Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message.
“I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel … in the night-time wisdom comes to me in my inward parts.”
We come to this time of worship, our Father, to praise You for Your constant presence with us … even in the night, as the Psalmist writes, when troubles seem so much larger than they really are. As we come to praise You this day, remind us that You never leave or forsake us. In Jesus name … amen.
Today's Message: Chronicles of a Quiet Hero – Part 2
26 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. 27 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
We begin our story this morning with the words, “but arriving in Jerusalem.” (v. 26). This would have been quite a familiar experience for the subject of our lesson this morning, a man named Saul. Having been a religious leader amongst the Hebrew people he would have made such a journey many times in his adult life. But this is not ordinary journey … for he is entering Jerusalem for the first time as a believer of Jesus!
It doesn’t take long as the story unfolds to discover that this visit was not, at least at first, a very pleasant one. Our text of v. 26 continues that this man named Saul (who would later change his name to Paul … now you remember!) “tried to join (or associate with) the disciples.” All we have to do is recall those occasions when we have visited a new church or, having attended a few Sundays, tried to connect … and we know a little of what Saul was feeling.
But it’s more than that. We read in the next few verses why Saul was getting the cold shoulder. “But they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple (v. 26b).” Since the word for “afraid” (from which we derive our word “phobia”) is always used in the passive sense, it may mean “they were gripped by fear” … and for good reason. Saul, in his leadership capacity within Judaism, had been a violent persecutor of those associated with The Way (see earlier in Acts 9). Perhaps they wondered if this alleged conversion was just a ruse to allow him inside the core of the early church leadership. No matter how you explain it being in the grip of fear is never helpful in the life of a Christian church. We have sometimes, ourselves, been involved in churches in this state, worrying about institutional survival or the future … and this is never a good state for a congregation. Once we begin to focus on survival instead of mission, we have misplaced our priorities and the seeds of decline have been planted.
Further to the language of the passage, the text states they did not “believe he was a disciple.” The verb for “believe” here can also means “trust.” That there was more than just fear involved, but basic trust meant there was a big roadblock to Saul’s development in his faith.
If we can imagine for just a moment what is happening here, we know that the early Christian church is in a bit of a bad spot, and not just because of the reason given in the above editorial comment. As mentioned in the introduction, most of us know the identity of this man named Saul and a little of what he will mean to the Christian church. He follows the proud tradition of the martyr Stephen and, most importantly, our Lord Jesus Himself. Saul has sacrificed much for his conversion to this upstart group of believers known (in those days) as “the Way” … and for a very good reason. He realizes, as did Stephen and Jesus, that this new way of living life has universal appeal. It will not be accepted only by folks with a background in Judaism … it is for non-Jews as well (“Gentiles” as they referred to them back then). To summarize in a sentence, the challenge is this … if Saul is lost to the early church and if he walks away from the disciples in Jerusalem, it will represent a tremendous set-back for the spread of the good news.
Enter our hero Barnabas! Although we haven’t heard much about him since the fourth chapter when he donates the proceeds of the sale of his property to the church, it seems that he has attained a position of importance within this early group of believers. How he came to know about the plight of Saul, we’re not told … but that he is aware of it, we are absolutely certain. In v. 27 we read “But Barnabas took him (Saul).” The Greek verb here means “take hold of” which literally means that Barnabas grabbed him (I like to think by the shoulders). The verb also means “to take interest in.” Perhaps our hero Barnabas could see the potential possessed by this former leader from Judaism that would benefit the mission of the early church.
After bringing Saul into the presence of the apostles, Barnabas gives good reasons (v. 27) why they should allow him to be part of their fellowship:
- “He had seen the Lord”, which would place Saul on the same level of the apostles.
- “the Lord had spoken to him”, with specific instructions as to what he (Saul) must do next. That Saul was being included in the mission plans that the Lord had for the young church seems plain here.
- “he preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” – Another meaning of the verb here would be that he spoke “freely”, which would mean he wasn’t about to hide his new association. Naturally, this indicates that Saul was not afraid about the implications of his newfound faith.
As we witness this episode in the life of the young church we might be reminded of our own recruitment for the mission of Christ. Not everyone comes to us ready made for a role of leadership or service. Hopefully, some of us have developed the gift of being able to see the potential in others and, like Barnabas, are willing to encourage these precious ones to grow and develop. It will require a willingness to risk … and a great deal of patience. But the rewards for the cause of our Lord by this type of action have the potential to be great.
Our text indicates the Saul was allowed to stay with the disciples in Jerusalem and that he was active in sharing the gospel, especially with Greeks who had become converted to Judaism. Here he got into the same kind of trouble as did Stephen … which led the apostles to send him off to Tarsus for his own safety. They probably didn’t realize how much this decision would benefit the cause of the good news … for this would be the very work that Saul (remember, who would become Paul) would be most suited. Because of his unique combination of gifts, this young enthusiast for the faith would be the gateway for many non-Jews to come to faith … including you and me! And all this happened because of a courageous disciple who saw potential and was willing to take a risk. May our Father find us faithful in just such a way.
As the quiet hero Barnabas recognized the giftedness of his new friend Saul, we praise you for the love you display to each of us by allowing us into your presence and into paths of service. We confess that sometimes our actions have mimicked those of the early church … occasionally we let fear of the future grip us or a lack of trust keep us from risking in the adventure of faith. Remind us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” and to keep the vision of your Kingdom forever in front of us.
Finally, our Father, we are reminded this time of year of the conflicts that have plagued the 20th and 21st centuries in which we lost many precious lives for the cause of freedom. We take this moment of silence to honour such sacrifice that has guaranteed the rights and blessings that we enjoy today in this “the truth north, strong and free” …
In taking a few moments to honour those who have paid such a high price, we are reminded of the need to be ever vigilant in our watch over this precious gift we have. May we never take our freedom for granted and always be willing to answer the call to speak on her behalf. In the strong name of Christ we pray … Amen.
2 Chronicles 7:14
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”