Sunday Sermon 11 October 2015 — Sons and daughters of encouragement

Readings

Heb 10:19- 36; Acts 11: 19- 30  Matthew 13: 18-23

Message

Stephen – the first Christian martyr – is killed (Acts 7:54-60) .Stoned to death. And the young man called Saul (not yet called Paul) is there approving of his murder. (v 60).

And persecution follows on a wider scale (Acts 8:1-3) We pick this up in Luke’s account in Acts 11:

  • Act 11:19  Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews.
  • Act 11:20  Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.

Antioch is the place where the disciples are first called Christians (Acts 11:26) It’s where the good news is shared with Greeks.

And the news is really great. People come to faith – non-Jews. Listen again:

  • Act 11:21  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
  • Act 11:22  News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
  • Act 11:23  When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
  • Act 11:24  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord

Who do they send? Barnabus – the son of encouragement. What a good person to have doing a Presbytery visit. We find out more about Barnabus – key things that are a lesson for us.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about Barnabus selling his field and bringing the money to the apostles to help those in need in the church? The reference was Acts 4:36-37, and I quoted a preacher and commentator Lloyd Ogilvie who said this:

In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.

Well I promised more about Barnabus – today’s the day:-)

Barnabus is thrilled with what he sees in Antioch. What does he do? He fetches Saul (whom we know as Paul) from Tarsus.

What you may know is that this son of encouragement had encountered Saul earlier.

After Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he shows up in the Christian community. (Acts 9)

You can imagine their suspicions of him – Saul persecuted them and is now a Christian preacher. Here’s the story from Acts 9:20 when Paul arrives in Damascus and after Ananias prays for him and the scales fall off his eyes (he was temporarily blinded on the road) and he is baptised:

  • Act 9:20  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Act 9:21  All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
  • Act 9:22  Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

The story is hectic. Some Jews plot to kill him. But he is smuggled out of the city in a basket through an opening in the wall (Acts 9:25). You can see the early Ian Fleming novels beginning here (the author of James Bond!).

He goes to Jerusalem. There too the Christians are less than thrilled to have him around. (Trust issues don’t you think? You get this in all organisations and in families.)

Guess who shows up and rescues his reputation – saving the day for the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom principles of truth and grace? Barnabus of course. We read in Acts 9:27 and 28:

  • Act 9:27  But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
  • Act 9:28  So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Barnabus the encourager – filled with the spirit of truth – stands for truth – advocating for Saul (or Paul as he becomes known).

It doesn’t last long though. We read in Acts 9:29 – He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. So they get him out of there and off to Tarsus his home town.

So here it is – in overview. Barnabus, the son of encouragement:

  • Barnabus the one who listens to the Holy Spirit and liquidates an asset to help the church – so that there are no needy people among them.
  • Barnabus who advocates for Paul the converted persecutor.
  • Barnabus who is sent to Antioch to check out this new multicultural church – and who fetches Saul from Tarsus to come and teach the new church – because he knows Saul has more to offer as a teacher.

What an encouraging man!

So when there is a famine as we read in the last part of our reading from Acts 11 – who do they get to help?

Listen again:

  • Act 11:27  During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.
  • Act 11:28  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)
  • Act 11:29  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.
  • Act 11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Here’s the key verse: Act 11:29  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.

And Barnabus and Saul take the gifts to the elders of the church in Judea.

The modern Barnabus Fund encourages the church throughout the world, especially those who are persecuted. If figures that when the church is persecuted physical needs are part of the equation. Our gifts – according to our abilities – with our prayers – will help our brothers wherever the need is.

Persecution is not an exception or a modern scourge alone. It’s been there since the beginning. Did you pick up the links in the readings?

The Gospel reading speaks volumes. We’re all at risk of falling away.

  • Mat 13:18  “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:
  • Mat 13:19  When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
  • Mat 13:20  The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.
  • Mat 13:21  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.
  • Mat 13:22  The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
  • Mat 13:23  But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Are you a field – or ground or soil that is rocky, or beset with thorns? It’s about the word (v 21).

If the word of God is not planted and rooted well in you and me, we too could fall away when we face trouble or persecution, says Jesus. (Verse 21).

And of course the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. (Verse 22).

Choke what? The life of the word of God which is planted in our lives.

The parable of the sower is actually the parable of the soils. It’s about us!

How much more should we not pray for those whose lives are threatened because they are Christians and help them according to our ability!

We need to be encouragers!

  • Generous here at BBP so that no one in our midst is in need.
  • Truthful – sticking up for others who are maligned because of their reputation like Saul of Tarsus.
  • Willing to see the good in every new situation like Barnabus visiting the church in Antioch.
  • Honest – when we need help and invite others to support us in our work because of their gifts that are stronger than ours – like Barnabus who fetched Saul to help the church.
  • And willing to go the extra mile – like Barnabus and Saul – to take our gifts to those in need like the Christians who were suffering because of the famine.
  • And of course to give according to our ability as they all did for Christians in need. Paul of course emphasises this in his letter to the Galatians in chapter 6: Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Our other reading today from Hebrews 10 is one of the most powerful and inspiring passages of Scripture. And when it comes to encouraging one another there’s not much that beats Hebrews 10:23-26:

  • Exhortations: Heb 10:23  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
  • Heb 10:24  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
  • Heb 10:25  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These are the great ‘Let us…” and “Let us not…” lines – about holding on to the hope we profess – about spurring one other on towards love and good deeds – and especially the one trap that we fall into when things are hard – we stop meeting together.

Story – 19th century Baptist — Spurgeon once visited a man who had stopped coming to worship. He tried to explain the need to hang in there to the man, but words didn’t work. So he said: “it’s like this”. He took a red-hot coal from the fire and placed it on the side of the hearth. It grew cold and black. Then he took the tongs and placed the piece of coal back in the fire – and it grew hot and glowed red again.

We need to encourage each other in all these things!

And let’s face it – our reasons for giving up are often not really as bad as having a gun at our heads with our lives threatened if we are Christ’s followers. Or being buried up to our heads and then stoned to death like a Pastor’s daughter Monica we read about in the Barnabus Fund magazine.

Listen again to the last lines of the reading from Hebrews 10:

  • Heb 10:32  Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
  • Heb 10:33  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.
  • Heb 10:34  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
  • Heb 10:35  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
  • Heb 10:36  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Let’s help the persecuted Church persevere. And let’s not give up on our journey either.

Amen.

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Posted on October 14, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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