Unsung Hero | Pastor Chris Pedro
Pastor Chris Pedro
My name is Chris Pedro, for those of you who don't know me. I know that might be a little bit confusing because, as most of you know, last weekend, we had our Lakewood Ranch, Pastor Chris Absher. He was also up here just a moment ago. He spoke. And so, you’ve got two campus pastor, both with the name Chris, and I promise you that wasn't done intentionally. I know it can be kind of confusing. Sometimes our staff gets mixed up. Sometimes some of you send me emails when you meant to send it to the other Chris, and vice versa. And so, just to make it easy, I always make some sort of reference or joke to the fact that I'm wearing skinny jeans. So, you can just go ahead and just call me “Chris with the skinny jeans.”
How about that? Sound good? So, hi, everybody. My name is Chris with the skinny jeans, and I am the Bee Ridge Campus pastor here at Grace. Thank you. But in all seriousness, it is really an honor and privilege. I don't get to preach often here at Lakewood Ranch, but when I do, I really do take it to heart, and I really do believe that God's got something for all of us this weekend. So, are you excited? Are you ready? Alright.
I want to start out by asking you a question. Who here has grown up playing a sport, or was maybe a part of a sports team? Anyone? Or maybe if it wasn't sports, maybe you participated in some type of organized competition. Right? I imagine a lot of us here in the room, or watching online, had participated in something like that. Now, do you remember — for some of you, it might have been a long time ago, but do you remember why you participated in that sport or that competition? Maybe it was because your parents made you. Maybe it was because it was a lot of fun. Maybe because you were good at it. Or maybe it was the only thing that would get you out of the house and off of the couch. Right?
So, we all have our myriad of different reasons why we played that sport or did that thing, but I suspect that there's one reason that we might not readily admit. Maybe it wasn't the main reason, but I suspect that we all wanted to win. Am I right? Come on. Be honest. You know you wanted to win. I mean, you didn't get your uniform on, and you didn't prepare, practice and train just so that you would show up and lose. You wanted to win. Or, at the very least, you wanted to be recognized for the part that you contributed to the team, or the part that you contributed to that competition.
Well, for me, I grew up playing soccer and basketball. I played soccer a lot longer than I played basketball, so that was my sport. I was pretty good at soccer. I switched schools later in high school, in my 11th grade year, and I played for this small Christian school. We were terrible. We didn't win a single game. And that was a really big disappointment because that was my game. That was my sport. But at least I had basketball. So, I was on this basketball team, and I wasn't the best player on the team, but man, I played like I wanted to be the best player. I mean, I was diving on the ground for the loose balls. I was trying to out-rebound people who are twice my size. I wasn't the flashiest player or the best scorer, but if I could get the ball to the guy who was going to score, I mean, I would do whatever it took because I wanted to win.
And so, at the end of the season — and if you were on a sports team, you probably were a part of something like this — we had a little award ceremony for the team. There were only a few trophies that they would give out, and the big one, the one that most people would look at, would've been the most valuable player trophy, or the MVP award. I probably wouldn't have admitted this to you back then, but I can be honest now. I really wanted the MVP trophy. I did. I mean, come on. We probably all want something like that. And if it sounds like I'm bragging, I promise you I'm not bragging because, at the end of the story, I didn't get the MVP trophy. Instead, I got this. I got the Unsung Hero Award. Now, some of you are laughing. Some of you say, “I have no idea what that is.”
And honestly, you shouldn't because I found out later that that's not really a real award. That's something that they happened to give to me that they maybe made up for me. I don't know. But what that is, the unsung hero, is exactly like what it sounds like. It's the hero who was unsung. It's the person that did a lot of good things, a lot of needed things, but it wasn't probably the most noticeable things.
In other words, I was being recognized for being unrecognizable. So, that's what I got. And if we're being honest, none of us want that. We'd much rather get the most valuable player, the player of the year, the rookie of the year, the best in show, or the gold or the silver. We'll even take the bronze. Heck, we might even take the most improved. But the unsung hero? Nobody wants that, but that's what I got.
