Sermon for St Barnabas

Sermon for St Barnabas

(Transcribed by machine 04/15/2024)

When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain
faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.
For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.
Please be seated.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Amen.
So if you’re asking yourself this morning, what was St. Barnabas known for, you’re probably
not alone.
and I’m, I guess you could call me a student of history, some would say a
history nerd, so I was trying to think in history of somebody to compare St.
Barnabas to, and the person I kept coming back to was Michael Collins. You
probably don’t know who Michael Collins was either, and if you don’t then I
achieved my purpose. Michael Collins was the third man in the Apollo 11 crew,
NASA’s first moon landing.
He was the one, you might remember now, that had to stay behind in the command module as
it orbited the moon while his colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on and walked
on the surface of the moon.
Michael Collins didn’t get to.
And in the history of space exploration, Armstrong and Aldrin are pretty much household names.
Indeed, in American history they are household names.
Michael Collins not so much. But if Collins hadn’t performed his duty then
none of the rest of it was even possible. And so it is with St. Barnabas. His work
largely overshadowed by the charismatic personality that was the Apostle St.
Paul. And for what we know about St. Barnabas, he was pretty much okay with
this. Now Barnabas is mentioned 28 times between the book of Acts and a few of
st. Paul’s epistles so you had to know that he’s done at least something
noteworthy but you want you can look around you won’t find him in a stained
glass window here you probably have to search pretty far to find a congregation
named after him he’s not even venerated as a patron saint of much of anything
except his native land. And our text from Acts 11 this morning gives us kind of a
glimpse of Barnabas, but we really have to look before and beyond this to kind
of get an account of what happened in this ministry to the Gentiles so that we
know who Barnabas was and why his example matters. So that’s what we’ll do
this morning. So what do we know about Barnabas? Well, he was born Joseph on the
island of Cyprus. Some believe he was born about the same time as Jesus. He was
born into a well-off Levite family, which means of course he was a Jew and that he
was destined to grow up and serve some kind of important role in the temple. He
was well educated in the Mosaic law. At some point he made his way to Jerusalem
and it’s rumored that perhaps he studied under the Pharisee Gamaliel, who also
happened to have a student named Saul. And some think the two probably got to
know each other there. Now Barnabas was a Hellenized Jew which meant he spoke
Greek and he was probably very familiar with the norms of Greek culture, so
perhaps this made him an ideal candidate for apostleship. It’s often assumed that
he was among the 72 that Jesus sent out ahead of him in his ministry. He was no
out intelligent, literate, and well-spoken.
But none of that matters if the call of the Holy Spirit goes unanswered.
And as we shall see, Barnabas more than answered that call.
So we first actually hear about Barnabas in the fourth chapter of Acts when Luke is describing
the early ministry of the apostles, and Luke especially gives the credit to the attitudes
of these early believers who were, as he says, of one heart and soul and who never
hesitated to give what they could to support the preaching of the gospel. And
Luke writes that Joseph, who was also called by the Apostles Barnabas, and
Barnabas means son of encouragement, well Barnabas sold a field that belonged to
him and he brought the money and he laid it at the Apostles feet. And Luke right
way contrast this generous sacrifice with the actions of Ananias and Sapphira
a few verses later. They too sold a piece of property but they held a little bit
back for themselves and then pretended otherwise, and that didn’t turn out so
well for them. And undoubtedly the Apostles recognized that the Spirit was
working in Barnabas and so at some point they brought him into the
brotherhood of the Apostles. Now the next time we hear about Barnabas is after the
martyrdom of Stephen, and after the conversion of Saul on the road to
Damascus. You might remember Saul remained in Damascus. He was full of the
Spirit, but then he himself was persecuted, and then he fled from Damascus back to
Jerusalem. And it was there in Jerusalem that he caused quite a stir with the
apostles because he decided he wanted to join up with them. Now of course they
knew Saul. They knew his reputation for ravaging the church. They were very leery
of him, and they doubted that his conversion was genuine. And so who was it
that spoke up on behalf of Saul? Well it was Barnabas, and this took quite a bit of
courage given Saul’s reputation and given Barnabas’s relatively short time
in the company of the Apostles. And so Luke goes on to speak about the acts of
