In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (a childhood companion of Herod the tetrarch), and Saul.
I. ITS HUMAN COMPOSITION. (Ver. 1.) Great names have been entered on the rolls of many Churches; but very few indeed, if any, could compare with the list which included the names of Barnabas and Saul, as well as that of a man (Manaen) who was the foster-brother of Herod Antipas. A Church is influential, not only according to the number of souls it can count in its communion, but according to the character of the men who are included in its ranks. A Church which can win and can train and send forth a most useful minister, or a most successful missionary, or a most powerful writer, may do a work which, in the balances of Heaven, weighs more than that of another which has five times its number on the lists. Nowhere more than here does quality, character, spiritual worth, tell in the estimate of truth and wisdom.
II. ITS DIVINE INDWELLING. The Church at Antioch had "prophets and teachers" (ver. 1). This statement implies that there were those amongst the brethren who received occasionally such Divine impulse that they spoke under the consciousness of his inspiration. And to them, or to one of them, the Spirit of God made known the Divine will that they should set apart two of their number for special work (ver. 2). Evidently this Church was one in which, as in a temple, the Holy Ghost dwelt. The fact of the indwelling of the Spirit is not, indeed, anything which is itself remarkable; for no Church of which this cannot be said is worthy of its name. But of "the Church that was at Antioch" this was strikingly and eminently true, if we may take this short passage of its history as of a piece with the rest.
III. ITS RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY. We know that Barnabas and Saul "taught much people" (Acts 11:26); the work of evangelization went on actively at, Antioch. We may gather from our text - "they ministered to the Lord, and fasted" - that the Church was diligent in its devotions; not only worshipping when it was convenient and agreeable to the flesh, but to the extent of self-denial: twice in two verses we read of the members fasting (vers. 2, 3). Fasting, for the sake of fasting or with a view of pleasing Christ, is not enjoined, and both the words of our Lord and the genius of his religion discourage rather than encourage it. But we shall undoubtedly do well to pursue our work and to maintain our worship - "ministering unto the Lord" - up to and within the line of self-control and even self-denial; not only not giving the reins to our bodily cravings, but checking these and restricting ourselves beyond that which is positively demanded, if by so doing we can worship God more spiritually or work more effectively for our fellows.
IV. ITS OBEDIENT ENTRANCE ON AN APPARENTLY HOPELESS ENTERPRISE. (Vers. 2, 3.) The Church was commanded by its Lord to send two of its members on the errand of converting the Gentiles, "and... they sent them away." It was not its part to "reason why," but to obey. Had it reckoned the likelihood of the case, dwelt on the difficulties in the way of success, measured the might and number of its adversaries, weighed the strength of two Jews against the learning, the prejudice, the military forces, the material interests, the social customs, the evil habits, the inwrought unrighteousness of a bitterly and even passionately hostile world, it would have hesitated, it would have refrained. But it did not measure these things. It heard the sovereign sound of its Divine Leader's voice, and it proceeded unquestioningly to obey. It "sent them away." And they went forth - those two men - unpracticed in the wiles of the world; poor; unarmed; unequipped with any forces which, on mere human lines, could avail anything; determined to preach a doctrine which would be received with the haughtiest contempt, which would clash with men's strongest interests and smite their most cherished sins; - they went forth, with the confidence of the Church behind them (ver. 3), with the hand of the Lord upon them, with the hope of his welcome and his reward before them. It was a splendid action of an illustrious Church, and the nearer we can approach it in our own times and in our own communities, the dearer shall we be to our Master and the greater service shall we render to our race. - C.
Now there were in the Church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers.