But as I say unsung hero, most of us here can relate to feeling like an unsung hero or feeling like we're unnoticed. As a campus pastor, I talk to a lot of you, and I get to hear some of your stories of some of the things that you go through. I just want to put some statements up that I've heard over the last several months of some of the things that you've told me or something like this. And even if you weren't the one that said this, you can at least relate to or connect to some of these statements. But some of you have said something like this: “What I contribute isn't important. I mean, what I do, I'm not a big player. I can't do all these great things. I don't have a lot of skill. I can just do the small part, but sometimes I feel like it's not really that important, and I feel kind of like an unsung hero.”
Or maybe you can relate to this: “No one really appreciates me. I mean, I work really hard. I bust my butt to do this and to do that, but yet I feel overlooked, I feel unnoticed, and I feel like an unsung hero.”
Or maybe this next statement. It’s probably one of the biggest things that I've heard, and I want to just kind of camp out here in this one for a second. But some of you have said, “I'm not good enough. I'm not good enough for this place, or I'm not good enough for this position. I'm not good enough for those people, or I'm not good enough compared to that person.”
And so, we live here. And some of you who are older, maybe you're saying, “Yeah, I hear you. That sounds like a young person thing because when you get to my age, you just have wisdom coming out of your belly button. And, you know, you realize that doesn't really matter, feeling good enough.”
And, on one hand, that might be true, but I imagine that there's some of you who are a little bit older, and maybe you're holding on to some things. Like, maybe you weren't a good enough parent. Maybe you did the best that you could with the tools that you had, and now that your kids are getting older, and maybe they're becoming parents, you're being told about all the ways you messed up as a parent, or all the ways you hurt your kid. Or maybe, for some of you, you had, in your career, these goals that you wanted to accomplish. And you've gone out, you set forth and did all these things that you wanted to do, but yet, you never got that job, that dream job, that you hoped for. Maybe your boss never recognized you. Maybe you never got those accolades or those promotions that you wanted. Maybe your peers never recognized you, or your family didn't appreciate you.
So, you did all these great things, you felt like you put your heart into it, and yet here you are feeling like an unsung hero, unnoticed for the things that you've done.
So, a lot of us were here. “I'm not good enough.” And then it leaves us feeling like we're insecure, or feeling like we're stuck in moments of indecision, or maybe we've got anxiety, or maybe even depression. And so, we say, “Okay. Well then, let's go into the Bible and see what the Bible has to say,” and we'll read about people like David, Moses, Joseph, Noah, Paul, Peter and Abraham, and we're like, “Wow, look at these heroes of our faith.”
And we go into passages of scripture like Hebrews 11, which is dubbed as the Hall of Faith, and it talks about all these great people from the Old Testament that did these awesome things for the Lord. And yet, you and I, we don't feel like that because we're not leading thousands of people through the Red Sea. We're not slinging rocks at giants. We're not starting new nations. We’re not starting new churches and new cities. No. Most of us are just working a nine to five job. Most of us are just trying to make a living. We're trying to raise our kids. We're trying to get good grades in school, trying to graduate, and just be good, decent people. And so, we read through the Bible, and we feel even more like unsung heroes against the heroes of scripture.
But what about the unsung heroes of the Bible? We don't always pay attention to them. Sometimes we're reading through scripture, we go through the text, and we remember the heroes, but we totally forget about the unsung heroes because, sometimes, some of the people that made the biggest difference in scripture, they didn't get the glory. In fact, sometimes their names weren't even mentioned. And so, what I want to do this week is I want to look at a specific biblical example of an unsung hero, and that person is none other than the man named Barnabas.
Now, when I mentioned Barnabas just now, some of you said, “I have no idea who that is,” and that's okay. Some of you might have said, “I've heard the name Barnabas, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about him.” And some of you, maybe you know who Barnabas is, or at least a part of a story. But I want to talk about Barnabas. Now, in actuality, Barnabas may have not really been viewed as an unsung hero in his time. In fact, what we're going to see here, in just a moment, is that he did a lot of awesome things for the early Church. He was a New Testament apostle. He was an early church leader. He was a missionary. But what he's most known for is being a contemporary of the Apostle Paul. But in many ways, he would've been hidden in Paul's shadow because, even as I just said Paul, most of you, if not every single one of you have heard of Paul before. I mean, he's probably one of the most preached people in the American Church. He's written most of the New Testament. When you read about his story in the book of Acts, he takes up more than half of the book of Acts. Whereas Barnabas, in contrast, only shows up for just a small, few snippets of the book of Acts. Just a few vignettes.
