Summary: A look at St. Barnabas, and what we can learn from him.
6.11.23 Acts 11:19–30, 13:1-3 (EHV)
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that took place at the time of Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene who came to Antioch and also began to speak to the Greeks, preaching the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number of people believed and turned to the Lord. 22 A report about this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to go on to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw God’s grace, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts. 24 He was a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a large number of people were added to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. 27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and indicated by the Spirit that there was going to be a severe famine all over the known world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 Each of the disciples, according to his ability, decided to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul. . . . 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas; Simeon, who was called Niger; Lucius of Cyrene; Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch; and Saul. 2 While they were worshipping 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 they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them off.
I occasionally like to watch MMA and boxing, and one of the favorite things I enjoy is the nicknames that they choose for themselves. Wanderlei Silva called himself “the Axe Murderer.” There is also “Rampage, The American Psycho, The Iceman, Ruthless and Showtime.” One of my favorites was, “The Upgrade.” Indians used to give themselves nicknames usually associated with animals like “Sitting Bull and Soaring Eagle.”
Different names were given in the Bible as well. Jacob was named Israel after getting in a wrestling match with God, and that’s what Israel means, “One who wrestles with God and overcomes.” Abram was renamed Abraham, which meant “father of many nations.” Simon was called Peter because of his confession of Christ. Peter means “rock.” James and John were called “the sons of thunder,” we assume because of their fiery personalities.
So it is with Barnabas, our center of attention for today. His original name was Joseph. He was a Levite, a Jew, from the island of Cyprus. But he was renamed Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”
Find Encouragement in Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement
Acts 4 introduces us to Barnabas and says that he “sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” After Paul was converted the Christians were still afraid of him. They didn’t believe he really was a disciple, because he was well known for persecuting the church. But Acts 4 says that “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He described to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” So Barnabas had an integral part in bringing Paul into the Christian fold.
In today’s text, Barnabas was chosen to investigate what was going on in Antioch, for news of a great awakening had come to them in Jerusalem. The believers trusted Barnabas to be able to go and evaluate whether there was a legitimate thing going on or not. So he went, maybe about 300 miles north. Luke writes, When he arrived and saw God’s grace, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts. Just a neat little side note, I love the way that Luke describes this. He says that Barnabas went and “saw God’s grace.” Barnabas didn’t think that this awakening was because some of these men who witnessed to them were greater evangelists than others, or that the people of Antioch were more spiritual or more desirous of coming to the faith. It just had to do with the grace of God. He could see God’s grace. Credit goes where credit is deserved, to God.