by Frank Luke
Theme: Sometimes what we do for the next generation is more important than what we do for ourselves.
One of the most dangerous ideas in the word today is nihilism, the belief that nothing matters. It follows naturally from the atheist worldview that runs rampant. If we’re all the product of nothing more than time plus matter plus chance, we come from nothing and will go to nothing. Under atheism, you cannot arrive at moral truths. You can state what you see in the world, but you have no way of justifying why you think something is wrong or right. Some of them are honest enough to tell you this. Others just try to grab what they can from Christian morality and claim the truths to be self evident. Right. So self evident that the men who proclaimed these truths to the wider world were tortured and killed for them.
Nihilism is an insidious belief that can strike at the heart of anyone. In our society, it hits even the very young. At Pokemon league last month, two of the players told Jonny that nothing in this life matters so why not watch YouTube and play video games all day? It broke his heart to hear someone say that. It broke my heart to hear someone so young say that. One of them was twelve years old and already believed that life had no meaning. With that belief, what does he have to look forward to?
But that isn’t true at all. What we do matters, if not for us then for our children. Let us briefly look at two men, one an atheist who believed nothing mattered and the other a preacher who believed everything mattered, and see how they impacted the future.
The atheist was named Max Jukes. In 1877, a historian found inmates across New York state with 42 different last names who could all be traced back to the same man in the 1700s. In 1900, historians found 7 murderers, 60 thieves, 50 prostitutes, 130 other convicts, 310 paupers, and 400 men and women guilty of lesser crimes among his descendants.
On the other hand, a preacher named Jonathan Edwards who lived about the same time as Jukes in the American colonies had a great number of descendants. Among his descendants and the husbands of his female descendants as of 1900, we find: 1 US Vice President, 3 governors, 2 US senators, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 holders of public office, 100 lawyers, and 100 missionaries.
Edwards lived his life by a motto that is the very opposite of nihilism. “Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.” Before Edwards made a decision, he would consider his actions impact on eternity.
Scripture Introduction: Think of those examples as you turn in your Bibles to the Gospel According to Barnabas. Wait, I’m sorry. I wrote that down wrong. It’s Barnabas’ Epistle to the Galatians. No. Still not right.
I did that on purpose. You see, Barnabas never wrote Scripture. There is a letter from centuries later that claims to be from him, but it’s a fake. In fact, it’s classified by all reasonable scholars in a category that means “falsely attributed.” So why did I bring up Barnabas
Barnabas is like Jonathan Edwards above. He didn’t just look at himself. He looked to the future. He wasn’t content to just build for himself. He built the future. If you think about it, Barnabas casts a long shadow over Scripture.
Looking at the percentage of scripture that each author wrote by verses, you will see Paul wrote 26%, Luke 27%, and Mark almost 10%. Barnabas has a big 0 next to his name in the verses penned column. But, we could say that Barnabas’ actions led to 61% of the New Testament. How do we get to that number? We’ll be looking at three passages this morning, all relating to Barnabas and his interactions with others to see how I came up with that number.
As we speak today, think about this man. Barnabas’ name appears in 27 verses (twice in one verse). That’s not truly a lot of occurrences, but I’ve heard more sermons on people who appear even less than on this man.
The Bible tells us that Barnabas (born Joseph with Barnabas being his nickname) is a Levite born on the Island of Cyprus and was very wealthy. The first time we see him in Scripture, he sells land and gives the money to the church. He is still wealthy enough that he funds himself on missionary journeys instead of accepting money from the churches they minister in. I know dozens of missionaries who would love to be in that boat.
Liturgical churches have a traditional prayer about Barnabas.
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 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.
Barnabas’ tomb lies back on the island of Cyrpus, near one of the churches that he and Paul founded. According to tradition, after parting from Paul and then leaving Cyprus, he ministered in Egypt and later in Rome, taking Mark both places with him. Church tradition says he was stoned on the Island of Cyprus in AD 61.
Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas is most famous for being the missionary companion of Paul. In fact, it is Barnabas who presents Paul to the Christians in Jerusalem and vouches that Paul is a true believer. Let us read that in Acts 9:26-31.
Acts 9:26-31 26¶ When [Paul] came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 ¶ So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
Because Barnabas vouched for Paul, the Apostles accepted Paul as a believer. Paul then became a missionary and author of 13 books of the New Testament. Barnabas traveled with Paul in his first missionary journey. The two of them visited at least 10 cities and started churches in all of them. In fact, while we call it Paul’s Missionary Journey, some of the people they witnessed to thought Barnabas was in charge and Paul merely the spokesman (Acts 14)!
An interesting note here is that Paul picks up where Stephen left off. Stephen was stoned (and Paul approved of the stoning) for preaching to Greek-speaking Jews. These very same Jews, Paul then goes to and preaches to them once he accepted by the Apostles.
The two men have a fantastic ministry together. Barnabas and Paul preach the word throughout this part of the Roman world.
We all know some of Paul’s accomplishments. The Apostle to the gentiles, author of 13 books of the New Testament, enemy of the Sadducees, tried in Jerusalem, martyred in Rome. These would have been very different if Barnabas had not spoken up for Paul. This is an example of how Joseph the Levite of Cyprus got his nickname “son of encouragement.” He chose people whom others had given up on.
Barnabas and Luke. The relationship between these two men is one step removed, but it is there. After Paul and Barnabas separated before their second missionary journeys, Paul’s preaching brings Luke to faith.
Acts 16:6-12 6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.
