So, this morning, we will be delving into Acts Chapter 13. We’ll be reading verses one through three—a relatively short passage, but it holds significant meaning. However, before we dive into it, I’d like to share a unique aspect of the place where I currently reside.
I live in a South Asian Muslim country, and the culture here places a strong emphasis on honor and shame. In this cultural context, it’s considered more respectful to avoid giving someone a direct negative answer. In contrast, in the West, we might refer to this practice as being less than truthful.
For instance, when I’m trying to locate a specific place or arranging a meeting with someone, I often find myself asking locals for directions. I’ll stop at a small shop, approach someone sipping Chai, and inquire, “Do you know where I can find such and such?” The response I receive is usually brimming with confidence. The person will stand up and start providing detailed instructions, assuring me that the destination is just a couple of blocks away, and all I need to do is take a left.
What do I do next? Well, I follow their instructions, heading down the designated route. However, more often than not, I find myself nowhere near the intended location. There are no signs, no indication of the place I was told about. So, I have to retrace my steps and seek out another kind soul, usually an elderly gentleman who I respectfully address as “Uncle Gee.”
I’ll ask him, “Can you please help me find this place?” He’ll nod and offer different directions, typically instructing me to go back to where I started and then continue further, perhaps making another turn. It’s a process filled with uncertainty and a fair share of humorous moments.
If you’re ever curious about the daily life of someone in ministry overseas, let me tell you, about 90% of my time is spent just trying to locate something as basic as the grocery store or handling seemingly straightforward tasks like paying the electric bill.
It often takes an extended amount of time because it’s challenging to find the right individual for the task. Locating the correct person is a significant triumph. You’d be surprised to know how frequently the place or item I’m searching for isn’t even in the same city where I currently am, and no one is willing to point that out. People usually won’t tell you straightforwardly that you’re in the wrong town, opting instead for a different approach.
Let me share an example: My son and I once ventured out for a mountain biking trip in the mountains. We arrived at what we believed was the trailhead, but there were numerous paths going in different directions, including some resembling goat trails. Feeling lost, we asked a local for directions. He confidently pointed us in a particular direction, which turned out to be a steep, challenging path. We struggled to make progress, and my son, who was relatively new to mountain biking, ended up carrying his bike more than riding it. Ultimately, we found the correct trail, and the man who initially misdirected us even became a friend to whom we shared the Good News. However, on that occasion, we lacked a guide to show us the way.
This issue doesn’t only pertain to finding places and objects; it also extends to fixing things. In a previous place of residence, we frequently experienced long power outages during the day. We had split-unit air conditioners on the wall, so we’d run the AC whenever electricity was available. However, one scorching day, with temperatures soaring to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, our AC suddenly malfunctioned. I urgently needed to find a technician who could repair it. At the local market, I encountered a man wearing a tool belt who claimed to be proficient at fixing AC units. I brought him home, but to my dismay, he dismantled the entire outdoor unit and started unplugging components from the circuit board, without a clear understanding of what he was doing. When we reassembled everything, the AC remained lifeless. It took me weeks to finally locate the right technician, identified by the company logo on his shirt. He arrived late at night and diligently repaired the AC, although there was a mishap when he accidentally fell through the skylight in our bathroom.
These anecdotes highlight the importance of finding the right person or solution for a given problem. Today, we’ll be discussing the ultimate guide, comforter, and encourager—the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, the instances I described earlier all involved people attempting to provide assistance or fix things using their own abilities, whereas we’re about to explore the divine guidance and empowerment offered by the Holy Spirit.
Today, we’re delving into the concept of having a guide, comforter, and encourager who is God Himself. It’s a realization that, when operating within our own abilities, we can’t fully trust the direction we take. However, with God, we can indeed trust that He will show us the way, guide us, and make a path for us. We can confidently rely on His guidance.
Throughout our series, we’ve been journeying through Acts Chapter 1 and beyond. We observed faithful prayer among the disciples during uncertain times, witnessing their unwavering commitment to prayer. Subsequently, two of these disciples encountered the guide, comforter, and encourager—the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, resulting in the birth of the Church. They faithfully journeyed together, shared everything in common, devoted themselves to teaching and prayer, broke bread, and engaged in baptism.
