Fasting as Senders and Goers
Friday, August 23, 2019
Devotional for Day 12
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. — Acts 13:1-3 (ESV)
In this passage, we see the first Christians are worshiping and seeking God. As they do, we see the Holy Spirit direct them to send out two of their especially gifted and godly leaders.
There are at least two things about this passage that we should be sure to take note of—things which deepen our understanding of fasting and the Christian life. From there, I am hoping we can see the direct application of this passage to our lives.
One thing we should note about this passage is that it comes at a pivotal point in the Book of Acts. Following the pattern that Jesus foretold, in chapters one through eight we see the gospel going out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria. From the end of chapter eight through chapter twelve, the Gospel begins to spread, incidentally and incrementally, beyond Judea and Samaria to Gentiles in the rest of the Roman world. In this passage, we see a further development—the early church intentionally sends out missionaries to the Gentile world.
A second feature of this particular passage is that the list of leaders given here is, in many ways, a diverse group. Notice the list of names Luke gives us. First comes Barnabas. Readers of the book of Acts will already be familiar with Barnabas. Barnabas was a Jewish Christian evangelist. Since niger is the Latin word for “black,” Simeon was most likely a black man. Cyrene is a city in northern Africa, so Lucius was also from Africa. Luke doesn’t tell us where Manaen is from, but we learn from his description that he is clearly a person of extremely high social status. He serves as a very visible example of the Christian movement spreading to places of influence in the ancient world. Finally, Saul appears to be the apostle Paul’s Jewish name. You likely know Paul well—it is difficult to overstate how influential Paul was in bringing the good news to the Roman world. In this passage, then, we get a small glimpse into God’s heart to see the Gospel spread to all kinds of people.
It is in the context of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the message of Gospel that this passage comes. These early leaders in the church—“prophets and teachers,” we are told—fast. And as they fasted, the Holy Spirit confirmed God’s calling on Barnabas and Saul. Fasting then leads to mission—the specific mission of bringing the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to the Gentiles.
The parallel of all of this to believers today is readily apparent: we should join these early Christian in fasting for mission—that we might send out missionaries as well as to determine that we ourselves should go as missionaries. In the practices of fasting as well as sending and going on mission, these first Christians were following Christ’s commands (Matt 6:16-18; Matt 28:16-20). May we fast today like them with openness to anything God might be calling us to, not least to His commands to go into all the world with the Gospel.
On the basis of this passage, I would encourage you today to fast specifically for missions and missionaries. Fast for the purpose of seeing the gospel spread into all of the world. Following the example of these early Christians, perhaps you might also schedule a time in the coming weeks to fast and pray with others that God would send godly Christians—perhaps, even you—to share the message of Christ’s death and resurrection with others.
As you fast today, here is a prayer you might pray:
Lord, I am asking today that You would send men and women to share the gospel with others.
I pray that You would give me an opportunity to share as well.
Lord, give me opportunities, here, right where I live.
I offer myself to go to somewhere presently unknown to me, should You call me.
Lord, give me opportunities to bring the gospel to others.
And give me opportunities to send out others to go.
Teaching Fellow, Christian Union at Princeton