And so, what I want to do is I want to look at these snippets, and what we can learn from Barnabas. How can he encourage you and I when we feel like unsung heroes? So, we're going to dig into the book of Acts, but before we jump in, I want to make sure that I'm providing good context and that I'm setting the scene up properly. So, when you read Acts, Acts is just a part of a two-part series. That would be coupled with the book of Luke. The Gospel of Luke. And so, what Luke does is he wrote Luke, and he wrote Acts. In his gospel, he tells us what Jesus began to do and to teach. And then Acts is telling us what the risen Jesus continues to do and to teach through His Spirit. And He, primarily, is accomplishing this through the works or through the acts of the Apostles, which are the early day Christians.
And so, Luke has done a lot. He's done a lot of the legwork for you and I so that he can narrate the discussion, the development and even some of the dissension surrounding the spread of the early Church and the preaching of Jesus. And so, when we jump into Acts, we start off in the beginning and we learn that Jesus has risen from the dead, and He gives His final instructions to His disciples, and then He ascends to heaven. And then, in Acts 2, the disciples experience Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and now the Church is growing.
But in the midst of this growth, they experience this opposition and these threats from the surrounding religious leaders. And so, how is the Church going to respond? Well, Peter, who's one of the leaders of the Church, responds by praying for boldness. Boldness to be able to preach the Word. And many of you who were here remember Pastor Chip did an amazing sermon series at the beginning of this year called Bold. And if you missed it, or if you weren't here, I really, really encourage you to go back and take a listen to that sermon series. But that's what Peter does. He prays for boldness. And so, how does the Church then, practically, respond to all these threats and this opposition? They respond by being generous.
I mean, we talk about being intentional neighbors here. This is what the Church was doing here in Acts 4. And so, Luke is going to highlight one specific apostle, one specific person, who exemplifies this movement of generosity, and that's going to be Barnabas. So, we're going to jump in here in Acts 4.
“Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement) was a Levite, a native of Cyprus,”
So, here is our introduction to this guy named Barnabas. So, first of all, his name isn't even Barnabas. His name is Joseph, which none of us really ever remember. We remember him for his nickname, which is Barnabas, meaning son of encouragement. And we're going to find out why he was called son of encouragement in just a moment. But the fact that he was a Levite, or the fact that he was from Cyprus, is telling us that he was probably wealthy, he's probably well-educated, and he probably was a man of influence. So, what is a man like this going to do? We’re told that he sells a field that belonged to him, and he brings the money and lays it at the apostles’ feet.
Now, many disciples sold what they had during this powerful movement within the early growing Church, but Luke singles out Barnabas who seems to stand out among the rest. And it's interesting that he uses Barnabas here, at the end of Acts 4, because the next section of scripture in Acts 5, what Luke's going to do is he's going to use a contrasting example of generosity with Ananias and Sapphira because they didn't exemplify generosity. They withheld from the Lord. And because of that, they end up dying. And so, this is Barnabas. This is his introduction. He is an encourager, and he's doing that by being generous.
So, that's our introduction. We're going to skip ahead to our next section of scripture where we see who this guy named Barnabas is. But before we get to that next part, I have to stop at Acts 7 because something really big happens here. This is a really big part of Acts. So, if you miss this, you might miss some of the rest of what's going on. We're told about the infamous stoning of the Apostle Stephen.
Stephen was an apostle, and because of him being stoned, now the Church is experiencing persecution. And so, the believers are being scattered among the land, and they're preaching. So, the scattering, on one hand, is a negative thing, but, on the other hand, it ends up being a positive thing because it's causing the gospel to spread. But the person that's mainly persecuting the Church is none other than the man named Saul. And so, we come to Acts 9 and Jesus shows up on the scene and confronts Saul directly. He says, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
And then we have this amazing story of this guy named Saul who was this persecutor, and he ends up having this conversion with Jesus, and it's beautiful. He was this persecutor, but now he's on fire for Jesus, and he's preaching boldly.
