What is a hero? A hero is someone who does something selfless and sacrificial. A hero is someone who puts the needs of others above herself. We need more heroes.
And while heroes may get the recognition they deserve, unsung heroes rarely do. They are the people who work behind the scenes. They are the ones who do a lot of the heavy lifting but are rarely rewarded for it. Unsung heroes are often husbands and wives, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches. And grandparents, in my opinion, are automatically unsung heroes.
Unsung heroes are sometimes what we would call sidekicks. After all, where would Sherlock Holmes be without the faithful Dr. Watson at his side? Where would the Green Hornet be without Kato, or where would Batman be without Robin? Sidekicks are unsung heroes who work behind the scenes.
The Bible is filled with unsung heroes. One who comes to mind is Caleb. We remember Moses the great lawgiver. We remember Joshua, who took over for Moses. But Caleb went into the Promised Land with Joshua to check things out. And, after more than 80 years of faithfully serving God, it was Caleb who asked for Joshua’s permission to drive out the formidable occupants of Hebron and claim the land God had promised him. Caleb still was serving God, even in his later years. Clearly he was an unsung hero.
We all remember the great prophet Elijah, but we often don’t know that much about Elisha. In fact, because of the similarity of their names, we sometimes give credit to Elijah for things that God did through Elisha. But Elisha carried on the work Elijah began.
That brings us to the New Testament and three unsung heroes who were great men of God. They are not household names, but they touched the life of one of the most celebrated and effective Christian leaders of all time: the apostle Paul.
The first is Stephen, a young man with so much promise. Because of his faithfulness, he was selected to be a deacon in the church. But it was evident that Stephen had a gift for preaching, and people were coming to faith when he spoke. Miracles were even being performed. Many probably thought that he had a great ministry ahead of him because he was only a young man. But because of his preaching, he was called before the Jewish Sanhedrin to give an account. If Stephen had been careful, he could have gone home for dinner that night. But instead, this young man saw the possibilities. And so he began to preach to them about Jesus.
But as he preached, they became so outraged, they put their fingers in their ears and started to scream. He continued to speak, and the Bible says that his face shined like that of an angel. So they decided to execute him by stoning. Even as his young life was slipping away, he cried out, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”
I believe it was the bold preaching of Stephen that brought Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) under conviction, because right on the heels of Stephen’s martyrdom, he went out to hunt down Christians, arrest them and execute them. But as he was on his way to do that, he encountered Jesus himself and was converted.
Enter Ananias, an unsung hero. Saul’s meeting with Jesus on the Damascus Road left him blinded. His entourage had abandoned him, and he was led to the home of a man named Judas (no relation to Jesus’ betrayer). God instructed Ananias to go to this home and ask for Saul. Of course, Ananias was reluctant. He heard about what Saul had been doing to Christians. But God told Ananias to go, so he went.
You have to admire the guy. He walked in and saw a scene he probably never thought he would: the notorious Christian-killer, Saul, humbled – and praying to God. And that warmed Ananias’ heart. So he prayed for Saul, and he regained his sight.
As it turned out, Saul of Tarsus had no real friends. But what he did have was a Christian named Ananias. In time, he would discover a whole family. Ananias was an unsung hero of the Christian faith. He never preached any sermons that we know of. We don’t know of any miracles that were performed through his hands. He never wrote an epistle. But he reached a man who did all of those things and much more. Because Ananias had done his part, Saul could then do his.
When Saul left Damascus and returned to Jerusalem, however, he was met with resistance from the Christians there. They didn’t believe he had been converted. And that is where Barnabas, our next unsung hero comes in. We read about him in Acts 9: “Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus” (verse 27 NLT).
Apparently Barnabas had some credibility with the apostles, because they seemed to accept what he said. He put it all on the line and backed Saul’s story because it was true.
We need more people like Barnabas today. The name Barnabas means “son of encouragement.” I think we need a lot more Barnabases – people who know how to lift someone up, who know how to comfort a person, who know how to motivate a person. That is what Barnabas did for Saul.
So here is my question to you: Can you be a friend to someone? Can you be an unsung hero? Can you be an Ananias or a Stephen? Or, can you be a Barnabas and be there as an encouragement?
We have been blessed to be a blessing to others. We don’t know how long our lives will last. We all have a task to complete, a calling to fulfill. And if we only take in and rarely give out, we run the risk of spiritual stagnation. Will you be a hero in the life of someone today?