Posted in theology

Would you stand next to a lightning rod?

By Elizabeth Prata

New York City. The Empire State Building as seen from the East River. Note its lightning rod. EPrata photo

Our teaching pastor is going through Acts. We got to a part where the scriptures introduced Barnabas. My teaching pastor spent some time relating to us the scriptures that demonstrated Barnabas’ character. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the New Testament is familiar with Barnabas.

Barnabas was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement.” It’s a great nickname. Son of Encouragement is way better than the nickname given to James and John- “Sons of Thunder” AKA Boanerges. Barnabas and Paul were together for many years, a pair that encouraged each other, supported each other, and went about on mission teaching and preaching having each other’s backs. Barnabas even affirmed Saul before he was widely known as a convert and still seen as a persecutor. (Acts 15:2, Acts 9:27). Look for how many times in the New Testament we read, “Paul and Barnabas.” As Kevin DeYoung said in his sermon Christians in Conflict, these two were like Batman and Robin.

So the other day I watched a clip of a storm hovering over a driving range. The range had been cleared, but one teenager wanted to get in one last swing. He drove his golf ball off the driving tee, and hurtling 88 miles per hour, in mid-air a lighting bolt came out of nowhere and incinerated it. The youth was amazed and scurried further into the safety of the covered roof. The video made the news.

The National Weather Service has a few things to say about lightning and thunder. “Lightning is an underrated killer, responsible for an average of 26 deaths per year across the country (10 year average).” The NWS motto is, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” because “if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, … No place outside is safe during a thunderstorm.”

Paul was a lightning rod. We know that the Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:16 that Paul must suffer for His name. In 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27 Paul recounted some of these sufferings-

I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Barnabas suffered also. Barnabas was with Paul at Lystra when the Jews stoned Paul. Acts 14:19-20

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Even if the people with Paul didn’t directly experience the stoning, they experienced trauma. Even if one stone had not landed on Barnabas, Barnabas had the agony of witnessing his friend being injured, watched him dragged bloody and unconscious out of the city, and thought his friend was dead! It must have been emotionally wrenching for Barnabas.

What if you’re a bit shy, and friends with someone who stands firmly on biblical doctrine? What if you’re friends with a podcaster who receives push-back for their stances? What if you are friends with someone who preaches or teaches or proclaims in the streets the ordinances of God? Will you stand with him or her? Or will you back away?

Counting the cost not only has application for the ones proclaiming, but for the friends within that person’s sphere, too. Will you stand with your friend and ignore your crumbling reputation because of his or her strong stances? Will you support by your friend, defending him even when others back away? Will you keep holding the lightning rod?

In 1752, when Ben Franklin was mulling over the issue of lightning and electricity, even before he did his kite experiment, Franklin proposed a lighting rod would be a safe way to attract the lightning and deliver it safely to the ground before it could harm anything or anyone. He called it the lightning attractor. These days, anyone who stands on biblical doctrine is a lightning attractor. We never know when or from what direction the strike will come from, but it will come.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12

The days are evil and getting more evil by the day. Here in the United States, there is an overt and aggressive push against anything Christian. It’s worse elsewhere in the world. Just saying a Bible verse out loud in public is often enough to draw the lightning! Counting the cost will come to mean counting whether or not to be a Robin to your Batman.

Well, when he arrived at the synagogue, he was invited to preach; and Barnabas and he sitting in the congregation were noticed by the leaders. Paul was invited to preach, and he did. His sermon blew the city wide open. It was the most devastating, shattering thing that perhaps had ever happened in the city of Antioch. The city had, like most cities, endeavored under its leadership to maintain some kind of a placid equilibrium and some kind of a balance, and that was absolutely shattered by the preaching of Paul. But before we would be too surprised, we would call to mind the fact that the gospel, whenever it is purely proclaimed in the midst of sin and wherever there are unsaved people, is bound to have results that are going to be shattering. (Source: The Troubling Gospel)

Bearing the above in mind, here’s an imaginary conversation between Paul and Barnabas.

Barn, let’s sail to Cyprus.
Hey, haven’t you been shipwrecked three times?
OK, let’s go!
And Barnabas gets on the ship.

Would you get on a ship with Paul? Will you hold the lightning rod? It’s one thing to hang onto it when skies are clear. Now that it’s stormy, will you not only stand next to it, but hold it? These are decisions you will no doubt need to make as time goes on. We bless Barnabas for being a faithful friend to Paul even though Paul’s sufferings often included his friend either witnessing dire events, or participating in them. Silas was jailed WITH Paul-

The crowd joined in an attack against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, (Acts 16:22-23a).

If you’re a Robin because you like to be in the background, you might sorrowfully find yourself stepping away from your friend. If you’re a Robin because you’re a Son or Daughter of Encouragement and enjoy being a support to someone else for the name of Christ, then you might find yourself on a wild ride like that golf ball hurled into the skies only to be struck by a bolt out of the blue. Will you get on the ship with Paul or wave goodbye from the shore?

Time will tell. But think on these things, and prepare ahead for the inevitable time of deciding.

Further Reading

Who was Barnabas in the Bible?

The Troubling Gospel

Lockyer’s All the Men of the Bible – Barnabas


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.