Joseph Barnabas: A People Mover Presented by Reed Lessing, M.Div., S.T.M., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology Director of the Graduate School Concordia Seminary St. Louis, Missouri
Acts 11:25 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.”
The Average Child I don’t cause teachers trouble; my grades have been okay, I keep up my chores at home; I’m in school every day. My teachers think I’m average; my parents think so too. I wish I didn’t know that; ‘cause there’s lots of things I’d like to do. I’d like to build a website; I’ve got a book that shows you how. Or, I’d like to make the baseball team; well … no use trying now. ‘Cause since I know I’m average, I’m just smart enough, you see To know there's nothing special that I would ever expect of me. I’m just part of that majority, that bump part of the bell Who live their lives unnoticed in an average kind of hell.
Outline of the Presentation • Introduction • Context of Acts 4:36-37 • Acts 4:36-37 • Barnabas in the Book of Acts • Acts 11:24-25 • Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos • The Son of Parakleseos • Conclusions
Introduction The Dallas‑Forth Worth International Airport is deadly. It doesn’t have gates – it has graves; it doesn’t have concourses – it has catacombs. My hunch is that one out of every four people enters DFW and never comes out alive! My first time through the death trap was on a return trip from San Antonio to Tulsa. When I found the “You Are Here” sign – gate 65 – I began looking for the gate of my next flight, 8,987. As I realized where I was, as opposed to where I longed to be, I muttered under my breath, “This looks impossible!”
Introduction But I had no choice, so I took a deep breath, gripped my brief case in one hand and garment bag in another and set my face like flint. By conservative estimates it would be a three‑day hike. After what seemed like two days ... there, up ahead, I saw it.Was it a bird? A plane? Superman? Better. As I got closer my face lit up like the night on the Fourth of July. My heart soared. Now I knew I would make it. For there in the distance was a PEOPLE MOVER! A PEOPLE MOVER – it’s the Yellow Brick Road of the airport. It’s the last day of school; it’s the last sermon on Easter Sunday. A PEOPLE MOVER is the last test of the last class of the last day of the last quarter at Concordia Seminary.
Introduction A PEOPLE MOVER is a horizontal escalator, a moveable sidewalk. While you catch your breath, it carries your body. While you take one step, you gain two. What you thought would take 40 minutes, now only takes 10. And what a difference it makes! Deep sighs are dismissed. The fatigue is forgotten. The galumph is gone! Now, maybe I’m overstating my point about the DFW airport. But I could never, ever overstate the power of a PEOPLE MOVER. Acts 11:25 – “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.”
Context of Acts 4:36-37 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.“ (Acts 1:8)
Context of Acts 4:36-37 At the end of Acts 4 the narrative changes from the general (4:32-35) to the specific (4:36-5:11). The specific examples describe the actions of three of the well-to-do in the community that now numbers 5,000 (4:4). Luke contrasts Barnabas with Ananias and Sapphira.
Context of Acts 4:36-37 This interpretation disregards the conventional chapter division, usually attributed to Stephen Langton, the archbishop of Canterbury (d. A.D. 1228). His division separates unduly the examples that Luke has introduced at this point in the narrative. One is clearly the foil of the other; they must be treated together. One is a stellar example of koinonia (2:42) while the other is not.
Context of Acts 4:36-37 Barnabas is also set in narrative contrast with the behavior of Judas who betrays Jesus and with blood money and buys land. “With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19)
Context of Acts 4:36-37 Barnabas is the first example of Luke’s tendency to introduce an important new character first as a minor character, one who appears and quickly disappears. Philip (6:5) and Saul (7:58; 8:1, 3) are similarly introduced before they assume important roles in the narrative.
Context of Acts 4:36-37 When our three kids were smaller on their birthdays we would often take them to Chucky Cheeses’ in Tulsa. After our fill of pizza we, and I do mean, we, would race to our favorite game called Smash the Squirrel. The contestant gets a hammer and then tries to smash squirrels when they come up from their holes. You need no advanced degree to succeed at this, only the thrill for … BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Context of Acts 4:36-37 Luke tells us that the church has her share of PEOPLE MASHERS. Not only Judas, Ananias and Sapphira but, for example, Acts 11:3 states: “The circumcised believers criticized Peter and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them?’” BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Another example of PEOPLE MASHERS is in Acts 15:1: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Context of Acts 4:36-37 There are also those in the apostolic church who are PEOPLE MANIPULATORS; for example Luke writes in Acts 8:18-19, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’"
Acts 4:36-37 “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.”
