A biographical sermon on the life and ministry of Barnabas. This sermon addresses the theme of encouragement and is based on selected texts in the book of Acts. This sermon was originally preached September 2nd of 2007 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
September 2nd, 2007
Pastor Duane M. Smets
“Barnabas: the Son of Encouragement”
I. An Overview of the Life of Barnabas
A. His beginning
B. Barnabas and Paul
C. Barnabas and Mark
II. A Theology of Encouragement
A. Humans need Encouragment
B. Courage comes from God
C. Jesus is the Lord of Courage
Last week we finished our “Walking According to the Spirit” sermon series which took us through verses 5-13 of Romans 8. I like to break things up for you guys since I know it is a huge undertaking to study through an entire book of the Bible the way we do here at The Resolved Church.
So today I wanted to preach a sermon on encouragment. It is a reality of life, that it can be hard, it can get you down, disappointed and be crushing. We are entering what I pray is the most fruitful season yet for us as a church, it comes after a long summer and a hard first two years. So I want to encourage you. It is also a season of the year for many of when many are starting new things (school, work, your kids), and I want to encourage you. It has aslo been a hard season for some (deaths in the family, hard pregnancies, disappointment with relationships or school) and I want to encourage you. I want to spur all of us on and give us a vision of hope and joy for what is to come.
As I sifted through several different passages and stories of the Bible this week as I prepared to preach today to encourage you, I decided to preach a biographical sermon on a man in the Bible named Barnabas.
I. An Overview of the Life of Barnabas
A. His Beginining
We read about Barnabas in the book of Acts in the Bible. Acts is short for “The Acts of the Apostles” and it documents the beginning of Jesus’ church and how it spread across the world in a very short period of time. It is an exciting book and is written both as history and as a theology, you could call it theo-history.
The book begins with Jesus appearing to several people after his resurrection, that is what we have been talking about the last two weeks here at The Resolved Church, the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus makes this statement before he ascends on a cloud right in front of everyone…he says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all the ends of the earth.” And that becomes the theme and heartbeat of the book, the gospel spreading, starting out in Jerusalem and spread further and further out both geographically and culturally.
Barnabas becomes a key figure in this story. We first read about him in Acts 4:36 “Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), [was] a Levite, a native of Cyprus.” Barnabas was from Cyprus but he was in Jersusalem at this time. Cyprus is an island about 80 miles from Jerusalem.
It’s hard to tell how long Barnabas had been in Jerusalem. He could have been there and seen the resurrected Jesus. He could have been in the upper room praying with the disciples when they were preparing to start the church. He could have been there to hear the first sermon of the church when Peter preached and become a Christian then. Whatever the case, it was very early in the church plant.
Barnabas was not his birth name. His name was Joseph, but he so encouraged the apostles that they decided to start calling him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragment.” Here is what made them feel so encouraged by Barnabas. Acts 4:32-37 “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
A field in that day cost around 120 denarii. Most people made about a denarii a day so that is about four months worth of wages, which in an average San Diego income would be about $15,000. That is a lot of money. I know how that feels. This church is just a little over two years old. After our first year, things were not going so well and we thought we might have to quit and close the doors and someone annonymously donated $20,000 to The Resolved Church. You don’t know how encouraging that was to us. So I can identify with the apostles calling Joseph, Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.
B. Barnabas and Paul
The story of the early church goes on. Some people die. A man named Stephen is the first, he is stoned to death. But people are still coming to Christ, believing in the gospel. The church in Jerusalem is growing. Churches get started in the villages of Samaria, and in some of the towns in Ceasarea. And then something happens. A man named Saul, who has been heading up this crusade to kill Christians and stomp out this new thing called Christianity…Jesus appears to him and he becomes a believer. None of the Apostles really believe it. Acts 9:26 says Saul went “to Jerusalem [and] attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid fo him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” They are freaked out and think it is probably a trick.
