The In-Between Years Part - 59

Series: The In-Between Years

February 21, 2022
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

The In-Between Years — Part 59


After taking a bit of a break, this morning we pick back up in the series The In-Between Years, a look at the church in the Book of Acts. What some of you might not realize, if you’re newer to us, or probably don’t remember even if you’ve been here a good while, is that The In-Between Years is a spin-off of a series I preached called God’s End Game.


In God’s End Game we got the big picture of what God is up to with us and the world. We began in Genesis and ended in Revelation. We discovered why we’re here (to be God’s imagers); why things are the way they are (rebellion of mankind and heavenly beings); what God did to set things back to rights (Jesus, the cross, the resurrection); and what he’s going to do to finish it out (Jesus’ return, the redeeming of our physical bodies and the physical creation.)


I purposely skipped over something that should have been a part of that series: what occupies the time between the ascension of Jesus and his return. Of course, that is the church, and the book of Acts is about the birth of the church and its growth for a few decades. That deserved attention all its own. Thus, The In-Between Years series. We are living in those years between Jesus’ first coming and second right now. And it is NOT about just waiting to die so we can go to heaven. 

It’s about living for him right now as citizens of earthly kingdoms whose true identity is bound up in our heavenly citizenship. In these in-between years our job is to use whatever influence and power we have to make this world like it will be one day when Jesus comes back.


This idea that we are to carry out the work of the coming King Jesus is hinted at in the beginning verse of Acts…


1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,  Acts 1:1 (ESV)


The first book he’s talking about is his first volume of a two-volume work, The Gospel of Luke with Acts being the second. In that first work, he wrote about “all that Jesus began to do and teach.”


Jesus began to do and teach. Luke summed up the life and ministry of Jesus in six words. Jesus did things related to the kingdom (healed, cast out evil, promoted righteousness and justice) and he taught things related to the kingdom (the good news of the gospel, how to live as kingdom citizens). Luke says he began doing and teaching as if he was still doing them even though when Luke wrote this Jesus had been gone for years. 


That’s where the church comes in! What Jesus began continues through his church and carries on till he returns. Acts is about the beginning of it all, and Acts 1:8 is the most important verse in the book. It’s what I call the divine outlook for the book.


8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  Acts 1:8 (ESV)


Jesus predicts the birth of the church with the Spirit’s coming. This happens at Pentecost, recorded in chapter two. The movement begins! But Jesus also predicted how the movement takes place. It happens in waves or phases.


The church would advance Jesus’ kingdom beginning in Jerusalem, then it would extend into Judea and Samaria, and then ultimately to the ends of the earth. You can divide the book by chapter into these phases. One scholar writes, “The first seven chapters of this book might be entitled, The Church among the Jews; the next five (chapters eight through twelve), The Church in Transition from Jews to Gentiles; and the last sixteen (chapters thirteen through twenty-eight), The Church among the Gentiles [Baumgarten].”[1]


We’ve looked at wave one as the gospel spread through Jerusalem. Then we watched with horror as Stephen was stoned to death for his faith. Yet, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan. The resulting persecution launched phase two as Christians fled Jerusalem taking the gospel with them. And then we saw how God worked in the heart of Peter, helping him see that the Gentiles were included in God’s great salvation offer. Now wave three — to the ends of the earth — begins as we pick back up in chapter 13. In a way, everything has been building up to this.


1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 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.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  Acts 13:1–3 (ESV)


“Now there were in the church at Antioch…” Antioch, if you recall, was where some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem fled. Look back at Acts 11 beginning in verse 19…


19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.  Acts 11:19–21 (ESV)


So many people in Antioch were getting saved, news got back to Jerusalem. So they sent Barnabas down to provide guidance. Barnabas knew they needed someone especially gifted and called to reach Gentiles, so he went to Tarsus and found Saul, the former Pharisee and church persecutor. Antioch was fast on its way to becoming a sort of headquarters all its own for the church, particularly the Gentile church. It was in Antioch that disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. Back to our main text…


“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers…” These were folks especially gifted in leading a local church. Paul mentions these positions in…


11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  Ephesians 4:11–12 (ESV)


There is a debate on whether apostles and prophets are given today, one we won’t get into this morning. Now we can finish out that first verse…

1 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  Acts 13:1 (ESV)


Some of these prophets and teachers at Antioch we know, some we don’t:


Barnabas — we first met him way back in chapter 4. The love of God was so manifest in the newly born church in Jerusalem, people were selling their property and belongings to provide for those in need…


36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  Acts 4:36–37 (ESV)


We saw Barnabas again in chapter 9. Saul, the great persecutor of the church, had just been converted but everyone was still afraid of him. Living up to his name (son of encouragement)…


27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.  Acts 9:27 (ESV)


And, as already mentioned, in Acts 11 the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch.


Simeon who was called Niger — here’s a fellow we know little about. Some connect him with other Simeon’s in the NT, but it’s only speculation. We are almost certain about one thing. He’s African. Niger is a form of the Latin word for black or dark.


