Can you imagine how earth-shattering the news was that Saul of Tarsus had become a Christian?
He had gone to Damascus from Jerusalem to arrest Christians. He had with him letters from the high priest giving him the authority to do this (Acts 9:1-2 – keep in mind that the only Christians at this time were those who were Jewish). He was willing to travel at least 140 miles (220 km), a journey that would have taken around a week. This was one man who was determined to see Jews who were now following Jesus eradicated.
Yet something happened on the road to Damascus. He came face to face with Jesus. He discovered that he really was the Messiah and that he really had come back from death. When he arrived in Damascus, a Jewish Christian, Ananias, was sent by Jesus to Saul and he was able to explain some of what had happened and helped Saul to become a Christian (Acts 9:15-18).
We learn from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that Luke left out the next three years. Saul (who became known as “Paul”) did not go to Jerusalem immediately to learn from the apostles but went to Arabia (Galatians 1:15-17). It was here that Jesus taught him through a “revelation.”
If you think about it, an apostle had to be taught by Jesus and to have been a witness of Jesus’ resurrection – see Acts 1:21-22. Paul met both of these requirements and would state emphatically “that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12 ESV).
Saul then went back to Damascus and began to proclaim Jesus as “the Son of God” and “proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 9:19-22 NET). Although he had now been a Christian for three years (Galatians 1:18), word does not seem to have reached the Christians in Jerusalem. Or if it had, they couldn’t believe it. “When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
It is at this point that we meet Barnabas again. Either he knew about Saul’s conversion or he took time to discover the facts. He befriended Saul and, in essence, vouched that he was truly a Christian. “But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27).
There are several things we can learn from this incident. Do we have the enthusiasm that Saul had to tell all who would listen about Jesus, even to the point of having people plot to kill him (Acts 9:22-25, 28-30)? Even with the threat of death, he couldn’t help but to tell others about Jesus!
Do we have the same desire to be with our fellow Christians? Although initially rebuffed, we can see that he had taken the time to find out where the Christians met and desperately wanted to be with them.
Are we willing to seek the truth as Barnabas did? Although it must have been difficult to believe that Saul was following Jesus, Barnabas not only discovered the truth but helped Saul to be accepted by the Christians in Jerusalem.
May we have the enthusiasm for being a Christian that Saul and Barnabas had!
Readings for next week:
12 September – Acts 12
13 September – Acts 13:1-25
14 September – Acts 13:26-52
15 September – Acts 14
16 September – Acts 15