BEHIND THE SCENES WITH BARNABAS THE ENCOURAGER - PART I
My name is Paul. That’s my Greek name. My Jewish name is Saul. I have been here before – a lot of years ago. I recognize some of you from then. Some of you have really aged. Lots of new faces. Your children have grown. There are new children too. When I was here last, I spoke about the race of life. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. I talked about how that applied to me. I hope those of you who were here learned a few things from my experience.
Your pastor asked me if I would return and preach again. He told me he just returned from vacation. He preached last week and now he gets a guest preacher for five weeks or so. I hope you adjust his salary. Actually, your treasurer can pay him what he was going to give me. I make tents on the side and tents are really in season now.
Your pastor said he had an idea. You can judge for yourself. He said there are some well-known people in the Bible. He even said I was one of them. I am a bit embarrassed about that. The Bible is about God, not me. But God did use me to write a lot of letters that are in the Scriptures. He used me, as undeserving as anyone could be, to tell people about Jesus in many different places. But I wasn’t alone. God used others with me. I had a team. That’s what your pastor’s idea was. He wants me to speak about the other people. He said they were behind the scenes. I don’t think that at all. They were my fellow workers in Christ. Your pastor asked me to tell you about the others so we can learn lessons from the people of God.
Your pastor also said I only get twenty minutes. That’s what he says he uses every Sunday. Twenty minutes? I have to warn you that one night in the city of Troas I preached well into the night. My friend Eutychus fell asleep. He was sitting in a third story window and fell out and hit the ground and died. God used me to give back his life, but it really shook us all. If you fall asleep you won’t fall three stories. You will only hit the floor.
How many of you know the name Barnabas? He and I have quite the story. Actually another good friend in Christ, Luke, wrote a history about how God’s Church grew after Jesus ascended into heaven. It is called the book of Acts. Luke interviewed a lot of people –even me. He knew Barnabas too. Barnabas knew Jesus before I did.
Luke introduced Barnabas to the world in the book of Acts. I could tell you this too, but Luke wrote, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”),sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” How many of you knew that Barnabas’ given name wasn’t Barnabas? His Mom and Dad named him Joseph. After the Holy Spirit converted him to know Jesus, his brothers and sisters in Christ changed his name to Barnabas. And for good reason. It means Son of Encouragement.
To have the ability to encourage is a gift God gives to his church. Barnabas had that gift. It means to stand beside someone. I will tell you in a few minutes how Barnabas stood beside me.
He was born on the island of Cyprus. That is an island in the GreatSea. You call the GreatSea the Med….the Mediteran …. no… the Mediterranean Sea. Jews from Israel moved there two centuries before Christ was born. Barnabas came from one of those families. His family was from the tribe of Levi. Remember the Levites were the priests and those who worked in the temple in Jerusalem. Barnabas took a turn to serve at the temple like all good Levites would. When he was taking his turn serving in the temple, he heard about Jesus along with thousands of others. Barnabas became of follower of Jesus who was crucified for the sins of all. In those days those who followed Jesus were called Members of the Way.
Did he ever love Jesus! He didn’t hide his faith. He sold a field he owned and gave all the money back to Jesus by laying it at the apostles’ feet. That’s what loving Jesus does. It makes people generous.
I notice your pastor puts the offering numbers in your worship folder. I notice the numbers. I don’t know what they mean. We talked about shekels and denarii. But I hope when you see those numbers you see them as love offerings and not just a pile of money to pay the bills. Barnabas’ generous gift he gave was evidence of his love for Jesus who saved him. When we give I hope we are always saying with it, Thank you Jesus.
But Barnabas wasn’t just giving money away to show his love for Jesus. He gave himself away. He was a head over heels follower of Jesus. Let me tell you how I got to know him.
You probably know my story - the part of my life I am not proud of my life as a persecutor of God’s church. I had the blood of innocent people on my hands - men, women and children who loved Jesus. And all the while I thought I was serving the Lord. I am so ashamed and so sorry for the evil I did and the heartache that I caused. The comfort I have is knowing all those followers of Jesus that I helped to kill are in heaven.
In spite of what I did, and I don’t know how he can do this, I know Jesus forgave me. I mean it when I say this, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
What is so sad is that what I did to God’s people is still going on. Your pastor showed me his computer. How I wished I could have had one those things in my day! Letter writing would have been so much easier. He showed me stories about God’s people - men, women and children – are being killed. They are being beheaded by evil people just like I was. And they think they are serving God, just like I did. Sin never changes.
