Acts 11:19-30 : In Steps Barnabas (again)

So then those who were scattered because of the [r]persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way [s]to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the [t]Greeks also, [u]preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The [v]news about them [w]reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off [x]to Antioch. 23 Then when he arrived and [y]witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with [z]resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable [aa]numbers were [ab]brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they [ac]met with the church and taught considerable [ad]numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
27 Now [ae]at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate [af]by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the [ag]world. [ah]And this took place in the reign of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the [ai]relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it [aj]in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

***

This isn't the first time that we've seen Barnabas but it is a very important time. As you can read in verse 26, he had witnessed many in Antioch who had believed in the LORD. So much so that he searched for Saul, brought him to Antioch and together, for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (vs. 27).

The first time we meet Barnabas, it was in Acts 4. He had owned a tract of land which he sold, brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36, 37). We don't see him again until after the conversion of Saul. He was clearly instrumental in Saul's life and acted as a mediator between him and the disciples (who at that time were very wary of allowing Saul into their group; see Acts 9:26ff). This text for today is the third time we see Barnabas 'in action. And what a time it was!

Just as a novelist writes a variety of stories intermingled in the great story to grip their readers attention, Luke now reminds us that there were 'scattered people' that we haven't thought about and now he revisits their story. It was way back in chapter 8 where we read that, due to the persecution of Stephen, people were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (8:2). We pick up their story now in chapter 11 and what a story it is!

It is very clear to me that there was a movement of the Spirit in this time of history. Many were coming to the LORD and the Apostles most definitely had work on their hands. Barnabas, sent by the church in Jerusalem, met up with these 'scattered peoples' and clearly saw he needed help - and so, in steps Saul (again) and they both ministered together in Antioch and it is here that the word 'Christian' was first used in the Gospel account. 

Barnabas' ministry is clearly encouragement. He saw the faith of these people and demonstrated that by encourag[ing] them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord. He is called a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith (vss. 23, 24). We need more Barnabas' in our ministries. I do not for a second see a lack of faith or courage that he sought out Saul. He clearly saw the need of these people to be discipled and knew that Saul would not only benefit from this experience but they too would benefit from Saul's giftings. He truly was the Son of Encouragement.

Where is there a Barnabas in your ministry? Is God calling you to be a Barnabas to someone? 
It is so clear to me that the LORD was using this man in this time of the history of the Church. What can we learn and apply today by looking at this man?

Acts 11:1-18 : The Test of the Spirit

Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, [a]those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, “You [b]went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began speaking [c]and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an [d]object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from [e]the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it [f]I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the [g]crawling creatures and the birds of the [h]air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; [i]kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing [j]unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer [k]consider unholy.’ 10 This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into [l]the sky. 11 And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them [m]without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he reported to us how he had seen the angel [n]standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14 and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized [o]with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could [p]stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they [q]quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

***

It seems this lesson has made it's way all the way into our lives today. We are wary of involving (inviting even) those of other backgrounds into the faith that we cherish so deeply. It is revealing to think about, but may I admonish us to think of how we accept others from the outside, who have not grown up into our traditions, but still claim to be followers of Jesus. This is what Peter was contending with when he returned from his ministry trip to the Gentiles. As mentioned in a previous post, the Gentiles were seen as outsiders to the Jews and not welcome into the traditions and cultural heritage that they held so dear. And yet, some how, some way, the LORD broke in and Peter, having met Cornelius and his relatives, was convinced that they truly were open to receiving the gift of salvation, even though they had not come from a tradition that even he was familiar with. This truly was a lesson for Peter (as we've already looked at), but please note how the experience convinced the doubters that Peter was confronted with once he returned from this experience. 

The Spirit, more specifically the pouring out of the Spirit, was what convinced the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea that their conversions were real. Because they had a similar experience (see chapter 2 of Acts), they accepted that these Gentiles were truly touched by the same Spirit and they could welcome their experience as a bonafide symbol of conversion (note: they didn't see it first-hand, but had to trust Peter's word). And yet, I think we need to bring our own stories into this lesson.

Do you ever wonder, when presented with someone of another cultural heritage than your own, if they are truly a believer in Jesus Christ? I will most definitely step on toes with these question but here goes...

