11 June 2016Acts 11:19-30
“When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced…” (v. 23)
Psalm: Psalm 23
What was it that Barnabas saw when he arrived amongst the early Christian believers in Antioch? Barnabas himself was from a Jewish-Cypriot family and appears to have been converted as a result of the dispersal following Stephen's persecution. This started mission beyond Palestine, but at first only to Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews (verse 19).
Some of these converted Jews travelled to Antioch in northern Syria which, at that time, was the third largest city of the Roman Empire. In this cosmopolitan trading city, these Hellenists proclaimed the truth about Jesus not just to fellow Jews, but to Gentiles (non Jews) too (verse 20). When the 'mother' church in Jerusalem heard about this, the Apostles clearly felt a need to look into such innovation; Barnabas was chosen and instructed to check out what was happening in Antioch (verse 21). The choice was inspired. In Acts 4:36 we read that the name Barnabas ("son of encouragement") was given to him by the Apostles when they welcomed him years before into the Jerusalem church. And in Acts 9:26-30, Barnabas more than lives up to his name by bringing the post-conversion Saul/Paul to the Apostles in Jerusalem when they were still understandably very afraid of him.
What the warm-hearted Barnabas saw when he reached Antioch was "the grace of God". Instead of being concerned about the mixture of Jews and Gentiles being brought to the Lord, he rejoiced with them that God's gracious love was for all people, regardless of background. Not surprisingly, this inclusive understanding of God's mission resulted in quite an increase in workload! Barnabas soon realised that he needed help, but who? It needed someone who could command the respect of the Hellenists, so probably a Jew, but also someone willing to meet the Gentiles on equal terms. With great wisdom Barnabas chose Paul, who had been living in Tarsus (Acts 9:30) for a decade following his Damascus Road conversion.
The extraordinary grace of God is revealed in so many ways in today's passage, but perhaps none more so than in Paul. Enthusiastic persecutor of followers of Jesus, he is transformed by a personal experience of the living God. Years later, Barnabas encourages Paul's fuller participation in God's saving purpose for the world. In verses 29-30 we read about their joint leadership in providing charitable relief to those suffering drought in Judea. What a story of rebellion transformed into redeeming love, but timely encouragement was all-important.
- Are there people that you need to give God thanks for, who have encouraged you on your faith journey? Take the opportunity to do so.
- In your circle of family and friends, who might need a word of encouragement today?