted in to the promises of God can all be traced back to the moment when Barnabas went to Tarsus, picked Saul up out of his despair, believed for him when he could barely believe for himself, and placed him in the divine slingshot….Antioch.  

 

R.A. Martinez