When we think of someone who committed treason, probably the first name that comes to the minds of Americans is Benedict Arnold. There is even a saying used when someone seems disloyal … to call them “a regular Benedict Arnold.”
Most folks don’t remember some of the amazing military accomplishments that Arnold accomplished in the early Revolution. He was instrumental in victories at Fort Ticonderoga, and he also used his smaller fleet to prevent the British from seizing New York. His greatest effort was a daring and successful assault at the Battle of Saratoga. He felt unappreciated and plotted the surrender of West Point while switching sides. His evil plans were discovered, and Arnold avoided being captured and went to England. He was never really entrusted with much rank of distinction by the British, while actions such as burning Richmond added to the sense of betrayal by the Patriots. He died in a state of destitution in England in 1801.
It is actually difficult to be a traitor! If you think about it, it is a lose-lose situation. The original group is angered to the core by the betrayal, and the new group never really trusts you since you weren’t a part of them at the beginning. The only way to make it with the second group is to have an advocate, and then to prove your genuine loyalty over time.
This sums up our focus today on the story of Paul in his return to Jerusalem about three years after his conversion to Christ. After the stoning of Stephen, he had risen to a high rank of persecuting Christians; but now he was returning to Jerusalem and essentially continuing the very work that Stephen had done in the promotion of the gospel. This was a defection and changing of teams we can surely applaud. Here are the pertinent accounts in both Acts 9 and Galatians 1 …
Acts 9:26-31 – 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.
Acts 9:31 – 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.
Galatians 1:18-24 – Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
It is certainly understandable as to why the apostles and other early believers would be skeptical of Paul upon his arrival back in town. His track record was well-known. Was he being a “Trojan Horse” seeking to fool them?
But Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” as his name meant, was truly an encourager who saw the best in other people and in what they could be for Christ. He was the ultimate discipler. I think Barnabas is my favorite biblical character, and if I could be one person in the Scriptures, he is the one I’d want to be. We all need a Barnabas in our lives at some point, and the church would be a lot better off if we would choose to see other people in the family as did this man. Do you think like this? Do you consider how God might use you as a person of great impact with a newer or younger believer? Such ministry is at the very heart of our philosophy as a church.
Staying in Jerusalem with Peter for 15 days, just imagine the conversations that took place! Again, Paul’s persuasive debating skills created a large stir and a resultant group who wanted to kill him. So he was taken to the seacoast town of Caesarea about 65 miles from Jerusalem, and from there Paul was sent back to his home area of Tarsus in Cilicia.
Over time, the fruits of Paul’s faith became obvious to the early believers, especially back in his home region. And in Jerusalem there was also a brief time of peace that aided in the expansion of the gospel. But this is a story just getting started. The only believers at this point are Jews, Samaritans and proselytes. But all of that is going to change, and the Apostle Paul will be at the heart of a new spread of the message of Christ to all peoples.