(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
I. Those members of the Church at Antioch as CONSPICUOUS MEN. They were stars. Among the thousands connected with the Bible, only a few are named, so they must have been special noteworthy men: — "Barnabas," "Simeon, that was called Niger" — black. "Lucius" of Cyrene, an African settlement. Simeon was black. He might have been an African; and Lucius was for certain. "Manaen," brought up with Herod the tetrarch. It was the old custom to have a sort of adopted child as companion for young princes, thus forming what would seem a companionship for life. A man who had lived in court would be a fine man, but his living with Herod throws another light upon things. He was "brought up" in court — then he had heard John the Baptist thunder and lighten in his preaching. "Brought up" in court — then he knew John in prison. Was he one of John's disciples? "Brought up with Herod." Then he knew that woman, the wife of the steward, who ministered so to Jesus. "Brought up with Herod." Then he was at the crucifixion when Jesus was "set at nought," when on bended knees the cruel shout was raised, "Hail, King of the Jews." Probably that was the crisis that brought him out. Now, here we find him among the disciples, not with Herod, but his name written in the Lamb's book of life. He leaves the court and goes into the tents at Antioch, struck his sword, and is here a soldier of Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ is composed of wonderful variety.
II. We have a NEW SPEAKER — "The Holy Ghost." Who and what is the Holy Ghost? No one can answer. The Holy Ghost never intended that we should. The doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is a tremendous doctrine. We cannot draw a circle round infinity; we cannot even understand ourselves. How, then, can we understand God? We must leave the question, for it cannot be questioned. There are two very plain things —
1. That the Spirit is a person, not simply an influence.
2. Not only a person, but a Divine person.
III. We have an IMPORTANT COMMAND — "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work," etc.
1. Here is a beginning — the first mission to the heathen. The Acts of the Apostles is a book of beginnings. We read of the first fear, first hope, first joy, first sermon, first prayer meeting, the first sinner converted, the first Christians, the first baptism, the first Lord's supper, and now the first instance, by order, of men set apart for the work of missions. There were no Christians in England, in Spain, in Italy then. Everything then had to begin. And the Holy Ghost said, "Now" is the time to begin.
2. Here is a wise choice. "Now, there were at Antioch in the Church prophets and teachers." So Barnabas and Saul were not called away till they could be spared. The two captains were not removed till the ship was officered. Note, they were the best men. Not inexperienced or young, but the kind the Holy Ghost requires to send out — the very Barnabas and the very Saul. The Church may spare Barnabas and Saul now.
3. Here are propitious circumstances. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted." As they were going on in their ministry. It was a special meeting, because they were fasting. They wanted to know something, and as they were inquiring the Holy Ghost spake.(1) The Holy Ghost requires that He Himself should call persons to the ministry before the Church calls them — "I have called them." We cannot make ministers or missionaries. When we call them, we only ratify the call of God.(2) Those who go should be sent out by the act of the Church.(3) Missionaries are separated men. Separate from home, separate from the refinement of life, separate from wealth, separate from those who have watched them grow into Christians, separate from old companions, separate from the elders of the Church, separate by the rolling sea, separate by the mountain, separate by the wilderness.(4) "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work," etc. This work is a work.
(G. Stanford, D. D.)Ephesians 4:11), though the higher gift of prophecy commonly included the lower gift of teaching. The former implies a more direct message from God, coming through the Holy Ghost; the latter a more systematic instruction, in which reason and reflection also bore their part.
Simeon that was called Niger. — The name seems to indicate the swarthy complexion of Africa; but nothing more is known of him. The epithet was given to him, probably, to distinguish him from the many others of the same name, possibly, in particular, from Simon of Cyrene.
Lucius of Cyrene. — Probably one of the company of "men of Cyprus and Cyrene" (Acts 11:20) who had been among the first evangelists of Antioch. On the ground that Cyrene was famous for its School of Medicine, some writers have identified him with the author of the Acts, but the two names Lucius and Lucas are radically distinct, the latter being contracted from Lucanus.
Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch. —
(W. Denton, M. A.)
