Cheering from the Balcony

Cheering from the Balcony
Acts 4:32-37
July 17, 2016

We were on our way back from a college visit.  We left the campus, started driving home, driving through country roads and my gas tank was flashing a big 0 on it.  I don’t really like to fill my gas tank.  There were no gas stations in sight.  The passengers in the car were rather nervous.  Searching on their phones for the nearest gas station.  I knew we were ok . . . actually, I really thought we were doomed.  Somehow we must have had about 1 block left.

Cars aren’t the only things that need their tanks filled.  Everybody you know has a fuel tank, and it’s in their inner being, in their spirit.  Sometimes, you can read their gauge.  Look in their eyes: some are alive and their eyes have fire in them; some are just glazed over.  Look at their shoulders: some people walk with a hop in their step; others are hunched over.  Some people have energy; some are trudging along.

There are some people who fill your tank.  They are the people who breathe life into you.  They remind you of how good God is.  They encourage you to be the best you can be.  When you’re with them, your anxiety is gone and hope is up.

Gregory of Nyssa was one of the church fathers in the fourth century, and he painted a powerful picture of this way of living.  In a letter to a friend he wrote ~ “At horse races, the spectators intent on victory shout to their favorites in the contest.  From the balcony they incite the rider to keener effort, urging the horses on while leaning forward and flailing the air with their outstretched hand instead of a whip.”

With that picture in mind, he then wrote ~ “I seem to be doing the same thing myself.  Most valued friend and brother, while you are competing admirably in a divine race, straining constantly for the prize of the heavenly calling, I exhort, urge, and encourage you vigorously.”

Gregory is basically saying, “I’m up in the stands.  I’m watching you run the race, and I’m cheering you on.   This is your race.  God is with you, so don’t stop.  Keep going.  You can do it!!”  Some people do that for you.  They’re what we would call balcony people.  They fill your tank.  They’re your cheerleaders, advisors, mentors and ones you know to go to when you need your tank refilled.

Then you have other people in your life, who stick a hose in your tank, and start siphoning the fuel out.  They drain you of life.  They’re basement people, because they bring you down.  They’re joy challenged, dream squashing, and fault finding.  We’re called to love them, but we have to guard our hearts.

I believe one of the key words in the New Testament is Encouragement.  The word “to encourage” is used more than a hundred times in the New Testament.  One of the great characters in the Bible — maybe we could call him the patron saint of balcony people — is the guy we’re going to look at today.  His name is Barnabas, and we find him mostly in the Book of Acts.

We meet Barnabas for the first time in Acts 4.  The church was just starting and the people were all together.  Acts 4, gives a great description of how the church operated ~
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold

35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

That’s an amazing picture of the church.  Everyone helping one another.  Nobody in need!  Now we’re introduced to Barnabas ~
36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus,

37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Joseph was a Levite.  Levites were a tribe of Israel, and they served as assistants to the priests — as doorkeepers in the temple or musicians or something else.  But Joseph couldn’t do that.  Even though he was a Levite, he was from Cyprus, which meant he hadn’t been born in Israel.

He was a Hellenist — a name given to Israelites born overseas.  They were foreigners.  They didn’t speak Aramaic, and they were considered to have picked up Gentile ways.  There was a lot of hostility between native-born Israelites and the Hellenists.  Joseph would not have been allowed to serve in the temple.

Most people would be pretty upset about this and have a negative view of the native born Israelites and maybe even the religion.  But, Joseph is a balcony guy.  He becomes part of this new community.  He sees a need, and says: I’ve got some property I could sell.

Joseph is mentioned by name and is the first recorded donor in this new community.  Others were doing the same, yet, Luke felt it vital to mention him by name.  When the text says Joseph put money at the apostles’ feet, he was saying: You know best what to do with my offering.  No strings attached — you don’t have to build a building with my name on it.  Just bless people!!

There is an encouragement that comes when somebody gives.  So many of you here know the joy of giving.  Some of you have not just given; you’ve given sacrificially.  You put yourself in touch with a spiritual power when you do that — it puts you in touch with deeper realities of the kingdom than money and goods.  People who give, even though they have less money, worry less about their money than people who never give, whom you would think would worry less.

When you start giving, you never know what’s going to happen.  You’re putting yourself in the flow of a reality that’s much bigger than you.  Joseph did this.  It’s not just that he gave; it’s the spirit he did it in.  It’s infectious.  Some of you know that spirit of giving very well!!

The disciples say to each other – – – Joe isn’t an adequate name for this guy, so we’re going to give him a new name.  We’re going to call him Barnabas – – – – “son of encouragement,” balcony boy.  Every time he hears his name, he’ll think – – that’s who I am; that’s who I want to be.

Barnabas encourages the community, the community encourages him.  It’s infectious.  That’s how encouragement works.  That’s how giving works.

After this scene, we forget about Barnabas.  The next time we see him is in Acts 9, alongside a man named Saul who had been terrorizing Jesus’ followers.  Saul was a Jewish leader who had been headhunting Jewish – Christian believers.  He celebrated everytime one was killed.

Then, when Saul was on a mission to kill more converts, He met Jesus.  As a result, Saul repented and believed in Jesus.  His name was changed to Paul and he became one of the great leaders of the early church.

Paul came to Jerusalem and wanted to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him.  Paul’s reputation preceded him.  They didn’t believe he was really a disciple.  He had approved of the murder of their friend Stephen, and had threatened, persecuted, imprisoned, and killed their family members.  So the disciples say, “I’m not going near him!”