It's an amazing testimony. And this is the same Saul who we have come to know as the Apostle Paul. And I know that that can be confusing sometimes because I might say Saul, or I might say Paul. It's kind of like how we have two Chrises on staff, both with the same name, and we get confused by that. But it's not meant to be confusing. Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul is meant to be his Roman name.
So, we have Saul or Paul who is now on fire for Jesus, and he's now going to come to the church in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where the epicenter of this Christian movement is all taking place. So, here we are. Saul is showing up in Jerusalem.
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him,”
I mean, wouldn't you be? Imagine. This is the guy who's been after all of our heads. We’re here trying to do the church thing, and he's coming after you. Maybe he's come after you personally. Maybe he's forced you to move to another area. Maybe he even took out some of your friends, some of the people that you know and love, and here he is, showing up, saying, “Hey, guys. I'm on your team now.”
Would you believe that? Probably not. In fact, the disciples say they didn't believe that he was a disciple. They were fearful of this guy. Nobody was going to believe him. But Luke tells us that one person did.
“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the disciples…”
Of all the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas alone was the one willing to embrace Saul and recognize the work that God had been doing in his life. And maybe it was because they had known each other before and they had some sort of precursory trust. Maybe it was because Barnabas was there for a part of his conversion story. We honestly don't know. But the truth is we don't need to invent some sort of hidden reason why Barnabas would've befriended Saul because this is just who he was. He was an encourager, and he encouraged everybody around him. And so, Barnabas is convinced that Paul or Saul's conversion is genuine, and because of that, Barnabas declared to the disciples how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
So, he was convinced that it was genuine, and now Barnabas is bringing Saul to the apostles. He's introduced him, and what he's doing is beautiful. He's showing up as an encourager, as a mediator, as a reconciler in order to bring Saul and his former victims together. That's what this encourager does. In fact, I would even go as far as to say this: Without Barnabas, there might not even have been in Apostle Paul. Because if it wasn't for this moment, if it wasn't for this uniting of the fact that Saul is showing up here at the epicenter of the Christian movement, who knows what could have happened? Who knows if Saul or Paul would've been able to go on and do the things that God had called him to do. Now, is God sovereign? Of course he is. And could God have used someone else? Of course He could have. Could He have done something else? He could have, but we're not told that. What we're told in the texts is that God used Barnabas, and Barnabas is doing exactly what he always does, which is to encourage people. And so, because of that, what happens?
“So Saul went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.”
And in that phrase, “preaching boldly,” the Greek verb that's used here echoes the same Greek noun that was used in Acts 4 when Peter had prayed for boldness, that they would be able to preach boldly. So, this whole account serves as an answer to Peter's prayer, and Barnabas was a part of it. So, we see at the end of this chapter, in Acts 9:31, that the Lord is still on the move through the Holy Spirit, and the Church continues to multiply here in Jerusalem.
Okay? And we're going to look at one final snippet here in Acts. We're going to skip to Acts 11. Now, when we skip to Acts 11, what Luke is doing is he's actually going back in time to the stoning of Stephen. So, Stephen was stoned in Acts 7, and because of that we get to Acts 8 where they're now preaching, particularly in Jerusalem, and they're reaching the Jews. So, Acts 11 is almost as if he's saying, “Meanwhile.”
We're going to see a new city, and we're going to see that they're preaching to a new group of people.
It says, “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.”
And again, those highlighted words are the same words that he used in Acts 8, which is what he's trying to say. He's saying that this is exactly the same thing that we saw before.
But this time, Acts 11:20: “…there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene,”
So, we're not even told their names. I mean, speaking of unsung heroes, these are some unnamed men from these places that. What are they doing?
“…who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also,”
That would've been the Greek-speaking Gentiles.
“…preaching the Lord Jesus.”
So, we've got these unnamed men who are just on fire for Jesus, and they're spreading the word here in this new city of Antioch. And if you know anything about your church history, you would know that Antioch, with the exception of Jerusalem, no other city has played as central of a role in the early life of Christianity as this particular church, Antioch of Syria.
So, this is a big deal, and what we're being told is that Antioch is going to have a massive role in the unveiling of Christianity through the rest of the book of Acts. So, what happens here?
