Let me tell you about this guy named Joseph, an early follower of Jesus. We first encounter Joe at the end of Acts 4. Luke, the author of Acts, describes in chapter four what made the early church special.
Let me read for you how he described the church in its infancy.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35, NIV)
Pretty cool, huh? This was a great group to be a part of. They showed their love for each other in practical ways. They met each other’s needs. They sacrificed personal pleasure for the good of the whole. And people were drawn to this group by the thousands. Earlier in chapter four Luke reported that the number of men had grown to five thousand. With women and children thrown in the ranks of the faithful were even greater.
This was an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus. Joseph is part of this church that’s bursting at the seams, caring for needs, loving like no one had ever loved before. He saw others giving sacrificially and was prompted by God to do the same.
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus,” Luke writes, “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, NIV)
That simple act of obedience is our introduction to this great encourager. His given name isn’t used even once more in Luke’s account of the church’s beginnings. Joseph’s nickname sticks.
Years down the road, I can imagine someone asking after the man.
“I’m looking for Joseph.”
“Joseph. He’s from Cyprus, I think.”
“No one here by that name.”
“He was a Levite before he joined the church.”
“A Levite? Are you sure? Only former Levite I know is Barnabas and he’s not here. He’s out running around with Paul.”
“Yeah, the guy who used to hate the church.”
“Wasn’t his name Saul?”
“Saul? I don’t think so.”
There were a few too many name changes in the church’s early years. Simon to Peter. Saul to Paul. Joseph to Barnabas. Tomato to tomato. Potato, potato. But I digress.
After he first enters the scene in Acts 4, Barnabas, the former Joe, shows up off and on throughout the rest of the book. And he’s always encouraging others.
Saul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life is changed. He starts preaching. Gets kicked out of town. Heads for Jerusalem.
Here’s how Luke tells it.
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26-27, NIV)
A great number of Greeks were coming to know Christ as savior in Antioch.
“News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 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 first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:22-26, NIV)
John, also called Mark, another name shifter, went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. He was the older men’s helper for a short time. Then he left them. Went home to Jerusalem. We’re not told why. Luke just says he left.
Paul and Barnabas continued on their way, starting churches everywhere they went. They returned home to Antioch and got into it with some Jewish believers who demanded that the Gentiles turning to the Lord be circumcised. The dispute ended up before the apostles in Jerusalem. The matter was settled quickly. Paul and Barnabas returned home with the letter commissioned by the church and the believers were glad for its encouraging message.
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:36-41, NIV)
Barnabas. Son of encouragement. A fitting moniker for good, old Joe, don’t you think? He’s a model for us to follow. His actions – caring for the needs of others – are encouraging. His words too. He’s always sticking up for the outcast. He’s unwilling to see anyone as a lost cause.
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