Luke tells us ~ 26 And when Paul came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples.  And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe he was a disciple.

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

We don’t know how Barnabas got involved.  But, we do know Barnabas got involved and somehow got to know Paul – – – and brought him to the disciples.  Balcony people give you this wonderful gift: they believe you can change with God’s help.  They don’t let who you were yesterday – – – limit who you might be today — or who you might become tomorrow.

Barnabas was willing to take a risk on Paul.  He became his friend and got to know him.  He saw the best and called it out.  He went to the others and said: Look at the change in his life.  Look at what happened between him and God.  He’s devoting his life to the gospel.  Take it from me: this man can be trusted!

Because Barnabas said Paul could be trusted, the disciples embraced him.
28 So Paul went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.  – Acts 9:26-28

What would have happened to Paul and this new movement if Barnabas didn’t help him?  His acceptance into the community may never have happened.  But because one person saw the change in Paul, Paul was given the opportunity to start over.  Can you do that for someone?

At the end of that story, there’s this powerful summary ~
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in reverence of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

People wanted to be part of that community, living in awe and devotion of the Lord.

Barnabas disappears again, until another critical moment in the history of the church.  In Acts 11, we read ~ 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.

21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Understand the drama at this moment.  This is a tipping point in world history.  Up until this point, the good news about Jesus had spread among Jewish people.  But the Gentiles, the non-Jews begin to hear the message about Christ.

And amazingly, these Gentiles — who don’t know the Torah and Jewish law and customs – – – – respond and begin to enter into this new Jesus community.  The first major city outside Israel where the Jesus movement begins to take root is Antioch.  Word soon gets back to Jerusalem that the movement is spreading, but it’s not with our people, it’s with Gentiles – – – – And they weren’t sure if it was kosher!  If we let the Gentiles in, this is going to change everything!

Religious communities aren’t always excited about change.  Everything hinges on who Jerusalem is going to send to check this out.  And who do they send?  Barnabas — who else would you send.  And this is what happened ~

23 When Barnabas came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose

24 for Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were added to the Lord.  — Acts 11:23-24

Look at the words Luke used to describe Barnabas!  Now, Barnabas realized he needed somebody to help him teach and disciple these new believers, so he called on Paul – – – to speak to the Gentiles about Christ.

Acts 11:26 tells us they were there for one year teaching and preaching and helping this new Gentile church better understand the call of Christ in their lives.  Paul and Barnabas do ministry together, and an interesting thing happens.  In the ancient world, it’s very significant to look at the order of people’s names, because that order tells you who’s in charge.

Early on we see Barnabas and Paul.  In Acts 13:2, we read ~ 2  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me BARNABAS and PAUL for the work to which I have called them.”

But something happens during their ministry.  Paul’s gifts began to flourish, and by the end of  Acts 13, we see a significant change.  3 times we read ~
43 Paul and Barnabas
46 Paul and Barnabas
50 Paul and Barnabas

Did you catch what happened?  The names were switched.  Paul is now the one leading.  From a human standpoint, this is terrible.  Barnabas did a great job, the mission’s been a huge success.  But your not the main leader.

Barnabas could have been jealous.  He could have longed for Paul’s status.  Instead, he rejoiced in it.  His joy was in developing greatness in somebody else.  Paul’s ministry went viral.  Twitter, instagram, facebook, snapchat.  He was super popular.  Yet, nobody rejoiced more than Barnabas.  He’s a balcony person.

Another powerful story occurs in the life of Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas would travel with other people in their ministries.  One of the young men they reached out to was named John Mark (or Mark).  There’s a story of a young man who, just before Jesus is crucified, was afraid, ran away.  That’s probably Mark.

Mark began traveling with Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys.  However, in Acts 15, we learn that Mark deserted them on their trip to Pamphylia.  Yet in spite of that, Luke tells us ~  37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.

Paul didn’t want Mark to go with them because he deserted them.

39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.  Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus,

I can imagine Barnabas saying: Hey Paul, remember when nobody would touch you with a ten-foot pole?   Who was it that gave you a second chance?  Now you’re telling me you’re not going to give a second chance to Mark?

Paul most likely thought Mark needed to grow up, yet, at the end of his life, in 2 Timothy 4 notice what Paul says ~
11 Luke alone is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.

Did you hear that?  Good old Barnabas saw something in Mark that turned out to be right all along.  And now at the end of his days, Paul wanted Mark.

Mark’s life is another tribute to the power of a balcony person.  Mark wrote what is believed to be the first Gospel.  What if Barnabas gave up on Mark?  But balcony people stand with you when you fall.

We need to be balcony people for each other.  We live in a very tough world.  People are out to get one another.  Sometimes it’s hard to find an encouraging word.  Hebrews 3:13 says,  13 But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

When we’re not encouraged, sin starts to look good.  Therefore, we are to encourage one another.  Do it every day.  Don’t just pick and choose your spots, do it everyday.  The writer then adds, 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing.  Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is approaching. – Hebrews 10:25

Folks, we live in a world where people believe it is ok to tear down, to be hyper critical, to make fun of others, and to point out weaknesses and faults.  You’ll hear much more about this during the presidential race.  Why not be a Barnabas, find the good in others.  Help others to see what they can do which will help them succeed.  Be an encourager!

Take it from Barnabas, go into the world and make a difference . . . do it as an encourager.

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