Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 September 25, 2022
“Be Encouraged, Then Encourage”1
For most of my more than three decades of pastoral ministry, two Biblical figures, in addition to Jesus, have proven paradigmatic for my ministry. One is Moses. His long-suffering with the flock of God under his care spurs me to endure when pastoral ministry and life involve suffering—and his prayer life, especially when chips appeared down, helps me to persist in prayer when things appear or bode ill. The other is Barnabas—simply because of his ministry of encouragement, which God has used to make my pulpit ministry a teaching ministry of encouragement.
Today we look at the New Testament records concerning this son of encouragement—Barnabas. May we be encouraged by what we hear today, and may we, once encouraged, receive power from on high to encourage others. Let us, once again, give our attentions to the Word of God read and proclaimed here in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We read at least four New Testament account that show Barnabas as a son of encouragement. We see the encouragement of Barnabas first in today’s text, in which he sold a field of his, brought the proceeds of that sale, and laid them at the apostles’ feet for distribution unto any as each had need. Imagine how this act encouraged an impoverished believer to believe that need will be met. Imagine also how this act encouraged well-to-do believers to surrender worldly wealth, as God leads, for His glory and the blessing of many. Barnabas, from his first mention in the New Testament, encourages others—but there is more, much more.
We see Barnabas’ ministry of encouragement next on display in his vouching for Saul (9:27). Saul, a young man far advanced beyond his peers in first-century Palestinian Judaism and vehement persecutor of the infant New Testament Church, came to faith in Christ as a result of his supernatural experience on the Damascus road (9:1-19). This Saul, also known as Paul, spoke boldly of Jesus and confounded his fellow Jews by proving from Scripture that Jesus is the Christ. He tried to join the disciples at Jerusalem, upon return from Damascus, but the Jerusalem disciples feared him and believed not his conversion. Barnabas vouched for Saul, and Saul joined their company and did at Jerusalem what he did at Damascus.
Next, Barnabas encouraged the church at Antioch (11:22-24). Believers from Cyprus and Cyrene, driven from Jerusalem because of persecution, came to Antioch and spoke the Gospel to the Hellenists (i. e., Greek-speaking non-Jews) there. Many of those Antiochene Hellenists believed, and the report of massive turning to the Lord reached Jerusalem. The church at Jerusalem, on hearing the news from Antioch, sent Barnabas to encourage them—and encourage them he did. Here the Lord leads Luke to note that Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (11:24).
We see the encouraging goodness of Barnabas on display at what must have been a difficult time in his life and ministry. Paul and Barnabas took together a two-year missionary journey (called Paul’s first missionary journey), and they took Barnabas’ cousin, Mark (the human author of the Gospel bearing his name), with them. Mark continued not to the end of the journey. When the time came to re-visit those churches founded during the missionary journey, Barnabas would take Mark with them again—but Paul though it better not to take him. The disagreement was so sharp that Paul and Barnabas parted company (15:36-40).
Many a commentator uses this narrative to extol Paul at Barnabas’ expense. Yet I see much commendable in how Barnabas treats Mark. He extends to Mark a second opportunity to be useful ministerially—on Cyprus. From that time, Mark eventually will become the trusted junior colleague of Peter—and, as mentioned earlier, will write the Gospel bearing his name. Barnabas extended compassion, mercy, and the like, to Mark: things that Paul did not extend to him—or, at the very least, did not extend as explicitly. Here, again, as formerly, Barnabas encourages others—even when it likely hurt him somewhat to do it.
I have seen, and experienced, several examples of encouragement over the years. Consider these three excellent examples. First, I got quite the blessing on Monday night, March 29, 1982. On that day, my mama and daddy let me stay up late on a school night—quite the thrill for a seventh-grade boy—for the North Carolina Tar Heels were playing the Georgetown Hoyas for the national collegiate championship in men’s basketball. Though I am a University of Georgia alumnus, I learned to love Tar Heel basketball with that 1981-82 team.
The night grew late and the game remained uncomfortably tight throughout. Patrick Ewing, of Georgetown, goaltended everything Carolina shot, and Carolina’s James Worthy and Georgetown’s Sleepy Floyd—both from Gastonia—conducted an epic individual competition within the team game. Finally, with Carolina down 62-61, freshman Michael Jordan hoisted a jump shot with about eighteen second left in the game. It hit nothing but net, and Carolina led 63-62. Carolina retreated on defense, and Georgetown came up the floor to attempt to win the game with the final shot. Alas, for Hoya fans, sophomore guard Fred Brown mistook Worthy for a teammate and threw him the ball—thus sealing Carolina’s victory and Georgetown’s defeat.
I remember the thrill of the Carolina win, and I remember going to bed a very happy boy. As well as I remember what has come to be known as the shot, I remember something else just as vividly. I remember John Thompson, Georgetown’s head coach, hugging and encouraging a disconsolate Fred Brown. I thought it classy of Coach Thompson at the time, and I cannot imagine the good it did Fred Brown. I think it must have contributed to the state of affairs two years later—when senior guard Fred Brown helped Georgetown win the 1984 NCAA championship. Thompson’s encouragement of Brown models what we see throughout Acts in Barnabas.