Back to Barnabas! When God rocked my world (your pastor said that and I liked that) on the road to Damascus, he led me to oppose the very things I was doing. Jesus spoke to me. Jesus convinced me that I needed to be on his side. The problem was I had such a bad reputation that no one trusted me. The Members of the Way thought I was using a new tactic and strategy. They thought I was infiltrating their ranks and that I would destroy God’s church from the inside.
After Jesus called me to be his child, I tried to tell everyone in Damascus what Jesus did for me. Then my life gets a little scrambled. I went to Arabia for three years and returned to Damascus. Finally, all my friends who liked me because I hated Jesus tried to take my life. I escaped the city. I went to Jerusalem. You know what? I had no friends there either. The Jews hated me because I now loved Jesus; those who loved Jesus feared me because they didn’t trust me. At least that was the way it was until Barnabas…good ol’ Barnabas …extended the right hand of fellowship to me. Do you understand now why he was called the Encourager?
He took me to the apostles. He told them my story – how on my way to Damascus I saw the Lord and that Jesus spoke to me. Barnabas told them about the days following when I tried to tell all kinds of others about the unconditional, complete, overwhelming and boundless
(I wish I knew more words to describe it) love of Jesus…not only for me but for all who call on his name.
What I really want to tell you was what that welcoming hand of Barnabas meant to me. I was hated by those whom I used to work with and thank God delivered from. I was distrusted and feared by those I became a part of. I was like a man without a country. Barnabas bridged the gap. He welcomed me over the bridge. Because he did then others followed.
In some of the letters I wrote to congregations I urged people to practice hospitality. My good friend and colleague in the Lord Peter once wrote,” Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Your pastor practices it with me. I am staying at his house and he lets me sit in his big old soft chair and I fall asleep in it just like he does. He doesn’t grumble.
I want to spend some time talking to you from the bottom of my heart. Your pastor tells me that most of you have been Christian all your lives. I went to many cities preaching Christ and him crucified. It is so nice to see so many Christians these days. That wasn’t true in my day. Representing Jesus was challenging to me and to those I met.
Many of you became members of God’s family very early, even as babies when you were baptized into the body of Christ. Do you realize how radically my life changed when God called me to faith? Do you realize how radically different your life is from others who don’t believe?
Listen to me for a moment. I am going on a tangent. God used me to begin a church in the city of Thessalonica. I had to flee from the city because many citizens didn’t want to hear about Jesus. I wrote them a letter as soon as I could and I reminded them, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” I make no apologies for making a rather incredible claim. God spoke through me when I wrote to them. He did the same with the other apostles like Peter and Matthew and John. He spoke through the Old Testament prophets and Moses. You have God’s Word from beginning to end. These words are the very words of God.
Have you ever thought about the stark contrasts that God uses to describe the believer and unbeliever? Darkness versus light; deadness versus life; doubt versus faith; hopelessness versus certainty; old versus new. When you go from something you have become accustomed to and go to something new, it doesn’t always feel comfortable.
There I was on the side of the Jews for so many years. I grew up in Judaism. I didn’t just touch my toes in it. I was fully devoted to it. That’s how I grew up. So God calls me and says no more of that. I have called you to something new. I traveled many times on ships and when we got on shore I had to get rid of the sea legs. So it was with following Jesus. You know what? Barnabas’ hand of fellowship and that welcome and his smile and his willingness to call me brother – I can’t describe how important it was to me.
I hope you have plenty of Barnabases around here to go out of your way to say hello and welcome. We share what is most important, the bond of peace and love in Christ. The handshake, or the holy kiss, as we did in our day, was a sign of the relationship we had that is forever because of Christ.
As I look around I can see that there is a lot of sin, a lot of hate and distrust just like there was 2000 years ago. When you come into the house of God, this needs to be different from the world. People ought to sense acceptance and love from everyone, to everyone.
Think about your message. While Jesus came to a world that did not receive him, he didn’t feel that way about the world. He came so we can be declared holy before God. Sure we are sinners, but forgiven because of him.
When Barnabas extended his love to me, I knew I was responsible for putting to death people that he loved and treasured. Yet he loved me and forgave me too. That’s what the church of Jesus is all about, isn’t it? A refuge for sinners! I pray that when strangers come into this place, they see one Barnabas after another. We all have the problem of sin, but we all have the cure in Christ. Welcome brother and sister in Christ.
My twenty minutes are up. But I will tell you this, my story with Barnabas isn’t. I don’t know what your pastor was thinking when he put the schedule for sermons. I don’t care what he says, but next week I want to tell you more when our friendship was tested. Whether he knows it or not, your pastor is going to get another week’s vacation. So until then….