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Everyone would like to have a friend like Barnabas. He demonstrated so many impressive and endearing qualities that we feel ourselves drawn to him.
Born of a Levite family on the island of Cyprus, Barnabas was sent to Jerusalem for his education, where he became a disciple of Jesus. So touching was this man’s witness to Christ that in addition to his given name of Joseph, the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas—“son of consolation” or “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36)—a name that stayed with him all his life.
Throughout his Christian life, Barnabas showed the heart of a true disciple of Jesus, demonstrating the characteristics that Jesus taught his first followers (Matthew 10:1-42). His primary instruction was that they preach the gospel, raise the dead, cast out demons, and heal the sick (10:8). Above anything else, they were sent out to advance the kingdom of God by the power of the Spirit. Barnabas showed this singlemindedness when he went to Antioch to care for the newly-converted Gentiles there (Acts 11:22) as well as when he introduced Saul, the persecutor-turned-believer, to the apostles in Jerusalem (9:27).
In both instances, Barnabas revealed an openness to the Holy Spirit that led him into new and uncomfortable situations with confidence and peace. Barnabas understood that disciples of Jesus were not to concern themselves primarily with their own circumstances or with other people’s expectations. Rather, their confidence and security were to come from knowing God’s call and trusting in his provision. Barnabas stood by Paul at a critical moment, when no one else was willing to support him. Furthermore, he was open to allowing the Gentiles to accept Christ without submitting to the entire Mosaic law. This would not have been easy, but because of Barnabas’ work, the church was able to grow both in numbers and in maturity.
We can know the same power and authority that Barnabas and all the other apostles knew. Jesus has given his Holy Spirit to each of us, and he has called each of us into his service. As we allow Jesus’ presence to increase in us, we give God the freedom to work through us, advancing his kingdom on the earth.
This is a selection from A Year of Celebration: Experiencing God through the Feast Days of the Church (The Word Among Us Press, 2001).