the Apostles, but more importantly about how spirit worked in them. Peter, we know,
traveled north to Caesarea, to the Gentile nation, to the Holy Spirit. I mean
the Holy Spirit brought many to faith there and at first we’re told this
didn’t really sit well with the Apostles in Jerusalem because Peter had
gone and eaten with uncircumcised men. We know the gospel was and is for all
nations and the Holy Spirit would testify this against these indignant
Apostles. And although some did continue, as our text says, to preach to the Jews
scattered throughout the region, others, especially those from Cyrene and Cyprus,
well, they began to preach to the Greeks. And this was especially true, as we read,
in the city of Antioch in northern Syria, a place that one historian wrote about,
the arts of luxury were honored, serious and manly virtues were the subject of
ridicule, and the contempt for female modesty and reverend age announced the
universal corruption of this capital of the East. Sounds pretty familiar. So the
the Apostles decided well they’ll send Barnabas because after all he’s a
Hellenist Jew. Who better to go who might fit in with them who would
certainly understand them and I’m quite sure that his counterparts there in
Jerusalem were glad to send him so they didn’t have to go themselves. But we
should also know and be sure that the Holy Spirit worked this out in the minds
of the Apostles to send Barnabas because Luke tells us that in Antioch, Barnabas’
preaching and exhortation added a great many people to the Lord. Luke describes
Barnabas as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And in fact, some
believe Luke might have been one of those converts there in Antioch. Now in
his wisdom, Barnabas discerned how the Spirit was working in Antioch. Indeed, he
saw the grace of God, and he knew that the harvest was ripe. So guided by the
Holy Spirit, he traveled to Tarsus, he picks up Paul, brings him back with him
for help, and for the next years, the text says, they taught and they preached to
multitudes in the city. And again, in the text, it says that here in Antioch, this
is where the Apostles first became known as Christians. Now there’s much to be
said about how this label wasn’t given to them in admiration, but rather as a
derogatory term. Sometimes we just have to own those labels. We Lutherans know
that. Now the church in Antioch began to flourish and it was undoubtedly blessed
with financial resources that came with being in this prosperous city. Just as
today, we here, we are blessed to have, be able to send funds to all sorts of
mission efforts. The church there, the text tells us, they gathered money over
time. There was a great famine going on in Jerusalem, so they sent the money back in
the hands of Barnabas and Saul to the brothers there. And the two would return
to Antioch, this time bringing back with them Mark. Now Mark was reportedly to be
of some relation to Barnabas, perhaps a cousin, and then once this church was
established in Antioch, the Spirit called the three to leave there and go to
Cyprus. Now at one point they’d also visited Pamphylia where Mark, well he kind of
seemed to tire of this evangelist work, this apostle work, and he returns to
Jerusalem, while Barnabas and Saul, who is now being referred to as Paul, well they
returned back to Antioch. And as often happened with these fledgling Gentile
congregations in Gentile cities, the Judaizers had incited people against
the Apostles and they drove them out of town. The same thing would happen to them
in Iconium, and Paul would famously be stoned in Lystra, but he managed to
escape with his life. But these two, they weren’t deterred and they eventually
made their way back to Antioch. Now we might notice that at this point Luke has
gone from writing about Barnabas and Saul in that order, he begins to write
about Paul and Barnabas. And that’s because their roles had been reversed
and Paul now finds himself in the spotlight. And it was here also that
something else changed. Because as simple humans are prone to do, this
dispute arose between Barnabas and Paul and it centered on whether or not Mark
should accompany the two back to all the cities they had previously visited. Paul
was decidedly against this. He was still displeased and angry with Mark’s
untimely departure from Pamphylia because Paul was questioning Mark’s
dedication to this mission and this led to what is called a sharp disagreement
that resulted in Barnabas taking Mark back to Cyprus with him while Paul
chose Silas to remain in Syria with him. So then this partnership between
Barnabas and Paul, this partnership in the ministry, came to an end. I don’t know if
you know this, but Paul might have had a big ego, and this could very well be this
thorn in the flesh that he often talks about, and we know about his run-in with
Peter. And indeed he mildly criticizes Barnabas in Galatians 2 when he says
Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. He’s referring to the Jews who
wanted to make sure that the Gentile converts were circumcised. But perhaps
Paul and Barnabas eventually reconciled because Paul does also speak well of
Barnabas. Also in Galatians 2 he says, Barnabas and me received the right hand