However, they also experienced persecution—an expectation for Christ’s followers. They knew that faithfulness often leads to resistance and persecution. Last week, we discussed the faithful expansion of the gospel, exemplified by Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. It emphasized the universal reach of God’s gospel, meant for everyone.
Now, we turn to Acts Chapter 13. It’s crucial to grasp the context. Due to the persecution of Stephen, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago, many believers were scattered. Among these scattered individuals were Greek-speaking Jews who ventured out of Jerusalem, spreading the Word of God and the gospel. They reached a place called Antioch, where Gentiles—non-Jewish people—embraced faith in Christ. Antioch became the birthplace of a church.
Pause for a moment to contemplate the significance of this. If you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s a pivotal moment in history because this event is the reason you’re here today, able to sit in this pew and worship God. The gospel of Jesus Christ reached you, transformed your life, gave you hope, and granted you salvation, likely regardless of your Jewish heritage. It all started with faithful individuals in Antioch—a monumental achievement that should not be underestimated. Today, we’ll examine their story and explore how they exemplified faithfulness.
That brings us to our current point. Let’s read Acts Chapter 13. You’ve already heard the context leading up to this. The Church in Antioch is flourishing, and by the way, Antioch is located in modern-day Turkey. If you look at a map, it might be labeled “Antakya” – that’s the Turkish name for it. These are real places, real events, and you’re sitting in these pews today as a result of the profound impact this center had on Christianity throughout history. It’s truly remarkable.
Now, let’s delve into Acts Chapter 13, where the first verse tells us who was present at that time. Verse one of Acts Chapter 13 reads, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch), and Saul.” They were worshipping the Lord and fasting when the Holy Spirit spoke, saying, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” After fasting, praying, and laying hands on them, they sent them off.
In alignment with the vision of God that we discussed last week, we know that God’s vision is to have people from every nation, tribe, and language come to know and worship Jesus Christ in the end, as depicted in Revelation Chapter 7, verse 9. We catch a glimpse of this vision beginning to unfold with the birth of the Church in Antioch.
From this point, Acts Chapter 13 marks the commencement of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journeys. The subsequent sections of Acts will primarily focus on Paul’s journeys, illustrating the expansion of God’s Kingdom and His glory to the ends of the earth. What we covered last week with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch was just the beginning. Acts Chapter 13, verse 1, marks the start of the rest of the story, showing how the gospel spreads.
The initial thing we observe in these short verses is a faithful church. This city in modern-day Turkey, Antioch, was among the earliest centers of Christianity. It was a predominantly Gentile city but had a Jewish and God-fearing presence as well. Antioch held significant influence. So, what were they engaged in before the Holy Spirit’s intervention? It’s noteworthy to acknowledge that, often, when we witness the work of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t explicitly mention that He spoke – this is one of the exceptions. Would we even be prepared to hear such a message right now if the Holy Spirit were to speak? The answer is probably no; it’s a significant and profound event.
But what were these faithful believers doing prior to the Holy Spirit speaking? They were engaged in worship and fasting together. This is vital. We can infer that they followed the practices of the early Church, which included being devoted to the teachings of the apostles, baptizing new believers, praying, fasting, and worshipping the Lord together. This, my friends, is a portrait of a faithful church. What we don’t see here is an undue focus on seeking extraordinary Holy Spirit experiences.
They weren’t sitting there pondering how to make the Holy Spirit speak; they were simply embodying a faithful church. They were devoted followers of Christ, committed to glorifying God together, and the Holy Spirit manifested Himself. Now, you might wonder why it sometimes feels like the Holy Spirit isn’t as prevalent in American churches. Perhaps it’s because we’re not faithfully engaging with what’s right before us. This isn’t limited to America; it can happen elsewhere as well.
Verse 2 highlights the presence of a faithful church because they were worshipping the Lord and fasting. Why include fasting here? Fasting is not some magical formula to trigger the Holy Spirit’s movement; rather, it signifies a focus on God rather than self. They were so committed to faithfulness that they set aside time, putting aside their own needs to seek God. That, indeed, is faithfulness. This paints a vivid image of a faithful church.