“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem,”
So, we’ve got the Church growing quickly here in Antioch. And Jerusalem who, again, was the epicenter of the Christian movement of the time, are providing oversight over what's going on and trying to make sure that this Christian thing is still going the same way and it's not becoming another religion. And so, what are they going to do? I mean, we've got this growing church. We need someone to help oversee this. So, who are they going to send to Antioch? They sent Barnabas to Antioch. Of all the other apostles that they could have sent, they send this guy. I mean, that must have shown something about this unsung hero that you and I forget about. He must have had some sort of high standing, an ability, or some sort of character. What does Barnabas do when he gets there?
“When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
He does what he always does. He encouraged. He exhorted. I mean, this is who he is. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And I don't know about you, but when I am on the other side of glory and I meet Jesus face to face, I hope that I get said something even close to this, like Barnabas, that he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith.
“And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
So, here we are. We're in Antioch. The Church is growing, and it's growing quickly. And if you know anything about Antioch, Antioch had probably around a population of 400,000 to 600,000 around this time, and this would've been a multi-ethnic mix of different western and eastern cultures. I mean, we're talking Persian, Arab, Grecian, Roman, Semitic influences, all just intermingling together. In fact, the Jewish population probably would've been in the minority, and the Jewish people were the ones who, mainly, were the Christians at the time. So, now we've got a bunch of new groups of people, all with different backgrounds, different world views, and all these different perspectives.
So, the church is growing here. There would've likely been doctrinal questions, administrative concerns, and many of the same church growth problems that we see here, today, in America. Maybe even more so. So, how is Barnabas going to oversee this and administrate this? How is he going to handle it? Well, what does he do?
“So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.”
And here we have, for the second time now, that Barnabas serves as a bridge to help Saul get connected to other believers. And although we don't know the exact reason why Barnabas went to Saul and brought him back to Antioch, it reveals something about Barnabas. It reveals his humility, it reveals his ability to recognize his own limits, and it shows us his heart and his attitude towards others. And so, Saul and Barnabas, what do they do?
“For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And [it was here] in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
They're doing their thing, they're preaching, they're teaching. I mean, they're changing lives. And we find out, just a few verses later, that they're doing what they were doing back in Acts 4. They're just giving to people, being generous, and serving people who are in need. I mean, a lot of you have been helping out with a lot of the things we've been doing at Bee Ridge with the hurricane relief. I mean, some of that's the exact same stuff that they were doing. They were being intentional neighbors. They were just being the Church. And because of that, all the people who were watching, they're saying, “You see these guys? They're not all Jewish. They're a bunch of different people. A melting pot of different people all saying that they're following this Jesus Christ guy. I mean, they're just being decent folks. I don't know. We should start calling them something. I guess we should call them Christ followers.”
And it's here that they're given the title “Christian,” which is what you and I still ascribe to today. But Barnabas was there to oversee this growing Church, and he willingly recruits Saul, this emerging apostle, this person that might one day surpass him. Barnabas didn't feel the need to project his own self-worth or prove himself to anyone, but this is who he was. And so, the last piece of text, where we really get the main view of who Barnabas was, is Acts 13-15, where Paul and Barnabas go on this great missionary journey. They do some really awesome things, and it's really cool to read through. And then, at the end of that missionary journey, they prepared to go on a second missionary journey. However, this time they come to a sharp disagreement, and it's over a man named John Mark.
The problem is that on the first missionary journey, John Mark was with them, and he abandoned them. He just left them in the middle of the journey. And so, Paul's going, “Hey, John Mark, he is not fit for ministry. He's not coming with us.”
And Barnabas, again, being the encourager that he is, says, “Hey, God's not done with John Mark. He's coming with us. He's got to come with us.”
And so, they have this sharp disagreement, and they end up splitting ways and going their different directions. Barnabas and John Mark go on one journey. Paul and another apostle named Silas go on a second journey. Luke follows the story of Paul, so we really don't know too much about what happens with Barnabas after this. But they’re amazing testimonies, some of these things that Barnabas walked through.
But what I want to do is we've looked at this unsung hero, and sometimes we feel like we're unrecognized. Sometimes we feel like unsung heroes. So, what are some biblical principles that you and I can walk away with, that we can take home with us as we move out of here? The first thing is this: Who we are ought to precede what we do. And here's what I mean by that. If we're being honest, we're all byproducts of our society. And in our society, we focus so much on what we do.
