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Sunday sermon 27 September 2015 – Loyal Encourager

Readings: Acts 4:23-37; Romans 15:1-7; John 14:25-27;

MESSAGE

  1. Are you a son/daughter of encouragement? 

There are many Bible people – like Barnabus (Acts 4:36), Tychicus (Acts 13:15; 20:2) and others, who are very encouraging people. Barnabus gets our main attention today. Luke introduces him in the reading from Acts 4:

Act 4:36  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), Act 4:37  sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabus’ name means “son of prophecy” in Aramaic. In Luke’s Greek it becomes “son of encouragement”.

Lloyd Ogilvie, during his tenure as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California (a church noted for more than half a century as a centre for biblical preaching and exposition) writes this in his commentary on Acts:

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.

I think one of our home groups should be telling the story of Barnabus. They have been studying him in detail.

My attention to him is with mixed motives. I want us to be like him – yes. But I also would like us to understand the significance of groups that use his name – like the Barnabus Fund – as we approach our World Mission Sunday focussing on the persecuted church around the world.

This man is Joses – or Joseph. He is from Cyprus where there was a colony of Jews. A Levite. And a cousin of John Mark – so he had connections in the Jerusalem church. (Mark was mentored by Peter of course).

Ogilvie suggests that if Joses aka Joseph from Cyprus, names Barnabus by the apostles, would have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or at least after that when the Holy Spirit came in power. His life was changed. By the Holy Spirit – became committed in full to God’s work – hence his generosity. (Churches today that give, give fully in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a passion for God’s work!).

Here’s the wonderful thing.

I wonder if you picked up on the link between the readings today?

Lurking beneath the words in English (and not beneath the surface of our murky dams that we spoke about last week) – are treasures and gems.

Encouragement is a key word in the reading from Acts and Romans. In Acts 4 we are introduced to Barnabus. In Romans 15 encouragement comes from God – with endurance – in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of unity amongst the Roman believers.

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus

The Gospel passage is the one in which the word treasures are hidden!

Listen again:

Joh 14:25  “All this I have spoken while still with you. Joh 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

So what is the link?

  • Yes – peace is encouraging.
  • Not letting your hearts be troubled is an encouragement to be steady in faith and feelings.
  • The power word?

Verse 26. the Counsellor.

Here’s the lovely truth. Ogilvie puts it best really:

The apostles, who spoke Aramaic, named him Barnabas. The name is power-packed, having the meaning “son of prophecy,” from bar, “son of,” combined with nebū‘ā, “prophecy.” Some scholars have given it a slightly different emphasis, “son of refreshment.” In Luke’s Greek, however, we have the reflection not just of translation into another language, but the intimate personal observation by the physician of Joses of Cyprus. In a powerful parenthesis, Luke uses huiòs paraklḗseōs, which can be rendered “son of consolation, exhortation, or encouragement.” It is exciting to understand that the same basic word was used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Joh_14:16-18).

In this case the Greek word for “Helper,” or as it is in the RSV “Counselor,” paráklētos, means one who is called to one’s side to help who strengthens and helps us to stand. Joses had clearly displayed inherent inclination toward being that kind of person.

huiòs paraklḗseōs and paráklētos are the two key words.

Barnabus got his name because he was emulating the work of the Comforter – the helper – the Holy Spirit. He was empowered by the spirit! Clearly!

And of course it’s not a trick. Comfort and encourage are very close to each other in meaning.

  • Encourage from French into Middle English. It means to “make strong” or “hearten”. Or to put in courage! To spur on. To help.
  • Comfort is stolen from Latin. Com-forte means to strengthen much! Fortis is Latin for strong! Forte is the Italian term for loud or strong in music! (Piano means soft! Pianoforte means a soft loud – as it has a pedal I suppose!)

Encouraging people come along side you and sustain, strengthen and uplift you.

Is that you? Am I always like that? Great questions.

We will revisit Barnabus again. I encourage you (in the very ordinary sense of urge, prompt and suggest to you) that you look him up in your bibles through the week.

For today a couple of important matters.  Are you a son/daughter of encouragement – was our first question or point today.

The second is this – how do we become like this? Point 2 is simple – the Bible and encouragement.

  1. The bible and encouragement

Listen to Romans 15 again – in case you missed it. We focussed on verse 5. Listen to verse 4 again:

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

You can’t be encouraging unless you know the truths of scripture. Like you can’t know God’s character without knowing your bible – and you can’t get to know and trust God without knowing his character!

The endurance and ENCOURAGEMENT of the Scriptures brings hope!

Barnabus’ name is close to the name of the Holy Spirit – and the two go hand in in hand – the Bible, the word of God, and the work of the Spirit!

Here’s a good biblical reason to illustrate that they are two sides of the same coin.

Letting the Word of God make its home in us, and being filled with the Spirit!

Two of Paul’s letters show this clearly. Colossians and Ephesians.

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col 3:17  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 Eph 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:19  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The outcome of the input of both word and Spirit is worship, praise and thanksgiving and gratitude.

And people like that are very encouraging to have around.

A further thought today about people who are like God and speak God’s word to us in a prophetic sense. And so our third point:

  1. Prophecy

We saw that Barnabus in Aramaic meant “son of prophecy”.

It’s interesting that prophecy is the most desirable gift in 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not like the Old Testament prophets’ way. Paul writes this;

1 Corinthians 14:3 – But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

God wants to speak into our lives  – through his word, his Spirit, and the proclamation of preaching and prophecy (or prophetic preaching) to build us up.

We need to be strong. The battle is tough!  How much more for the persecuted church!

But finally, our last point:

  1. God and Jesus encourage us.

If figures really. The Holy Spirit the comforter/encourager is just like them!

Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians: 2Th 2:16  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 2Th 2:17  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

What a lovely blessing!  

Lloyd Ogilvie shares about the Barnabus name again in this way. A good way to end our thoughts today: He talks about Luke – and suggests that Luke may have known Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or heard him dictate it and understood his desire for the church to be like Christ in chapter 4. He says this of this passage: “It is a charter and guide for a challenging Order of Saint Barnabas in any congregation today.”

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph_4:1-3, Eph_4:30-32).

He concludes: “ Only the indwelling Lord could produce an affirmer and encourager like Barnabas. And it all was focused in his stable loyalty to the Lord, to his friends, and to new believers. What would we do without the Barnabases? And with the Paraklētos in us, can’t we go beyond just emulating Barnabas, and become the Lord’s own unique miracle of an encourager? Whatever our name is now, it can be loyal encourager.”

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 16 December – Tidings of comfort and joy

Readings: Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Here we are in the middle of Advent – on the Sunday where the theme is JOY – and we have enjoyed an amazing modern yet traditional children’s pageant.They told the Christmas story using borrowed adults from the congregation as actors and had angels prompting four different parts of the audience to call out at key moments in the tale. What a wonderful time. Every time we heard the word “angel” our sector leapt up and cried out “glory to God”. You get the idea! Great to see everyone having so much fun in celebrating this old old story.

And then the story “Annie’s Treasure” followed – for our little ones and oldies to enjoy together. The Gospel of Jesus the baby in the nativity scene with scarred marked hands. Jesus the boy whose birth we celebrate with joy – who was Jesus the crucified suffering God.

The candle for this Sunday in Lent is pink – while all the others are purple. Pink represents joy and reminds of times when people were more austere during Lent and not very festive. The pink candle let them off the hook, if you like.

Tidings of comfort and joy are desperately needed by so many at this time. For the families of those tragically killed in Connecticut, the happiness of the season is horribly marred with terrible shock, horror and grief. Such depth of comfort is needed.

Of course each day tragedies unfold around the globe, especially where little ones and innocent mums suffer from the ravages of war and terror. Perhaps we are immune to the endless bad news that we see on TV each day.

One has to say again that JOY is a far cry from the Happy Christmas that so many seek. Joy and the biblical idea of rejoicing is really deeper, richer and wider. It is so profound that Paul captures some of this sense when he writes in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

For those in the depths of despair and grief at this time, the Lord is at hand too and only He in time can help them to deal with their pain. They may, in time, find the peace of God through prayer and petition. So too we in our anxiety need to look to Him for peace. So many people face illness, loneliness through bereavement, and real need at Christmas. We continue to love them and pray for them. I encourage you to take some time to visit them or give them a call.

John the Baptizer features again in the Gospel today, in a continuation of last week’s reading.  He continues to spell out the implications of his message calling for repentance in order to prepare the way for God to act. If people were to heed his message (in its practical applications of justice and sharing) there would be joy for many millions rather than the ongoing suffering we see. In verse 8 John bluntly declairs: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

And he continues in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

That would bring great joy to many if it were applied today. And John continues with clear instructions to tax collectors and soldiers that involve fair play and justice. For many that would bring great joy were such acts real in their lives.

Christian joy was something that came a lot later in the story. Yes there was rejoicing at His birth. But soon afterwards there was the “slaughter of the innocents” as the political ramifications of the birth of this King were played out by the paranoid King Herod the Great. There were weeping mothers on that day too. And years later after three years of powerful teaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ confrontation of the truth in the lives of the rich and powerful culmunated in his execution on Calvary (the hill of the skull). And of course John – this powerful preacher and prophet – had been executed by another of those in the Herod dynasty – Herod Antipas.

It is some time later – after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension – that this passage in Luke 3 begins to become a reality. In verses 15 and 16 we read these words: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The ultimate source of transforming power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – God in action in people making the life of Jesus real to them. It is no coincidence that the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 read, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (5:22). Joy is something that God works in us by His transforming Spirit. It seems clear that we can’t “cook these things up” on our own. The fruit of the Spirit makes real transformation possible. A few of these fruits of character in the mix and the world again would be a better place.

Last year around this time I wrote these words on a related theme. I would like to revisit these thoughts as they take us further:

During the week ahead I would ask you to read Luke 1:1-25. It’s the story of the conception of John who features so much in these Advent readings as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit on the infant John in his mother’s womb – before his birth – interests me. This man is anointed early on for his unique prophetic role in history. (Actually read the whole of Luke 1 as it explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary).

John lived a reclusive life and preached a tough message in a challenging context of an occupying force and religious leaders who had lost the plot. He was the last great prophet in that tradition. God raised him up in power and people repented of their sins.

Here’s a thought for you. You can sing the right songs – whatever that means for you – you can modernize or traditionalize your worship and church life. You can get it all right, so to speak, and have great sermons. You can run great programmes and do amazing things that bring delight to those who listen.

But there is no joy in what you do without the work of the Holy Spirit. The true joy is much wider and deeper – born out of a relationship of transformation by Jesus through the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that John was empowered from the beginning. And despite his destiny he persistently pointed to Jesus the greater one. He made it clear that he was not the light – Jesus was. How much more we as ministers, elders, youth leaders, children’s workers, and members of the church and all its organisations. We are not here for our own pleasure. We are called to point to Jesus, and to minister to the world – showing the light of Jesus with joy and integrity. We are to reflect his light and shine in our world – in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. Without His anointing we may miss God and miss the point of it all.

May the joy of Jesus become yours again! May we seek and experience the true anointing of the Holy Spirit in all we do.

Amen!