Today we will continue our short series on the blessings of mentoring. We will be reflecting on Acts 9:19-31: Barnabas & Paul, Recognizing Potential. Paul, still called Saul, was bringing a lot of people to Jesus in Antioch. The Apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check out Saul. Many of them were still scared of Saul because he had been such a strong enemy against the church earlier on. Barnabas went and met Saul, saw his potential to do amazing things for the Lord. He took Saul to Jerusalem to convince the apostles to trust in Saul and help him in the ministry Jesus had called him to. Barnabas used his reputation, the trust others had in him, to help Saul and to even join him on a couple of his missionary journeys. Followers of Jesus are always on the lookout for those with gifts for the kingdom of heaven and then they invest in them. Using their reputation, gifts, and life to help them become who Jesus has created them to be.
Barnabas and Saul: Recognizing Potential
September 25, 2022
The story of Saul turned Paul is one of the most amazing transformations in the Bible. Saul starts off a Jesus hater and persecutor of the early church, first watching over the clothes of Saul as they dragged Stephen out of Jerusalem and stoned him because he testified about Jesus as the “Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” identifying Jesus as the promised Messiah and Son of God, and Saul was there, “giving approval to his death.” Luke then tells us, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” Saul wasn’t happy enough going after the church in Jerusalem, in his passionate hatred of the church and Jesus, he went to the high priest to ask for letters, permission to go to Damascus and go after the Jesus followers and believers there too.
Then Jesus steps in, stopping Saul on the way to Damascus, revealing himself to Saul and claiming Saul as “his instrument to carry his name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Jesus also reveals that Saul will suffer deeply for his name. Saul was blinded in his encounter with Jesus, and when he arrived in Damascus, a man Ananias was told to go to Saul and when he laid hands on Saul, the Holy Spirit healed both his physical and spiritual blindness, showing Saul that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Messiah.
Now we learn later in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia that he didn’t hang around Damascus, instead he went to Arabia to study the scriptures on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, Galatians 1:17–18, “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.” But Luke skips over that and gets into how Saul begins to preach in Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God and a church is planted here and grows so quickly that news of it reaches Jerusalem and the apostles.
When Saul tries to join the disciples, it doesn’t go well because they haven’t forgotten how he had persecuted the church. It may even be that after 3 years, they were hoping that Saul had disappeared and would never come back again. This is where Barnabas enters the story. Barnabas is a good man, full of the Spirit, and as Luke tells us a couple of chapters later, he had been sent to Antioch to look for Saul. Because of Barnabas’ generosity and character; he had sold a field he owned and gave all the money to the church to help the poor, he was deeply trusted by the leaders of the church.
Barnabas takes Saul and brings him to the apostles and tells them Saul’s story of how he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and now preaches Jesus fearlessly, even though it placed him in danger and the Jews there even tried to kill Saul. Barnabas sees the potential in Saul, and he puts his own reputation on the line with the leaders of the church so that Saul has the opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ call and claim on his life. Barnabas becomes an advocate for Saul and helps the apostles to deal with their anxiety and fear of Saul.
Anxiety and fear can keep us from seeing how God is working in and among the faith community. Fear and anxiety are powerful, as we’ve seen over the past few years, and each of us had to deal with fear and anxiety, whether it was from the virus, fear of the government, fear of losing friendships over different ways of understanding what was happening, fear of the unknown, and much more. Many youths and children were, and still are afraid because of the conflict all around them, especially in the church and their families, places that they hoped were safe places from fear. Fear and anxiety either cause us to retreat and become suspicious and even more fearful, or it leads to fight against what your fear has determined is an enemy and enemies need to be defeated, leading to breaking of relationship and almost constant distrust of the other. Neither is healthy.
We live in a time when so many live in a state of fear and anxiety, especially many of our youth and young adults. As our youth and young people transition into adulthood, there is anxiety about the future, can I find a job, can I find a spouse, how will we support ourselves in such turbulent times, fear that we might not be able to have a family. Then there’s all the conflict they see around them, too many families are feeling the pressures of the past few years. Our health workers and law enforcement workers are seeing more family violence and breakdowns, then there’s been the conflict within the churches and if the place where they are learning about Jesus is fighting, where do they find the joy and peace in faith, then there’s the political world which has an increasing hold on many people and it’s becoming more polarized and harsher and unforgiving all the time. How do we as followers of Jesus model his love for all people, his grace and forgiveness, and his call to go sin no more but to repent and believe in ways that bring healing and hope?
Fear and anxiety can stop us from acting, can lead us to see others who are different in “them and us” terms which seemingly gives us permission to reject that person. This is what is happening with Saul and the apostles, as Luke writes, “When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple,” “him and us” thinking and acting. This is why what Barnabas does is so powerful, he steps up for Saul and stands by him and affirming both that he was a follower of Jesus and that Jesus was using Saul in powerful ways to reach the Gentiles for Jesus. The church was still having a hard time accepting that Jesus came for all people, that he went to the cross for those so different from themselves.
How do we relate to those who have hard backgrounds and have been changed by Jesus, or do we even really believe that people can change? Do we really believe that Jesus can come into someone’s life and completely change them? Do we give up too quickly on people, even though we know that their only hope lies in Jesus rather than whatever they are looking to right now? We also need to recognize that change and transformation can take a long time. If you’ve been going in one direction a long time, you may begin to change direction, but in most cases, it’s going to be a long curving turn with many trips down side roads. Change happens best when someone walks alongside you, or you walk alongside someone else: mentoring.
We can often have a hard time seeing the change or wanting to see the change because it may mean us having to change how we see the other person and even how we see and understand how Jesus and his Spirit are able to work in our world. It takes away all our excuses for not reaching out with the gospel news to everyone in our lives, it means embracing more deeply Jesus’ call to truly love our neighbours as ourselves because they might be our neighbours for eternity!
Barnabas goes another step forward; he also goes with Paul on his first missionary journey to the Gentiles; bringing the good news of Jesus to the Greeks and Romans and people of the world. Saul gets to spend a lot of time with Barnabas, being encouraged by Barnabas’ belief in him, learning in his own life the important of having someone come alongside of us; someone of character who shows us through their own life what it means to be a follower of Jesus, sharing what they’ve learned. Even the greatest people needed someone to invest in them, to believe in them, to help us on the life journey of becoming who Jesus is calling us to be, offering them second chances in life, not giving up on them. What I appreciate about Barnabas is his willingness to believe in Saul even after Saul had been so wrong and so far from Jesus.
Barnabas and Saul have a successful journey, but on the second journey, Barnabas wants to take along John Mark, but Paul doesn’t since John Mark had bailed during the first journey. Saul, whose name now changes to Paul takes Silas while Barnabas takes John Mark, giving him a second chance. Later on, Paul asks for John Mark to come to him, both Paul and John Mark are changed because they were both given second chances to change by Barnabas, just like Jesus never gives up on us, giving us one chance after another to keep coming back to him, even giving us his Spirit to guide us back to him. Whose life can you make a difference in by believing in them, by walking with them so that the people around you can see Jesus in their life, how Jesus has changed them? By doing so, you may be part of Jesus’ plan to grow his kingdom in unexpected and amazing ways. I’d like to end with these words from C.S Lewis, “God became man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”