“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” William Shakespeare used this line in his play Romeo and Juliet to convey that the naming of things is irrelevant.  Perhaps names are irrelevant since Shakespeare’s time, but that was not always true.  In the ancient near east, for example, names mattered.  The meaning behind someone’s name mattered.  And the names people were known by mattered most when someone’s name was changed during their life.  For example, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude.” Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, meaning “he strives with God.”  And, of course, Simon, son of Jonah, had his name changed by Jesus to Peter, meaning “rock.” Changing someone’s name during one’s life was intended to reflect a profound truth about the nature of that person. 

So, ask yourself this question, “If your name was changed to match a profound truth about you, what might that truth be?  What character trait do you think most defines you?” If you were using a contemporary guide to the meaning of names, and you are wise, then would you change your name to Sophie or Drew, both mean the person is wise.  If you are a leader, would you change your name to Duke or Deanna? If you are a healer, would you change your name to Jaylen or Jason?

          Today, as we continue our exploration of the life of a man named Saul, we will see that Saul met a man whose name was changed and that change was most profound. At birth, this man’s name was Joseph. Later in life, after the man became a Christian, Jesus’ Apostles changed Joseph’s name to reflect the fundamental truth about this man, and they gave him the name, Barnabas.  We pronounce and spell his name as a single word, Barnabas. But in the ancient near east, the word “bar” meant “son of.”  So, Barnabas was more likely accentuated, bar Nabas, “son of Nabas.”  Depending upon the Bible translation, Nabas means encouragement, comfort, and consolation.  Joseph most profound character trait then was to be seen as the “son of the encourager, the comforter, and the consoler.”  The word Luke used that was translated as encourager is the Greek word, paraklesis, which describes the act of calling people closer together, onto closer intimacy and stronger comfort.  Joseph was seen as the son of the one who does this drawing of people and provider of comfort.  In many respects, Joseph, bar Nabas, was behaving as the offspring of the Holy Spirit, parakletos, meaning the divine intercessor, consoler-advocate, and comforter.  This description of Joseph seems to fit a description of him found in Acts 11:24 where Barnabas is described as “24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith”.  What’s in a name?  A name means a lot if it is given to you as a sign of your relationship with God and how that relationship is lived out.

          And so, with that background about bar Nabas, we pick of the story of Saul.  We will recall from the last couple of weeks that Saul had been a Jewish Pharisee, a deeply religious man who trained under one of the greatest rabbis in Israel’s history.  But Saul lost his way and instead of using his intellect, Saul began, in Jerusalem, breathing out murderous threats seeking to destroy anyone who dared to follow Jesus.  After persecuting Christians in Jerusalem, Saul began pursing Christians into the city of Damascus.  On the way, Saul had an encounter with Jesus that transformed Saul from breathing out murderous threats against Christians to preaching God’s Word seeking Jews and Gentiles to come and accept Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah.  Last week, we saw that Saul began his ministry in Damascus, moved to Arabia, then back to Damascus.  For nearly 3 years, Saul suffered at the hands of the Jews.  He was whipped, receiving 39 lashes on three different occasions.  He was beaten with rods on two occasions.  He was imprisoned and was without food, water, and clothing.  And for all the physical abuse Saul experienced, he made few, if any, disciples to Christ.  Then Saul escaped those seeking his death who had surrounded the gates of the city /of Damascus, all the while awaiting to seize Saul.  Saul escaped their clutches and finally made his way back to Jerusalem, where Saul had grown up, became a man, and was educated in the Hebrew Scriptures.

          As comforting as it might be for Saul to return to Jerusalem, Saul knew he would not be welcomed back to Jerusalem by the high priests and Pharisees.  Saul would be seen by them as a traitor, someone to be scorned and held in contempt.  In returning to Jerusalem, Saul would seek to join with the other apostles and disciples of Jesus.  But Luke tells us, “26 When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him [Saul], not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).  Let’s not go by this point too quickly.  Saul, this apostle of Jesus, whipped and beaten in his ministry in Arabia, threatened with death in Damascus, an outcast to the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, now stood alone because he was also shunned by Jesus disciples in Jerusalem. Alone.  Aloneness hurts.  Aloneness, loneliness hurts us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Loneliness hurts.  Loneliness hurts us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  American musician and songwriter, JJ Heller, in her song, “What Love Really Means,” described loneliness this way: “He cries in the corner where nobody sees.  He’s the kid with the story no one would believe. He prays every night, ‘Dear God, won't you please?  Could you send someone here who will love me?’”  The relief of loneliness requires the cooperation of only one other person.