What takes place in your heart when you meet someone of another culture. Do you question the teachings that they received to follow Jesus as Saviour? What if you learned that this person actually was from another religious tradition, say Islamic or Buddhist, and was discipled by a missionary, came to faith, and now has been given an opportunity of sharing their story of faith with you and your church? What do you listen for when they share their story with you? What keys are you waiting for that convince you that they are truly believers? I need to dig my heal in your foot with these next questions...

What about meeting someone for the first time from another church denomination - especially form a tradition that you strongly are opposed to that make as a majority-belief in their church on certain doctrinal traditions? Do you question their faith? How do you measure whether they are true followers of Jesus then? 

My apologizes for these questions, but I believe they get at the heart of what we see in this text today. You see, we cannot understand the confusion and even the prejudicial attitudes that those of the early church had (unless we come from a Jewish heritage and are struggling with the same things they were) but we can bring these issues into our 21st Century lives with the questions that I've asked above. How would you respond to these questions? What measure of acceptance would you offer someone of another background then yours? How quickly would you feel the need to introduce someone to them that could lead them down a better path or desire to guide them yourself? What sheet would be brought down in front of you, of traditions and beliefs not your own, but that the LORD is presenting you with, in order to convince you that there are others that need to hear of this life-saving message as well.

The 'test', if you will, of whether these people were true believers was their experience of the pouring out of the Spirit. I understand that this is very abstract, and we can't really 'test it' - it takes faith, which I think is exactly the point. I believe we need to be more than ready to respond to people of other traditions because it is clear to me that the LORD is not finished building His Church...and it just might surprise us who He lets in.

Acts 10:23-48 : A Good Lesson for Peter

And on the next day he got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and [t]worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he entered and *found many people assembled. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man [u]unholy or unclean. 29 That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me.”
30 Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the [v]ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments, 31 and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your [w]alms have been remembered before God. 32 Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you have [x]been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

34 Opening his mouth, Peter said:
“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who [y]fears Him and [z]does what is right is welcome to Him. 36 The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching [aa]peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 [ab]You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, [ac]and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the [ad]land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a [ae]cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to [af]preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the [ag]message. 45 All the [ah]circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

***

To get the full story of this beautiful message of salvation to the Gentiles, please begin at verse 1 of chapter 10 (which I've already written about). The reason I say this is because we will miss the lesson if we don't read this chapter in its entirety. Peter is being challenged, as we looked at already, with the truth of what the LORD is doing. As already mentioned as well, we don't have many examples of why this is a challenge to Peter in our day, yet it's important for us to acknowledge that Peter is going into personal 'uncharted waters' here, yet he goes in obedience because the Spirit clearly led him. 

Note, all through this section, Peter is testing the waters: once the men arrived at where he was staying, he asked why they were there (10:21) and once he arrived at Cornelius' home he asked why he had sent him (10:29).  I don't see this is unfaithfulness on Peter's part - I actually see this as great faith and wisdom. Peter clearly is walking in obedience to what the LORD has called him to, but he also wants to test the audience in whom the LORD has given him. This is a great lesson in leadership - know your audience. 

Wiersbe tells us it would have taken 2 days or thirty miles from Joppa and Caesarea so Peter had a long time to consider what he was going to say. Again, another great leadership lesson - prepare for your message. And a somewhat hidden lesson in this text - don't go by yourself. Peter, along with 6 others (see 11:12) travelled together with the men that Cornelius sent. And he met a crowd eager to hear what he had to say. As mentioned, I appreciate the lessons that Peter learns here. He clearly is not going with a mind to dismiss these people - which clearly is going against his own grain of culture - and he is convinced once he meets these people that the LORD has designed this. 
  
I believe there is much beauty in these words that Peter speaks: 
You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for. So I ask for what reason you have sent for me (vss. 28, 29).

I get the image of a doctor touching a patient, a nurse calming a female at her bedside, a leader speaking words of grace rather than condemnation - these words of Peter set the stage for these Gentiles. They were welcomed in by this hospitality. It's a beautiful thing. This, my friends, is the Gospel. Inclusion not exclusion. Welcome instead of turning away. Love instead of dislike or even hate. And with this attitude, these Gentile people were saved.

