I am here again…. Paul of Tarsus.  Tarsus?  That’s where I was born.  At twelve or so I went to live in Jerusalem to be schooled by great teachers like Gamaliel.

Those of you who weren’t able to be here last week might be surprised Pastor Zahn has another week off from preaching. Well, I am back just as I promised. 

            I heard someone died this week who touched the hearts of a lot of people – Robin Williams.  I hear he made a lot of people laugh, but this week he made a lot of people cry.  He committed suicide.  People say he was depressed.  King Saul…not me…King Saul committed suicide too.  So did Judas.  They were lonely souls.  The Bible says about Judas that “it would have been better that he had not been born. God said about Saul “he was grieved that he made Saul the king.”  Judas and Saul died without the Lord.  

            I am not here to judge Mr. Williams.  I can only speak for myself.  I wonder what I would have done if I had continued down the path of self-destruction. The stain of innocent blood was on my hands.  I was so off-kilter.  I thought I was serving Jehovah but was in reality killing his people.  Jesus once said that if anyone offends a child who believes in him, “it would be better that a millstone by hung about his neck to be drowned into the depths of the sea.”  What Jesus said applied directly to me. I was responsible for the murder of children and their parents because I thought following Jesus was a sin.    

            But as offensive as I was to Jesus and his people, Jesus saved me.  He saved me from my unspeakable sin.  He saved me from myself.  He called me to tell his story to others. 

Last week I started to tell you about my relationship with Barnabas, a real gift God gave to me and his church.  I want to tell you more about him. 

After my conversion a lot happened, but eventually I came to Jerusalem to meet Peter the recognized head of the followers of the Way.  That’s what they called Christians in those days.  On that trip, my first trip after my conversion, Barnabas sought me out.  He welcomed me as a disciple of Jesus when no one else would because they were afraid of me.  He broke the ice.  I know what that expression means.  It gets cold in Jerusalem too.

            I was there a total of fifteen days. I tried to share Jesus with people, but those who hated Jesus tried to assassinate me.  I was a turncoat to them. My new friends in Jesus knew that remaining in Jerusalem was dangerous to my health.  I escaped.  They whisked me away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus in Cilicia.  Yep, I returned home after many years. Remember that was my hometown.  It was quite a journey - 355 miles. They don’t call the province Cilicia anymore.  Excuse the pun, Cilicia has been gobbled up into Turkey.  Tarsus is part of a city that has three million people nowadays. 

Hey, I have a trivia question for you.  Do you know what couple met in Tarsus?  Pastor Zahn said I should say Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  He said some of you gray-haired people would know I meant Mark Antony and Cleopatra!    

            Yep, I grew up in Tarsus. When I went back, I worked very hard to teach people about Jesus.  I always remembered what Ananias told me.  God sent Ananias to tell me the plans God had for me just after he spoke to me on the day to Damascus. “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 

I would be a witness for Jesus to Jew and Gentile alike.  I would even meet kings and witness to them.  He also said I would suffer for doing so. That sure was happening.  Jesus said the same to his apostles, some of whom I got to know. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” In my day Christians "lived on the threshold of heaven, within a heartbeat of home.” 

Pastor Zahn told me that in some places at this very moment, people following a false god by the name of Allah threaten Christians. “Convert or die!” they say.    Sometimes the Devil is bold like that.  Stay strong, Christians!  Be discerning. Stay sharp. Stand up and be counted for Jesus.  Don’t compromise. Compromise begins the path to the loss of truth.     

            What about Barnabas?  I haven’t forgotten him. While I was in Tarsus, Barnabas came to see me.  A few years had passed since I had met him. You know who Stephen is, don’t you?  When he was martyred the enemies of Jesus got bold.  Many from Jerusalem fled.  Persecution had broken out there.  Many followers of Jesus settled in Antioch about fifty five miles south of Tarsus.  Barnabas had been sent there to teach God’s Word and teach it properly.  He was astounded by what was going on.  Besides Jerusalem this was the next greatest center for Christianity.  Did you know that Antioch was where the word Christian was used?  Help was needed and he made a trip to Tarsus to ask me to help. We became a team. 

            I enjoyed him.  He was so different from me.  I was pretty fiery and tenacious; he was so patient.  Remember how the apostles changed his name to Barnabas because it means “Son of Encouragement.”  We were in Antioch one year.  We worked hard for the Lord. Pastor Zahn said that from 1932-1938 archeological teams went there to dig up on the ruins in Antioch.  The ruins of twenty churches were found.           

            They loved Jesus. A prophet by the name of Agabus received a revelation from the Lord.  He said that the world was going to experience a famine.  The Christians in Antioch collected an offering to send to their fellow saints in Jerusalem.  Barnabas and I were commissioned to take that offering to them. We didn’t stay long in Jerusalem.  We returned with an extra, John Mark.  He was a cousin to Barnabas. 

