Like a Baby Shower for Your Church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-28)
Topic: One Mission: I am Not Ashamed Passage: Acts 13:1–14:28
I. A Celebration of New Life
Like most men, the very first time I heard the term, “baby shower”, I was a little confused about why spraying down an infant was a group event; and why it was something to be celebrated. And shouldn't it be 'baby bath' instead of 'baby shower', you know, for safety reasons?
Thankfully, it didn't take long for me to realize that a baby shower was, in essence, a celebration of new life; specifically the blessing of new child for a couple, or maybe for a single mom. Sure, most baby showers are wonderful opportunities to provide for the material needs that come along with welcoming a new baby (diapers, wipes, clothes, a crib, a stroller, etc.), but these gatherings are much more than that. Whether before or after the birth, they are a community acknowledgment of this blessing, and a show of support for the parents or parent.
Whatever your experience with baby showers, I believe God has called every follower of Jesus to also celebrate new life, but specifically, the new life that comes only through our King and Redeemer. But this morning, I'd like to share with you a couple passages that help us see the different layers of this new birth. Look if you would at Acts 13.
II. The Passage: “Where They Had Been Commended” (13:1-3; 14:26-28)
You may remember this passage from this past week's readings in Our Bible Reading Plan. The setting here is the city of Antioch, located in ancient Syria, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem and about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean.
1. By the Spirit, From the Church (13:1-3)
Listen to what Luke tells us here in chap. 13:
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  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.”  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Now, the main thing I'd like to point out to you about this passage is the simple observation that Saul (or Paul) and Barnabas are sent out by the Holy Spirit, but from the church. Now the first part of that statement is pretty obvious. The Spirit commands the church leaders to not only set these men “apart”, but to “set apart for me”. And the reason? “...for the work to which I have called them.” Look down at verse 4. It's crystal clear: “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit...” But what does it mean that they were sent out from the church? Obviously, they were sent physically from that location. But verse 3 shows us it was more than that.
Saul and Barnabas, recognized as important teachers in the church, were commended to this new work. Look at how the church identified with and supported this new effort: the other church leaders fasted, they prayed, and they laid hands on these men, all formal elements that seem to explain the final phrase, “[they] sent them off”. Sent off or sent out from the church at Antioch.
You see, these men didn't leave in the middle of the night. They were not kicked out after a leadership dispute, or treated as traitors for going. No. The church was highly supportive of this new work. And why wouldn't they be? This new work was from the Holy Spirit.
But what exactly did this new work entail? Chapters 13 and 14 provide all the answers. This work to which the Holy Spirit called these men, included three key elements: evangelism, establishment, and encouragement. Let's unpack those one at a time.
First, Paul and Barnabas were evangelizing Jews and Gentiles throughout a number of new regions, first on the island of Cyprus, then in two regions of Asia Minor (what is today Turkey), regions known then as Pamphylia and Pisidia. Of course, 'evangelizing' means they were preaching the gospel (the Good News) about Jesus (often with accompanying miracles); they were calling men and women to follow Christ as Lord through the forgiveness of the cross. Chps. 13-14 contain two of these evangelistic messages: first in 13:16-41 and then in 14:15-17.
Second, these men were also establishing new churches in those areas where numerous people had been converted. In many of the places where Paul and Barnabas ministered, we read about “the disciples” who remained; that is, these new converts were now talked about as a group. In fact, Acts 14:23 talks about “every church” that now existed in these regions. And the same verse also describes how Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders” in these churches.
Were these new churches and new elders simply left to fend for themselves? No. The third aspect of this Holy Spirit-commissioned work involved Paul and Barnabas encouraging these churches on follow-up visits. And some months later, as we read about at the end of Acts 15, Paul returned to these same churches in order to continue his ministry of encouragement.
Now, if you want to hear about all three aspects of this work, the best passage to consider in these two chapters is Acts 14:21–23. Take a look at those verses with me...
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples [there's the evangelizing work], they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch [that's a different Antioch],  strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging [!] them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.  And when they had appointed elders for them in every church [establishing], with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
2. Gathering the Church, Glorifying God (14:26-28)
Now with that work in mind, I want you to see how these two chapters conclude. Look at 14:26...
...and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled [sent out from the church, right].  And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.  And they remained no little time with the disciples.
So notice how Paul and Barnabas return to the very church from which they were sent. Why is that important? Because it emphasizes the fact that what these men were doing was an extension of the Antioch church's ministry.
Can you imagine being part of that church and coming together because Saul and Barnabas had returned after who knows how many months? Can you imagine the excitement you would experience as you heard these men share about “all that God had done” through them on this journey? This gathering would be like a baby shower for your church; a celebration of new life; of one church (the church in Antioch) 'giving birth' to new churches (in Pisidia and Pamphylia). I love what chapter 15 tells us about the reaction of other churches in the region, churches on the way back to Jerusalem. 15:3 tells us that when Paul and Barnabas shared about “the conversion of the Gentiles”, that it “brought great joy to all the brothers.” In light of that, can you imagine how the sending church in Antioch would have reacted?
