Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian (OLD)

Barnabas, The Ordinary Apostle

Acts 9:26-30 and Acts 13:1-3

Last week we concluded with the radical thought that we can all be apostles. The word “Apostle” means “sent one.” God is not only calling us to become disciples, but we are also sent to serve everywhere. Turn to your neighbor and tell them, “You are sent to serve.” Now introduce yourself as “Hi, my name is apostle ______ because I am also sent to serve.”

Do you believe in the apostleship of all believers? I do. I learned it from my grandmother. Her name was Ruth, but we grandchildren called her Nonnie. 

This Mother’s Day I want to tell you about this encouraging woman who knew God was calling me into the ministry before I heard the call. She saw me in ways I did not yet see myself. When I was still a boy, Nonnie, who seemed old to me at the time (she must have been in her sixties!), saw me as her special project. 

I particularly recall a summer Nonnie invited me and my friend, Tommy, to join her for a week at her cabin. I think Tommy and I were about ten years old. No sooner did we arrive at that cabin then she gave us the rules of the place. Because the cabin stored and used rain water, water conservation was very important. So she gave us her “toilet rule.” We were both a little embarrassed to have her talk so honestly about such private things. She explained. “Boys, here’s the rule: If it is brown, flush it down. If it is yellow, let it mellow.” Tommy and I giggled ourselves to sleep that night repeating the rule to each other.

Each morning that week, Ruth woke us with a whisper. “Come watch the deer at the salt lick.” We’d quietly sneak to the front window of the cabin and watch the deer while she made pancakes for breakfast. After breakfast she gave us our daily chores. We had to collect some firewood and pine­cones, and then sweep the front porch. After chores, she let us romp through the forest for a couple of hours. Most of that week we were cowboys riding our imaginary horses through the forest. I suppose it was about 11:00 each morn­ing when she rang the old cowbell, calling us back to the cabin.  We pretended to tie up our horses near the front porch of the cabin and then she’d hold her daily “camp meeting.” She couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket so she made the two of us sing a hymn. Then came the best part of the whole day—she told us a Bible story. She could make a Bible character come alive. I don’t think Tommy and I realized un­til years later that she had lured us into her personal version of Vacation Bible School that summer. 

When I graduated from college and was accepted into seminary to prepare for professional ministry I immediately told my mom and dad. That same day I went to Nonnie’s house and told her. She beamed her delight at my decision and prayed with me. You see, she was my Barnabas.

Most of us know the names of the two most famous apostles—Peter and Paul. While I respect and appreciate their leadership in the early church, my favorite apostle is some­one less well known—Barnabas. If I could pattern my life after one Bible character other than Jesus, it would be Barnabas.

Without Barnabas, we would never have known of the Apostle Paul. Without Barnabas, most of the New Testament letters would never have been written. Without Barnabas the Gospel of Mark would not be in our Bible. It all went back to this man named Barnabas. Are you interested to find out more about who Barnabas was? (I’m feebly trying to tell the story like Nonnie would have told it to Tommy and me. She was a much better story-teller than I am. Let me do my best to tell the story the way she would. Maybe for a moment we can all become children on the front porch of her cabin and listen to the story of Barnabas.)

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:  Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-3

Barnabas was the only one who befriended the Apostle Paul when Paul was young and feeling rejected by everyone else. Remember his original name was Saul of Tarsus. Later he became the famous Apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament. How did he go from being the hater of Christians to the author of much of the New Testament? 

Well you can imagine when he became a Christian and started preaching that Jesus really was the Messiah it did not go well for him. His former friends turned away from him. “You’ve betrayed us!”  The Christians were still afraid of him. They doubted he had really met Jesus and suspected he was trying to infiltrate their group to get more names so he could turn around and arrest them. When he went back to Jerusa­lem and asked to meet with the apostles even they were afraid of him. Saul was so lonely. His encounter with Jesus had cost him everything. He needed somebody to defend him and be his friend.

Ruth would pause at this point in the story and make a direct application. “Tommy and Bruce, Jesus is always your friend. But sometimes you need someone who will stand up for you on the playground when others are against you. It is good that the two of you have each other. Some people don’t have anybody. Let me tell you about the kind of loneliness Saul felt. 

Tommy do you know you are named after a Bible charac­ter? Unfortunately we often nickname him “Doubting Thomas.” I don’t that’s fair. He missed a meeting and simply asked for the same information everybody else got at the meeting. The other disciples were bothered at his lack of faith. They believed because they saw Jesus. He had not seen the risen Jesus. For a while he felt all alone in his doubt. But once Jesus appeared to him, he believed just like the others. In fact, I think he should be nicknamed “Believing Thomas.” He was the first person to declare to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

“Back to the story about…  What was his name Bruce?” Nonnie would look over at me and wait to see if I was paying attention. I search my memory for the name. “Barabbas?” I answer. She smiles. “Close. Barabbas was a bad guy at Jesus trial. I’m telling you the story of Barnabas.” Then she con­tinues with her story.

Barnabas was his nickname. His real name was Joseph. But everybody called him by his nickname, Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. He loved to encourage others. When he heard about young Saul, he was the only one who believed in him. Not only did he believe Saul’s account of what happened, but he risked his own life by befriending young Saul. In fact, some months later when Barnabas was sent to organize a group of people into a church, he invited young Saul to become his assistant pastor. Together they led the church at Antioch. 

When the church at Antioch decided to send out the first mis­sionaries to tell more people about Jesus, the Holy Spirit told them to send Barnabas as the lead missionary and Saul as his assistant. Within a few months of their traveling together, Barnabas let Saul, who became known as Paul, become the lead missionary and preacher. Instead of referring to their mission team as Barnabas and Paul, they started calling it the team of Paul and Barnabas. This leader stepped back to let Paul get the attention and recognition. He watched that young man grow into a famous apostle and didn’t care whether his own name was being forgotten in the process. That’s a special kind of person!

You see what I mean when I say without Barnabas we would never have known the Apostle Paul? But that’s not the end of the story. A few years later, in Acts 15, Barnabas and Paul had an argument. These best friends who had traveled and been missionaries together, argued over someone named Mark. Paul thought that Mark was a loser. Mark had started on a mission trip with them and then quit. Paul didn’t have time for quitters. As the two of them organized for another mission trip, Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance. Paul refused. Their argument became so heated that they separated as mission partners and decided to travel different directions. Barnabas took Mark with him. Guess what? When he grew up, it turned out to the same Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark!  Without Barnabas encouraging Mark and giving him a second chance, we probably would not have that gospel.

Well, I know I haven’t done the story justice. Nonnie would have told way better than I did. But now you know what I mean when I say that she was my Barnabas. She saw my po­tential to serve God before I realized God’s call in my own life. She encouraged me to live fully for God.

Nonnie was my Barnabas—my encourager. This Mother’s Day many of us can look back and recall a mothering personality who nurtured and encouraged us. It is appropriate that we tie motherhood (and grandmotherhood) in with the story of Barnabas. Who is your Barnabas?

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