If you could be any person in the Bible, who would you want to be? Some folks might go right for the Apostle Paul – the mighty man himself. Others might want to be Solomon because of his wisdom, but remember that would include the issue of a thousand wives! Daniel or Joseph would be good choices, until you consider the years of trials that each endured as well as the years of blessing.
If I could be anyone, it would be Barnabas – the guy who actually gave Paul his start! In my book, Barnabas is the best of the good guys. His name meant “son of consolation” and he was always encouraging people and seeing the best in them.
Today he makes his second appearance in the Acts narrative, though far from his last – we’ll be talking about him more in the coming weeks. In his first appearance, which was what I have a couple of times referred to as Luke’s style of giving main characters a brief “walk on” role early in the play, Barnabas was simply listed specifically as one of those who sold a property and deposited the assets at the feet of the Apostles. This was with a view toward contributing for the basic needs of the early church community – he was being an encouragement.
In our text today, we see that Saul immediately began to use open door opportunities to present the Gospel. He went into synagogues where he was welcomed to speak. We will see Paul use this same strategy later in the book throughout the ancient world. He was a highly-trained university dude – a sort of elite Harvard-educated fellow.
The synagogue folks in Damascus immediately recognize that this is the same guy who was condemning the preaching going on “among those who call on this name” – of Jesus. And here he is presenting the totally opposite point of view from what they anticipated relative to his recent press releases! And several times in this passage we see the Jewish default response, which is to stop it by killing the person doing it. So, Saul’s new friends help him escape by dropping him over the city wall in a basket. (Remember being a kid in VBS and doing the craft project related to this story?)
So Paul needs some more new friends and goes to Jerusalem to get connected with the church leadership there. His welcome is … ah … less than inviting and is rather filled with distrust. This would be about like Governor O’Malley becoming a Republican and showing up at the local Central Committee meeting and hoping to be invited to dinner. Ah… not today!
And then comes these great words, “But Barnabas” … the great encourager is the first to befriend him and sponsor him in communication with the others. The ice is broken and again Saul takes on a powerful work of preaching the gospel in Jerusalem. And again also, it is a Jewish element – this time the Hellenistic group of those adopting the Greek culture – who rises to meet this new threat by eliminating Saul. Apparently none of these folks were very good at keeping their plots secret, and so Saul is sent off. At this point of his career, he is sort of being sent down to the minor leagues to hone his skills for a while before coming back to be a star player in the early church.
But Barnabas … don’t you want to be like that guy? What does it involve? Well, certainly a lot of the same stuff we’ve been preaching at TSF for a while now. It is the counter-current theme of caring about people diverse from yourself in some way. It may be a difference of generation or cultural background or personal taste. Do you care about seeing other people grow to be all they can be in Christ as much as you care about just fellowshipping with your own natural affinity group? It is a hard sell – this “preference deference” stuff. But it is what Jesus did, and you’ll never be all you can be until you do it … and be a Barnabas type of person.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem – Acts 9:19b-31
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “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?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 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. 27 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. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 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.