“How was your day?”
“Well, I did this, I did this, or I didn't do that, I didn't do that.”
And so, that's how your day was. That's how your day is defined. It's by what you produce or what you don't produce. In fact, so much so that we are defined by what we do or don't do. Our identity becomes what we've accomplished. And the question that we ought to be asking ourselves when we read through the Bible, or when we read through passages like this is, “Is that the way that God sees us? Should we be identifying ourselves by the way in which we do things or the amount of things that we got done?”
Because when I look at Barnabas, I don't know if that's exactly how he was defined. I mean, what are we told about Barnabas we're told that he was a son of encouragement. In fact, his name wasn't even Barnabas. His name was Joseph, but you and I don't even remember that. The disciples or the apostles said, “Hey, this guy is such an encourager, he's such an exhorter, that we ought to just start calling this guy son of encouragement. We ought to just start calling this guy Barnabas.”
And then every time he shows up on this scene, what do we see Barnabas doing? We see him encouraging. Here's everything that we just read. What does Barnabas do in Acts 4? He encourages by selling his estate in Cyprus to give to people in need. What does he do in Acts 9? He encourages by advocating for Saul when nobody else cares to listen to his story or believe him for what God's done in his life. What does he do in Acts 11 when the Antioch Church is growing? He stands out there and he encourages them to remain faithful. And then, a few verses later, what does he do? He encourages Saul by bringing him into the ministry and being a part of what God's doing. What does he do in Acts 15? He stands by John Mark when Paul says, “No, he's not fit for ministry.”
And just a quick, little side note on that. For those of you who know your Bible, at that part where they were disagreeing, that was kind of earlier in Paul's journey. And then at the end of his life, when he writes the letter to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4, what does Paul say? He says, “Hey, Timothy. Go get John Mark because he's useful for me in ministry.”
See, Barnabas knew something that maybe Paul didn't in that moment in Paul's ministry. But this is what Barnabas did. I mean, he was an encourager. He wasn't defined by his accolades, he wasn't focused on his comparison with other apostles, such as someone as great as Paul. He was an encourager. And sometimes you and I, we focus on what we produce, or we focus on what we accomplish instead of who Jesus has called you and I to be. Because in Christ, the reality is that we all have a new identity and a new name. And I really don't want you to mishear me. Please don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that we should sit around and wait for God to give us our new name before we go and do anything or before we go and serve because that's just paralysis by analysis. I mean, even Jesus would send out his disciples before they were “ready.”
But what I'm talking about is some of us who feel like we're unsung heroes or that we may be focused on the wrong thing, it's probably because we're focused more on what we do rather than who we are. And what I want to submit to you, this weekend, is that what we do should flow from who we are. And that's not true just on an individual level. That's true on a corporate level. That's true in a general sense. If you have decided to follow Jesus, if you are a Christian, then who you are is a Christ-follower first. Pastor Chip has said this, and I've quoted him a few times, and I will continue to quote it because it is such a good reminder for you and I.
He said this: “The goal and aim of every Christian is to be conformed to the image or the likeness of Christ.”
That's our goal. That's what we're here to do. It's exactly what Paul says in Philippians 1 when he says that Jesus is doing a work in you and I, and it won't be completed until the day that Jesus comes back. And so, the question that I think you and I are left with, the question that I want to submit to you to ask, maybe when you go home, is this: “Lord, where do I find my identity? Do I find my identity in what I do, or do I identify myself Second thing. And before I put it up on the screen, I really want you to hear me. I'm not trying to be mean. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad. I'm not trying to condemn you. None of us get it all right. We're all works. We're all growing. But I think sometimes when we come to passages like we looked at, when we read through the Bible, we're hit with something that's kind of counter-cultural to what we might typically do or how we typically think. And that thought or idea is this: “Sometimes we just need to be reminded that it's not about us.”
It's not about me. It's not about you. Right? I mean, this is something that God has been wrestling me with in my life. He's been wrestling me with this, but we can see that with Barnabas, Barnabas was willing to put his neck on the line for Saul.
