Summary: How do you respond to the success of those around you? Do you rejoice with those who rejoice or do you rejoice when others mourn? Is your faith a community or a zero sum game?
10. The Book of Acts
July 26th, 2009
Through our study of the book of Acts we have been trying to see what the church is supposed to look like. In our efforts we have turned to pictures of the early church to see principles that we adopt today to become the church that desires for us to be. The church has many responsibilities and many things it should do. One of these important things in a church is building disciples through the raising up of leaders. So I have one question for you: are you a Saul or are you a Barnabas? This morning I want to tell you two stories and to see if you look more like a Saul or if you look more like a Barnabas.
Our first story is about Barnabas. To understand his story we need to see a little bit about Saul. Saul was a passionate man and one of the greatest enemies of the early church. He took legal responsibility for the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 and had begun to kill Christians believing them to be enemies of God. One day then on his way to Damascus Saul had an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. Through this encounter he would turn from enemy to ally of the church. From that day on he would start down a path to becoming one of the greatest leaders in the history of the church. Of course in reality things weren’t so simple. Think about it. Saul has a private encounter with Christ in which he goes from arresting and killing Christians to calling himself one of them. If this were happening today, would you be totally willing to accept him? Wouldn’t some part of you think: maybe this is a trick to get us to bring him in so that he can kill us more effectively? That is a very logical concern. When it comes to a man who was killing your families you want to be sure his conversion is real before welcoming him into the church. So when Saul came to Jerusalem the disciples there were afraid of him because they were not convinced he was truly a Christian. This is where we see the character of Barnabas. When everyone else was afraid, Barnabas comes in and puts himself on the line. He took Saul to the apostles and stood up for him. Look at Acts 9:19 we see what Barnabas did for Saul:
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. Ac 9:20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Ac 9:21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Ac 9:22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. Ac 9:23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, Ac 9:24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. Ac 9:25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. Ac 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. Ac 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. Ac 9:28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
We can certainly see the risk that Barnabas took for Saul. If Saul had been faking he would have delivered the apostles into the hands of a killer. Yet he had faith in Saul and trusted his conversion experience. He believed in Saul when maybe no one else would have. Let me tell you a little bit about this man. We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36, his actual name is Joseph but the apostles call him Barnabas which means son of encouragement. In Acts 4 we see Barnabas selling a field that he owned and giving the money to the apostles so they could provide for the needs of the community. So we know he is encouraging and that he is generous. Now in Acts 9 we see another trait of Barnabas. He brought Saul to the apostles and talked of Saul’s fearless preaching putting his own reputation on the line for Saul. It is likely the apostles accepted Saul as a Christian because of Barnabas’s testimony. He took a great risk and put his life on the line because he knew that Saul was going to do great things for God. It couldn’t have been easy to do this. Saul had been killing their brothers and sisters. He had been arresting believers and their families. It would have been easy to hate Saul for the things he had done but Barnabas welcomes him into the church and sticks up for him when no one else did. Barnabas gives Saul a chance. So which one are you? Saul or Barnabas?