The Rock. Hulk Hogan. The Bone Crusher. The Undertaker. These are pretty good wrestling names. They represent strength and oppression of the enemy. They represent victory… the ability to withstand any onslaught and cause the downfall of others. These names reflect pain inducement. If you go up against the Rock, you'll be hit hard. If you try to triple sow cow the Hulk, you'll get slammed. If you attack the Bone Crusher, you'll have you own marrow seeping out of your eyes. And if you try to put a sleeper hold on the Undertaker, you'll be put to sleep for good.
There are some pretty good nicknames in the Bible. Jesus gave Simon the original "Rock" label (that's what 'Peter' means). John and Andrew were the tag team duo dubbed the "Sons of Thunder". Jesus probably had the most wrestling names… "King of kings, Lord of lords, Alpha and Omega, Lion of Judah, The Great I Am, etc."
But there is one guy names Joseph who gets a lame wrestling name. Strangely, he proves himself to be a fantastic wrestler. He wrestles some of the most powerful people in the Bible and comes out on top. We read about Joseph first in the book of Acts, chapter 4. The writer, Luke, is telling us about how all the thousands of new Christians were sharing everything they had with each other and assisting the poor.
Then Luke writes in verse 36, "For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means "Son of Encouragement"). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles for those in need."
Son of Encouragement. Not a fear-inducing name at all. But Barnabas was not a weak man. He was incredibly bold. His moves were fast and powerful. His skills were perhaps unmatched in the whole New Testament. So impressive was this man Joseph, that the leading followers of Jesus gave him a name that gave them hope. When they saw Barnabas in the ring, they knew great things were about to take place. Everyone was incredibly encouraged to watch Barnabas in action.
1. He gave it all in the ring. He didn't leave anything for himself (compare that to Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5!). When Barnabas wrestled, you knew you were seeing raw, transparent, heroism.
2. He trained others. He trained Paul. Yes, Paul. The Paul. The Great Apostle. The Son of Encouragement was the one who took this scrawny energetic believer that nobody believed in and helped turn him into one of the most influential people in the history of the world. He also trained Mark. When everyone else (including Paul) had given up on Mark, Barnabas took him under his wing. Mark went on to tag team with Paul in Rome and also with the original Rock, Peter.
3. He stood up to the strongest opponents. Nobody could ultimately win against Barnabas. He bent the apostles to his will regarding Paul. He bent Paul's will (in a long match) regarding Mark.
4. He toured everywhere. In the early days of the league, Barnabas was more traveled than anyone, commanding large crowds.
5. He gave everyone hope. I love listening to people tell me the old stories about how they saw Ernie Banks play for the Cubs. How seeing "Mr. Cub" in action gave them joy and hope in life. I'll tell my kids about seeing Peyton Manning play… or the Junkyard Dog wrestle, or Ryne Sandberg dive and throw. I bet people used to talk about Barnabas that way. "Back in my day, I remember Barnabas. People were inspired when he was around. People would see Barnabas and be encouraged. People thought better of themselves and this world because of him. He gave people a chance. Everything he did was for the good of others. Oh, I wish you could have seen him."
6. He is responsible for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people knowing Jesus. Barnabas spoke personally to so many people all over the Roman Empire about God… he was a key player at the beginning of Christianity. And imagine what would things be like if there was no Paul or no Mark. More than half of the New Testament would not be.
Son of Encouragement may actually be one of the greatest wrestling names ever. Encouraging others takes much more power and ability than discouraging and destroying. Weak men destroy. Powerful men restore and build and believe in others. Generations upon generations of people all around the world praise God because Barnabas was once in action.
I'm curious… what wrestling nickname could describe your life of faith?