Be Encouraged / Acts 11:19–30; 13:1–3 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday June 11th 2023 / The Season of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday June 11th 2023: Feast of Saint Barnabas, Season of Pentecost / Acts 11:19–30; 13:1–3 "Be Encouraged"
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 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. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. ...
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, 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.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. One day while Jesus was reclining at table at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, He told this parable, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
Now I want you to take note of a couple of the details from this parable, which the twelve disciples would have heard Jesus tell. First it’s about excuses given by those who already belonged at the banquet, those already invited; secondly the first one who was invited says, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused;’ and then lastly in the list of those who accepted the invitation, the ones who didn’t turn down the invitation but who actually end up at the table with the master of the parable, Jesus includes those who were blind among the lame and the crippled and the poor who were there. It’s the ones who are blind that we need to remember for later.
Today we remember Saint Barnabas, but before we even get to our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles that talks about Barnabas in Antioch, we need to remember that Barnabas was already introduced earlier in the Book of Acts. So Saint Luke, who wrote The Book of Acts as a continuation of what he’d written in the Gospel of Luke, explains how it was that our Saint Barnabas came into the picture around the same time that Saint Peter and Saint John, now filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit following the Day of Pentecost, had been jailed and beaten by the order of the Sadducees who oversaw the Temple, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, for preaching in the name of Jesus. From Luke we hear how at that time there was this man named “Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, [who] sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” This is our first introduction to Saint Barnabas.
So let’s unpack this: For starters it would have been very encouraging for Saint Peter and Saint John and the rest of the disciples to have this Levite—the Levites were the priests who worked in the Temple tending to the altars and sacrifices in Jerusalem— to have this Levite come to them, by the grace of God, and as one having faith in Christ selling a field that belonged to him and laying the money at their feet. Perhaps at that point they would have remembered the parable Jesus had taught them. Here’s one who, as a Levite, is one who already belonged at Jesus’ banquet, one who had already been invited, who is not making excuses, who isn’t saying ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused,’ but is instead selling the field and joining them at table. This would have been very encouraging to the disciples.
Now this Joseph, who the Apostles called Barnabas, was not alone among the Levites to join the Apostles, a couple chapters later in The Book of Acts Saint Luke tells us how as “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, ... a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” The Levites at that time included many from the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead ... that is at least not until they had heard Jesus teach in the Temple with their own ears and then were confronted by the death and resurrection of Jesus and were then further convicted by the Holy Spirit while listening to the preaching of Saint Peter and Saint John in the Temple. The point being, as one of the first Levites called by the Holy Spirit to jump ship and land feet first into faith in Christ Jesus this priest and Levite Barnabas truly would have been a son of encouragement in the face of bitter opposition from men like the High Priest Caiaphas who had instigated and orchestrated Jesus’ Good Friday crucifixion and death, who at that time still sought to quell the spread of the Good News that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven and that Jesus was in fact the very Son of God, the long expected Messiah and Saviour. Right from the start Saint Barnabas was a son of encouragement.
Now I mentioned that other part of Jesus’ parable about those secondary folks who were invited to the banquet in which we hear of the ones who were blind. The next spot in The Book of Acts when this Saint Barnabas shows up happens to be not long after the Pharisee Saul, a persecutor of everyone who believed in Jesus, had been knocked off his high horse and struck blind by the glory of the ascended Christ Jesus; not long after Jesus had confronted this Saul who was heading to Damascus in the Roman Province of Syria under the blessing of the Sanhedrin to round up as many of the Lord’s followers that he could find there to drag back to Jerusalem for trial and possible execution. It was not long after Saul whose blindness was healed and whose eyesight was restored by Ananias, the one who also baptised him into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, when we hear again of this Barnabas. Saint Barnabas becomes part of the account following Saul’s getaway in the dead of night from Damascus where the Jewish people there, who didn’t believe in Jesus, wanted him dead due to Saul’s conversion; after Saul’s harrowing escape when he arrives back in Jerusalem Barnabas suddenly appears. You see when Saul returned to Jerusalem he didn’t go to the High Priest Caiaphas or any of those in the Sanhedrin who approved his initial trip to Damascus as a persecutor of Christ Jesus, instead Saul “attempted to join the disciples. And they [the disciples] were all afraid of him, for [Saint Luke tells us] they did not believe that [Saul himself] was a disciple [called by the Lord]. But [Luke tells us] Barnabas took [Saul] and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road [Saul] had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus [this Saul] had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” It would have been as big a deal for this Saul to turn away from being a Pharisee as it would have been for the Levite Joseph, our dear Saint Barnabas, to turn away from being a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. By the grace of God when other were afraid Barnabas himself was not afraid this Saul, perhaps because they were both unexpected converts. Barnabas instead listened to Saul and encouraged the disciples to believe Saul, to trust that Jesus had in fact truly changed this man from a persecuting murderer into a man filled with the Holy Spirit, that Jesus had changed Saul into a fellow apostle sent by the Lord.
