The Book of Acts, in Acts 13, turns once again toward Paul and from here out it is mostly about Paul and Paul’s missional work. The opening verses of Acts 13 are fitting beginning for the week because it is about God’s anointing:
13:1 Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. 13:2 While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 13:3 Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.
Paul’s mission into Asia Minor is prompted by the impulses and will of God as God speaks through the prophets and teachers. The actual calling itself is the direction of the Holy Spirit.
This text reminds us again that mission is the mission of God and that missional work is what God is doing, regardless of what we are doing. Saul and Barnabas are set apart for extending the gospel into far away places because God’s Spirit moved through the leaders at Antioch to reveal what Saul and Barnabas were to do. This is a one-of-a-kind action of the Spirit in the Book of Acts; nowhere else does the Spirit direct the church like this.
Again, the work they were to do was the work “to which I have called them.”
The leaders at Antioch include (probably) two Africans, one of whom is black (Simeon who is called Niger) and one from Cyrene in Africa. Luke provides very little here, but one can infer from these names that the earliest churches in Antioch were ethnically mixed and one can also infer that ethnic status had nothing to do with who was a leader and who was not.
That they were worshiping and fasting … worshiping is not clear as to what it means — it could refer to performing ritual acts or, what is probably more likely, it refers to time being spent before God in adoration. Fasting is a normal response to grievous conditions, and one can infer here that they are responding in part to the seriousness of the missional work of God in this world. (On fasting, I have a short introductory guide: Fasting: The Ancient Practices
, and I pray this book will put some sanity on the table about what fasting is designed to do.)