While they were practicing this faithfulness, the Holy Spirit spoke, instructing them to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He had called them. The one who spoke is the Holy Spirit, the ever-faithful God. God never abandons us; He is always faithful. In John chapter 14-17, Jesus promises His disciples that He will always be with them. As He prepares to depart from His disciples, He assures them that they will receive a Helper. John 14:15-17 reads, “If you love me, you will keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
It’s worth noting that this verse is sometimes cited by Muslims around the world as referring to the Prophet Muhammad. However, let’s examine it closely. It states that the Father will give another Helper to be with you forever, identified as the Spirit of truth. This Helper will dwell with and in you. No human prophet remains with us forever, dwells inside us, or is referred to as the Spirit of truth. This is undoubtedly a reference to the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus and given by God.
Moreover, Jesus’ message about the Helper is specifically directed to His disciples, not to everyone. It emphasizes that the Helper will be in them. In various teams or families, there are distinctive signs that indicate where someone belongs. For instance, you can look at me and know that I am Kevin’s son. There are identifiable markers that signify our origins.
The presence of the Holy Spirit serves as a sign that we are indeed God’s children, and we mustn’t take this for granted. The Holy Spirit residing within us signifies our belonging to Christ and God. This is a significant indicator of our identity.
So, what exactly does the Holy Spirit do? In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul, in his prayer for the Church of Ephesus, provides insights into the Holy Spirit’s role. He begins by kneeling before the Father, recognizing God’s authority over all families in heaven and on earth. He prays that, according to the richness of His glory, believers may be strengthened with inner power through the Holy Spirit. Paul further prays that Christ may take residence in their hearts through faith, urging them to be deeply rooted and firmly established in love. He desires for them to comprehend the vast dimensions of God’s love—its length, width, height, and depth—along with the love of Christ that surpasses human knowledge. Ultimately, Paul’s prayer seeks that believers may be filled with the fullness of God.
This profound prayer emphasizes that the Holy Spirit grants us the ability and strength to grasp and live according to God’s will. Without the Holy Spirit, fulfilling God’s will would be impossible, and this realization should humble us. We were once separated from God due to our sin, and we did nothing to merit Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Nevertheless, God’s love is so immense that He not only sent Jesus to die for us but also sent the Holy Spirit to assist His disciples in obeying His commandments. This guidance is an unearned gift, a manifestation of God’s love.
Consider this: If I ask my children to perform a task, I don’t hire someone else to help them do it. I expect them to complete it because I instructed them to. In contrast, God, our loving Father, provides us with salvation and guidance even though we don’t deserve it. He empowers us through the Holy Spirit, enabling us to understand and align with His will. Moreover, the Holy Spirit equips us to articulate and proclaim what God desires us to communicate. As Jesus assured His disciples, when faced with challenges, they need not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would provide them with the words.
I understand that some of you may find it hard to believe, but there have been moments when words and phrases I don’t remember learning have come out of my mouth. I’ve even experienced it during a gospel presentation, which may sound strange to admit. Sometimes I’ve shared a message, walked away, and realized that I never learned those specific words from a book or a source; it just flowed naturally. You see, God blesses us with gifts that are meant to glorify Him and serve His purposes. In 1 Corinthians 12, these gifts are outlined, and the Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in sanctifying us. According to Romans 8, the Holy Spirit empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body. The presence of the Holy Spirit within us serves as evidence of God’s dwelling within us.
Now, let’s focus on the main point of this sermon: the Holy Spirit’s role as a guide. Jesus kept His promise, and we can observe the Holy Spirit’s work throughout the Book of Acts. It all begins in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, empowering them to boldly proclaim the message of Christ. Men and women are filled with the Spirit, leading to faithfulness in their lives. Even as Stephen faces martyrdom for his faith, he is filled with the Spirit. Encouragers like Barnabas, who embarks on teaching journeys, are effective because they are filled with the Spirit. Apollo, a less frequently mentioned figure, is known for his fervent spirit-filled ministry. The Holy Spirit has the power to shake rooms, as seen in Acts 4, where they prayed for boldness, and the place trembled. The Spirit’s presence extends to all believers, emphasizing that it’s not limited to Jewish followers of Christ. This is evident in the story of Cornelius, a Gentile, who receives the Holy Spirit. This was a profound revelation, as it indicated that Gentiles, too, were God’s people.