That’s a long way to go to get to the beginning of our Second reading today but it’s all important because our reading starts with Barnabas being sent to Antioch, sent to those who had fled there away from Jerusalem due to the persecution of Saint Stephen: Stephen, one of seven deacons appointed by the Apostles to distribute food and charitable aid to the widows, who was stoned to death for preaching and teaching about Jesus. Remember the day Stephen was stoned to death Saul, who at that time did not have eyes to see or ears to hear the truth of what Saint Stephen was preaching, had been the one who kept watch over the coats for those who had stoned Stephen to death. He was the coat check man at Stephen’s martyrdom. Now remember also that Barnabas was himself a native of Cyprus and our reading today from The Book of Acts says that there were some of them, men of Cyprus who upon fleeing to the city of Antioch had began to speak of Jesus to “the Hellenists.” And who were the “the Hellenists?” The Hellenists were Jewish folks born not in the Roman Province of Palestine but rather they, like Barnabas, were born and raised outside of the ancestral land of the Jewish people. In their case they grew up and lived in Antioch but were still Jews. These are the Hellenists who had begun to hear the Good News of the Gospel.
These men and their families from the Island of Cyprus fleeing persecution, from the High Priest Caiaphas and from people like Saul and the men who had martyred Saint Stephen, were now sharing the gospel in Antioch and they were men from the same Island that Barnabas was from, basically folks from Barnabas’ “home town;” he may likely have even known some of them himself, or at least their families. So after encouraging them to be steadfast in the faith Barnabas did something that sort of defies human logic, but makes a bit more sense when you know the beginnings of Barnabas’ life story as recorded in The Book of Acts, Barnabas leaves the city of Antioch and goes to the city of “Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought [Saul, who had stood by watching the coats of the very men who had martyred Saint Stephen and from whom these fellow follows of Jesus had fled,] to Antioch. [And] For a whole year [Saul and Barnabas] met with the church [there in Antioch] and taught a great many people. And [Saint Luke tells us that] in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” Imagine the trepidation Barnabas would have faced when he told these Christian folks that he was going to Tarsus to find this former persecutor of the church Saul, now claiming to be a Christian himself, to bring him to Antioch? Imagine the anxiety of those first meetings between Saul and these men and their families: the worry that perhaps a trap was about to be sprung, the forgiveness that would have had to have taken place.
Saul a man initially blind and deaf when it came to the Good News of Jesus who by the grace of God was given faith in Christ and this Joseph, the Levite, a man who was likewise predisposed to disregard Jesus due to his former work as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem both, by the grace of God, come to faith becoming Christian missionaries: these men become the ones we know best as Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas. Dear ones do not write anyone off. Do not say to yourself, ‘they could never become a Christian.’ You are not the judge of these things. It is the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, [it is the Holy Spirit who] keeps [the church] with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” By our own reason, by our own strength we have not come to Jesus, by our own reason, by our own strength we have not believed in Him. In fact it is our reason and strength of stubbornness, twisted in on themselves that creates excuse after excuse and threatens to keep us away from the banquet laid out before us. Some have reasoned their way out of the banquet of God but none have reasoned their way in. Saul, who we know best as Saint Paul, and Joseph, who we know best as Barnabas, did not reason their way into faith, they did not come to Jesus by any strength of their own. They were unlikely converts, and if we’re honest with ourselves they were as unlikely as you or I, and left to their own devices they, like we, would fall away. Neither of them was perfect, and there were times when they didn’t get along and yet the Holy Spirit set them apart for the work which He called them to accomplish. We ourselves don’t always get along and yet the Holy Spirit has called and gathered us here in this place at Mount Olive for the work which He has called us to accomplish.