Now think about how this all fits into what we talked about last time. Episode after episode in Acts highlights how God was at work to open 'doors' for his word; that the growth described in this book, the growth happening in terms of the Christian faith, was a result of God opening doors. And isn't that exactly what we heard in Acts 14:27... they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
This is why chapters 13 and 14 are so important: this trip, this journey (traditionally called Paul's 'first missionary journey') helps us to see the fullness of how the 'marching orders' of Jesus, the Great Commission of Jesus, was fulfilled by the early church. It wasn't simply about getting the word out. It wasn't simply about converting people. It wasn't simply about everyone who had been pulled into the the lifeboat of Jesus now pulling someone else into that lifeboat. It was simply about multiplying converts. It was about multiplying churches. Establishing. Encouraging.
Why was that so important? Because the work to which the church was called was both gospel-sharing and disciple-making. And the work of making disciples, the work of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”, was entrusted to the church, not just individual believers; to local churches... hopefully healthy local churches. Antioch was a healthy, local church. And as we've seen this morning, it became a reproducing church.
Let's not forget how the church in Antioch itself was birthed/planted. Acts 11 tells us that Jewish Christians from Jerusalem escaped to Antioch because of (11:19) “the persecution that arose over Stephen”. Many of these Jews only shared Christ with fellow Jews. But some spoke to Greeks as well. So we're told in 11:21 that “a great number who believed turned to the Lord”. When news of this reached Jerusalem, the church there sent out Barnabas to investigate. When he did he recognized the need to help establish and encourage this new church. So Barnabas went to get Saul, and they spent a year building up this new body of believers. Now, please notice that the Jerusalem church did not plant the church in Antioch in any deliberate way. But in Acts 13, the Spirit is leading this church in Antioch to do that very thing: to be deliberate about sending believers to evangelize, establish, and encourage; to intentionally send out a team to evangelize & plant churches. This was “the work to which [the Spirit had] called” these men.
III. How Can You Be Involved?
Last Sunday we talked about how the word of God got from there to here, as well as about how the word of God should go from here to 'there'.
What I believe God wants us to understand in light of our passage this morning is that not only were individuals faithful to share the Good News about Jesus down through the centuries (and right down to your doorstep, I pray), but that churches were faithful to reach those individuals, to disciple those individuals, to equip those individuals, to send out and support those individuals, who themselves went on to establish healthy churches that would do the very same thing.
As many of you already know, I'm sharing God's word with you this morning because Camelback Bible Church was faithful to do this very work, in and through me and the team that was sent. In fact, the same year they planted this church, they planted another church in downtown Phoenix as well. We believe these were teams sent out by the Holy Spirit, but from the church. And that reality, that Scriptural insight, should challenge each of us in terms of our perspective on God's work. Let me make three suggestions in terms of application:
First, assess every ministry you support in light of their commitment to strengthen and/or multiply local churches. Christians have not always done well in this area. We've supported and sent out evangelists, Bible translators, relief workers, youth workers, campus workers, sports ministers, chaplains, mechanics, artists, lecturers, and the list could go on. And many of these individuals are certainly used by God to extend the gospel's reach. But oftentimes, such ministers and ministries have no or very weak connections with the ministry of the local church. In fact, some attempt to replace the local church. They tend to focus on making converts rather than disciples. Brothers and sisters, let's look for ways to support missionary efforts that do the very things we see in chp 13-14: evangelizing, establishing, and encouraging.
Second, learn about, pray for, and celebrate over these efforts, both near and far. We have the privilege of partnering with the Laustsen and Murray families in Quebec as they seek to evangelize and plant a church among the most unreached people group in the Western hemisphere: the French-speaking Quebecois of Canada. Who is sending these men and their families? Faithful churches: Calvary Baptist Church in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, L'Eglise de Verdun in Montreal, as well as a support agency called Mission Quebec. Do you know about these efforts? Are you praying for them? During the short life of our church we've also had amazing opportunities to partner with church planters in India; we've even sent individuals and teams to places like Africa, Japan, in order to encourage the churches there. Though we play a small part, we need to have more 'baby shower' moments of celebration in light of these efforts.
On that note, third, pray that our faith family would, in God's timing, be able to send out others for this same work. As Buckeye grows, we want to grow, right? As Buckeye grows, we also want to welcome and encourage more healthy churches, right? And as Buckeye grows, we also want to plant churches in keeping with these needs. And maybe God will have us send and plant churches further away. Would you pray with me that Way of Grace would be like the church in Antioch? That we would listen to the Spirit, that we would fast and pray, that we would send and support, that we would reproduce for the sake of the kingdom, and in light of it all, that we would rehearse God's mighty works of new life... and rejoice?
Too many Christians today think only in terms of people getting saved. But the Holy Spirit also thinks in terms of churches being birthed. The two should go hand in hand, since our mission is not simply conversion. It's making disciples. This is how the kingdom expands, through embassies of the kingdom of God, embassies we know as local churches. And what drives it all? The gospel. We pray and partner and plan and give and send and go not because we have to, but because we want to; because we want others to know that same joy; because we have joy in Jesus; we have a new heart that loves what He loves: new birth, i.e., lives and churches.