Read: Acts 9:19b-31
So much is happening in these few verses, it’s like watching an action movie that just keeps speeding up. Here’s a brief synopsis: Saul is welcomed into the disciples in Damascus, preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Amazing! This baffles the Jews as they, once again, begin to conspire to kill one they are threatened by. The disciples in Jerusalem were afraid to open their doors, but Barnabas intercedes. Though the death threats continue, the early disciples make some wise choices and the church continues to grow.
Saul’s conversion took place in Damascus. Since Ananias was a disciple there who was sent to restore Saul’s sight, it seems reasonable to assume his adoption into the fellowship there was well received. There’s no discussion of the Jewish entourage that was no doubt with Saul, but it seems they have either left the scene or perhaps they were Saul’s first converts. I’m not trying to speculate, just wondering how they must have felt going into Damascus with a search and seizure mission that gets completely turned around.
As for the Jews in Damascus, they are livid!
“Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Acts 9:21
These aren’t simple questions, they are intent on tracking Saul down to stone him, just as they did to Stephen.
Saul quickly earned the trust and confidence of the disciples and they protected him as the death threats intensified. At one point, they actually had to help him escape.
But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. Acts 9:25
Leaving Damascus, Saul headed to Jerusalem, but the disciples are not so easily convinced this is a great idea.
When he 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. Acts 9:26-27
Barnabas, my hero, was somehow able to convince the disciples to receive Saul. This must have been some tense negotiations. In my imagination, I can see Peter’s jaw set, his eyes fixed, memories flooding back in of Stephen’s death and Jesus’ words:
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” John 21:16
I don’t think I’m making this overdramatic. These were difficult times for the disciples as the church was growing rapidly in the middle of the Jewish capital. To accept Saul, the Jewish leader that was capturing Christians, was not a simple thing to do. Luke doesn’t give us a lot of words from Barnabas, but they were obviously well received.
So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. Acts 9:28
It didn’t take much time to figure out that Saul was not going to have an effective ministry in Jerusalem. This is quite amazing as well. The disciples were not schooled in organizational behavior or corporate development but demonstrated incredible wisdom. More death threats were launched against Saul which impacted the security of the entire church in Jerusalem. Something had to be done!
When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Acts 9:30
They sent Saul home, to his birthplace.
From Damascus to Jerusalem to Tarsus, the early church is starting to spread its wings with an unlikely band of believers. The wisdom of the early disciples must be attributed to their complete dedication to the Holy Spirit, praying for guidance, and listening to His voice with great discernment.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. Acts 9:31
There are many lessons wrapped up in this section of scripture, but the most important one for this day is found by understanding that the disciples were obedient to their calling. They were cautious, but not confining. They showed incredible courage but were not careless.
We are called to go and make disciples of the planet. May we learn from these moments as we go out into our modern world with ancient ideas that are still relevant toady.