Matthew 10:5-16, Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3 [originally preached 12 June 2005]
Today is St. Barnabas. So, for today's entry, here's a sermon from the archives. Enjoy!
What we have before us is Jesus sending out the Twelve. He sends His disciples to preach a most joyous message: "The kingdom of heaven is near." "Joyous?" you say? Yes! This is the best news given for preaches to preach—the kingdom of heaven is near, that is to say, the Christ is come to take away the sins of the world.
But what we also have is a day set aside on the church calendar for the honor of Barnabas, a day to thank God for this servant and the service that he rendered to God. Nowhere in this morning's Gospel is Barnabas mentioned. In fact, he is not mentioned in any Gospel as being a follower of Jesus or a friend of one of the disciples. Just who is he?
Most Christians know him merely as a traveling companion of Paul. This morning's reading from Acts confirms this. But we also get more of a glimpse into who this Barnabas is. Before we examine that, however, let us acquaint ourselves with this man, this saint of God, from other portions of Acts.
Barnabas was a man properly named Joseph. He was surnamed Barnabas, a name that means Son of Encouragement. He was a Levite, a member of the Jewish class of priests. He was from Cyprus, an island just south of what is modern-day Turkey. He was an early convert to Christianity, perhaps he had followed Jesus around, but that is just speculation. He was most likely well-to-do, as he sold a field and gave the money to the infant Church to support Her poorer members.
And, as we have mentioned, he was a traveling companion of Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament. But, he was much more than that! After Saul's conversion, when the congregation in Jerusalem hesitated to receive him into their fellowship, it was Barnabas who spoke on his behalf and removed their fears. Later, he was sent to Antioch to encourage those who had converted to Christianity, and he went to Tarsus to bring Paul back with him—Paul was Barnabas' associate, the opposite as we often picture them. This is also evident in the fact that when He and Paul were in Lystra, the inhabitants wanted to worship the two, Barnabas as Jupiter, the chief god in the Latin pantheon, and Paul as Mercury, Jupiter's messenger. Eventually, though, Paul would assume the leadership mantle from Barnabas, and Barnabas would become the associate.
However, the important thing to note about Barnabas is that he is called an apostle, and rightly so. The term apostle is derived from a Greek word meaning sent. An apostle is one who is sent to proclaim a message. Recall these words from this morning's reading from Acts:
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Barnabas was sent with Saul to proclaim a message from God; he is an apostle.
Now, we have a detailed connection between Barnabas and the Twelve sent out in this morning's Gospel. Like the twelve, Barnabas is sent to proclaim the Gospel message: "The kingdom of heaven is near."
And, there are other instructions Jesus gives to His sent ones, His apostles. He instructs them to proclaim His word, not theirs, for one, but he also tells them not to take anything for their journey. And you can be sure they were told not to expect anything else along the way from these words:
Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Doesn't the Law always sound harsh when Jesus speaks it? Why, it was just two weeks ago when we heard Him say, "Away from me, you evildoers," to those who would not put His words into practice. Now, He pronounces judgment on those who will not receive His sent ones, saying that what Sodom and Gomorrah saw will pale in comparison to what they will see on the day of judgment.
You see, this is how things work, a progression if you will. To reject a sent one's words is to reject the sent one. To reject the sent one is to reject the one who sent Him. So, in rejecting an apostle, one is, in fact, rejecting Jesus Christ. And if you reject Jesus Christ, you have rejected the One who sent Him—God the Father. Or, if it suits you, hear it from the Word of God...from Matthew 10:40, "He who receives you, receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me." From Luke 10:16, "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." And, from John 5:24, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
So, He who rejects the message, "The kingdom of heaven is near," has, in fact, rejected the kingdom of heaven.
"But," you may say, "how can that message be rejected?" Aside from the arrogant retort, "No, it isn't," it would be to reject the word that usually accompanies the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near. From St. Mark's account of the sending out of the Twelve, this is that word: "Repent!" St. Mark tells us that the Twelve went out as Jesus directed them to preach that people should repent.
That was the message the Twelve carried with them as Jesus sent them out. That is the message that Barnabas carried with him as Jesus sent him out. And that is the message that Jesus' sent ones of today—his pastors—carry with them as they are sent out.
