In our last lesson from Acts 9 we saw Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians in that city. Along the way, a light shines around Saul. Saul is blinded by the light and is told to go to Damascus where he will be told what to do. Ananias comes to Saul and heals him of his blindness. Ananias tells Saul that he has been chosen by God to go to the nations to preach about Jesus. Ananias concludes by telling Saul to arise and be baptized to wash away his sins and call on the name of the Lord.
I. The Movements of Saul
A. Saul in Damascus
- After his baptism, Saul remained with the disciples in Damascus for several days. Immediately, Saul was preaching Jesus in the synagogues, declaring, "He is the Son of God." We notice that Saul did not have to be given a myriad of Bible studies about Jesus Christ before he wanted to proclaim what had happened to him to everyone he could talk to.
- Remember that Saul had been given authority to go into the synagogues and find anyone who was follower of Jesus, arrest the person, and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. Saul goes to the synagogue and instead of seeking out Christians to arrest, begins to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. Verse 21 says that all who heard Saul speak were amazed and knew that he had come from Jerusalem to make havoc with anyone who proclaimed the name of Christ.
- Saul became more powerful in his arguments, confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving Jesus is the Messiah. This did not go over well in the Jewish community. Verse 23 tells us that after some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him. Saul, the champion destroyer of Christianity and powerful man among the Jews, was now having his life plotted against by his own people. The plot became known to Saul. But Saul was unable to leave the city of Damascus because the Jews were standing guard at the city gates watching for Saul so they could kill him. We see how desperate the Jews in Damascus were to kill Saul. Saul was not going to leave the city alive. Therefore, the disciples took Saul and in the night let him down in a basket through an opening in the city wall. Saul already must escape for his life. Remember, the Lord told Ananias that He would show Saul the things that he must suffer for the cause of Christ. Already, Saul must endure life-threatening circumstances for the name of Christ. Saul came into Damascus as a led by the hand because of blindness and left the city like a criminal being snuck through a hole in the wall.
- Before we move on in the story, Galatians 1:18 tells us that Saul did not go to Jerusalem for three years. So when we read about this scene, at least three years has passed by before Saul decides to come to Jerusalem. In doing so, the opposition will begin again for Saul, but from an unexpected place.
B. Saul in Jerusalem
- When Saul came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples there. But the disciples were afraid of Saul and did not believe that Saul was a disciple. Saul has not been in Jerusalem for years. This was likely a great relief to the Christians to not see Saul wandering the streets of the city looking for Christians to imprison. Suddenly, Saul returns to Jerusalem. How dismayed the Christians must have been to see Saul coming back through the city streets.
- Even more shocking would have been the conversation Saul had with the disciples in Jerusalem. Saul comes to the disciples and tells them he is now a Christian and wants to join with them in the work at Jerusalem. Last time Saul was around Christians, he was arresting them and voting they be stoned to death. Now Saul says he is also a believer in Jesus and he wants to work with the disciples to preach the good news of Jesus. Would anyone believe Saul’s words?
- The disciples were afraid of Saul and would not let him join with them. They were not going to be foolish and bring Saul in just so he could turn on them and arrest them all! The Greek word that is used when we read that Saul "attempted to join the disciples" does not reflect a one-time act. Saul was repeatedly trying to join with the disciples there in Jerusalem. But the disciples were afraid, and none of us would have been any different.
- I can only imagine how dejected Saul would have been with his repeated failures to join the disciples. What could he do to convince the disciples he was truly one of them and now believed Jesus to be the Son of God? It seemed that Saul would not be able to work with these Christians until Barnabas comes to Saul’s side. The last time we saw Barnabas was at the end of Acts 4 when he sold his possessions and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. His given name was actually Joseph, but the disciples had changed his name to "son of encouragement" because of his character.
- Barnabas took Saul, brought him before the apostles, and explained to the apostles how Saul had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus. Barnabas also explained how Saul had been proclaiming boldly in the name of the Lord. With the help of Barnabas, Saul is accepted into the circle of disciples in Jerusalem. Saul continued to argue powerfully against the Jews, so well that they attempted to kill him in Jerusalem. After only fifteen days, according to Galatians 1, the believers had to send Saul to Tarsus to protect his life from the Jews in Jerusalem. During this time, the church throughout the regions of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up.