          At this very moment of Saul’s crisis of loneliness, Luke said, “27 But Barnabas took him [Saul]” (Acts 9:27a).  I love this very short piece of Scripture.  First because it begins with the word “But” and I encourage everyone to sit up and take notice whenever but is used in the Bible because it usually means God is going to set things straight.  Second, I love it because it says, “But Barnabas took Saul.”  Bar Nabas, the son of the encourager, consoler, comforter, the man seen to be full of the Holy Spirit, broke into Saul’s loneliness and listened to Saul’s story.  The prayer of JJ Heller’s song, “Dear God, won't you please? Could you send someone here who will love me?”  To break into the loneliness of another, to have someone say, “I am here, please tell me,” is an act of love.  And so, bar Nabas listened to Saul.  We need to draw into our life as Christians that we possess the same Holy Spirit as bar Nabas.  With that same Holy Spirit, we too could and should love someone and break into their loneliness.

          But more than simply listening to Saul, bar Nabas did one other important thing.  Bar Nabas believed Saul’s story.  An encounter that breaks into the loneliness of another is one thing but to be believed shatters the walls of silence that others have constructed around you.  Luke wrote, “27 But Barnabas took him [Saul] and brought him to the apostles. He [Barnabas] told them [apostles] how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him [Saul], and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). Bar Nabas broke into Saul’s loneliness, shattered the wall of silence surrounding Saul, and then advocated for Saul with the apostles.  Bar Nabas, the son of the encourager, asked the apostles to believe Saul and to see in Saul’s story the blessing God was bestowing.  Bar Nabas put his reputation and standing with the disciples on the line. To Saul, bar Nabas was such an encourager because bar Nabas listened, believed, and then risked his standing in his own community to advocate for Saul.  Bar Nabas provided for us an example of the Christian response to the outcast.

          What was the result?  “28 So Saul stayed with them [the disciples] and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28).  Saul was now part of the Church that was moving and growing in and around Jerusalem. Saul would later describe this unity of the church this way, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…24b God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:3, 14a, 24b-27).  Bar Nabas, with the Holy Spirit working through him, had broken into the loneliness of Saul, and acted by calling people closer together, onto closer intimacy and stronger comfort.  Bar Nabas helped to make Saul forever a part of the living body of Christ. 

          I think being accepted and part of the body is something every human being desires. The Greeks called this bringing together into unity, Koinonia, a fellowship of the close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them and by extension, participating, sharing, contributing, and gifting in one another as an outcome of such close relationship.  We all want to be part of the life that is going on around us and to contribute to it.

Again, later, Saul would write to the church in Corinth, the body of Christ in Corinth, “I always thank my God for you [the followers of Jesus in Corinth] because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He [God] will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship [koinonia] with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9).  Saul took this concept of unity of the body of Christ among believers and made it clear that such unity first comes from fellowship, koinonia, with Jesus.  Jesus calls believers to be inseparable part of himself.  A believer is to be in fellowship with both Jesus, for all eternity, and in fellowship with other believers through the Church with a bond so tight as to make one feel as though they are part of a body.  This is what Saul experienced in Jerusalem through the work of bar Nabas, the son of encouragement.

 We all then have a child-parent relationship with God and we have been gifted with the same Holy Spirit.  Saul would later say that “To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. 10 To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. 11 All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).  Every believer here has been gifted in some way.

But.  But if bar Nabas’ name is to mean anything as the “son of the encourager” then it must be true that each believer is also the daughter or son of the encourager, the Holy Spirit as well.  If that is true, then each believer has been equipped to call people closer together, onto closer intimacy and stronger comfort.  There is no law, there is nothing that stands in our way, from becoming an encourager of another.  We need to break into other’s loneliness.  We need to listen to others, particularly the outcast.   We need to believe and then be willing to advocate for those who need a voice and to bring them fully into the body of Christ. Let’s all be called bar Nabas. Amen and Amen.