Now you got to put yourself into Paul’s shoes here. He is born into prosperity, he’s a rich upper class kid. Had the BMW when he turned 16, is always rolling with the super popular kids, grows up is a succesful business man, gaining a great reputation. The Jewish leaders of the day recognize that he is super zealous so they give him a big responsibility, to deal with these new troublemakers, Christians…so Saul starts doing that. He oversees the killing of the first Christian. He is on his way to becoming the next Tony Soprano and he is on a trip and Jesus appears to him, preaches the gospel to him, and Saul’s heart is broken and he recognizes that Jesus is Lord and that he needs him and he leaves everything and becomes a Christian himself. All his old buddies no doubt disown him and probably even want him dead now. So Paul tries to go hook up with the Christians and find some comfort and new friends and they don’t want him either.
That is surely how Paul felt. But watch what happens as the Son of Encouragement steps in in. Saul went “to Jerusalem [and] attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid fo him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.” Think how encouraging that must have been to have Barnabas step in and vouch for him. You ever felt on the outside and you know how much you have messed up and feel unworthy and alone and had someone come alongside you and put their arm around you and say, “it’s okay, he’s with me.” Think of what that did for Saul. They take Barnabas’s word for it and change Saul’s name to Paul.
Barnabas starts developing this reputation, what he is known for, so that a few chapters later probably at least a few months later, he goes to Antioch and Acts 11 says that when go there a “great number believed and turned to the Lord” and Luke, the author of Acts, says it is because Barnabas “saw the grace of God, he was glad, and exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11:21,23-24).”
I like this description of Barnabas, that he was a “good man.” Have you ever noticed how in culture when you are talking with your friends and if one of them has blown it in some way and is making some bad choicess and having a real hard time with life…someone will almost always say, “yeah, but he’s a good guy.” I’m always like what! Yeah, Jack left his wife and is a drug addict now and drinks himself to sleep everynight and he is really derpressed…but you know he’s a good guy, he’s just having a real hard time right now. No, that is not a good guy. That is a adulterating drunkard who needs to repent and turn to Christ.
For some of you boys who need to become men and you are not yet even though you are old enough, here is what will make you a good man: “remaining faithful to the Lord with a steadfast purpose (Acts 11:23).” Barnabas is a good example for us, for me, because I want to be a good man. I wake up every morning and I bust out my Bible and I read it and then the very first thing I pray is “God make me a good man, make me a good husband for my wife, make me a good father for my children, make me a good pastor for your church.” What makes a man good is his faith, nothing else. All else is evil and meaningless.
Check out the impact of a good man like Barnabas. He calls Paul to come over and they both stay in Antioch for one year teaching the people about Jesus and the result is people start calling themselves “Christians.” That is where that term started. And there are still churches and people who live in Antioch who call themselves Christians to this day.
After this, Barnabas and Paul head back to Jerusalem and they take back with them a guy named John, who like Barnabas and Paul, had his name changed to Mark. When they get there the Apostles in Jerusalem see that there is a good thing going on with Barnabas and Paul together so they send them off to this island called, “Salamais.” When they get there they get into this theological debate with a wiccan who is also a big political dude and the result is that the whole procounsel ends up believing in Jesus.
From there they cruise to a place called Pisidia. Things don’t go so well there. It’s good to know some people in the Bible found church planting hard at times. J Acts 13:50 says the people of Pisidia, “drove them out of their district.” They drove them out of not just the city, they are like “Get out of our state! Go back to Arizona or wherever else you came from! J” But rather than get discouraged, check out Barnabas and Paul’s response, “they shook the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Son of Encouragment at work again in the middle of disappointment and rejection.
After this they end up at Lystra. Lystra was a Roman colony. Had a lot of well known philosphers who lived there. A local legend said that the Greek gods Zues and Hermes had visited Lystra at disguised as two elderly men and they had a stone up on a hill erected to remember it. Some crazy stuff goes down in Lystra while Paul and Barnabas are there.
Paul makes the mistake of healing a cripple. He sees the guy can’t walk, tells him about Jesus, and seeing his faith tells him to stand up and the guy does. When he does, the whole city starts freaking out. Apparently everybody knew who he was and saw him now walking. So the people of the city think that Zues and Heremes have come back in the form of Paul and Barnabas…they think they are gods. Acts 14:11 records the crowds shouting, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” They think Barnabas is Zues, the head of the greek pantheon and they think Paul is Heremes, the messenger or speaker for Zues. It reminds me of soemthing straight out of “Return of the Jedi” when Luke and Han Solo get to the Ewok village. They think they are gods.