We see this in Acts 9. When the other apostles didn't believe him, Barnabas stood up for Saul, and he brings Saul to be united with the other believers in Jerusalem. Barnabas didn't care to guard his reputation. He didn't fear what was going to happen in terms of his reputation or his popularity. No. He gave. He wasn't worried about getting. And then later, in Acts 11, he could have puffed out his chest and said, “I’m going to figure how to do this Antioch Church thing on my own.”
What does he do? He goes and grabs Saul and brings him into the work. And if I could ask you if you knew that this person, Paul, who is new, emerging leader, who is probably going to be better than you, and God was calling you to be a Barnabas to this Paul, would you accept that call?
See, all throughout these stories, Barnabas continues to put Saul first. He puts others first. He puts those who are in need first. He puts the Church first. He puts Jesus first, each and every time. In fact, I had a difficult time preparing this message because there's not much text to talk about Barnabas, and some of the stuff is a little abstract. I read commentaries, and everyone's kind of saying the same thing. And I thought, “Really, what can I share about Barnabas?”
And then I realized, at some point, maybe that is the whole point. Maybe the reason why Luke isn't so fixated on Barnabas is because it's not about Barnabas. Maybe the whole point of Acts is that it's really not even really about these disciples because there are so many times, whether we're talking about the Christians in Jerusalem or we're talking about the Christians in Antioch, that they're not even mentioned. I mean, we looked at Antioch where they talked about these guys that were just sharing the Gospel and the Church was growing, and we don't even know who they are.
This is what 19th century scholar F.W. Grant said about these unnamed Christians in Acts 11. He says this, “It is remarkable how officialism is discredited in all this. We do not know the name of a single person used in the work.”
And so, these 1st century Christians, it seems like they’ve got something that you and I forget from time to time., and that's this: The Christian life is not just the life of kindness, it's not just the life of sinlessness, but it's a life of surrender. They were able to say, “You know what? If Jesus got up from the grave, and if He is who He said He was, then game over. Nothing else matters. I'm all in. I'm all in. It's not about me.”
But sometimes we get so stuck in our feelings of being unsung heroes, and sometimes we get so stuck — and my notes are frozen and they're not moving now. I'm going to have to go without the notes, which is fine.
But sometimes we get so stuck in our feelings of being unsung heroes that, if we're being honest, we're focused on ourselves. I mean, look at the statements that I put up at the beginning.
“What I contribute isn’t important. No one appreciates me. I'm not good enough.”
And the question that we ought to ask ourselves is this: Where do I place my value? Where do I put my self-worth? Is it in what others say about me? Is it in how others look at me? Is it in my own expectations of myself?
Because in reality, maybe it's all about your own image, but are we coming to Jesus with a heart of worship where we're saying, “It's all about You?”
Can I be honest for just a second? Can I be vulnerable with you? Is that okay? I didn't for sure plan to say this, but I did share it in the other services, so I'll continue to say it now. If this message isn't for you, it's for me. It's for me. It's been quite a journey just preparing for this weekend. But, as you know, I'm the Bee Ridge campus pastor, so I'm not here at Lakewood Ranch very often. I mean, you’ve got these high ceilings, you’ve got these lights, you’ve got the cameras, this awesome sound system. You’ve got so many of you here in the room. Three services. Sometimes I feel inadequate. I look at Pastor Chip, and I go, “Man, I'm never going to be Pastor Chip.”
But I look at Pastor Chip, I look at Chris Absher, and I'm not as eloquent, not as cool. I stumble and bumble over my words. As I prepared for this message, I felt like God just really was reading my mail. I had a moment where I was praying for all of you, and I ended up starting to pray for myself, and God just spoke to me directly. He said, “You're so focused on the wrong things. You know what I'm doing in Pastor Chip's life, what I'm doing and Chris Absher’s life. What I'm doing in all of these people's lives might not be the same thing that I'm doing currently in your life. So, you're ascribing your self-worth onto something that you were never meant to put yourself worth onto. You're comparing yourself to something that isn't meant for you to compare yourself to because I'm doing something in you, and you just need to do that because you know what I'm doing is not about you. It's about me.”
And for some of you, maybe you're comparing yourself to others, maybe you're finding your value in what you think others are looking at you for, and maybe that's not what God's calling you to be. That's not who God's calling you to be. But realize that it's not about you, it's about Him. Amen?
