The church at Antioch was different. We find this group of believers in the book of Acts. The only mentions made of Antioch outside of Acts are both by Paul (Galatians 2:11, 2 Timothy 3:11). The first mention in Acts 6:5 identifies Nicolas, one of the first deacons, as a proselyte from Antioch (a proselyte was a non-Jew who converted to Judaism). The gospel came to Antioch as a result of the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom and was first preached to the Jews and then began to spread to the Gentiles at Antioch so the Jerusalem dispatched Barnabas to help ground them (Acts 11:19-22). Barnabas responded by leaving Antioch and going to Tarsus and getting Paul and returning with him to Antioch. The two of them taught there for a full year and it was here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians (Acts 11:25-26).
Having provided some background it is time to look at Luke’s record of what made Antioch unique.
1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
Here Barnabas and Saul (Paul) are prophets and/or teachers. As the church ministered to the Lord the Holy Spirit called them to commission Barnabas and Paul in their calling. The work to which they were called was apostolic and Barnabas and Paul were commissioned and sent out by the Antioch church as apostles (Acts 14:4, 14). Other churches in Acts were birthed or established by apostles, the Antioch church raised up and released them. As a result, Barnabas and Paul were now both released into their apostolic callings and the first of their apostolic journeys began.
In looking at what led to this unique event it is important to focus on ‘ministering to the Lord.’ First however a brief detour to the sons of Zadok. Zadok was one of the priests under David and when Absalom rebelled and drove David into the wilderness Zadok remained faithful to David, and more importantly, faithful to the Lord (2 Samuel 15:24-29). Ezekiel described it this way.
11 It shall be for the priests of the sons of Zadok, who are sanctified, who have kept My charge, who did not go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray. Ezekiel 48:11 (NKJV)
Ezekiel further describes the privilege passed on to the sons of Zadok. They could come near and minister to the Lord.
46 The chamber which faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar; these are the sons of Zadok, from the sons of Levi, who come near the Lord to minister to Him.” Ezekiel 40:46 (NKJV)
19 You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the Lord God. Ezekiel 43:19 (NKJV)
As believers we have the incredible privilege of a daily audience with the King of creation. In this audience we have the opportunity to place our request before Him, which He welcomes. Yet, in the context of this privilege, we also have the opportunity to minister to Him to worship Him simply because He is worthy. That is how the Lord’s Prayer starts, with worship of our Father. I wonder what will happen if we as the church give more time to ministering unto Him? What might He release in our midst? Who might He commission and send out? Let’s give ourselves to it and see.