The invitation that launched a ministry
Let me introduce you to one of the great mentors in the Bible:
Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated ‘Son of Encouragement’, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Barnabas shows up many times throughout the New Testament. He was always well respected, and he lived up to his nickname by encouraging others.
After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not everyone believed that he had really changed. Imagine if the top leader of ISIS, who had personally killed or imprisoned your friends and family, suddenly declared that he was now a believer. Wouldn’t you be nervous to have him over for dinner?
When [Saul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.
Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him. When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Saul was accepted by the disciples only after Barnabas vouched for him. However, soon after, the one who had once hunted believers was now being hunted for being a believer. They needed to get Saul to a safe place, so the disciples sent him far away to Tarsus, back to his hometown.
About a decade later, we find that the persecution of Christians which had begun under Saul was the driver for getting good news of salvation through Jesus to those outside of Jewish boarders.
Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
Then the report about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart – for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – and large numbers of people were added to the Lord.
It's what Barnabas does next that I find surprising: he leaves. In the middle of a great spiritual awakening in an important ancient city, Barnabas leaves the many to go find one man – Saul.
Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Tarsus was further out from Jerusalem than Antioch. Barnabas was willing to go out beyond his initial orders to find the man that he knew would be of great help to the newly formed church. The church in Antioch would also be an opportunity for Saul to grow personally and for him to learn to lead both Jews and Gentiles in their new Christ-focused lives.
The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch would prepare them for future missionary journeys throughout the known world. All because Barnabas invited Saul to participate.