Barnabas was an early follower of Jesus. But Barnabas wasn’t his real name.
Acts 4:33-37 (NIV)
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.
Joseph from Cyprus was so encouraging the apostles changed his name – from here out he is called Barnabas. This is a strong testament to his character – Barnabas was the guy you could count on to pick you up when you were down – to believe in you when no one else would. The message of Jesus gave Barnabas a powerful sense of God’s grace and mercy. He knew no one was a lost cause, no one was beyond redemption.
The next time we see Barnabas, he is taking up the cause of a former enemy – Saul.
Acts 9:19-28 (NIV)
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them 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 and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
Barnabas is the first to believe in Saul’s conversion. He vouches for him with the Apostles. Paul is accepted in the church because of Barnabas. This is a risky move. There is real danger if he is wrong about Paul.
- Have you ever had someone believe in you when no one else did?
Acts 11:19-26 (NIV)
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Barnabas is sent to see what is happening with the Greeks. The church has just heard from Peter that the message of Jesus was for the Gentiles too (not just Jews). This is the second incident of Gentiles turning to Jesus.
- Barnabas is the right guy to send – he doesn’t have the same preconceived ideas. He has a broad view of God’s grace.
- Barnabas is increasing his influence – he starts with sharing his material wealth, then moves on to encouraging and supporting Paul, now he is encouraging a whole region to follow Jesus.
- Barnabas immediately thinks of his other encouragement project – Saul. Saul has been in Tarsus after a few death attempts. He was living in obscurity for five years. Barnabas brings him to Antioch, and Saul’s powerful ministry explodes from there.
- Followers of Jesus are called Christians because of Antioch. I think we owe that to Barnabas.
Acts 15:36-41 (NIV)
Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Barnabas didn’t give up, even when someone was in the wrong.
- This is the hardest thing to do. It’ easy to believe in someone when they are doing the right thing. It’s hard when they mess up.
- Barnabas sees the value in his cousin John Mark. And eventually Paul does too…
2 Timothy 4:9-11 (NIV)
9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
The world needs more Barnabasi.
- First, remind yourself of God’s great love and grace. God’s goodness toward us gives us the strength to be gracious toward others.
- Believe the best. Forgive the worst.
- I Peter 4:8 – “Love covers a multitude of sins”
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) – 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
- Never give up.