            When we got back to Antioch, a historical day in the Christian Church occurred. There were many gifted people in Antioch who got together to worship.  The Holy Spirit made something known in his mysterious and miraculous way to the assembly.  “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” They sent Barnabas and me to go to new places to tell people about Jesus.  We took John Mark too. This was the beginning of my first of three missionary journeys. 

            We sailed to Cyprus.  That was Barnabas’ home to get our feet wet.  There was Salamis and Paphos on the west side of the island.  We sailed for Perga on the coast of Pamphylia.  John Mark deserted us in Perga. Later that caused a problem for Barnabas and me. There was another city named Antioch but this one was in Pisidia and not where we had come from.  We hit Iconium and then Lystra and Derbe and then we visited the cities again as we doubled back to give them encouragement.

What did we encounter?  Remember Pastor Zahn said I only have twenty minutes.  In Lystra I was nearly killed.  Those who hated Jesus tried to stone us.  I got hit in the head and was knocked out cold.  They carried me outside the city and left me for dead.  God had other plans.  I came to.  I got this stubborn streak in me and wanted the unbelievers to know they didn’t win. I went back into the city like a boxer answering the bell to the second round.  Was it tough?  What do you think?  That’s why you need to remember your pastor and missionaries in your prayers.  Was it worth it? You bet. There were people who came to faith and were saved.   

We called out the enemies of Jesus.  In Paphos we met a sorcerer. God blinded him because he was hindering our work.  People were so amazed they listened more intently.  Sergius Paulus, a government big wig became a Christian along with many others.  It is such a blessing to see how God turns the tables on Satan

In Antioch in Pisidia I got to preach a sermon. I started from the time God’s people were in Egypt and told them why the Jewish nation was so important.  Messiah came through them from the family of David. I talked about Jesus as the Messiah to whom so many prophets pointed.  I told how he died and rose again to take away sin.  We invited them all to come back the next Sabbath.  How did they react?  Good and bad.  Many believed. Most of them were Gentiles. I remembered Ananias’ words who said that was going to happen.   

I look back at the time we were in Lystra. A man was lame from birth. I knew God was going to use me to heal.  I called out “Stand up on your feet!”  The man jumped up and walked.  But strangely people didn’t listen to what we were saying. They thought we were the gods who had come in human form. They praised Barnabas as Zeus; I was Hermes. Zeus was the king of the gods, the god of sky and weather, law, order and fate. He is regal man, mature with sturdy figure and dark beard. He was handsome. They thought that was Barnabas.  I guess I was chopped liver.  I was Hermes. Hermes was the messenger.  I guess because I was the one who spoke and deliver the message.  I guess I need to pump a little iron.  I guess Barnabas and I can kid about that  

But yet it makes me sad.  People so easily believe in the divine. Yet they want the divine to be what they perceive and want him to be.  Even Christians do that when we refuse to accept events or tough times in our lives and doubt that good can come from it. I wonder what God thinks when we think we can do a better job than he is.   

It takes courage to talk about God.  God counts on us to do it.  Make Jesus the focal point.  Tell people what he has done for you. Don’t get discouraged if they all don’t listen.  Jesus said the angels in heaven rejoice over every sinner who repents.  They rejoice over you.  

One last story about Barnabas!  I wish it were a better story.  After we returned from our missionary journey, a lot happened. Eventually we were ready to go again.  We wanted to revisit what was started and go beyond.  Barnabas and I had a sharp disagreement.  He wanted to take John Mark along again. Remember he deserted us the first time. Simply put, he wanted to give John Mark a second chance. I didn’t think it was a good idea.  I had my reasons.  He had his.  The disagreement was so strong, we decided to split and go our separate ways. He would take John Mark and go to Cyprus.  I would take Silas and go to Asia and even Europe. 

Church workers have different personalities and gifts. Church workers are sinners too.  I admit I can come on like gangbusters charge hard.  That is good, but it can also be bad especially if someone is a bit shyer or reserved.    Remember that about your fellow saints God makes us differently. 

Another lesson is that we need to understand that people can differ in opinions about things that are not decided by the Bible. There is no question that we needed to go into the world and preach Christ, but exactly how to do that or a strategy we use can differ from one person to another.

I noticed you want to build an educational building onto your synagogue.  How you use it and how you even build it and furnish it can lead to different ideas.  Be tolerant.  Don’t always think you are right.  Try to understand what others say.  Don’t ever doubt that you as others love Jesus and want what is best.    

In the end John Mark was really helpful to me.  He really matured.  When I was in prison in Rome the first time he was with me. Yes, I was wrong about him.  I trusted him so much that I encouraged the church in Colosse to receive him as a fellow worker in the Lord.  As I was about to be martyred I asked if he would come to help do the ministry that had to be done.  He helped Peter and God used him to write the second book of the New Testament. Good ol’ Barnabas trained him well.

Let me say this too.  Even when we decided to go in different directions God made that work for good. We got twice as much work done with two teams as one.  God brings good even out of evil.   

I do hope and pray that God has Barnabases here. Are you one ready to stand by someone else and encourage? 

Shalom…see you next week!     



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