Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyre'ne, Man'a-en a member of the court 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.
The Christians at Antioch were spared Jerusalem's tension. The fact that at Antioch they were called "Christians" indicates that God's Holy Spirit was busy working with them and making them into one community, Jews and Gentiles together. When he returned to Jerusalem from the "Gentile Pentecost" at Caesarea, Peter affirmed the principle: who am I to withstand God? (Acts 11:17). In other words, What God has cleaned we should not consider common! (Acts 11:9, 10:28, 10:15). The laws forbidding Jews from eating with Gentiles had now been set aside. They were from the past. The Messiah had come. Peter recalled how Jesus by His teaching and His actions had opened the gates for contact with Gentiles. He had declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). But more than this. He had eaten with His disciples after His resurrection even when they were still in a state of unbelief and hardness of heart (Mark 16:14). By doing so, He had made it virtually impossible for them, as witnesses to His resurrection, to not eat with all believers, whatever their background. By recalling what Jesus had said and done, the disciples could resolve some difficult issues which continued to vex them and their Jewish neighbours.
Christians often talk about "going into all the world to preach the gospel" as if it is heroic. Such a way of talking about the Christian life only confirms our delusions about ourselves. Somehow God is going to have a difficult time if we are not there to help Him. Luke developed his story in another way: he tells us that after prayer and fasting Jesus' disciples realised that the Holy Spirit had made the way ahead plain. Later Paul would write: All the promises of God find their "Yes!" in Jesus.
James and John confronted the incredible harvest begun by Philip - the seed had been sown by the Sower Himself. The Samaritan towns had not welcomed Jesus on His way to Jerusalem's temple, but that custom did not nullify the seed. In fact, the seed still germinated and grew to yield a good crop. On their trip back to Jerusalem, to continue meeting in the temple, James and John were warmly welcomed. The Good News was being broadcast indiscriminately, as the Sower Himself had done. God also prepared Cornelius for the visit of Peter, and that visit became a revelation for Peter and his companions too. The apostles had to agree that God had made it possible for Gentiles to find repentance.
And so at Antioch the Holy Spirit was busy forming a centre of Jewish-Gentile discipleship. Barnabas and Saul were sent out. Those called must go where the Spirit directs so that many can hear how God has kept His promises.