Second, I have been at Atlanta Braves fan since 1977. They were my first favorite team—and my fellow Braves fans suffered much disappointment in the late 1970s and much of the 1980s over these guys. Yet, by 1991, they were among the best teams in baseball—and, with some exception in the late 2000s and mid 2010s, they have remained there. On Friday night, July 28, 1995, I was watching the Braves play a late game in San Francisco against the hometown Giants. The Giants led 2-1 after eight innings, and the manager sent in feared closing reliever Rod Beck to hold the Braves scoreless for three outs and, thus to secure the win. I felt a sinking feeling within me that night. When Rod Beck entered the game with a lead, the Giants almost always won—and, on this night, it appeared the Braves would lose.
Except Rod Beck was not exactly Rod Beck that night—nor had he been for the entire month of July 1995. He was struggling to preserve leads and close out victories—and he struggled that late Friday night (probably early Saturday morning on the East Coast by then). Beck allowed the tying run and the go-ahead run to score before the managed removed him from the game in favor of another pitcher. The Braves eventually would score five runs in their half of the ninth inning—to win 6-2—but I don’t remember that as much as I remember Beck’s exit from the game.
The wind off San Francisco Bay blew Beck’s mullet around as he walked from the mound to the home dugout. A steady, loud chorus of boos rained down on Beck’s head. On hearing and seeing this, I was angry. I was angry at the Giants’ fans. Could they not remember all the saved games he had pitched for them? Could they not remember all the nights he had put away my beloved Braves for the night? I thought Beck profoundly mistreated and underappreciated.
Two years later, Beck would be in a similar tight spot. On Thursday night, September 18, 1997, the Giants were neck-and-neck with their arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for the National League West crown with two weeks left in the season. The Dodgers and the Giants went to extra innings that night, and manager Dusty Baker called on Beck to hold the Giants scoreless in the top of the tenth inning of a 5-5 game. Beck entered the game and promptly surrendered three singles to load the bases. Out of the dugout pops Dusty Baker, and everyone in the park thinks Baker is bringing the hook—to remove Beck from the game. To the surprise of almost everyone in the park (save Baker and, as it turns out, Beck), Baker leaves Beck in the game. What Baker said to Beck must go down in the annals of all-time encouragement. He said to Beck, “Dig as deep as you can with whatever you’ve learned as a pitcher. You’re the guy.”2 Then he returned to the dugout to await the result.
With the bases loaded and no one out. Beck struck out the next hitter for the first out. Then he induced a ground-ball double play to escape the inning unscathed. He would pitch two more innings—and three innings was an uncommonly long outing for Rod Beck—before the Giants would win 6-5 in twelve innings via a walk-off home run. The Giants would go on to win the division over the Dodgers and, hence, to secure a spot in the National League playoffs. Does any of this happen if Dusty Baker does not encourage Rod Beck? We’ll never know, but I suspect that the likelihood of a Giant win that night, and of a Giant division crown secured two weeks later, decreases if Baker does not upbuild Beck. In any case, it was the right thing to do—and it squares with what we see routinely from Barnabas in Acts.
Third, the month of August in 1994 was a very difficult month for Tommy and Karen Jordan—then not long embarked upon their sophomore year of married life. I finished teaching full-time in a private Christian school that June, concurrent with full-time Master of Divinity studies nights and weekends until awarding of my degree that May. Hence, I’m pretty tired, to say the least, by late spring. In late June we learn that we are going to have a baby, and then we endure the unthinkable—a first-trimester miscarriage in early August. Ten days later I am diagnosed with pneumonia, and I required five days of hospitalization. The first night my fever broke after rising to 104.2 F, but I was considerably weakened, to say the least—and this atop long-term fatigue and grief. Meanwhile Karen, while healing from miscarriage, developed bronchitis at the same time—and we almost had his-and-hers gurneys at the hospital.
Two days after admission, the beside phone rang. It was one of my students—a student that just completed the fourth grade under my tutelage. She asked, in a tiny, uncertain voice, “Mr. Jordan, are you O. K.?” I did my best to assure her that I was passably O. K.—and that I would be better in days to come. Twenty-eight years have come and gone since that phone call—and, obviously, I’ve never forgotten it.
I never forgot that my student cared enough—and, apparently, was worried enough—to call and to check on me. I never forgot that God sometimes sends his encouragements in the most unlikely and unspeakably sweet ways. I never forgot that God often gets us through our deepest distresses on the wings of the encouragement of another.
Perhaps you came today in need of encouragement. Rest assured of this: The Lord will encourage you. He will do this by the Holy Spirit—God within us by virtue of our union with Christ through faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. He will encourage you from His holy Word, as the Holy Spirit quickens His Word unto your soul. He also will encourage you through His people—their words, their deeds, and their presence. Rest assured of this.
Moreover, the Lord will make you an encouragement. He will make you an encouragement to His redeemed people in Christ Jesus—even the likes of folk occupying these pews and this sanctuary with you. He even will make you an encouragement to those yet outside His saving love—that some may enter into eternal life by God’s gracious call. Therefore, beloved in Christ Jesus, receive the Lord’s encouragement—and, by His powerful grace, encourage others.
1This sermon is revised and enlarged from the one preached on either July 23 or 30, 2000, at Christ Presbyterian Church (EPC), Knoxville, Tennessee.
2Ray Ratto, “Baseball As You Always Hope It Will Be.” The San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 1997 (https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Baseball-as-you-always-hope-it-will-be-3303835.php, accessed September 22, 2022).