Lucius of Cyrene (sigh REE nee) — we know even less about this guy though some scholars think it might be Luke, the author of the book himself. That is unlikely. 


Manaen (MAN uh en) — this man had an important background so Luke tells us that he was a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch. There are lots of Herods in the NT. Herod the Great was a ruler over the Jews responsible for building the temple and for trying to kill baby Jesus. Our guy here, Herod the tetrarch was Herod the Great's son and ruler over the region of Galilee, the area north of Israel from which Jesus and most of the disciples were from. He’s also known as Herod Antipas. This is even a different Herod than mentioned in Acts 12. It gets confusing, I know.


Here’s what’s interesting. Luke writes that Manaen was Herod the Tetrarch’s lifelong friend. If you do a bit of digging you discover that the Greek word translated as “lifelong friend” has a number of meanings, one of which is “foster brother.” It was a title “given to boys of the same age as royal princes, who were taken to court to be brought up with them.”[2] Many scholars believe that is a better translation. If that’s true, then Manaen grew up as royalty in the court of Herod the Great, alongside that wicked ruler’s son, Antipas. 


The apple did not fall far from the tree. Antipas was the ruler responsible for having John the Baptist beheaded. He was also the one who sent Jesus to Pilate for crucifixion.


When you think about this you realize it’s a conversion story along the lines of what happened to Saul. Who would have ever thought a boy raised in the court of Herod the Great (the man who had babies killed in an attempt to kill Jesus) alongside Antipas his son, would one day become a leader in the church at Antioch. One commentator writes…


“…what a commentary on the mystery and sovereignty of divine grace that, of these two boys who were brought up together, one should attain honor as a Christian leader, while the other should be best remembered for his inglorious behavior in the killing of John the Baptist and in the trial of Jesus!”[3]

Manaen’s story reminds me of something recorded in three of the four gospels…


18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,  Luke 18:18–29 (ESV)


Manaen no doubt was rich or at the very least had access to great wealth having been raised in the court of Herod. He was used to luxury and opulence. Yet unlike the rich young ruler who chose to keep his wealth, I can only imagine what Manaen had to give up because he chose to follow Christ. He was like the man in one of Jesus’ parables…


45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.  Matthew 13:45–46 (ESV)


Like Saul’s, Manaen’s story speaks of the power of the gospel to transform even the most unlikely of converts.


Finally, on the list of teachers and prophets at Antioch there is Saul. He needs no introduction by now. We are well aware of who he is. From here on in Acts he will be the major player as phase three goes into full swing. This brings us to verse 2 of our text today…


2 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.”  Acts 13:2 (ESV)


It was time for Saul to live out the calling God had set him apart for. If you go back to just after his conversion, while he was still blind from his encounter with Jesus, the disciple, Ananias, was told to seek him out so that he might regain his sight. Ananias resisted because of Saul’s reputation for killing Christians. But God said…


15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Acts 9:15–16 (ESV)


The Holy Spirit impressed upon the church at Antioch that Saul and Barnabas were to be set apart for this missionary work. I can’t help but note that Luke thought it important to mention this occurred as they were worshiping the Lord and fasting. This brings us to verse 3…


3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  Acts 13:3 (ESV)


After hearing the Spirit’s direction they fasted some more and prayed. This truly convicts me. You would think the Spirit’s speaking would be enough. But no. Even after the third person of the Trinity and thus Did himself clearly impressed upon them it was time to set Saul and Barnabas apart for missionary work, they had to double up on the praying and fasting.


This could be a lesson all its own for the church: the importance of doing everything we do in the context of worshiping, fasting, and praying. So often we approach God with our plans and say, “Bless them.” Rather than bathe our plans in prayer asking God to show us his will. The church today is big on sending off, on acting, but small on praying and fasting beforehand or even after,


When they felt like they had prayed and fasted enough, they laid hands on them and sent them off. The laying on of hands. We’ve seen that before in Acts 6. The church’s needs had outgrown the apostles’ ability to handle them so they chose seven men to take up the task of waiting on tables…


6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  Acts 6:6 (ESV)


The laying on of hands was a way of confirming God’s calling. It was how the church collectively affirmed someone’s ministry. And with that, it begins. Phase 3 of God's witness projection plan has officially begun. Acts 1:8 is being fulfilled. Saul and Barnabas will begin taking the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. It will literally change the world, the effects of which we still feel today 2,000 years later. It’s not finished by the way. Phase 3 of Acts 1:8 is still active. You guessed it, that’s where the church comes in.


Now we get to follow Saul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And we’ll do that next time.


But I can’t let us go today without offering the good news that Saul and Barnabas were sent out to proclaim. The good news is that Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died so we can actually become part of God’s forever family. The Bible says…


13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)


It’s just that simple. Call on the Lord to save you believing he keeps his promises.




[1] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 190). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 245). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 245). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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