Paul and Timothy found a closed door when they tried to go into Asia. Perhaps the time to preach there was not beneficial. We don’t know what would have happened had Paul ignored the Spirit, but Paul listened and went as the Spirit directed, joyfully knowing that God’s will for the Kingdom was even more than his own. They didn’t try to kick down a closed door; they followed the Spirit’s leading to also avoid Bithynia. Some of them might have been confused at this point. Why was the Spirit forbidding them to preach in these places? The time for these places would come later. In 1 Peter, we see that there are thriving Christian communities in these very cities. God’s plan was for a different route.
The party went on to Troas, a major hub of sea commerce and communications. They go to the place where the message will spread the fastest. In this city, Paul is given direction of where he needs to go next—Macedonia. And while preaching in Troas, Luke is converted. Notice the wording in the sentence, “When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
When the missionaries go into Troas, it is recorded as “they came down to Troas.” However, when they leave, Luke writes, “we sought to go into Macedonia.” Luke has been converted and joined the missionaries here.
They also know that the vision is nothing in the natural. The vision of the Macedonian man uses the same words that describe Peter’s vision before preaching to Cornelius and Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. This was not an ordinary human being who showed up to ask for help. Paul recognized this as a message from God as to their next place of ministry.
Those who work in the prophetic ministry can and should see activities of God like this. For Luke and the early Christians, these were perfectly normal if extraordinary occurrences which they recognized as coming from the Spirit. Tongues, visions, dreams, all of these are ways that God still works for his people. We pray for guidance. Let Him guide in his way.
The missionaries understand the time is now to go to Macedonia, and get a ship that is headed straight for Neapolis instead of the safer but slower coast huggers. Samothrace is mentioned as a landmark on the voyage, there was no way a large ship could harbor at Samothrace. They cover 125 miles in 2 days. They again go to major population centers and evangelize.
And all of this happened because Barnabas stuck up for Paul whose preaching converted Luke.
Barnabas and Mark. We read of Barnabas’ influence on Mark in Acts 15:36-41.
Acts 15:36-41 After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Mark, who was related to Barnabas, went with them on the first missionary journey and left the missionaries in Pamphylia, when they had great need of him. Paul was angered over this, and years later, when it is time for the second missionary journey, believes Mark will leave them again. Barnabas thinks that his cousin Mark has grown up since then and wants to take him. What surprises me here is that Paul should know better than anyone else that when Barnabas vouches for someone, it will be accurate.
This isn’t the only time that Paul and Barnabas disagreed. The other time, recorded in Galatians 2:13-14 shows Paul in the right that time.
The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas is so sharp that the missionary party splits. Paul insists that he will not go with Mark. Barnabas states he will not go without Mark. Now, God uses this disagreement, and what the Devil intended to stop the spread of the Gospel, God used to double the missionary teams! Instead of one team going forth, you now had two. More than twice the number of cities could hear the good news of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection. Double the preaching, double the salvations! Double the churches, working in their city to bring yet more in.
One very important lesson the church today can learn from this passage is that the two disputers could not reach a compromise but parted amicably. Luke records not a single bit of division or disloyalty between them. They part ways on this matter and work together later.
The routes that the two men choose are very interesting. In that first journey, Paul and Barnabas went to Cyrpus first before going to Asia Minor. Paul is the one who suggests they retrace their steps, but when they split, Barnabas goes to Cyrpus and Paul goes to Tarsus. Both men go to their home cities as the first stop on their missionary journey. Many people are called to foreign service. However, never think that God cannot use you in your home town.
On the second journey, Mark traveled with Barnabas. I am sure this had an amazing effect on Mark’s view of ministry. Wouldn’t it on you? Mark went from being a quitter to knowing that he was believed in. Barnabas, the son of encouragement, didn’t let Mark go into the dumps. Mark went with Barnabas and ministered. Somewhere on this journey, Mark did great and mighty things for God and his reputation eventually made it back to Paul!
Some people would say that Mark’s early choices made him unfit for the Gospel. Perhaps they would even misquote Jesus and say “Mark put his hand to the plow and looked back. He is unfit for the Kingdom.” It is true that you can’t look back while working, but God always has second chances. Look at Peter! There was a man whom you would think could not serve the Kingdom. Denying Christ at the time Jesus most needed him. Anger issues (though not to the extent that James and John had). But with repentance, he served. Just like Paul after persecuting the church. Just like Mark.
Paul realized he had been wrong to give up on Mark. In the last book he wrote, Paul writes “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Mark, the one given up on, was useful to Paul in his last ministry effort. Paul was in prison now, soon he would be tried and then executed. In his last days, Paul wanted with him, three men he could trust in the service of the Gospel. Those men were Luke, the beloved physician who had not left his side, Timothy, his son in the faith whom Paul had trained to take his place, and Mark, the man whom Paul once gave up on.
All of these men served because of Barnabas. Barnabas spoke up for Paul, without that testimony, the early church could have been sundered. Because of that endorsement, Paul’s preaching brought salvation to both Timothy and Luke. Because Barnabas didn’t give up on Mark, he kept on ministering. Those men who gathered for those final days with Paul were there directly or indirectly because of Barnabas.
In Conclusion, what you do not only affects you but those closest to you. It reaches from one generation to the next. Some of us in here are first generation Christians. Others come from a Christian family with a long line. Each of us will touch the next generation. The question is, how will you touch them? Will you train them up, ready for the world around them or will you let them grow up with little input?
For some, that choice is no longer primarily with your children but with your grandchildren. The choices are the same but the impact is not. Believe me, you can make a difference.
Even without putting his name on any books of Scripture, Barnabas has impacted Christianity unto the present day. He spoke up for Paul and Mark, thus making him one of the behind the scenes leaders of the early church.
Please visit Frank Luke’s Blog where this sermon is also posted.