Acts 4:36-37 Giving someone a supernomen (“surname”) was a custom in Greco-Roman society. Joseph’s surname is a compound form of the Aramaic bar (son) and nabas which is likely some form of the Hebrew nabi which means “prophet.” Luke interprets this for Theophilus (Luke 1:3) as huios parakleseos or “son of encouragement.”
Acts 4:36-37 The term parakleseos refers to some sort of speech activity (cf. Luke 5:34; 10:6; 16:8; 20:34, 36) which coincides with the title “Barnabas.” Para = “beside” + Kaleo = “to call” Jesus is the Paraclete in 1 John 2:1, while in John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7 he calls the Holy Spirit the Paraclete.
Acts 4:36-37 Being a Levite from Cyprus Barnabas has roots in the Diaspora. In Acts 11:23 and 14:22 he is encouraging communities that include Gentiles (both passages employ the verb parakaleo).
Acts 4:36-37 Being from Cyprus connected Barnabas to the missionaries from there (Acts 11:19 -20; 21:16) and fitted him to be Paul’s companion for the first missionary trip there (Acts 13:4). It is also the place to which he returned after his dispute with Paul (15:39).
Acts 4:36-37 According to the Old Testament (Num 18:20; Deut 10:9) Barnabas as a Levite could not own land. However Josephus (Vita, 68-83) indicates that by the first century A.D. Levites did own land. The land Barnabas sold may have been in Cyprus or in Israel. Placing his money “at the apostles’ feet (4:34-35a) indicates that he made a sacrifice for the koinonia.
Acts 4:36-37 The phrase “lay at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 4:37; 5:2; cf. 7:58) is Semitism and conveys the idea of submission to authority. This action of Barnabas transcended cultural roles. Cicero (De Officiis, 1.150-51) ranks occupations and places owners of cultivated land at the top and fishermen at the bottom.
Acts 4:36-37 In the biblical tradition the giving of a name to others signifies having authority over them (e.g., Gen 2:19; 17:5; 19:39; 25:26, 36). Barnabas is therefore shown to be doubly submissive to the apostles: he receives a new name from them and lays his possessions at their feet.
Barnabas in Acts Barnabas understands himself as a fulfillment of Isa 42:6 and 49:6 where the Servant is called the “light to the nations.” That is to say, in Acts 13:47 Paul declares, “This is what the Lord has commanded us; ‘I have made you a light for the nations, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Later in his ministry Paul stands on trial for his life before King Agrippa in Acts 26:22 and affirms, “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen.” Paul does not see himself as an innovator, or as one who introduces meanings that are not already in the text. Therefore, his application of the words in Isa 42:6 and 49:6 to himself and Barnabas are in line with the plain assertion of the original Old Testament meaning.
Barnabas in Acts Both Paul and Barnabas understand these texts in Isaiah as referring to the One, who is the representative of the whole. Simeon’s focus on the same phrase is not on the whole, but rather on the One. He takes the baby Jesus in his arms and declares that this child is “a light for revelation to the nations” (Luke 2:32). The corporate nature of the Servant is simultaneously the One and the many.
Barnabas in Acts In broader biblical terms what is true of Jesus is also true of the baptized (corporate personality). For example, Paul writes in Rom 6:4-8, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
Barnabas in Acts Note also Rom 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Gal 2:19, “I have been crucified with Christ …” Eph 2:6, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Barnabas in Acts “And when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians (= little Christ) first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)
Barnabas in Acts In two difficult situations Barnabas “errors” on the side of grace. In Acts 9:26-27 he sides with Saul against those who are suspicious of his conversion. In Acts 11:22-23 he is the one sent by Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch to decide whether “the grace of God” is at work in a new kind of community.
Barnabas in Acts Eventually Paul and Barnabas part (15:36-40) over the matter of John Mark. Late in his life Paul writes, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Tim 4:11)
Acts 11:24-25 “He was a good man full of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:24)
Acts 11:24-25 Those who are “filled with the Holy Spirit” in Luke/ Acts include John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), Zechariah (Luke 1:67), Jesus (Luke 4:1), the 120 (Acts 2:4), Peter (Acts 4:8), “their own people” (Acts 4:31), Stephen (Acts 6:5; 7:25), Paul (Acts 9:17; 13:9), and “the disciples” – Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:52). Barnabas is the only man in Acts called agathos (“good”). In his gospel Luke reserves the adjective for Joseph of Arimathea (23:50).
