We celebrated Easter last Sunday. For me, and I am sure for you as well, Easter Sunday this year had quite different feel to it. Missing was opportunity to go to church decorated with brightly colored flowers with their sweet fragrance. Missing was the larger than normal number of attendees at church. Everyone seems to make an extra effort to get to church on Easter morning. Missing was the dinner at our home with as many as 20 folks at the house. This year there was just the two of us for dinner which we shared with our extended family on a Zoom video conference in five different locations. Of course, none of the things we missed this year were at all familiar with the early Christians. The early Christians had no church buildings, no brightly colored flowers, no family dinners, no live streaming video, no Facebook, and no websites. And yet, the early Christian church exploded across the difficult surroundings of Jerusalem, Samaria, and outward from there to the known world. What made the growth and strength of the early Church possible? The answer to this question is simple. The early church had a handful of people of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision. I think there is much we can learn from these people for our walk with God, our understanding of our purpose in being here on earth, and the opportunity we have to serve the church of Jesus Christ today with the same passion they served the church in its earliest days.
I want us to explore some notable and some obscure people of the early church. I would invite you to open your Bibles to the Book of Acts, Chapter 1. The Book of Acts is the second volume of the two-volume set comprising the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. This book begins with the final moments of the resurrected Jesus on earth among his Apostles. As Jesus was speaking to the Apostles, he gave them a commissioning in verse 8. He said, “You [Jesus’ followers] will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Verse 9 tells us, “9 After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” That is a very simple purpose statement, “Be my witnesses.”
Verse 12 tells us that, “12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. [For a short while, they were called the Eleven.] 14 They [the Eleven] all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women [probably Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Joanna] and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his [Jesus’] brothers [James, Joses, Judas, and Simon].” All totaled there was about 20 people who gathered. Twenty men and women formed the core of the Christian church that today numbers 2.2 Billion people. This core group had all spent time with Jesus. They knew him personally and experienced him through their senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch. These things they had in common as well as the commission to be Jesus’ witness. The Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, martus from which we get the English word martyr. While we could learn much from these 20 martyrs, I would like us to learn from people who received the testimony of these people. Seeing the Christian life through the experience of someone who did not see Jesus, or hear him, or smell him, or touch him would be instructive since they are closest to us who have not had a physical sensing experience with Jesus.
The first person I would like us to explore is introduced to us in the Book of Acts, Chapter 4, beginning at verse 32. I invite you to turn to that passage. “32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
This is our introduction to a man named Joseph. We are told Joseph was a Levite, meaning he was expected from birth to devote himself to God and serve as an assistant to the priests of the Temple. Joseph was from the island of Cyprus, located in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea but now found himself in Jerusalem. Joseph owned a piece of property, a field of land. He sold that property and gave all the money to the apostles for use in the ministry and care of the early Christian church. There is no evidence or suggestion that Joseph ever saw, heard, or touched Jesus. Instead, Joseph believed based upon the testimony of Jesus’ witnesses. That means we have much in common with Joseph because we are called to believe based upon the testimony of others. In that belief, Joseph committed himself to Jesus as an act of faith. In showing his faith, Joseph sold his piece of the earthly kingdom as an express of his desire to pursue his piece of God’s kingdom. In showing faith, Joseph exhibited four characteristics that we should seek in our walk of faith into God’s kingdom.
First, Joseph in faith was committed. His faith was not a Sunday thing, his faith was everything. Joseph, in faith, was committed to following the Way, Jesus. Colossians 1:29 – “To this end I contend strenuously all my energy Christ so powerfully works within me.”
Second, Joseph, in faith, was a person of action. He sold property. Joseph brought the money to the apostles. He laid it at their feet. Joseph was demonstrating in action his words of commitment. James 2:17 ‐ “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Third, Joseph, in faith, was righteous. He sought the Truth and as we will see he taught the Truth about God. Joseph sought to be righteous in his behaviors towards others because Jesus made Joseph right before God. Romans 1:17 ‐ “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
Fourth, Joseph, in faith, was submitted. He was submitted to Jesus and to the teachings and authority of the Apostles. – Romans 12:1, 2 ‐ “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your
spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Joseph was a person of faith who was committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted. Joseph had become a person of the Way and was showing his commitment to Jesus by placing himself under the authority of the apostles, not the priests, and by extending grace, mercy, and peace to fellow members of the church. It appears Joseph was this way without ever having personally met Jesus, just like you and me. We would do well to explore with God whether we are committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted in our walk following Jesus.
