Having fallen from grace, Judas soon thereafter fell headlong a corpse and a reminder of the depths to which sin will take an individual (Acts 1:17-20). Though he had a part in the ministry of God the Son, he chose a commission as henchman in the army of perdition.
His death, as an apostle, left a void in the ranks of the handpicked, special followers of Jesus (Acts 1:20). By divine guidance (Acts 1:24, 26), the apostles chose a man among men to pick up the armor vacated by the deserter. The man chosen, Matthias, was a great man. This is obvious, for his appointment was based on his spiritual character (Acts 1:21). However, what of the man Barsabas, about whom very little is spoken? Was he not also a great man?
He was faithful to Christ (Acts 1:22). Swete explains faithfulness to Christ (as in Revelation 2:10) as proving “…thyself loyal and true, to the extent of being ready to die [for Christ’s sake”] (The Apocalypse of St. John). Faithful suggests reliability and trustworthiness, as well as submissiveness. All of this describes Barsabas. From the ministry of the Baptizer to the ascension of the Savior, Barsabas was numbered among the disciples. Apparently, he withstood even the difficult teachings of Christ (see John 6:66-69). He did not turn away, even after the seeming defeat of Calvary (Acts 1:22). Faithfulness is, in God’s eyes, a sign of greatness.
He was recognized as a spiritual leader (Acts 1:23). This is very subjective. The author sees the appointment of Barsabas as the result of his spiritual excellence among the “company.” Assuming that, Barsabas would appear to have been perceived as a leader. Truly, fervent humble and obedient discipleship sets one apart (1 Peter 2:5, 9) as salt (Matthew 5:13) and light (Matthew 5:14) in this world.
He was willing (cf. Acts 1:22-23). Apparently, from the text, Barsabas did not shirk the call to duty. No excuses could have been uttered, for the apostles were left to “give forth their lots” (see McGarvey’s commentary on Acts, p. 22) to pick Judas’ successor. How seemingly rare to find men both qualified and eager to serve, men of Isaiah’s stripe who cry, “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Willingness precedes work, and Barsabas appeared ready to “take part in his ministry and apostleship” (Acts 1:25a).
Faith, works and attitude all add up to greatness in God’s eyes, even if not in men’s blinded vision. Though not God’s choice to fill the shoes of an apostle, Barsabas was distinguished as his servant. How wonderful one day it will be to walk with Barsabas on the street of gold and thank him for his example of greatness in service to Jesus.