1. The name Manaen was connected earlier with the Herods. When Herod the Great was a boy, an Essene of this name, believed to possess prophetic gifts, met him as he went to school, and reading, perhaps, in his features the signs of an insatiable ambition and an indomitable will, hailed him as "king of the Jews." He stood in somewhat the same relation to him that Ahijah did to Jeroboam. As with the son of Nebat, so with the son of Antipater, the early prophecy was not forgotten. When he attained the summit of his power he would fain have attached the prophet to his court as friend and counsellor. What the identity of name renders probable is that on the refusal of the old man the king transferred his offer of patronage to his son, or grandson, and had brought him up as the companion of one of his favourite sons. If so, the first great event in the life of Manaen must have been the change from the stern purity of the life of the Essenes to the pomp and luxury of the court of Herod. Soon this would be followed by a yet greater change. Antipas and Archelaus were sent to receive their education at Rome, and Manaen would naturally share this training. He may have heard of the arrival of the "wise men," and could not have been altogether ignorant of the Messianic hopes which animated the people. The very name which he bore (Menahem, the comforter), bore witness of this hope.
2. One so brought up would continue to be attached to the royal household, and Manaen may have adopted the life and the principles of those with whom he lived. He may have acquiesced in the king's incestuous marriage, but we can estimate the effect which the teaching of the Baptist must have had upon him. Here he saw a life, like in form to that devotion which he had known in his youth, the reappearance of the prophetic character, the open and fearless speech, as of a new Elijah, and as we find traces of the influence of the Baptist's teaching within the circle of Herod's attendants, it is reasonable to think that he too must have come under it.
3. The first trace is in Luke 3:14, where "the soldiers" were literally "men on a march" to the war with Aretas, the father of the wife whom the tetrarch had divorced in order that he might indulge his guilty passion for Herodias. The line of their march would take them down the valley of the Jordan, and so they would pass by the chief scene of the Baptist's ministry. From that hour there must have been many among the attendants of Herod who were disciples of John.
4. The next trace meets us in John 4:46, where the word "nobleman" means an attendant of the king, i.e., of the tetrarch Antipas. I do not assume the identity of this "nobleman" with Manaen, but I point to it as one of the tokens of the Baptist's work as "preparing the way of the Lord," even among Herod's followers. The nobleman thus believed, and Herod's court now included some who were disciples, not of the Baptist only, but of the Prophet of Nazareth.
5. The imprisonment of John brought him into yet closer contact with the tetrarch's immediate followers. Even Herod himself "heard him gladly." It is clear from Matthew 11:2, 3, that some of the Baptist's disciples were allowed free access to him, and who so likely as attendants of the prince? If we believe that every word which our Lord spoke at such a time was full of meaning, "they that wear soft clothing and are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' houses," may have been those who were halting between two opinions, "like reeds shaken by the wind," whom it was necessary to remind that the true servants of God were to be found, not "in kings' houses," but in prison.
6. The narrative of the circumstances of the Baptist's death includes notice of the feast of "lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee," amongst whom must have been the "nobleman" of Capernaum, and the "steward" of Herod's household, and the king's "foster-brother and friend," who must have shuddered with an unimaginable loathing. It was time for them to make their choice.
7. At or about this time, some at least did make it, and among them was she who "ministered to Christ of her sustenance," e.g., "Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward." This she could hardly have done, according to the Jewish law of property and marriage, without her husband's consent.
8. It may be that up to this point the foster-brother had continued faithful to the relationship which that name involved. But soon the course of events brought about a disruption of it. The ambitious intrigues of Herod Agrippas (Acts 12) enabled him to assume the disused title of king. This gave him a higher dignity than that of his uncle the tetrarch, and the pride of Herodias was stung to the quick, and she gave her husband no peace until he had taken the fatal step of leaving his tetrarchy, in the hope of obtaining the privilege of regal rank. But the attempt failed, and he had the mortification of seeing his tetrarchy merged in the kingdom of Agrippa, and was exiled first to Gaul and then to Spain. The tradition that Pilate also was banished to the former province, suggests the probability that the two may have met once again there, to test the value of the friendship which had been purchased at so terrible a price.