Remember for your part don’t be discouraged when someone declines your invitation to the banquet, ultimately they are not declining you they are declining the call of the Holy Spirit. For your part don’t be dishearten when someone, even someone from your own family, who you consider as one gathered in by you into the church leaves the church, ultimately they were not gathered in by you, when they run away they are running away from the Lord who gathered them in. For your part don’t be dismayed when the light of one who knows better, who was taught the faith perhaps even at your own knee now seem dimmed by the darkness of the World, remember ultimately you were not the one who enlightened them it was the Holy Spirit, and when they turn into the darkness they are turning into the darkness of the World away from the Light of Christ not from you. The encouragement Saint Barnabas provided was the encouragement of the Holy Spirit; the work accomplished by Saul, who we know better as Saint Paul, was the work of the Holy Spirit. Now perhaps this helps everything become clearer: there is both joy and happiness when by grace people have their faith in Jesus and when they refuse this gracious gift there is great heartache and worry. This is all a matter of great and grave seriousness.
Dear ones a hungry bear is certainly an encouragement to run when it is behind your nipping at your heals and sometime encouragement from the LORD may be just as frightful, what does Jesus teach? “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Barnabas could have been one like these: there certainly would have been Levites at the time of the Book of Acts who refused to believe in Jesus, Levites who due to the promises of God handed down from generation to generation, for millennia, had been invited to the banquet but when the banquet was finally ready and the invitation finally came to them had refused their seat at the table. And Saul, who we know better a Saint Paul, could have been one like this as well, rejecting the calling of the Holy Spirit, but he was not, and he a murderer to whom Jesus Himself had said “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Dear ones do not write anyone off. Do not say to yourself, ‘they could never become a Christian.’ You are not the judge of these things. It is the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, [it is the Holy Spirit who] keeps [the church together] with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Be encouraged; be encouraged as ones who are called, gathered and enlightened, as ones to whom the invitation is continually extend, and for your part be ones who then continually extend this invitations to those around you remembering what this Saul, who’s better known as Saint Paul, would later write, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Do not be afraid to speak God’s Word to people; in speaking God’s Word to people they come to Christ. The Word of Christ is both a call to repentance, a call to keep away from sinning and a call of salvation, a call of forgiveness found only in the innocent shed blood of Jesus upon the cross: the teaching of the Law and the Good News of Jesus’ work to save us. Therefore be encouraged, do not neglect your prayers to the Holy Spirit for those in need of faith and the cultivation of their faith. Lastly remember what the LORD promises in our Old Testament reading today, He says, “I Am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Dear ones, who is doing the work? Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Luke 14:1
 Luke 14:16–24
 Acts 1:1-2
 Acts 3-5
 Acts 4:36–37
 Acts 6:7
 Matthew 22:23-33
 John 18:14
 Acts 4:1-22
 Acts 9:1-22
 Acts 9:26–27
 The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles by R. C. H. Lenski, Augsburg Publishing House 1934, page 448. Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria was a city of around 500,000 people and the third largest city in the empire behind Rome and Alexandrian in the Roman province of Egypt.
 Acts 6-7
 Acts 7:54-60
 Acts 11:25-26
 Third Article of the Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, page 17.
 Acts 15:36-39
 Acts 13:2
 John 3:19
 Matthew 12:30–32
 Acts 9:4
 Romans 10:17
 Isaiah 42:6–7
Photo Credits: main photo of stained glass windows in the Church of St Barnabas, Ashwell Road, Heaton, West Yorkshire, England from wikimedia commons.