Paul and Barnabas tell them they are not gods, everyone still thinks they are great. So Paul and Barnabas decide to go for the jugular and start telling them that Zues and Heremes don’t exist, that there is one true God and they make a lot of people mad…just like what happens today if you do that. J So they end up stoning Paul and dragging him out of the city and leaving his body thinking he is dead. Talk about discouraging. When your job is going well, things seem to be on the upswing and then you get beat up and banned from the city you are working in. You ever feel beat up by life?
Paul is literally beat up. If they take him for dead, he is surely a bloody mess. Who knows what his emotional state is. Then comes the Son of Encouragment. Acts 14:20-21 says Barnabas gathers around him, picks him up and the next day leaves to go to another city, Derebe. I imagine Barnabas probably had to carry him for a good part of the trip. But they were determined to preach. And Barnabas’s loving care must have reinvigorated Paul because when they get to Derbe he start preaching by saying “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” And the Bible tells us that they made many disciples there.
C. Barnabas and Mark
After Derbe, they retrace their steps and cruise back to Jerusalem. There is a big important meeting there. They share all that happened on their journey and Paul and Barnabas are called “beloved” and the Apostles send them out again. Amazing stuff seems to be happening with this duo but then something happens. Up to this point Barnabas has been a key figure in the church plant. He is preaching and teaching right alonside of Paul being an encourager. It was like Barnabas had this unique gifting to be able to encourage others, maybe you have that gift? Barnabas knew he had it and because of that his ministry takes a decisive turn which resutls in the church as a whole more than doubling in it’s size, let’s read about it.
Acts 15:36-41 “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
Apparently for some reason that is not recorded in the Bible, John Mark left them when they were in Pamphylia and went back to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). And now later down the line, Barnabas wants to take John-Mark with him again, but Paul is dead against it and they have a “sharp disagreement.” I’m not sure what that means but I get the feeling there was some loud voices and yelling and arguments that were put forth.
Now I got to be honest. I’m not the best encourager. I try to be because I sure love it when people encourage me. But I probably would have been with Paul on this one. When people abandon you and bail it makes you mad. You depend on people and they fail and you are like, what the heck, what I am supposed to do now. But here we see, Baranabas, the good man, full of faith, who was older and wiser and more mature, he knew something about the grace of God and how God works. And he is going to stick with John Mark and not abandon him just because he messed up.
For the rest of Acts from chapter 15-28, almost literally the entire second half of the book records the ministry of Paul and what happened with him. Paul goes on and plants several more churches and the church as a whole just grows and grows and grows because of it. I would venture to say this, that none of that would have happened if Paul had not had Barnabas in his life in these early years. The Son of Encouragement spuring him on. There is an implicit lesson for us there about being encouragers and spurring other people on. That is what it means to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says to “Go make disciples of all peoples.” Being a disciplers means being a spiritual encouragment to someone and sticking with them.
Barnabas’s influence did not just end with Paul either. When Barnabas and Paul split up, Barnabas put his focus on John Mark and when back to Cyprus, his home to disciple and encourage him. The result? John Mark ends up writing the first gospel, the gospel of Mark telling all about the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus.
Who knows how much time goes by, it could have been a good 20 plus years. Paul is near the end of his life awaiting his execution in a Roman jail, and he writes, “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him…for he is very useful to me for ministry (2 Tim 4:11).” Whatever problem Paul had with Mark was gone now. Because of Barnabas Mark became very useful for the ministry and Paul who at one time not wanted him with him, in his last hours, wanted Mark to come because he was very useful for the ministry.
Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement. Almost behind the scenes, pushing things along. Pouring into people, spuring them along. What happened to him? This key figure in the start of the church. The one who mentors Paul and Mark who end up having such wide-reaching effects in their ministry? What happened to him? In approximently 73 AD Barnabas was preaching in Syria, near Salamis preaching about Jesus in the synagogue and the Jews became irrate and dragged him out of the city, tortured him and then stoned him to death.
