The Sermon for the Festival of St. Barnabas the Apostle, Sunday, June 11th, 2023

The Lessons: Isaiah 42:5-12; Psalm 112; Acts 11:19-30, 13:1-3; Matthew 10:7-16

The Text: Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3

The Topic: The ministry of St. Barnabas the Apostle


He was always in trouble, so when the parents of the junior high boy received another call to meet with his teacher and the principal, they knew what was coming.

The teacher said, “Thanks for coming. I wanted you to hear what I have to say.”

The father waited, thinking what excuse he could use this time. The teacher proceeded to go down a list of ten positive affirmations, or potential benefits, of the junior high “troublemaker.” When she finished, the father said, “And what else? Let’s hear the bad things.”

“That’s all I wanted to say,” she said.

That night when the father got home, he repeated the conversation to his son. Almost overnight, the troublemaker’s behavior changed. All because a teacher looked past the negatives to see the potential in a young man.

– Peter Lord, former pastor, Park Avenue Baptist Church, Titusville, Florida[1]

St. Barnabas the Apostle, whose Festival we celebrate today, was not one of the original Twelve, but he was truly an Apostle in that the Church sent him first to encourage the new believers at Antioch in Syria, and then later the Church, represented by the prophets and teachers who were praying and fasting for a time at Antioch, sent him and St. Paul to the missionary work to which the Holy Spirit had called them, and this was the First Missionary Journey. There is no record of St. Barnabas calling himself an apostle, but St. Luke in the Book of Acts refers to him as an apostle with Paul (Acts 14:4 & 14), and he was an apostle in that the Church commissioned and sent him to preach and teach the Gospel in various places.


Barnabas is first mentioned in Acts 4:36 as Joseph but was given the surname “Barnabas” by the Apostles, who gave him this name probably because they discerned his gift and ministry of encouragement (Barnabas means “son of encouragement” [paraklesis]). He was a Levite from Cyprus who sold property that he owned, brought all the proceeds, and gave it to the Apostles for distribution to those who were poor in the early Christian community (Acts 4:37). He had a generous spirit and he cared so much about believers who were poor that he sold his land and handed over the money from the sale to the Apostles.


In Acts 9:27, we read that Barnabas introduced Paul to the Apostles and told them how Paul had been converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul became known to the Apostles through the ministry of Barnabas. The boldness and the goodness that Barnabas discerned in Paul led him to testify to the Apostles that Paul was now truly a disciple of Christ. If Barnabas had not done this, a cloud of suspicion and distrust of Paul might have remained for longer.


Our Lesson appointed for the Epistle shows more evidence of St. Barnabas’ ministry of encouragement and of seeing the best in others. In the first part of our Lesson, we read how disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Gospel to Greek-speaking people at Antioch, and how the power of the Lord was with them, leading many to believe and turn to the Lord (Acts 11:21). When news of this reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. We read that when Barnabas saw the grace of God at work in adding many new believers to the church, he was glad, and encouraged them all to remain steadfastly faithful to the Lord (Acts 11:23). Why did he do this? He was a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (Acts 11:24). As a result of his preaching, encouragement, and teaching, many people were added to the Church. The faith that St. Barnabas had was not only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to complete the sanctifying process that He had begun in these new Christians, but faith that these believers would endure to the end by remaining constant in their love for the Lord and their faith in Him.


Far from forgetting about St. Paul in Tarsus, St. Barnabas goes to Tarsus to bring St. Paul to Antioch to help him in his teaching of the faithful there. He knew St. Paul had preaching and teaching gifts from which these new Christians would benefit. He wanted St. Paul as a co-worker in this vital ministry of teaching the faith to the new believers. Their partnership in ministry became very important for the Church’s early missionary expansion. We see from this how the Holy Spirit led St. Barnabas to encourage St. Paul to share with him in the ministry of teaching and preaching for the edification of the Church.


St. Barnabas and St. Paul were not only preaching and teaching at Antioch, but they were delegated to take the Church’s financial gifts to Jerusalem for the relief of poor Christians afflicted by the famine in Judaea during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54). Once again, St. Barnabas is sent on an important mission by the Church.


Finally, as a result of fasting, prayer and worship by a group of prophets and teachers at Antioch, St. Barnabas and St. Paul are commissioned by the Church at Antioch for the missionary work to which the Holy Spirit has called them. So they are launched on the First Missionary Journey in which they travel first to Cyprus to preach the Gospel and then on to Perga in Pamphylia and Pisidian Antioch.


What can we learn from St. Barnabas? At the start of the Second Missionary Journey, St. Paul sharply disagrees with St. Barnabas about taking John Mark with them, since on the First Missionary Journey he had left them when they reached Perga in Pamphylia and had returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). But St. Barnabas, seeing the good qualities of his cousin John Mark, takes him with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:39), while St. Paul takes Silas with him on the Second Missionary Journey.

Like St. Barnabas, we will do well to discern the good qualities in our fellow-Christians and edify them in their faith, showing a generous spirit. Too often these days, there is a tendency to have a critical spirit and to criticize the faithful. Instead, we must follow St. Barnabas’ example of encouraging and building up the faith of others.

[1] p.140, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

Categories: Sermons