“Followers of The Way: Barnabas”
This will be our final Sunday of looking at individual leaders in the early church… that is until the Sunday school comes down in two weeks to tell us about another first hero of the church.
So to recap, we talked about Peter. The first disciple called by Jesus, and the first preacher who spoke in the streets, birthing the church following Jesus’ ascension to heaven. After he gave the first sermon, three thousand people joined the church.
Then we talked about Stephen. A deacon in the community in charge of the distribution of food and goods to those who came to the church. He too was passionate about Jesus Christ and spoke often about what it means to live a life of faith, and wasn’t afraid to speak out against how the world was forgetting the goodness of God and his commandments. This boldness cost him his life as he was stoned to death by those he spoke out against, namely the Jewish temple leaders.
Then we heard about Philip, another deacon appointed with Stephen who came to be known as Philip the evangelist. A man who, after Stephen was stoned to death, scattered as did the other leaders in the church to various cities and regions. In his travels, he met an Ethiopian who was traveling through Gaza and Philip spent some time with him and ended up baptizing him and sending a new believer back to Africa to launch the church there.
Which brings us to the man we’re looking at this morning. His name is Joseph Barnabas, a Jew from Cyprus who sold a large portion of land to support the church.
Barnabas again shows us a different approach to how the first followers of The Way help spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
Peter, the evangelistic preacher speaking to the masses. Stephen, the strong believer that would not back down from his faith. Philip, the personal evangelist, working one-on-one with people exploring their faith. Barnabas comes across as the supporter, the one who supports and strengthens the work of the church by taking a less public approach. Doing what is best for the church and not needing to be in the limelight.
Notice in the movies how many of our great heroes have sidekicks. Some are smart and clever, some are comic relief, but all have a key role in letting the hero do the work he or she is tasked with to save the world.
Barnabas comes across as a sidekick in many ways.
In Acts chapter 9 we read about the conversion of Saul, who would later come to be known as the great leader, Paul. But when Saul first meets Jesus on the road to Damascus he is shunned by the church. And in reality, who can blame them. Up until this point he has been ruthlessly persecuting and executing the first Christians. How can they know he has truly changed his heart? Who would believe it?
So Saul stayed in Damascus, preaching right in the Jewish temples, declaring Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Jews has no idea what do with him. But as he grew in strength and wisdom his life increasingly was in danger.
With this realization, Saul made his way to Jerusalem to join with the disciples, but they stayed clear of him out of fear. That is everyone but Barnabas, who took time to talk to Saul and learn what had happened. Satisfied with what he heard, he took Saul to the Apostles and shared his story. A friendship was born.
Together these two traveled a lot of territory, Barnabas acting as Saul’s sidekick of sorts as they formed a teaching and preaching team that introduced Jesus Christ to many nations, primarily Gentile nations. Later they were joined by Barnabas’ cousin, Mark who would travel with them as well on these huge missionary journeys.
Clearly Barnabas was a strong evangelist himself as he worked with Saul, who became Paul, but also had a strong sense of God’s mission and on a few occasions took Paul with him to new places to share the Gospel message.
Paul owed a lot to Barnabas. Without him, Paul may have never been welcomed into the inner circle so he could be taught and encouraged by the apostles. Without Barnabas, his mission journeys may have kept him in closer range of Jerusalem. Without Barnabas, the New Testament may have been a lot shorter.
Barnabas shows the importance of supporting new leadership and being open to working with the leadership to provide effective ministry.
Many of you are retired here today. But I want you to think back to your first days of work. Think back to the people who supported you. Either with finding opportunities for education, or finding that first key job which would launch your life in the direction you were hoping it might take. Think of how fondly you remember their words of encouragement and the support they offered you.
I can’t help but think back to my home church in Ottawa when I first discovered I was being called into ministry. How I met with the minister and chatted about how I was feeling and how it was unfolding in my life. How he helped me look into what needed to be done in the first steps of moving forward.
I was on the official board of the church at the time as chair of the communications committee. I remember waiting outside the board room one night as the session was meeting. I was nervously sitting around talking with other board members who were waiting for the session meeting to finish so the board could meet right after. I remember talking about my nervousness and revealing to the two people waiting with me that I was probably the reason the session meeting was running long because they were discussing my letter asking for a discernment committee. I remember Kathleen, a good friend, who hugged me and gave me her own personal Bible as a gift, just in that very moment. Just before she gave it to me she wrote, “To dear Nick with love & very best wishes!! Blessings abound!!” And I remember the continued moral and generous financial support the church gave me over the next 6 years as I did my studies, and even when I joined with you, how they reached out and offered us a grant to help us upgrade our sound system and purchase the projector and screen.
I also know that in talking with Aaron that many of you were a great support to him as he grew up in this church and made his way into ministry as well.
Behind every person who stands in the pulpit stands a great multitude of people who were supported by those who believed in what they saw God was calling them to do with their lives. These people are crucial to us as we often face many challenges to our faith and our call to ministry along the way.
Today the world has turned its face on the church. Today the church struggles to produce leadership which will take over from the existing generation. This just goes to show that support and encouragement is needed now more than ever for those who want to stand up and share the Gospel message of the risen Jesus Christ.
In case you didn’t notice, I’m no longer talking about just preachers. We all have gifts to share with the church. Some of us will work quietly in the background. Others may take on more visible roles.
The example of Barnabas shows just how important the role of being an encouragement and support to those who are in the most public eye is. But notice he didn’t remain completely hidden from view. Barnabas was part of the team, and he took on leadership when it was needed. He and Paul worked together, closely on teaching people about the Risen Christ.
Being a church, the identity of the church, it’s all more than who is just standing up here and preaching every week. The identity of the church is set by what the church shows the community in which it serves.
If the church shows it offers support, hope and encouragement, then that is what the community will come looking for. If the church shows it offers fundraisers, then the community responds likewise. If the church shows it offers nothing, then….
I know we’re winding down for the summer. I know we’re beginning to think about cottages and vacations. That’s fine, we need those things too.
But here’s what I need you to think about very seriously over the next 3 months.
Who are we?
What do we offer?
How do we offer it?
When we look back at the first leaders of the church, those who called themselves the “Followers of the Way” we see they offered so much to a world which was lost. A world that worshiped many other idols, and not God.
It’s really not that different than the world today. Today the world is lost in its worship of money and pride. Things that cannot provide the pure joy one can find in a life of worshiping the one True God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So as we look at the world around us. We must ask ourselves, “What do we offer?” Do we offer hope? Do we offer Jesus Christ to those who do not know him? When do we offer it? How often? In how many ways?
This is the challenge that lies before the whole church in the coming years… months… days… hours…
Where do we fit in? What is our role as supporters, encouragers and partners in the ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord, hope of the world?
In the model of the first church and its leaders, a church speaking freely to the people in need of the hope only God can give, how do we see ourselves fitting into such a place in our community? A place, a town, a people, in great need of such life-giving hope.
Think about it. We’ll be talking about it again really soon.