|(a) Acts 4:32-37|
(b) Acts 9:26-30
(c) Acts 11:18-30
(d) Acts 12:25-13:5
(e) Acts 13:13
(f) Acts 15:36-40
(g) 1 Corinthians 9:6
(h) Colossians 4:10
(i) 2 Timothy 4:9-11
Without a doubt, the number one unsung hero of the New Testament is a man named Barnabas. And this is his story.
We first meet Barnabas early in the life of the church, where we read:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales
35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he 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, a Levite from Cyprus..." that's the first and last time he is identified by his real name. From here on out, he is identified by Hebrew Christian nick name, Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement.
What is significant about Barnabas was not that he made a sizable financial contribution to the social ministry of the church, because a lot of folks were doing that. What is significant is what Barnabas gave virtually all that he had -- he gave himself. And the character this gentle giant displayed which earned him his nickname becomes evident five chapters later, in Acts 9, and here the story really begins.
The story begins with a man named Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, an avid student of the Hebrew Scriptures, while at the same time a self-acclaimed bitter enemy of Christ and His church. He helped to oversee the execution of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. His life's mission became stopping the propagation of the Gospel, and his method was to go house to house, arresting Christians, having them tried, beaten, and when possible, executed. When his organized persecution caused Christians to flee to neighboring regions, Saul would organize posses, with official permission, to chase after them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.
Saul was on such a mission to arrest and extradite Christians who had fled to Damascus, when on the way he had a rather startling encounter with Jesus Christ Himself. Needless to say, this rather messed up Saul's theology. So when he arrived in Damascus, instead of arresting Christians, he became one.
The first chance he had, he went straight to the Synagogue, gave his testimony, and then took an extended retreat into Arabia, in order to review all those Scriptures that he had studied so diligently, and even memorized at length, and to see them in a whole new light. He then returned to Damascus to teach what he had learned, to demonstrate from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He gave such an effective witness that soon his life was in danger, and his fellow Christians had to sneak him out of town and send him back to Jerusalem.
This was his first time back in Jerusalem since his conversion. So it is no surprise that when he tried to join the Christian fellowship there, he was rebuffed. The Christians didn't trust him. It would have been just like him to be faking it, in order to identify, arrest, and persecute more Christians. One man, however, decided he would take a chance on Saul.
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.
29 He talked and debated with the Greek speaking Jews, but they tried to kill him.
30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea [the port city on the Mediterranean Sea] and sent him [back home] to Tarsus.
There Saul stayed.
Now the story jumps ahead 13 years, to...
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to 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 ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
You see that Antioch is quite a distance north of Israel, in northern Syria. The persecuted Christians fled to Antioch, witnessing of their faith in Christ all along the way. Soon there was a substantial church in Antioch, and the Apostles back in Jerusalem felt responsible for their pastoral care and instruction in Christian doctrine. And Barnabas was the man for the job.
23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, 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.
So many were brought to the Lord, in fact, that Barnabas felt he needed some help, he needed an assistant, a vicar, and he knew exactly where to find one.
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.
First Barnabas welcomes Saul the former persecutor of Christians into the fellowship of the Apostles. Then, when Barnabas was assigned to a position of leadership, recruited Saul as his assistant, and mentored him in congregational ministry.
Let's read on, for we immediately witness some seemingly insignificant events which have lasting consequences
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem
28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. [Those are the folks living in and around Jerusalem.]
30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
ACTS 12 (last verse)
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
They go to Jerusalem as two, and they return to Antioch as three.
The young man they took back with them like so many folks we meet in the New Testament, had two names. John is his Jewish name. Mark is a Roman name. Some times he is referred by one name, or the other, or both - just as was Simon Peter.
Why did John Mark go back to Antioch with Barnabas and Saul? As we shall soon see, it was likely Barnabas' idea, for the expressed purpose of training him in Christian ministry, just as Barnabas was also doing for Saul.
13:1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:
[four are listed, two are]
Barnabas, ... and Saul.
2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to [seacoast port of] Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus [which, if you recall, was Barnabas' home territory. He knew the language; he knew the culture; he knew the people].
5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John [that is, John Mark] was with them as their helper.
Barnabas and Saul travel the length of the Island, teaching about Jesus. On the way Saul changed his name to Paul, and from here on the two of them are no longer referred to as "Barnabas and Saul," but now they are "Paul and Barnabas." It's as if Barnabas steps back and lets Paul take the lead, and we see developing here what we refer to as Paul's first missionary journey.
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions [namely Barnabas and John Mark] sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.
Don't let that little tidbit of trivia slip past you. “John left them to return to Jerusalem.”
For the next two chapters in Acts, Barnabas and Paul continued their tour of cities in southwest Turkey, sharing the Gospel where ever they go. They then retrace their steps back to Perga, and sail back to Antioch, and give an enthusiastic report to the church there.
Chapter 15 begins with a controversy of both doctrine and practice in the Antioch church. The controversy is over that very critical issue of Law and Gospel, and whether it were really possible for one who is not a good practicing Jew to become a Christian. (Today we have it backwards - thinking it odd that Jews would become Christian. Many in the church in the days of the Apostles felt that to become a Christian, you first had to become a Jew, keeping all the ceremonial Old Testament laws. Needless to say, Paul and Barnabas adamantly opposed that point of view and stood on the side of the Gospel. The church sent a delegation headed by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to get clarification from the twelve Apostles and elders at Jerusalem, who also affirmed the simple Gospel, that we are saved solely by God's grace, solely through the merits of Christ's perfect life, His death on the cross on our behalf, and that we receive eternal life as a free gift, not through works of the law.
Having that affirmation, Barnabas, Paul, and the rest of the delegation return to Antioch.
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers 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,
I assume that Barnabas brought John Mark back to Antioch with him from
his last trip to
Jerusalem. The Son of Encouragement is not only giving John Mark
a second chance, but he is
encouraging Mark to grow in ministry.
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 brothers to the grace of the Lord.
Paul had work to do - spread the Gospel. He was singularly focused on that one task. He considered John Mark to be a washout. Barnabas, always looking for someone to encourage and mentor, is hardly ready to give up on Mark and still sees great potential in him, just as Barnabas had seen potential in Saul of Tarsus after his difficult starts in ministry.
Paul and Barnabas each chose a course completely consistent with God's calling on their lives and the gifts of ministry that God has given them. Paul begins his second missionary journey without Barnabas, heading overland toward his former home town, while Barnabas goes to the territory he still knows best.
And sadly, this is the last we hear of both Barnabas and Mark in the book of Acts.
But apparently Barnabas did a pretty good job in training Mark. Because some time after Mark served as Barnabas' assistant, he moved on to become an assistant to none other than Paul himself:
10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. [The story in Acts never told us that!] (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)
Obviously Paul changed his opinion about John Mark.
2 TIMOTHY 4 [Near the end of Paul's life]
9 Be diligent to come to me quickly;
10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica; Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.
11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.
Is this the same Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark? In all likelihood, yes. And much more could be told about his story. But today it's Barnabas' turn, the Son of Encouragement, the teacher, guide, and mentor for both of these other two great messengers of the Gospel. Barnabas invested his life, even risked his life, into these two very unlikely candidates, whom other leaders had rejected.
And I wonder, how many others might have Barnabas mentored into prominent ministries as messengers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
May God help us all be more like him.