TODAY’S READING: Acts 12–14
Martyrdom in the Bible was neither heroic nor foolish; it was normal and God-decreed in His wisdom and in His time. James was no fool and Peter was no hero. There is no recorded reason why James was struck with a sword that killed him and Peter with a slap that woke him. Life and death are in the hands of the Lord and He employs them both for His glory. What is recorded is that Herod was struck and killed because he did not give glory to God. In missions we cannot be sure if we will be delivered from prison or delivered up to die, but we can be sure that if we try to steal or share any of God’s glory because we speak well, it will not end well.
What does bring Jesus glory is a church that reflects heaven in its diversity. The whole mission of God is to redeem a remnant from every people group on earth. Thus, whenever He sees advance outposts of this multi-cultural eternal body, He takes great delight. Antioch, the first church outside Jerusalem, was such a glorious collection. Not only were there prophets (after 400 silent years), these prophets were from all over the place. Barnabas was from Cyprus, Simeon likely a black man from North Africa, Lucius from Libya, Manaen likely a freed slave, and Paul the Turk. Not only was the Antioch church multi-cultural from the beginning, it also was missionary right from the start (Acts 13:2). Churches that make Jesus glad are multi-cultural and missionary from day one.
It is of note that missionaries are first to be called and second to be doubly sent. Paul and Barnabas were clearly first called by God, then sent by the church and the Holy Spirit, with prayer and fasting as the glue that brought unified purpose and action (vv. 2–4). How often, I’m sure, did Paul and Barnabas need to look back to that moment when they knew God had called them. When the stones struck, the doors slammed shut, the waves assailed, and the enemy tormented, what kept them was that they knew they were called and sent by God and His church. Even so today. Missionaries who are not called and sent do not endure when all hell breaks loose against them and every friend disappoints them. What keeps missionaries in the war is the peace that God Himself has called and sent them, and that the body of Christ has affirmed this call.
Acts 13 revealed a flaw in the early church’s logic. They assumed after Pentecost that the gospel would spread naturally to the ends of the earth and all peoples. It doesn’t—it spreads intentionally and at a cost. Paul’s example shows us four critical aspects of biblical missions. First, the church must send their best. The Antioch church fasted and prayed, and God moved them to send their best leaders, their most spiritual and influential members. Second, preaching the Word is the main activity of missions accompanied by healing and wonders. Third, persecution always follows the preaching of the Word. Fourth, prayerfully indigenous disciples must be made and leaders raised up and empowered to lead local churches. If we glorify God in this, it doesn’t matter when or how we die.