Acts 11:24-25 The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not only to mission (Acts 1:8; 4:31b, 33) but also to community (2:44-45; 4:32, 34-35). The community fellowship is spiritual (“of one heart and soul,” 4:32a), but it spills over into the physical and financial world of the baptized (4:32b, 34-35). This is part of Luke’s belief that wealth is used properly when it builds relationships and community (e.g., Luke 12:33-34; 16:9; Acts 2:44-45; 11:27-30; 24:17).
Acts 11:24-25 “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled (plerousthe – imperative, present, passive, second person plural … followed by five participles) with the Spirit. Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Singing and making music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:18-21)
Acts 11:24-25 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.” (Acts 11:25)
Acts 11:24-25 Saul had been sent to his home by the Jerusalem church after his altercation with the Hellenists (9:30). This is now the second time Barnabas acts as Saul’s patron (9:27). According to Gal 1:18 and 2:1 Paul was “toiling with tents” in Tarsus for fourteen years.
Acts 11:24-25 In the context of PEOPLE MASHERS AND MANIPULATORS and even PEOPLE MURDERERS (i.e., Judas) all seeking the thrill of the rush that comes from BOOM, BOOM, BOOM “… Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul.” Saul, who gave approval to Stephen's death by stoning (Acts 7:58). Saul, who breathed out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples (Acts 8:3). Saul, who tried to travel to Damascus to have more Christians for lunch (Acts 9:1-2).
Acts 11:24-25 This Saul was going nowhere fast. He hadn't founded any churches, hadn't been kicked out of any synagogues, hadn’t written any epistles. He desperately needed a PEOPLE MOVER.
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos "Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement (parakleseos) of Scriptures, we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos The importance of the written Word is stated in Jeremiah’s call, “Yahweh … said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’” (1:9). Fourteen chapters later Jeremiah says, “When your words came, I ate them; they were the joy and delight of my heart.” “Joy and delight” – sasson wesimchah – are used four more times in the book and each time they are paired with “bride and bridegroom.” By means of this poetic word association Jeremiah evokes the connection between the exuberance, the ecstasy and the sheer excitement experienced by a “bride and bridegroom”, with the eating Yahweh’s Word.
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos But isn’t there something tastier, more appetizing, with a bit more pizzazz? Here it is. For breakfast; one-half grapefruit, one piece of whole wheat toast, no butter, eight ounces of skim milk, coffee – black. For lunch; four ounces of lean broiled chicken breast, skin removed, one cup of steamed zucchini, herb tea, no sugar … one Oreo cookie. For a snack; the rest of the package of Oreo cookies, one quart chocolate almond ice cream, one jar of hot fudge. For dinner; two loaves of garlic bread, heavy on the butter, one large sausage and pepperoni pizza, extra cheese, a large milk shake with whipped cream, and for desert, three Milky Way candy bars and an entire frozen cheesecake!
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos Oh, we try, don’t we? We try to stay on a spiritual diet of Yahweh’s word that brings vigor and health and strength and power. But then we slip, one Oreo cookie, one crumb of coveting, one piece of pornography, one slice of slander, one sip of sarcasm and then the rest of the package of Oreo cookies! The enemy thrusts this junk food before us on silver trays and with a sly grin watches it all disappear. Filled with his miserable morsels our desire to regularly study, memorize, learn, translate, exegete, defend, trust, believe, love and live out this word becomes a chore, a bore, a snore until we say, “no more!”
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos So Yahweh would serve up one more Word; a more vindicating Word than that written by Micah in Jeremiah’s defense, a more hopeful Word than that penned to exiles, a more victorious Word than that spoken against Babylon, and a more enduring word than that rewritten before Jehoiakim. For coming down past the galaxies, past our solar system, past the moon and the stars, this Word became flesh and appeared in the silence of a night, in the depth of a cave, in the whisper of a Baby. And as a Man his appetite is defined in Hebrews 2:9, “… so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos Jesus tasted the demonic delight called death. The soldiers’ spit their cheap wine, sweat running down his cheeks, his own blood. But there was more. He drank the cup of the Father’s wrath (Jer. 25:15, 17, 25) to the very last drop. But Jesus not only tasted death. He swallowed him up chewed him up and spit him out. “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”(1 Cor. 15:54).
Becoming a Son/Daughter of Parakleseos And now the Spirit of the Risen Christ creates in us a new hunger and a new thirst for righteousness. Spirit-led, “like newborn babes we crave pure spiritual milk now that [we] have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3). We long to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this word, knowing that it is key to our becoming Barnabas-like.
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