A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Easter 4 – Barnabas

Saint Barnabas by Anonimo Lombardo

Easter 4 2024
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 4:23-37

Peter and John have been released by the Sanhedrin. They return to the community of believers in Jerusalem. The whole community joins together in prayer, asking God for boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and God’s blessing to stretch out His hand to heal and reveal signs and wonders that glorify His name. As they are praying, the place where they are staying begins to shake, and they are all filled afresh with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The community experienced a depth of love and communion between one another, so much so that they were sharing their resources to make sure no one went without. Some people were selling lands and offering the proceeds to the apostles as a gift to the whole community.

This is when we meet Barnabas for the first time. His name is Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” He sold a field and gave the money to apostles for the community.

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. [1]

We don’t really know anything about Barnabas before that. Some thought that he was part of the 72 that Jesus sent out. Others suggested that he was converted by the proclamation of the apostles in Jerusalem. The one thing we do know is that he had a reputation for encouraging people in the community, so they ended up calling him Barnabas.

What a blessing! People who encourage others are a gift from God. In our daily walk and in the challenges of life, we often face difficulties and trials. A timely word of encouragement can lift the spirit and renew the heart.

The next time we hear about Barnabas, Paul has shown up in Jerusalem. The disciples are afraid of him because they don’t believe he is really a disciple. Barnabas befriends him. He learns Paul’s story of conversion, and he tells it to the apostles. Then Paul was given freedom to come and go in the community. Because of Barnabas, Paul’s unique ministry is recognized by the Apostolic Fathers.

Barnabas next appears in our story when the disciples hear about a community of believers emerging in Antioch. Up to this point, the Good News has been proclaimed only among the Jews. Some of those at Antioch begin sharing the Good News to the Hellenists, and a great number of them believed and turned to the Lord. The disciples send Barnabas to Antioch to find out what is going on. In Acts 11:23-24 we read,

23 When [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.[2]

Barnabas goes in search of Paul and brings him to Antioch. For the next year, these two meet with the community and teach them in the way of the Lord. Now the prophet Agabus eventually comes to Antioch and declares that a famine is coming. The church decides to send money to the church at Jerusalem, and they send out Barnabas and Paul as official representatives from the church.

After Barnabas and Paul deliver the financial gift to the church at Jerusalem, they return to Antioch. They bring John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin,[3] back with them. Barnabas and Paul are sent out with John Mark to bring the Good News to the empire. John Mark assists them as they travel across the region of Cyprus. We read earlier in Acts 4 that this is the place where Barnabas is originally from.

As they travel and preach in the synagogues, we see the authority placed upon Paul. Soon this journey will be identified with Paul’s ministry. As we continue reading in Acts, Paul’s name will precede Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas will continue traveling but John Mark decides to return to Jerusalem.

Paul and Barnabas continue their mission, seeing miracles and experiencing persecution. A great many Gentiles comes to the faith, and Paul and Barnabas do not require circumcision. This causes a conflict with some who have traveled from Jerusalem to see Paul and Barnabas’s ministry. They eventually decide to return to Jerusalem and present their case to the elders of the church.

The elders do not require circumcision, but do ask the following:

abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.[4]

They send a letter and Judas and Silas to accompany Paul and Barnabas as they travel back to Antioch. After spending a little time in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas decide to take another missionary journey. But there is a conflict. Barnabas wants to take John Mark again, but Paul refuses. So, they take two different journeys. Barnabas and John Mark go one direction and Paul and Silas take a different route.

At this point, Barnabas drops out of the story in Acts. Unfortunately, some people have taken this to mean that Barnabas makes the wrong decision and as a result fades from the story. But this is a failure to consider the larger New Testament picture. It is true that Barnabas fades from the story. But the ministry of John Mark increases.

At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul sounds as though he is preparing to die. He writes,

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.[5]

He feels as though many have abandoned him. People have left him. Some have done him great harm. He even says that, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!”[6]

 Luke alone remains by his side. Then he makes a request of Timothy. “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” [7]

 The same Mark that Paul refused to travel with on the second missionary journey has become valuable to Paul in his hour of weakness. Then we discover that at the end of 1 Peter, he refers to Mark as his son. This is why the church has often considered the Gospel of Mark as giving voice to Peter because of the intimate bond between Peter and John Mark.

The Gospel of Mark is also considered the first Gospel and most Biblical scholars believe it influenced the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Now we come to the end of our story.

Barnabas fades from the New Testament, and it is not clear what happens to him. What we do know is that Barnabas was such great blessing at the church at Jerusalem, he was renamed “son of encouragement.” We also know that his authority and discernment was so recognized that the elders at Jerusalem send Barnabas to find out what is happening in Antioch. He guides this fledgling community and invites Paul to join.

Barnabas plays a key role in encouraging Paul’s ministry and inviting him into various opportunities to serve and teach. Later he will do the same thing with John Mark. Both Paul and John Mark will emerge as key leaders in the New Testament church.

In a culture of self-promotion that often overflows into the church, I think we need to celebrate Barnabas and pray for more Barnabases. It would seem to me that Barnabas models Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2 to esteem others better than yourself and to have the same mind as Christ in serving and laying down your life for others.

Barnabas also gives us a living example of 1 Corinthians 12. There are a variety of gifts: some are exalted and some are hidden but all are valuable. This makes me think of our community. Everyone here has received grace gifts from the Lord to serve the body and reveal His lovingkindness. I celebrate each of your gifts and pray that the Holy Spirit might fill you and use you for His glory.

Now let us pray:

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor, and went forth courageously in mission for the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for St, Barnabas, June 11)

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful: Sanctify this Congregation by your abiding presence. Bless those who minister in holy things. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Give patience to the sick and afflicted, and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace, and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen. (11, BCP 2019)

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 4:36–37.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 11:23–24.

[3] See Colossians 4:10.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 15:29.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Ti 4:6–8.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Ti 4:16.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Ti 4:11.


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