II. A Theology of Encouragement
A. Humans need Encouragement
As we conclude today I want to point out to things that Barnabas the Son of Encouragment brings to light. One, is the importance of encouragment. If we were to say, what is the theology of encouragement. The word encouragment itself means this, “to put courage in.” The word itself is a recognition that human beings are weak and frail at times and lose courge and need courage to be put in from some outside source. So the first thing in a theology of encouragment is recognize that we, as sinful and weak human beings…we need encouragement.
B. Courage comes from God.
Second, encouragement comes from God. I almost preached on the story of Jericho. Where God calls Joshua and has him lead people into the promised land despite many upsets and difficulties. Before they go, God speaks these words to Joshua, “This Book (the Bible)…shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Josh 1:8-9).” Courage comes from knowing God. If you don’t know God today, this is one of the blessings that comes from being connected with your creator, courage. God does not give up on you. In Hebrews 13:5 he says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” If God is with you, he is committed to you even when it seems like all is falling apart, God will be with you and courage comes from knowing him.
King David, the author of most the Psalms knew this, that why he wrote, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Ps. 27:4).” When you are down or when you face a big challenge or the start of something new and fresh, do not try to deal with it in your own strength, turn to the Lord and his strength.
As Isaiah 40:28-31 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
C. Jesus is the Lord of Courage
The third and final piece in a theology of encouragement is that Jesus is the Lord of Courage. In 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 the Bible says, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” We need courage and courage from God comes through the fountain of Jesus Christ, his Son, through putting your hope and faith in him.
One of my favorite pictures of Jesus is that of him as a lion. In the book of Revelation the apostle John sees a vision of Jesus. He is seated on his throne in heaven, that has the appearance of jasper and carnelian…around the throne there is a rainbow with the appearance of an emerald…around the throne are elders of the church and angels…there is lightening and peals of thunder…before the throne there is a sea of glass like crystal…and everyone is crying out ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!…Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created…and one of the elders gets up and speaks to John and says, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered (Rev. 4:2-11;5:5)”.”
This is Jesus. On his thone in heaven. Jesus who conquered sin, death, hell and the grave and now sits on a throne awaiting the mission of the church to reach all peoples with the gospel and though at times the mission of our lives and the mission of this church may seem hard, there is reason not to falter. Jesus is on the throne. There is a reason not to give up. There is a reason for hope and for joy. Jesus has conquered. There is a reason to take courage. To find a resource of strength. To dig down deep into the well of Jesus’ Spirit and to be refreshed by his loving and tender mercy.
Jesus the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is the Lord of courage. When we are weak and tired. Jesus is strong for us and fill us with new life. When we are sad and discouraged. Jesus is our joy and peace and fills us with his assurance that everything will be alright with him. When we have a great vision and passion for the future, Jesus is our security that it will come to pass because he did not give up or turn his back but conquered. When we suffer and feel pain and loss Jesus is our resurrection and new life which turns sorrow into dancing and gladness. When we fail and make a mess of our lives Jesus is the one who does not abandon us but stands to forgive and to save and to empower us to do something great for his name.
Barnabas, the Son of Encouragment. How can you be the son of a verb. Encouragment is an action, something that takes place it is not a person. What did the apostles mean by that. Here is what I think they meant: Barnabas reminded them of Jesus, the chief encourager. Jesus had ascended, but not left his followers alone. He sent people like Barnabas to encourage them and remind them he is Lord, Lord of his church and Lord of his misison.
What do you need encouragement for today? Come to Jesus. Perhaps you have never really done that. Perhaps you have consistently turned to find strength and courage from within yourself or from some scheme or new plan…but it always fails. Embrace Jesus today.
If you are on the down end of some things this morning. Turn to Jesus. Don’t give up but hold on to him. Jesus is hope and courage and he will carry you through.
If you are starting out some new things, rely on the strength and wisdom of Christ for your course. That may mean school, or a new job, or a new semester of parenting. For us as a church plant need to put our security and our hope in Christ. Philippians 2:13 says this, “He who began a good work in you will continue to perform it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I am confident that Jesus did not start this church in vain. I am confident that the things he has done in your life, the steps forward that many of you have taken, I am sure they are not in vain. God does not give up on you. Be encouraged. We are works in progress. We’ve got a lot of work to be done in us. Sometimes the pruning hurts but God is at work in us. Drawing us closer and closer to Jesus and making us more and more like him. And he will ensure the final result.