Please understand that I don't share that story for a clap or for me. I really do share that because I believe that's something that we all need to be reminded of. But I want to pull up one final point, and that's this: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And as I said that, you said, “Hey, you said ‘the main thing’ one too many times. It's like how many Chrises you have on staff. Just too many.”
Right? So, then the question is, “What is the main thing?”
Well, let me simplify this point for all of us, and reword it and put it this way: Don't lose sight of the mission. So, the question becomes, then, what is the mission? What is the main thing? Well, Jesus tells us exactly what that is, in Acts 1, when He’s telling the disciples. Before He ascends to heaven, He tells them this. He says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And then that's exactly what they do. And do you know what? We keep seeing this all throughout the book of Acts. We read it a couple times here, but this is what it says: A great number who believe turned to the Lord. And then, again, a great many people were added to the Lord. And then, again, they taught a great many people. In fact, so many people that they had to start giving them a name for this growing group of people who were on fire for Jesus. And so, the reality is this: God is working. It didn't stop after Acts 1 when Jesus said it. It didn't stop after Acts 4. It didn't stop after Acts 11. It didn't stop at the end of the book of Acts. It's still happening now. God is working, and you and I, we have the opportunity to be a part of it. And whether or not you feel like a Barnabas or a Paul, maybe you feel like all you can do is just contribute just a small part of it. You and I, we have the opportunity to jump in because who knows what your small contribution could lead to. It could lead to the next Paul. It could lead to the next Barnabas. It could lead to the next Antioch Church revival. But we get so distracted focusing on ourselves or focusing on the things that we do or don't do. But the reality is that God is working. So, the question, then, to ask is, “God, where are You working? Lord, where are You working in my life? Where are You working in my mind and in my heart?
Where are You working in my situation or in my circumstances or in my job or in my relationships?”
Because He’s working. Amen? I want to end with this. I mentioned at the beginning of this message about Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith. And if you read it, you'll read through all these Old Testament heroes who did so much for the Lord. And if you know your Bible, you know that we don't know who wrote the book of Hebrews. The author is unknown. I believe it was Origen who said, “The writer of the Hebrews, only God knows who it is.”
But there have been many names thrown out there, and one of the names is that it could have been Barnabas. Now, I'm going to make a point about this. Whether it was Barnabas or not, it doesn't change anything. And I'm not trying to say it was Barnabas for sure. But if it was, it's just really cool because we just talked about this unsung hero who wrote about all the heroes of the faith, and what an encouragement that would be that he didn't care about himself, but he's talking about what everybody else was able to do for the kingdom. But I want to show you, after Hebrews 11, what the first three verses of Hebrew 12 say, and how that can be an encouragement to you and I.
This is what Hebrews 12:1-3 says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,”
See, they're not meant to be something for us to compare ourselves to, to say, “Oh, we're not good enough heroes,” but listen. They're cheering you and I on. They should be a source of inspiration. They're a great cloud of witnesses.
Since we're surrounded by them, “…let us throw off everything that hinders,”
All those distractions and our obstacles that we run into, throw them off. And throw off the sin that so easily entangles.
Instead: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on…”
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith.”
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,”
You want to talk about an unsung hero? Jesus is the ultimate unsung hero because there was a time where He was marching into Jerusalem, everybody was saying, “Hosanna,” and He’s this Messiah, the liberator of Israel. And then the next day, put to shame. He's forgotten. He's unrecognized. He's spit on, beaten and crucified.
But, “…[He] sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Listen, when we look at Jesus, the ultimate unsung hero, do you know what that means?
If you feel like you're not good enough, realize that He overcame all of it. And what that means for you and I is that you are good enough because He is enough and He’s working. God is working. So, what I want to do is I want to pray for you. I want to pray for anyone. You might be in here and maybe you feel like a Paul. Maybe you feel like a Barnabas. Maybe you feel like you're good enough. Maybe you don't feel like you're good enough. Maybe you're going through something that's really big. Maybe you're going through something that's just small. But I want to pray that all of us would still do what God has called us to do because He is working, right here, in this place. He's moving. He's moving in our midst, and we don't want to miss it.