While the office of apostle has been closed—there are no longer eyewitnesses of the resurrection, nor anyone who discipled under them—there are still men whom God sends with the message, "Repent! The kingdom of heaven is near." And this is a message that is proclaimed here week after week.
You see, repentance is at the center of your life as a Christian. Scripture teaches two parts to repentance: contrition—sorrow for your sin—and faith—faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, a faith that indeed says Christ has redeemed you from your sin. Both parts are necessary. Contrition alone is not reciprocated with forgiveness; Judas was sorrowful, but he had no faith in Christ for the forgiveness of his sin—this sorrow leads to despair and death. On the other hand, faith without contrition is useless and a false confession. The false confession can be said like this: "I believe that Jesus is my Savior, but I don't have any sins to be saved from."
From this we can see that repentance is the work of Law and Gospel. The Law is preached to show you your sin, to bring you to contrition. The Gospel is then proclaimed, declaring that for Jesus' sake and by Jesus' blood you are redeemed from that sin and forgiven.
It follows, then, that to reject the sent one's message of repentance is to deny that you have any need to repent, to deny that you have any sin to repent of. And why not? No one likes to be told that they are sinners, no one likes to be shown their faults. In an attempt to preserve one's image—even self-image—it is very appealing to deny that one is a sinner. So, if you deny that you are a sinner, then also you deny that you need to repent of sin. But, if you deny that you need to repent of sin, you place yourself in a very dangerous position: forsaking your salvation. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so the Word of the Lord declares. To deny that you have sin to repent of is to declare that God's Word is wrong; you, therefore, no longer believe it to be true.
It must have been a horrible sight, if one could have seen it, as fire rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Far more horrible, I would imagine, to be caught in it. Still, there was time to repent as the burning sulfur fell upon those two perverted towns and avoid the curse of hell. Not so on the day of judgment for the one who repeatedly rejects the Word of God and the call to repent. It will be far worse for that person on the day of judgment than that day recorded in Genesis 19.
And so this message of repentance is declared to you every morning as we open our worship with the confession and absolution. The message of repentance is read from the Word of God from the lectern. And the same message of repentance is declared to you in every sermon preached from this pulpit. If we fail in any of these, then we have forsaken the sound teaching of Jesus and His apostles for our own devices, and we have forsaken our salvation.
It has been said by a wise friend of mine that a chief goal of a pastor is to teach the people how to die well. It is my job to prepare you for your death. We do not know the time or place of our death, but we will each die unless Christ first returns in glory. So, the message of repentance is proclaimed, because the kingdom of heaven is near. So, when it is time to "meet our maker"—either as we have died or when He has returned—it is only by repentance and the forgiveness of sins that we are fully prepared to do so.
And of course, with the message repentance is proclaimed the message that your sins are forgiven. That is the hope that we have in Christ. We preach repentance because we do not wish you to seek to justify those sins, but to confess them and receive the forgiveness that Christ Jesus has won for you by His passion, death, and resurrection.
That is means for rejoicing! The Lord Jesus Christ has been crucified for your sins, and He is now risen from the dead. He is ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, from where He sends faithful messengers to preach repentance and forgiveness, from where He intercedes for us before His Father, asking Him to forgive our sins for His sake, and from where He orders all things for the benefit of His Church. He has given you life and salvation in your Baptism. He sustains and strengthens you with His Word and Supper. He gladly comes to you now with forgiveness, in order that you can stand before Him with confidence on the day of judgment.
This, then, is our life and God's message. By the Law, we see our sin and our need for repentance. My message to you as His sent one is then to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! This is the joyful work of God the Holy Spirit in us, that we may have Life in Christ's name. In the Gospel, we are shown our Savior and the wonderful work of redemption He has accomplished. My message to you as His sent one is that He has lived the perfect life and taken your sin upon Himself; He has taken it to the cross to suffer your punishment and death and there destroyed your sin. This is the joyful work of God the Son for us, that we may have Life in His name. It is God the Father who has sent His Son to die for our sin, and it is God the Father and God the Son who has sent the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church through the message of repentance. He who receives this message receives the One who sent it, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it is because of this that I am privileged to have been sent here and proclaim to you that you are forgiven for all your sins.