Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
May 6, 2012
You meet some of the nicest people in the Bible
There are many remarkable benefits gained from reading the Bible. One that is precious to me is this: you meet some of the nicest people in the Bible.
The best person you meet, of course, is Jesus. The Bible is all about Jesus. The Old Testament says, “Someone is coming!” The New Testament says, “That Someone is here and his name is Jesus!” There is a lovely sense in which Jesus is on every page of the Bible for it is the Book about Jesus, the Son of God.
But the Bible tells us much more than the stories of Jesus. There, especially in the New Testament, you meet people who called “followers” or “disciples” of Jesus. We can think of these people as “friends” of Jesus. And some of the friends of Jesus are among the nicest people you will ever meet.
Take Peter for example. You can think of him in grandiose terms – the Big Fisherman, the leader of the Apostles or the Rock as Jesus called him, the one upon whom Jesus would build his church. But you can also think of Peter as a special friend of Jesus, a man much like us who could fail miserably yet work his ay back to usefulness through repentance and forgiveness.
I like Peter because he gives me hope that you can mess up things royally but still be given a second chance to get your life back on track. Like Peter I have stuck my foot in my mouth many times. Like Peter I have been a miserable coward. Like Peter I have failed. Like Peter I have misunderstood God’s game plan. And like Peter I have been filled with the joy of realizing that God refused to give up on me.
Another friend of Jesus you meet in the Bible is the gentle, sweet-spirited Barnabas. Barnabas is the original encourager. His name is synonymous with encouragement. I love Barnabas because of the way he brought out the best in others. He inspires me to believe I can do that too. And after all, everyone needs encouragement.
Barnabas recognized Paul’s gifts. So he invited Paul to join his team to teach the disciples in Antioch about Christ. At first it was “Barnabas and Paul” teaching. Soon the names were reversed. Paul became the team leader. Humbly, Barnabas stepped aside. Then they became “Paul and Barnabas” according to Doctor Luke. No tension is mentioned though later they would have a “sharp disagreement.” The cream simply rose to the top.
Evidently Paul knew what to do in spreading and teaching the faith. Wisely, Barnabas recognized a leader when he saw one. His spirit allowed an effective partnership to be born. Later Paul would praise some of his fellow Christians for their “partnership in the gospel.” Paul saw this spirit first in his friend Barnabas.
Some say leaders are born, not made. When it comes to the Christian movement, we can say that leaders are born again. Then they are “made” leaders by the grace of God. Apart from Paul’s conversion experience, we cannot begin to understand the man. His encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road triggered Paul’s great qualities. Only his dramatic rebirth can explain his evangelistic zeal and his missionary fervor.
Christ turned Paul around. He turned him inside out. He gave him a vision, a vision so compelling that obedience to God became second nature to Paul. We can smile when we hear his testimony to King Agrippa. When Paul said he had not been “disobedient to the heavenly vision,” his words were both fact and understatement.
I like to think that in heaven we will have the joy of meeting friends of Jesus like Peter, Barnabas and Paul. There we can enjoy their stories and they can enjoy ours.
Imagine the scene when John Newton arrived in heaven. I can see Paul greeting him warmly and saying, “Brother, let’s sing your song, Amazing Grace, together.” Then the angels surely applauded after hearing Paul and Newton sing, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”!
Can you not hear Paul saying, “Brother John, you really nailed it when you called the gospel ‘amazing grace.’? That was the theme of my whole ministry. I was determined that nothing, absolutely nothing, wold stop me from telling everyone I met about the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Considering the hardships and rejections Paul faced, it is hard to believe he did not give up and turn back. Many of us would have turned in our badges. Not Paul. He pressed on, and on, practicing what he preached!
That is one of benefits of getting to know some of these wonderful people in the Bible. They inspire us to believe that we too can persevere and live like friends of Jesus in a culture that desperately needs the influence of such people. + + +