We often hurry over verses (I have) and fail to take time to understand their importance. As Luke names the “prophets and teachers” at Antioch, he includes one called “Manaen a life-long friend (foster brother) of Herod the tetrarch, and (friend) of Saul” (Acts 13:1). How different was the life of Herod who lived in debauchery and hatred for Christ and His people, and this foster brother Manaen who became a devoted follower of Jesus and leader in the church. When Luke says that he was a friend of Saul, it makes me wonder what influence Saul had on him. Before Saul’s conversion, he mingled among the rulers of the Jews and no doubt had affiliations with the Roman court. Did Saul know Manaen before his conversion and went back to him to explain what God had done on the Damascus road?
What influence have we had on individuals who may have gone a very different direction were it not that God placed them in our path? This relative of Herod became an effective leader in Antioch who listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit (see verse2) so that Barnabas and Saul could be set apart for His work. God makes the “people connections”. It is our responsibility to be ready for them so our mission work is effective.
The interlude between Acts 9:31 and 11:24 is a mighty work of the Spirit in changing the Jewish mind of Peter and the church in Jerusalem from a solely Jewish church to one that accepts Gentiles. This required divine intervention, first with Peter and then with the church in Jerusalem, so they could recognize that God was doing something beyond them. To verify this work of the Spirit, Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to examine what was taking place. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad” (11:23).
This point becomes a challenge to our stale thinking. I fear we become so immersed in our own church activities and programs that we fail to see how God is working beyond our community, country and culture. How often do we stop and celebrate the new believers among the Aka people of Myanmar or the Muslims who have come to faith in Christ, accepting family and cultural persecution in many places around the world?
In this interlude, God is preparing Saul in Tarsus for the next stage of effective missions. Barnabas realizes that these new believers in Antioch need some good teaching to establish them in their faith. Who better to help him with this task than Saul? Barnabas goes up to Tarsus and looks for his friend and disciple and brings Saul back to Antioch. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (11:26). The uncertainty about this young convert Saul has melted and given way to effective teaching so that these new converts become a clear reflection of Christ!
How does our discipling, strengthening and encouraging of new believers compare to this? Is it so effective that the world sees the reflection of Christ in them? This multiplies our mission effort by the power of God working in persons!
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