Additionally, the Holy Spirit at times prevents Paul and others from pursuing their own plans. Paul mentions several instances where the Spirit hindered their intentions. In such moments, it’s crucial to remember that this is God’s work, and we should not question why our plans were thwarted. Finally, we witness the fruits of the Spirit as we walk in step with the Holy Spirit. If we live by the Spirit, He produces these fruits in us. As a side note, the previous congregation in the earlier service was not familiar with the “Fruits of the Spirit” song. Does anyone here know that song?
Is there a song you’d like to sing? No? I thought so. That’s why I made my son sing it last time. I don’t know it either. I’m just having some fun with you. But let’s talk about the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things, right? So, we need to live by the Spirit. As we read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, this is what the Spirit produces, and we should walk and live accordingly.
Now, let’s get back to the main point. In the short passage of Acts 13:1-3, we also see a faithful response. As they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I’ve called them.” Then, after they had fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them off. This response can be broken down into four parts, all within two verses. Nowhere does it mention that they formed a committee or consulted various committees to decide how they should proceed. They didn’t call up Jerusalem to get Peter’s opinion. They didn’t have phones back then, so don’t be fooled by that thought.
What we do see is a faithful church that listens to the Holy Spirit’s guidance: “Set apart Barnabas and Saul.” Barnabas, the great encourager, was a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus. He was likely one of the seventy sent out by Jesus (Luke 10) and was part of this church. Paul, who would later write most of the New Testament, was also a member. Do you think these key members were important and influential in the church?
Do you think so? We don’t see any sort of discussion like, “We don’t want to lose our best guys,” right? They didn’t worry about losing their star teachers, thinking, “If we lose them, we lose our great teaching.” No, what they were focused on from the start was faithfulness. They wanted to be a faithful church that followed Jesus and put God above all else. When the Holy Spirit spoke, that part didn’t change. What did change? Nothing changed about the Holy Spirit speaking. Faithfulness meant they were going to entrust Barnabas and Saul to the Holy Spirit for this work and send them off.
Furthermore, we don’t see Paul and Barnabas asking for permission during their journey, like, “Hey, you guys, do you mind if we go here or there?” There were no phones back then, but the Antioch Church didn’t dictate where they should go or what they should do. Instead, they trusted that the same Holy Spirit who had spoken to them was also guiding Paul and Barnabas in the field. Through all of this, we witness a faithful Church being used by God to expand the gospel across the earth. You’re sitting in those pews because of this faithful church. It’s a significant accomplishment, and I’ll say it five more times if needed. I feel like the importance of it might not be sinking in.
So, let’s break down their faithful response. First, they fasted, focusing on God rather than themselves. They prayed, likely seeking wisdom, guidance, protection, and boldness. They laid hands on Barnabas and Saul, essentially blessing and commissioning them for this mission. Finally, they obediently sent them off immediately. Now, how many of you have children? Raise your hand. And how many of you have children who obey the first time, every time, without any trouble? Yeah, I’m in the same boat. They may be adorable, but they’re not always the best at instant obedience, right?”
Sometimes my 4-year-old, she’ll say something like, “First time every time,” even when she keeps disobeying me. We’re like, “Come on, girl, you’re not doing it first time every time,” right? But that’s not how the church was. They heard from the Holy Spirit, and they responded with obedience and faithfulness. They were certain in their actions. Faithful followers, being used by God, will consistently respond with obedience to the Holy Spirit. They were attentive, they were obedient, and they set a high standard of faithfulness.
Now, this morning, as the worship team begins to come up here, we’re going to have a time of response and invitation. There are a few things to consider in our hearts. First and foremost, if you haven’t experienced the peace, confidence, and joy of salvation in Jesus Christ, if you don’t have the Holy Spirit in you, this is an opportunity to give your life to Christ and start that journey. Without the Holy Spirit, life is like treading water in a losing battle.
For those who are already followers of Christ, ask yourself if you are attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the Holy Spirit doesn’t always speak audibly; sometimes, we have our blinders on. Are you obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Is there something the Holy Spirit is urging you to do right now, today, that you might be resisting?
Finally, both as a church and as individuals, have you set the bar of faithfulness as your main goal? Take time to reflect on these questions and respond accordingly. There will be people up here to help and pray with you.
Let’s close this time in prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your unwavering faithfulness. We acknowledge our struggles in being faithful as individuals and as a church, but we’re grateful that you are always faithful. You sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and within us. Help us, Lord, to respond faithfully this morning. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.