9. About this time we have the first actual mention of Manaen. Unknown as he is to us, he stood then on the same level as Barnabas, in a higher position than St. Paul. Whatever his past life had been, it had led him to this. But what calls for special notice, as showing the tendency of the Baptist's teaching, is the fact that he is found at Antioch, not at Jerusalem. The words of the Baptist, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham," contained by implication the whole gospel of the calling of the heathen, and Manaen must have seen that they did so. At Antioch, too, he must have taken upon himself the new name, and to one who had seen Antipas and Jesus face to face it must have been a joy unspeakable to cast off all connection with the Herodiani, and to take his place among the Christiani. In him, the prophetic form of utterance which had reappeared in John after long centuries of desuetude was powerful. As the disciples of John fasted oft, so he and those who were with him "fasted" as they ministered to the Lord. From his lips and theirs came the words which marked out the fittest labourers for the new and mighty work. One who had begun with the training of an Essene, and the teaching of the Baptist, now gave the right hand of fellowship to the two new apostles, not of "the twelve," as they went forth to their work among the heathen.
10. To such a man the Gentile Church, in its infancy, must have owed much. He alone of all the earlier teachers of the Church may have sojourned in the imperial city. From him the Apostle of the Gentiles must have had encouragement and support, and there is a probability that the debt is even greater. St. Luke's life as a Christian must have begun at Antioch, and if so, then he must have known Manaen, and from him he may have learnt many of the facts of the history of the Baptist, and the details of Herodian history, of which the third Gospel is so full. Conclusion: Whatever interest may attach to the juxtaposition of the two names of Manaen and Antipas, is deepened and strengthened by this fuller study. The danger of the weak will — untrue to its own convictions, and therefore losing them altogether, or keeping them only to its own condemnation — the power of earnestness and faith to triumph over the temptations of outward circumstances and perilous companionship are seen more clearly. Our inquiries, too, will have added something to the conviction as we read the Gospels that we are dealing, not with "cunningly devised fables," but with true histories, dropping hints, after the manner of all true histories, naturally and incidentally, suggesting more than they tell, and rewarding those who seek diligently with new insight into the facts which they record.
I. THERE IS A GREAT DIVERSITY IN NATURAL TEMPER.
1. There is in all an inclination to evil, but in a different degree.
2. It is the wisdom of parents to watch the various tempers and propensities of their children.
II. DIFFERENT WORLDLY PROSPECTS OFTEN MAKE A GREAT DIFFERENCE IN CHARACTER AND CONDUCT.
1. Herod was of royal descent, and had early prospects of a throne. Manaen had no such object, and was more at liberty to admit the sober concerns of religion.
2. Different passions and capacities put young men on different pursuits. Some through natural indolence and diffidence fall so low in their designs that they never rise. Others are animated by an ambition that proves a snare. Others, again, set out with a governing aim to please God.
III. THE SOVEREIGN GRACE OF GOD MUST BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT. Men are dependent on the Holy Spirit. He strives with them. Some resist, others yield.
1. The particular care which was taken in apostolic times to secure men of learning and ability as public teachers. The unlettered men whom Christ called were trained by the Master Himself. Paul was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. Timothy from a child had known the Scriptures; Apollos was mighty in them. Luke, Stephen, and others appear to have had superior literary abilities. The apostles cautioned ministers to lay hands suddenly on no man who had not had time to furnish his mind.
2. The duty of parents to pay particular attention to the different dispositions of their children. Some must be ruled with great rigour, others with more lenity.
3. The young may here see that no worldly connections, temptations, etc., will excuse them in the neglect of religion.
4. The young are here cautioned not to abuse the grace of God.
5. Let the young be rational and discreet in forming their worldly prospects.
(J. Lathrop, D. D.)
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