Then tidings of these things came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas…
You know the strain and the stress of the situation recorded in my text. We are speaking of Antioch, to which Barnabas is sent. Here, then, we have a strong, central, organised Church, going its own way on somewhat new lines, with a new environment, with a new development. And yet it causes a great deal of anxiety in those who are left at home in the old places in Jerusalem. This strong, assertive child of theirs, to what will it grow, what will happen to it? The very preachers who founded it made them at Jerusalem nervous. The gospel was in them as Stephen had proclaimed it; and they knew it was for the Greeks as well as for the Jews. It was the Greeks that were flocking in, from beyond the strict borders of the old race, and it was out of this people the Church grew. Such a Church would sit light by the old traditions. It was a new capital for Christianity, with altogether Gentile associations; and habits, and customs, and interests, and environment, and style of thought, and even of language, would none of them be Jewish. How different! And it was all going on so fast! "To what lengths are they going at Antioch? Where will they stop?" And so there was a bitter problem to solve, then as at all times; and it is difficult for us to realise how deep their anxieties would go; how possibly the Twelve would be almost as anxious as any. They might share the alarm with perfect loyalty. And then they had so much to think of — those Twelve at Jerusalem. There were the angry, hot-headed Pharisees, who believed in such numbers after the Lord had risen. They came pouring into the Church; but they were half Pharisees still. Their prejudices were very strong; and they had always been in terror of these Gentile converts; and here were the people at Antioch going ahead in a way just to give these people a sort of excuse to say, "Ah, we told you what would happen if these foreigners were let in!" And naturally the apostles say, "Well, we must be tender to these Jewish converts of ours, we must consider them, they are sensitive; there may be a recoil, a schism, if we do not hold in those at Antioch." We can measure how terrible the danger was by remembering how fierce was the storm when it did finally burst on the head of St. Paul. So severe was the crisis, so imminent the peril. And yet all was warded off; the storm that afterwards broke on St. Paul was kept clear for the moment, and it was all done by one man. One name, the most honourable and beautiful; one name that could hold things together for the time; one name that could persuade, conciliate, win confidence, and avert wrath. It is the name of a man of healing, of advocacy, of intercession, of prevailing comfort — Joses, who was called Barnabas, the Son of Consolation. Now, Barnabas held this unique position, that each side of the controversy had a claim upon him. First for Jerusalem. He is, as we know, the very model and hero of the earliest Church in Jerusalem. In those very first days of the Church, when it still lingered on the Temple steps, when the apostles were altogether dominant, even then one name is singled out as specially catching the spirit of the hour — Barnabas, the Levite, who, "having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." As if to say that in that beautiful little Church, out of the host of people who were so good, one was supremely good, and he was Barnabas. He had the very spirit of generosity and charity that marked that hour. And yet Barnabas was not himself a Jew of Jerusalem; he was not a man who had been hedged in by all the ancient barriers and customs of the Jewish life. No; he was from Cyprus; he came from the very place to which these Antioch preachers had gone. He was a Jew of the Dispersion; he had got the temper and mind of a Jew who had lived in close contact with the Gentile life; and so disposed, he had been quick to understand, accept, and trust St. Paul. He was in sympathy with the Church at Jerusalem; he was in sympathy with the freer, bolder doings of the Church at Antioch. He would know these men who were going forward with such a dash. "Let Barnabas go" — that was the end of all these consultations. It was not a hostile mission, but one sent to allay a little alarm caused by wild rumour and exaggeration. Barnabas is just the man to review, to advise, to control anything amiss, to give confidence if he approves. So it was decided — "They sent forth Barnabas." It was a delicate mission; and we know what happened, and how well he carried it out. We read of his wisdom, his sympathy, his width, his firmness, his insight, his courage. He came, and he saw "the grace of God." Not suspicious, jealous, no standing aloof and refusing to acknowledge it. No, he saw it — it was "grace." Only he gave them some warnings against unsteadiness, "exhorting them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." And then he does a most bold thing. He, so far, recognises that it is grace, true and real, that works at Antioch, that he determines to forward it with all his might; and he goes to Tarsus, where Paul is still in hiding, unable to work in a Church that suspects him. So he made the stroke of strokes — brought Saul to Antioch. That was the beginning of the work of St. Paul, of his ministry to the Gentiles; and all came from Barnabas, who had the courage to hold out his hand to Saul, and give him twice over to the Church. So triumphantly did he keep the unity of the Church and avert the storm. Antioch goes on growing apace, Barnabas and Paul working hand in hand for a whole year, "assembling themselves with the Church and teaching much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." "Barnabas," the mediator between the contrasted forces that press for mastery over the fortunes of the Church. Ah! yes, we need his name still, today as much as ever. There is always a Jerusalem and an Antioch in the story of the Church. There is always an Antioch being occupied, always some new centre of action to be taken up, some new post on the line of advance, some new venture to be made, breaking new ground. There must always be a new Antioch where the fresh forces of civilisation and culture are active — forces which the Church must go out to, and establish herself in the midst of them. They cannot be reached from the old centres. There must be some adaptation of methods to reach them. Then Jerusalem too. There is — there always ought to be — "Jerusalem" behind us — the witness to the Eternal Truth, the unchanging apostolic deposit, on which the passage of time marks no alteration; there must always be the infallible experience, which touched, which felt, and knew the Word of God — the old, firm, solid centre, whence indeed all new effort must take its rise. Jerusalem — the sacred hearth of the holy fire whence all other fires were lighted; the ancient home, dear to all who name the One Name, Jesus Christ — Jerusalem, the mother of us all. There must always be Jerusalem, and always Antioch; but the difficulty is to keep the two together. Each will be apt to misjudge and to think the worse of the other. Each will judge the other by its most perilous adherents. At Jerusalem they will hear of nothing of Antioch but what is headstrong, reckless, rash, audacious, insolent. At Antioch they will be groaning at the rigid stiffness and obstinacy, nervous timidity, narrowness, and suspiciousness of Jerusalem. So there will alway be the need of a Barnabas, ready to pass from the one to the other centre; gracious, capable, sympathetic, loyal to the backbone; yet appreciative, sensitive, inside the movement, strong yet benign. Such men save the Church at each sharp crisis in her story. We want this son of advocacy to hold us together, someone who is courageous without hardness, conciliatory without weakness, who is so strong that he can afford to be firm. We shall want him in days to come I doubt not. We remember the simple qualification that the Bible gives of St. Barnabas — "He was a man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." That is all we want — someone sound and healthy to the core, someone felt to be morally wholesome, to have a good heart and a good nature all through, with nothing perverted or twisted about him, a man who has proportion and balance, and all his gifts in genial exercise. That first, "full of the Holy Ghost" — that Holy Ghost who is the Spirit of advocacy, who is so strong, who is so sweet and gentle — that Holy Ghost who is the very power that binds these two opposite gifts. He is the Spirit of fire, of vehement decision, the unconquerable purging force. And yet the Spirit of the wind — the Spirit so pliable, so elastic, so sensitive, so free, so moving, so quick, so ready to pass in and out, "blowing where it listeth." The fire and the wind, strength and gentleness — that is the power of this blessed Spirit of God. Barnabas has both gifts; and we want a Barnabas nourished by the Holy Ghost, and so lifted and transformed by the power of Him who is fire and wind, to be full of faith, to be full of loyalty to the living Christ.
(H. Scott Holland, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.