Continuing with our study in the Book of Acts, the tables take an abrupt turn when Saul, whom God later renamed Paul, becomes the persecuted instead of the persecutor.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on his name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
Can you imagine the mighty Saul being lowered in a basket escaping from the very same men that just days before he was leading?? These verses paint quite a picture. The very same people that he was coming to persecute were now his lifeline out of the city. When Saul leaves Damascus, he returns to Jerusalem and tries to join the disciples. They were rightfully weary and refused to meet with him. Entering the scene is Barnabas, whose name means “Encourager”. Barnabas also plays a key role in bringing Christianity to the world. He has a unique talent of providing encouragement and comfort to people.
When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in fear of the Lord.
Lots of things are going on in these verses in Scripture. One thing that is not spoken in words but is known to be true is that Saul spent three years in the Arabian desert and communed with God. These three years are believed to have happened sometime in between these verses. Paul had to commune with God one-on-one because the mission God assigned him may very well have been the single most important assignment in all of history. Paul is the number one reason we have Christianity today. God wants us to know that Paul received his message directly from Him and not indirectly from others. After this three year period is when Paul visits Jerusalem and tries to meet with the disciples who walked with Jesus during his early ministry (which was also 3 years, coincidence?). This is where Barnabas plays a significant role. If it had not been for this great encourager, the disciples probably would not have agreed to meet with Paul. However, Barnabas was willing to risk his life by speaking up for Paul and convincing the disciples to meet with him. Scripture tells us that Paul stayed with the disciples and traveled around openly in Jerusalem. Notice also that we’re told that Paul speaks “boldly” in the name of the Lord while getting around Jerusalem. We need to follow Paul’s lead and speak boldly about Jesus.
Once again, Paul has to flee for his life; and, once again, he needs the help of his fellow Christian brothers to help him escape. This seems to be a theme and is also another great lesson for us (see a trend here – the Bible is our life’s handbook with lessons about every single situation we can possibly get into). We cannot do it alone. We need others surrounding us, supporting us, encouraging us and defending us to so that we too can be strong and successful in doing our part to spread Christianity.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I feel so very blessed to have been chosen by Jesus to be a disciple. I do not want to take this responsibility lightly and hope that you don’t either. Together we can make a difference.