In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 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.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
This is a pivotal moment in the forward movement of the gospel. Saul and Barnabas are sent out on their first missionary journey, with further journeys to follow. Multitudes of people will come to faith, scores of churches planted, access to Jesus established in regions that previously had none, and a rationale will be provided for the writing of letters of encouragement and instruction that will make up a major portion of the New Testament scriptures. This is a big moment.
But we get so little detail. I’m left with many questions:
• How did the Holy Spirit speak? Was it audible, or through a prophetic insight, or through common wisdom, or how?
• When did the actual calling of Saul and Barnabas take place? Was it in this very instance, this one sentence being a much-condensed version of the specific instructions given by the Spirit? Or, had Saul and Barnabas understood their calling previously, and this occasion was simply the sounding of the starting gun, the Holy Spirit saying “now!”?
• How much of the “calling” itself did they understand? Did they get a “big picture” vision or simply a sighting of the “next step”?
• Who were these other leaders, and how did they feel? I assume they experienced a measure of grief as they realized the approaching loss. I imagine they met it with renewed sacrificial commitment to the gospel mission. Likely, they also had a sense of Spirit-inspired anticipation regarding how this would all play out. But I wonder what feelings dominated?
There are probably many more questions that could be stirred up. I think in asking them I’m hoping to better my own understanding of how the Spirit communicates and leads. But I realize, even in asking, that it’s all so deeply rooted in relationship. How the Spirit speaks to one, or to a group, will be so different from the next. He knows who we are and how we respond. My questions can’t uncover the fabric of the relationship that Barnabas and Simeon and Lucius and Manaen and Saul each had with the Holy Spirit, nor the nature of their communal relationship together as they sought the Spirit’s guidance.
What I’m left with, then, is a yearning to press deeper into that relationship myself, along with the community of faith in which I live. I stand on the words of Jesus, who promised his disciples: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). That promise undergirds this Acts 13 story. It’s rooted in relationship. The Spirit has come as our Helper, Comforter, Counselor, and Friend. He chooses to communicate his will.
So, inspired by these leaders in Antioch, I will lean more fully into relationship with the Spirit. I haven’t had all my questions answered, but the Spirit who guided then, is the same who is with me now.
Holy Spirit, I welcome you afresh. Thank you for your presence. I am thankful for the times I have known your clear leading. But I am inspired by these leaders of Antioch to know you better yet. I am challenged by their communal life, their fellowship together being the context in which you spoke. I commit myself anew to Christ’s Body. I open my eyes and ears, being sensitive to your guidance, as I seek also to be sensitive to insights from brothers and sisters in Christ. To Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Reflect: Think of a time when you have experienced the clear direction of the Spirit, in big ways or small, either individually or as part of a group. Remember the details. Give thanks. Commit yourself afresh to the Lord’s guidance. Keep eyes and ears open.