Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
What I mean is that these houses and lands likely had tenants or were used for agricultural production. In other words, they were properties and businesses that paid residual incomes to the owners. They were the sources of their wealth. These sales of land and houses were a more significant sacrifice than I think we realize. The sale would have lowered the standard of living for the sellers. Since that is true, it seems very much like these cases of property divestment were meant to be signs of total surrender. These rich men were making themselves poor for the Gospel’s sake and the aid of their brothers. This is why the proceeds from the sales were being “laid it at the apostles’ feet.” They were coming and saying, “All that I have and all that I am belongs to Jesus Christ. Use it and me as you see fit” They are offering themselves as “living sacrifices” to God in Christ.
For Barnabas, this is undoubtedly the case. It may not divest him entirely of his wealth, but as a Levite, it will cost him everything in society. When those in his class hear of his property sale and his becoming a disciple of a dead man, they’ll move to shun him. The division between the new Christian sect and traditional Judaism is very close to a breaking point. In chapter 7 they will kill Stephen. This gift is not only Barnabas’ wealth but also his public profession. “All to Jesus I surrender,” as the old song goes. That is why we get a complete description of him. We are told he is “a Levite, a native of Cyprus.” From these details arise two possibilities.
First, he may be a member of the Sanhedrin. He is a member of the Hebrew priestly class as a Levite, and they were to be theologians as a calling. Their job was to instruct the people in the Law of God. Jeremiah 2:8 says, “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.” Priests and Levites were the shepherds and instructors of Israel. So it is not outside the realm of possibility that Barnabas is a part of the ruling council or maybe an officer related to a council member.
Second, it is also possible that he was in Jerusalem at Pentecost and experienced the tongues event in Acts 2, as he would be a Hellenistic Jew. He was a native of Cypress. That means he was raised in a Jewish colony, not in Judea. A localized Cypriotic Greek would be his first language, which differed greatly from Koine’ Greek. Hebrew would have been his second language.
These two aspects, his station and education coupled with his growing up in the Greek world made Barnabas a highly qualified candidate for Christian ministry among the Hellenistic Jews, Gentile God-fearers, and in the end, Gentiles. It also explains why he is drawn to the Apostle Paul. They had similar backgrounds. Though from the tribe of Benjamin and not a Levite, Paul was raised on the Western coast of Turkey in Tarsus, about 150 miles East of the island of Cypress from which Baranabas hailed. Paul is a known theologian among the Hebrew elite. It is possible that Barnabas knew Paul when he was Saul of Tarsus. Not to labor the point too much, but Barnabas appears to be on the leading edge of a wave of conversions among the priestly class. After the appointment of the first deacons in Acts 6:1-6, we read, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
Let’s get back to Acts 5:1-11. What appears to be happening is that wealthy patrons are divesting themselves of all or a portion of their wealth to support the Church’s ministry to the needy within the body. Not everyone appears to be laying gifts at the apostles’ feet. Only those who are underwriting the church’s ministry to the poor via large gifts seem to be doing it. The gifts that Barnabas and Ananias are giving are meant to say more than, “Here’s an offering. I hope it helps.” No, they are laying their livelihoods and lives at the apostles’ feet. That is what we know Barnabas’ to be doing because that is his life hereafter. It is what I think Luke is contrasting when he places Ananias’ gift next to Barnabas’. It is also why Anania’s sin is so grotesque. He is attempting to place himself among the patrons of the Church who say, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather be his than have riches untold,” to quote another old hymn. Because for him, that’s not true. Ananias is living in a satanic deception and is himself lying “to the Holy Spirit” He is committing the sins found in the book of Malachi.
Look for Part 4 of “Finding & Losing Our Lives For Jesus’ Sake” tomorrow.
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Blessings and may God be with you!