fellowship to go to the Gentiles. He also tells the church in Colossae to welcome
Mark, of all people, this despite his prior aggravation and anger with the
gospel rider. So Paul certainly recognized the importance of Barnabas in
his own ministry and in the larger mission of taking the gospel to the
nations. And then after Acts 15, Barnabas all but fades away and disappears from
the Scriptures, and as we know, it becomes all Paul all the time, both in the last
half of Acts and in his epistles. And as for Barnabas, it is believed he was
martyred in Cyprus, either by stoning or burning, and his tomb was allegedly
discovered around 488. So there’s obviously a lot about Barnabas for us
to admire and for us to emulate. Once the Holy Spirit had called him into service,
he understood what the cost of discipleship would be, but he followed
Jesus’ words to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow. He gave up his status
in the temple. He even sold his own property to further the mission of the
apostles. He became Paul’s sponsor. He became his partner when no one else
would, risking not only his reputation but his life, trusting not in his own
judgment about the man, but trusting the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work set
before them. And in the wisdom given to him by the Spirit, Barnabas recognized
his own limitations, but he saw great potential in Paul. And so then, Barnabas
steps aside. He cheerfully lets his friend, Paul, fulfill the role of apostle
to the Gentiles. And were he with us here today, Barnabas would be more than happy
to continue to direct attention away from himself and to Paul, but more than
that, Barnabas would give credit to the Holy Spirit for all that he and Paul
were allowed to accomplish in the name of Christ. So we see there wasn’t always
a spirit of harmony and unity among the Apostles, and we today will continue to
have disagreements and divisions in the church, perhaps even in this own
congregation. You ever been to a voter meeting? Now it’s okay for us to disagree
about temporal things. We can disagree about what our governance or our policy
ought to look like or what color carpet we want to install in the sanctuary, but
we must always be dedicated to resolving things between one another because of
the example of Christ, the one who reconciled us to God. And we have to
share this message of reconciliation because it is, as Paul reminds us, it
has been entrusted to us. And that’s what we must focus on, the unity of our
confession and the message of faith in Christ alone as the way of salvation. Now
in our adult Sunday school class we’ve been spending the past several weeks
discussing evangelism, and we’re using this particular program, and
we could and should debate its usefulness in terms of being a good
program to study and to use, but it is after all just a program, so we shouldn’t
lose focus on the task that the Spirit has given us and that is simply to share
the gospel at all times and be prepared at all times to give an answer and a
reason for the hope that is in us. Let’s be honest, we’re not all equipped to be
evangelists, at least not in the strict sense. We can’t and we don’t all want to
be in the spotlight and we can’t all be Peter or Paul. More often than not, we’ll
be like Barnabas supporting behind the scenes.
But as we’ve talked about, we also should never be unsure of when the Holy Spirit will
use the words that we’ve spoken.
No matter how faintly or how feebly we think we’ve said them, we don’t know how the Spirit
will use those words because we have all inherited the mission of the apostles to carry the gospel
to the nations, even if that is only in our own neighborhood, our own workplace, our own
little social circle. So brothers and sisters, we honor Barnabas and all the
saints who’ve gone before us, not by simply designating some special day for
them and recounting their deeds, but by picking up the tasks they put before us
and placing them upon ourselves so that the church may grow and flourish and so
that sinners may come to Christ. We must remember all that the Apostles like
Barnabas sacrificed, fought, and died for because that is what we’re called to
confess also. Now Satan tried his best to disrupt and defeat the work of the
Apostles. He tried to divide the early church with false doctrine and heresies
and he continues to do the same to us today. But we have to fight, so let us
join together in unity and love of one another. Let’s pray for the gospel to be
carried to the nations. Let’s preach the word purely. Let’s rightly administer the
gifts that Christ gives us in the sacraments. Let’s confess the faith
and speak in truth so lost sinners may be redeemed and that we, together with
the church throughout all time, proclaim the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior. And
let us give our time, our talent, and treasures so they may be used in
whatever way the Spirit deems necessary. And this we do not for our own sake or
recognition, but for the glory of God alone. Amen. Now may the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
Jesus our Lord. Amen.