A. Standing for a murderer
- Who would have done what Barnabas did? Who would have wanted to stand next to this persecutor and murderer of Christians and try to help him join the other disciples? Would we have cared what happened to Saul for all the evil he had done in his life? I do not think that any of us would have taken a stand to defend Saul. Further, I do not think any of us would have wanted a person like Saul joined to our church.
- "Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). We all have shields and defenses that keep us from bearing with one another and helping one another the way we ought. We have a great tendency to assume the worst in people, to paint others with malicious motives, and refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt. What would have happened in this story if Barnabas would have shown Saul the attitude that we typically show to each other? We criticize and we hurt others and we are not thinking about trusting the other person and assuming good in others. Barnabas took Saul at his word, trusted what Saul was saying, and made a convincing argument to join Saul to the disciples.
- The next time an opportunity comes, let us think to be trusting. Let us choose to bear the burdens of another and understand where they are coming. Let us believe in each other so that we can develop the close knit family that God wants us to be.
B. Not giving up
- Place yourself in the mind of Saul at this time. How easy would it have been to give up when the disciples in Jerusalem rejected him! How easy would it have been for Saul to go on his way and slander the Christians who were in Jerusalem! Saul could have decided to go back to Judaism with a response like this. Saul could have decided to start a new church in Jerusalem to show those others who rejected him. Saul could have given up on God, become jaded toward religion, and decided to live his own life with caring about the will of God. But he did not do any of these things.
- We have to remember that people make mistakes and failures do take place. As much as we are trying to be just like Christ in every action we take, we simply are not going to live up to that goal every time. Hypocrisy will be found given enough time and when we look hard enough. But we want to join with people who are trying to serve the Lord, even though they may make poor decisions and bad judgments. Saul was not looking for an excuse to stop serving God. He was looking for a way to serve God with others.
C. Understanding the church
- There can be a lot of confusion concerning the nature and function of the church. Some of that confusion can be cleared up with what we read in this passage. We know that Saul was saved. Acts 22:16 tells us that Saul needed to arise and be baptized to wash away his sins. Acts 2:47 tells us that the Lord adds to the church daily those who were being saved. When we are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, the Lord adds us to the group or body of saved people. This group of saved people includes all people who have ever been obedient to God’s conditions for salvation. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we read about the dead in Christ. The body of Christ or the church is simply all people dead or alive who have ever been saved through the blood of Jesus.
- In our studies this morning we have seen smaller groups of Christians in various localities. We read about the disciples in Damascus that Saul joined himself to and was with them as he preached Jesus in the synagogues. Disciples were gathering together because they lived in a particular city to do the works that God has commanded. When Saul came to Jerusalem, Saul immediately tried to join himself to the disciples who met in Jerusalem. The disciples rejected Saul until Barnabas explained how Saul was a true believer and proclaimer of the name of Jesus.
- We learn that after we are saved through faith in Christ by being baptized, we are to join ourselves to a local group of Christians. There are many commands which cannot be performed individually but require a group of Christians to accomplish. For example, we do not see Christians taking the Lord’s supper alone, but coming together with other Christians to remember the Lord’s death. We see the commands for elders and deacons which means we must have a local assembly of Christians to have such people. We are commanded to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, which implies that Christians were to meet regularly with other Christians. Saul was trying to identify himself with the Christians in Jerusalem so he could be part of the working together in the kingdom of God.
- Furthermore, Saul was rejected by the Christians in Jerusalem, but that did not change his salvation. Being part of a local church or not being part of a local church is not a statement of salvation. While we see we are to be joined with other Christians, the joining itself does not make one saved or lost. To put it another way, you do not join the Haverhill Road church of Christ to be saved. What have we repeatedly taught one must do to be saved? Believe, repent, confess, and be baptized is what God has commanded to receive his gift of salvation. Joining this local church will not save you. Uniting with Christ in baptism is what will save you. Once you have obeyed the Lord, then we are to assemble ourselves with others who are obeying the Lord. This is what we see Saul doing as he joined himself to the disciples in Jerusalem.
- What did Saul have to do to join the church in Jerusalem? Did Saul have to pay some fees? Did Saul need some letters or a recommendation? Saul simply wanted to join the disciples in Jerusalem and there was nothing more than simply making it known that such was his desire. We join the body of the saved in Christ through baptism. This is the most important thing to do. If such has not been done, then nothing else matters. Once we have been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, then we are seek out a group of disciples who are serving God and join ourselves to them so we can obey the commands of the Lord. (NRSV)