There was one more detail about Joseph, that we did not talk about. Verse 36 says, “The apostles called [Joseph], Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). From this point forward, the name Joseph is never used again to refer to this man. The only name used is Barnabas, son of encouragement. Given that, we need to take a moment and understand what the apostles were talking about by calling Barnabas a source of encouragement. To our modern ears, encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, and hope. We might think of an encourager as a coach or cheerleader saying to us, “You got this! Never give up! Believe in you! Yes, you can!” That is not the context of encouragement used here. Encouragement, in the Greek word, used here meant that Joseph was gifted. He was gifted in teaching, in being persuasive, admonishing, consoling, and being a powerful speaker. Joseph, now Barnabas, was able to influence others and he used that gift to move people toward faith that they too would be committed, action oriented, righteous, and submitted. Rather than a modern-day coach or cheerleader, we might think of Barnabas more along the lines of a young and vibrant Billy Graham, a powerful and persuasive speaker able to move people toward to goal of living fully in Christ. Now the important thing for us here is not to compare ourselves to Barnabas’ particular gift of encouragement and say, “I am not like him at all. I am not a powerful speaker, so there is nothing I can really learn from him.” The important thing is Barnabas used his gift to further his own faith and help others to faith. Everyone is gifted. The questions we face are, “What are we using our gifts to do? How are we using our gifts in our own faith journey and for the betterment of others and the Church?” This is the immediate lesson we learn in our introduction to Barnabas.
This brings us to our second point about Barnabas. He was a person of faith who used his gift wisely because Barnabas was a person of purpose. Purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church. Do you remember hearing me speaking the purpose of the church earlier in this message? It bears repeating. Jesus said the purpose of the church is to be “my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That is the purpose, the mission statement of the Church. In over 2,000 years, Jesus has never changed it or altered it in anyway. Barnabas got that message and his purpose was to share Christ. Knowing the purpose of the Church and of his life, gave Barnabas extraordinary clarity and understanding in his life and gave him exceptional emotional stability about all circumstances he encountered. Isn’t that true for us as well? When we know our purpose, in the circumstances we find ourselves, and we pursue that purpose with determination, we are not easily distracted, and we can accomplish much. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4: 11-15). Barnabas, under the authority and teaching of the apostles, was not toss around on the waves of self-doubt because Barnabas knew the truth in love and he knew his purpose to share that as a witness to others.
I used this quote from Paul because if it was not for Barnabas, we might never have heard of Paul. We may recall from Sunday School, Bible studies, or other sermons that Paul’s name had been Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a Pharisee who had a mission to destroy the people of the Way. Paul used his talents to incite a crowd to stone a man named Stephen to death for believing in Jesus. Saul dragged others from their homes and put them in prison for believing in Jesus. Then Saul met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and Saul believed. But that was not the end of the story; it was the beginning. I invite you to turn with me in the Book of Acts, Chapter 9 to see the second part of Saul’s conversion.
Verse 26, “When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they [the disciples] were all afraid of him, not believing that he [Saul] really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him [Saul].” Just a quick pause here. The context is Barnabas took charge of Saul. Barnabas listened to Saul’s testimony; learned of Jesus’ post‐ascension appearance, and affirmation of the church’s broad purpose in verse 15, “To proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Having understood Saul’s experience we continue to read in verse 27, and find that Barnabas “Brought him [Saul] 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, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them [the Church] and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” If not for Barnabas, there might not be a Paul. Barnabas understood the purpose of the Church and his role within it. Because Barnabas understood the purpose, he was calm enough to listen to Saul’s testimony. Barnabas risked his life to listen to Saul. And then Barnabas used his gift of encouragement to present Saul and give Saul’s dramatic conversion testimony to the Apostles. In doing so, Barnabas set in motion the broadening of the Church’s understanding of Jesus’ commission to share the good news not with the Jews alone but with all the people of the world.
We are benefactors of Barnabas because he was a person of faith willing to commit himself to following Jesus. Barnabas was a person of faith who acted, he was did so with right motives, and he was willing to submit himself to the teachings of God’s Word as revealed through the apostles. Barnabas was a purposeful person. He understood that his purpose in life was tied to Jesus’ commission to share the gospel message and in that understanding he was self-confident and willing to use his gift to the benefit of the church and others who would come to faith. This week let’s think about our friend Barnabas. Let’s each examine our own faith journey and talk to God about our level of commitment, whether our faith is action oriented, if our faith shows itself in righteous, and whether we too would be found to be submitted to Christ. Then next week, we will explore the rest of Barnabas’ story and what more he has to share with us. Amen and Amen.