BEHIND THE SCENE (Col.4: 10; Gal.2: 11-14; 1 Cor.9: 6; Ac. 1-15)
I am Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus. Through my cousin Mark and his family in Jerusalem, I had familiarized myself with the events surrounding Jesus. During this time, I became acquainted with some of His disciples. I too was in Jerusalem for the Passover and lived through Jesus’ final days and His resurrection from the dead. We were surrounded with a mysterious uncertainty. It changed suddenly when we had come to pray on Pentecost. The place shook and people began to come alive about Jesus. Most of these people were speaking in languages that were foreign to them. Men that hid from the authorities out of fear were fearless. Simon Peter defended the event as an act of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all of us and that it was the result of Jesus mission to Israel. From that day on, I became an intimate member of that group and did what I could to spread the message of Jesus our Lord and Savior, the Messiah or Christ.
At this time, I had no idea where and what my role would be. Being human and opportunistic, the power of the Holy Spirit got the best of some of the early followers. We had yet to learn that our bodies had to be subjected to the Spirit and that they were not exempt from persecution and death. Peter and John were miraculously delivered but Stephen and James Zebedee were not. Our Pentecostal experience reached a high point and then persecution began to reduce our numbers. Instead of moving away from Jerusalem, like our Lord had commanded, we stayed and expected His immediate return and snatch us up to be with Him. The result was that the members had stopped working and some were selling their belongings in anticipation of a departure from this world. To assist them, I too sold my holdings in Jerusalem. As time went by, we realized that we had misunderstood as to when Jesus was going to come back. This was where my Levite upbringing was helpful. Our Scriptures taught clearly that the Messiah was to be a light to the Gentiles. I began to comfort and encourage the followers of Jesus that began to doubt their own convictions. After this, they renamed me and called me Barnabas, Son of Consolation.
The congregation in Jerusalem consisted of three groups: Jesus original followers, Greek converts and Aramaic-speaking believers. The apostles or the twelve (Judas was replaced by Matthias in stead of me), appointed seven men to serve the congregation. One of them was Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. We became intimate friends. When Herod drove the Apostles from Jerusalem, Antioch had a substantial number of Jesus’ followers. I was sent to encourage them and turned them into Jewish Christians. These followers called themselves Christians. I realized quickly that the task for me was too much. Then I remembered Rabbi Paul, whom I had introduced to the Apostles, as one that could best serve these people. He had converted from a persecutor to an ardent follower of Jesus. We both had Hellenistic backgrounds and knowledge of our Hebrew Scriptures. My choice of Paul as a teacher became a turning point for Christians. Antioch became the home base from where Christ’s message could be spread. My cousin Mark, Paul and I convinced the Christian leaders in Jerusalem not to turn the Gentiles into Jews. Before that, the Antioch Christians felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to send a team out to evangelize. Paul, Mark and I became the first commissioned missionaries.
We were an unbelievable team. God’s Spirit had preceded us and prepared the crowds for the message. People were hungry for hope and redemption, but so was the opposition. Our first opponent was Elymus the sorcerer. Paul had to ask the Spirit to blind him. That did not please Mark and he left us. I too wondered whether Jesus would have done what Paul did? Paul regarded the act as necessary and it began to turn us into supper humans. In Derbe, Paul healed a crippled man and we were regarded as Zeus and Hermes. We tore our clothes to prove that we were human. Some Jews from Antioch and Iconium that hated Christians took advantage of our predicament. They stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city and left him for dead. They were too busy with Paul and did not get a chance to lay their hands on me. Paul was nurtured back by those that believed in Jesus and we continued on our mission more carefully. We had learned not to impress our presence with miracles but with the good news that Jesus had intended for us to deliver. Hereinafter, we encouraged the new believers and appointed elders to watch over them. Upon our return to Antioch, we invited the congregation to join us giving praise to God for including the Gentiles in His Kingdom of Heaven. We had learned that the road to salvation was marked with hardships and suffering. Many came to hear but few began to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Paul and I made one more attempt to be of comfort to the believers we had left behind on our first missionary journey. When Mark asked to be included, Paul was against it. Paul had a problem with accepting criticism and was rather stubborn to admit it. Down the road, I was able to reconcile the two. Mark became the first to write a simple account of Jesus that helped Paul’s written messages to the congregations. In the mean time, Paul chose Silas to join him and I chose Mark and we went our separate ways. Luke went with Paul and continued to report his progress. I was pleased that my choice of Paul to represent Christ to the Gentiles was so well received. I am convinced that it was the Holy Spirit that led me to this man, introduce to those first followers of Jesus, convinced him to become the teacher at Antioch that led the congregation to send us out as the first missionaries to the world. It was a rich reward for having been the man behind the scene.