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July 23, 2017

Sermon Acts 4:32-37 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Barnabas”

“People to meet in heaven:  Barnabas”

Acts 4:32-37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

If you would, I’d like you to put your thinking caps on this morning.  I’ll say a person’s nickname, and you tell me who they are.  Ready?

I’ll start with some easy ones.  First, who was known as “The Great Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat”?  The correct answer is American professional baseball player, born in February of 1895, George Herman Ruth.

Next, who was known as “The Great Emancipator” and “Honest Abe”?  Our nation’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, of course.

And who was the “King of the Wild Frontier”?  Just like the song goes—“Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.”

Now let’s make it a little harder.  Who was “The Wizard of Menlo Park”?  The correct answer is, Thomas Alva Edison, certainly one of America’s greatest inventors ever.

Who was “’Ol Blue Eyes”?  Actor, singer and performer Frank Sinatra.  And why not?  He had bright blue eyes.

And how about, “Old Hickory”?  That’s President Andrew Jackson.  Before he became president, he was an officer popular with his troops.  And because he was as tough as old hard wood on the battlefield, they called him, “Old Hickory.”

And there are more.  Lots more.  “Old Tippecanoe” was President William Henry Harrison, “Old Blood and Guts” was General George S. Patton, “Lucky Lindy” was Charles Lindbergh, and “Old Rough and Ready” was President Zachary Taylor.  And let’s not forget about the ladies!  “The Lady with the Lamp” was Florence Nightingale and “The Iron Lady” was Britain’s Margaret Thatcher.

People in Bible times had nicknames too.  Abram was a name that meant “exalted father.”  But he became Abraham, “father of many.”  Jacob meant “heel grabber” or even “cheater.”  He became Israel, “God prevails.”  And Simon, a name that meant “listen,” became Peter, a name that meant “rock.”

And in the words of Acts chapter 4, we meet one more, a man whose name was Joseph, “He will add.”  But you probably don’t know him by his real name.  You know him by his nickname, “Barnabas.”  It’s a name that meant, “Son of Consolation.”

Please turn in your Bibles to page 1161, as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start where it says, “They Had Everything in Common,” at Acts chapter 4, verse 32:  “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.”

Today, we take for granted that the Church exists and thrives around the world.  But in the first century A.D., it was just not that way.  In the first fifteen years after Jesus died and rose again, there was intense persecution.  Stephen and James were martyred and Peter was thrown into prison.

Caiaphas, the high priest, said in Acts chapter 5:  “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.”

But Peter and the apostles answered:  “We must obey God rather than men.”

Then the Bible says:  “When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.”

And in chapter 8, a Pharisee named Saul only made matters worse.  Turn with me to page 1165, to chapter 8, verse 1:  “And Saul approved of his, (that is, Stephen’s), execution.  And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.  But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

But you know what happened next, for as Saul made his way north to Damascus, the Lord knocked him to the ground, and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

“Who are You, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

And wonder of wonders, in the days that followed, Saul believed.  And when he proclaimed in the synagogues, “Jesus is the Son of God!”, the Bible says all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name?”

Which, you see, posed a problem.  How could anyone know he really believed?  Maybe it was just a “put on,” a show.  After all, what better way to destroy the church than to fake a conversion, infiltrate the ranks, gain the trust of the people, then throw them all in jail.  Maybe Saul didn’t look like a rat, but he sure smelled like one.  As far as they were concerned, he was still Public Enemy #1.

Now turn to page 1168, to chapter 9, verse 26, to see what happened next:  “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples.  And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”

Then what?  Who would help bridge the gap between the early Christians and the apostle Paul?  

That’s when we again meet this man named Barnabas.  Look at verse 27:  “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.”

In a time of worry, doubt and fear, Barnabas, “son of consolation,” “son of encouragement,” came through once again.

If you think about it, it was a risky thing to do.  In a way, his very life was at stake.  But as others saw only Paul’s past, Barnabas saw his future.  As others saw what Paul had done, Barnabas knew what God could do.

So what can we learn from this man named Barnabas?  

If we’ll be anything like him in our place and time, we won’t see people’s problems; we’ll see their potential.  We won’t see their past; we’ll see their future.  And we won’t worry so much about where they’ve been or what they’ve done; we’ll know what only God can do.  

That is, after all, what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:  “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”  And as it says in Hebrews chapter 3:  “But encourage one another day after day.”

That’s a Barnabas.  And that’s how each one of us ought to be.

You’ve heard of Isaac Newton?  Of course, you have.  He was the famed English scientist, physicist and mathematician of the early 1700s, what many call one of the most influential scholars in the history of science.  Because of him and all that he’s done, we better understand the laws of gravity, light and motion.  He was literally the Albert Einstein of his day.

But have you ever heard of Edmund Halley?  Maybe, but only because of the comet we’ve named after him—Halley’s comet.

But you know, Isaac Newton wouldn’t have been Isaac Newton, had it not been for Edmund Halley.

Halley was born in November of 1656, some twelve years after Newton was born, and showed great promise of his own.  That’s why he went off to study at Oxford and, at the age of twenty, became a professional astronomer.

But in 1680, when he was trying to plot the course of a comet, (the one we named after him), something just didn’t add up.  So he paid a visit to Newton at Cambridge.

And as the two sat down to talk together, Newton happened to mention his own theory of gravitation—a problem he had solved years before, but had long since set aside and forgot.  That’s when Halley encouraged him to write it down and publish it, so others could know and learn.

So you see, Isaac Newton wouldn’t have been Isaac Newton, had it not been for Edmund Halley.

And the apostle Paul wouldn’t have been the apostle Paul, had it not been for a man named Barnabas.

Even more, think about it—had it not been for Barnabas and his deep comfort and consolation, we might not have half of the New Testament.  You see, not only did he help Paul become Paul, he also helped John Mark become John Mark.  And since Paul wrote thirteen books and Mark wrote one, (the gospel that bears his name), that’s fourteen out of twenty-seven books.

And it’s all because of this man named Barnabas.

As one author wrote, “Not a bad record for a man most people would consider a ‘minor’ Bible character.”

I’ll leave you then with two questions—first, who’s your Barnabas?  Who do you trust?  Who do you lean on in your times of deepest need?  Let them encourage you.  Let them build you up.  Let them be a Barnabas to you.

And second, can you be a Barnabas to someone else?  Can you be a shoulder to cry on, a staff to lean on, a crutch for their broken leg?

Sometimes, only you will do.

 

Dear Jesus, we thank You for once sending a man named Barnabas to build and strengthen Your church.  Help us in our time and place to be a Barnabas too.  This we ask in Your name.  Amen

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