Summary: Barnabas chooses to take a risk, to investigate a person, and to put even the potential of a relationship of love ahead of every other consideration - even his own safety.
Barnabas pt 2: Stories of God’s People
May 28, 2006
Last week I shared the first part of the story of Barnabas, one of the early Christians and leaders of the church. We talked about how he was a man of generosity – selling an entire field and giving the money to the work of the Kingdom of God. Second, we saw him take a huge risk to give someone a second chance – this is the story where Saul, who had led the persecution against Christians, becomes a Christian himself and then tries to join the disciples in Jerusalem. None of the disciples believed that Saul had actually met Jesus, until Barnabas takes a risk, goes to meet him, hears his story, and then brings him to the other disciples. That is quite a risk – if Saul was only pretending, Barnabas’ actions would have resulted in at least the imprisonment of the majority of the leaders of the early church – as we know the risk is a good one, and Saul whom we also know as Paul becomes very important in the spread of the Gospel. And what I love about this risk is that Barnabas took a risk to believe in someone whom everyone else had given up on – and look at the results! Barnabas took a risk to love someone that everyone else was afraid of.
For me, that is a fantastic example of what we are striving to be as a church. Here is the phrase that forms part of our identity statement – “we joyfully choose to put relationships of love ahead of every other consideration.” That is exactly what Barnabas does – he chooses to take a risk, to investigate a person, and to put even the potential of a relationship of love ahead of every other consideration - even his own safety. There are times when I don’t even want to put loving relationships ahead of my own comfort and convenience, let alone take that kind of risk to love someone who is dangerous. Very inspiring!!
The last part of the story we looked at last week was how, 5 or 6 years after welcoming Saul into the group of disciples, and after Saul had faded from the story, Barnabas actively seeks Saul out to join him in ministry in the city of Antioch. I read from Acts 11:25-26: “25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
The First Missionaries:
The next main part of the story of Barnabas begins in Acts 13. “1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2While 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." 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
Now, there is a whole study there on what the leaders and teachers were spending their time doing, and how they listened to the Holy Spirit, and gladly sacrificed two of their best for the broader work of the Kingdom of God, but we’ll save that for another time…
This is the very beginning of the missionary movement, and look who is sent – Barnabas and Saul. Many Scholars see the word order as significant – Barnabas’ name comes first, indicating he is the leader. So although we talk about “Paul’s” missionary journey, the evidence from this passage is that Barnabas actually takes the lead early in this endeavor, although that seems to change very quickly (and you can read the story in Acts 13:6-12 to see more of that).
That fits quite well with the picture of Barnabas seeking Saul out, bringing him to Antioch, involving him in the ministry, probably teaching and mentoring and laboring beside him. Now they are sent by the Holy Spirit to new places of ministry, and they go together.
That passage continues: “4The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” I include those verses because of the last bit right at the end: “John was with them as their helper.” John? Who is this??
To figure that out, we have to back up one chapter, to chapter 12. Barnabas and Saul had taken a gift of money from the church in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem, to help with a famine. While they were there, Peter gets thrown in prison and is then miraculously let out by an angel, and verse 12 tells us “he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.” Most likely, this home was one of the places where the church met, sort of an “underground church” – and it was where John Mark lived. Right at the end of that story, verse 25 says, “25When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.”