Have you ever been gobsmacked? (You can’t see it here in this online platform, but as I typed that word, the spell-check does not recognize it, underlining it in red!).
Is that a new word for you? It is British slang to reference something that leaves a person utterly amazed and astonished. For example, it is that feeling you have every time you hear me preach! Oh… you didn’t connect to that illustration? Really? That leaves ME gobsmacked!
Well today we read about some folks in Damascus who were gobsmacked at the preaching of Paul in his first efforts at proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah…
Acts 9:19 – 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.
Before we talk about preaching, you might be wondering about the order of things here. Yesterday we wrote about how the passage in Galatians chapter 1 said that Paul quickly went off to the desert of Arabia for three years, but here it looks like he immediately began preaching in Damascus. It depends upon where the “at once” in verse 20 belongs with the rest of the surrounding words (Greek word order is different than our English translations). Various translations have it at different points, and the different New Testament accounts select incidents without an effort to always be completely thorough with every detail. So some commentators believe that the trip to Arabia happened after the paragraph above (and before the following verses below), while others think that Paul rather soon after conversion went to Arabia and that these events today occurred after he returned briefly to Damascus three years later (and I agree with this).
In any event, Paul’s preaching to the Jews was very powerful and left them gobsmacked… or “astonished.” This same Greek word is used elsewhere in Acts to talk about the amazement on the day of Pentecost by all who heard preaching in their language, or later in Acts 12 when Peter was miraculously released from prison and showed up at the door of the “gobsmacked” folks who were praying (but not really believing) for that very thing to happen!
The preaching of a message of Jesus as Messiah to a Jewish audience, especially by a guy who was clearly remembered to be one who had originally come to town to arrest the early followers of the way, was sure to have a controversial effect. Likely some were persuaded, though surely more were violent in rejection of this message…
Acts 9:23 – 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.
The same event is recounted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:30-33 … If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
I have never had to escape a church or flee from town after a sermon (more likely the listeners are the ones escaping). But Paul’s preaching created such controversy that, in the minds of some, the best method to end this was to kill Paul. With a walled city, the only way in or out was to pass through the checkpoint of the main city gate … or have your friends drop you out the window and down the wall in a basket. This was the first of many escapes for Paul in his life. And what an irony that the one who came to do the persecuting soon became the persecuted!
We need to understand that in any day the preaching of the gospel is not popular in a lost world. It is a message that divides. People don’t like being told that they are sinners who are lost, hopeless and spiritually dead and on the road to eternal separation. But once a person’s mind is quickened by the Spirit to understand this truth, it becomes for that person the most precious message of life. Our role is to preach and share the truth. It will not always be popular or well-received. But we must be faithful to do it as our commission to a lost world.