It's an incredible story, but much, much more than that for us today. This chapter is another hinge for us as we read through these acts of the Apostles. Note that the ending of this chapter completes another section of Jesus' commissioning the disciples - you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth - Samaria was where the Gentiles resided. The disciples heard these words and must have wondered why Jesus was opening this life-giving message up to even them...what a lesson for all of them! And yet, the commissioning of Jesus is still not complete - there are many that have not heard.

The question remains, who is the 'gentile' in our midst as we walk through our days on this planet. We may not have dreams like Cornelius and Peter had, but we most certainly have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Is there someone that He is leading you to today? 

Acts 10:1-23 : In Steps Cornelius...

Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian [a]cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many [b]alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. About the [c]ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and [d]alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his [e]servants and a devout soldier of those who were his personal attendants, and after he had explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the [f]sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the [g]sky opened up, and an [h]object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and [i]crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the [j]air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, [k]kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything [l]unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider [m]unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the [n]object was taken up into the [o]sky.
17 Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in [p]mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; 18 and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, [q]three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them [r]without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear [s]a message from you.” 23 So he invited them in and gave them lodging.

***

It is very clear to me that the theme of this book is about people and their response to the Gospel. Yet it might surprise you, as you read the words of Luke, who is actually being changed the most. We have read of Paul's miraculous transformation, Phillip's clear leading of the Spirit to the Ethiopian Eunuch, but here we have the full essence of conflict. If we look back to Jesus' proclamation in Acts 1:8, we will read that he said to His disciples:

It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.


Clearly Jesus was seeing a picture of how the Gospel would spread and, amazingly, was giving this job to the disciples! Yet the implications were yet to be seen and so we have their acts; better known as The Acts of the Apostles. But there's a problem. When Peter, and the rest of the disciples, heard this commissioning by Jesus, they might have very well been a bit uncomfortable. Remember each of these men were from a Jewish background. It was clear at that point when Jesus was sending them out, that He was calling them to something new, a new way of life. In all the teachings we find in the Gospels, it is most clear that Jesus was calling them to a new covenant and a new life found only in Him. It just so happens that they were all Jews and were following Him as the completion of the Jewish religion. Yet, here we have Peter with a lesson of a life-time (it was a lesson that Jesus was teaching him in the Gospels - see Mark 7:1-23) - now it was time to apply it).

Up to this point, Peter was relatively comfortable as he was ministering only to the Jews, but as God often does, his mind and traditions were going to be challenged. Peter's faith-stretching experiences were not done - in fact, they were only just beginning. And so, he has a dream and everything changes.

Peter, a faithful Jew, would have never eaten any of these animals that he saw on this sheet in his vision, but there they were and the voice clearly said, Get up, Peter, kill and eat! (note, this happened three times; reminiscent of the three times he denied Jesus and the three times he was brought back into the fold on the shore). Peter was yet again being challenged by his own belief-system. Why? In order that as many as possible would come to know the truth of the Gospel. Jesus' proclamation was being fulfilled, but it took Peter being challenged, coerced even, to obey the LORD's commissioning him to the Gentiles. 

We cannot truly understand the religious implications if we are reading this text as followers of Christ through a long line of Christians before us in our family line, but perhaps you could understand the nuances of what Peter is experiencing if you have come to faith in Jesus coming from a different religious background. The fact remains, the LORD is still in the business of challenging our belief-systems in order for us to come to faith in Jesus. Only Jesus is our Saviour. This dogmatic statement makes everyone squirm, but does not change the reality of its truth. Peter was challenged in his understanding in order for his mind to be open to others who had not understood the wonderful truth of Jesus' love for them. It was going to take a lot of stretching in order for Peter to learn this. But it would be worth it.

Where is the LORD stretching your faith today for you to minister to others who you may not have seen or cared about before?

Acts 9:32-43 : Peter's Healing Ministry

Now as Peter was travelling through all those regions, he came down also to the [n]saints who lived at [o]Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.” Immediately he got up. 35 And all who lived at [p]Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called [q]Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. 37 And it happened [r]at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, “Do not delay in coming to us.” 39 So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the [s]tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 40 But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the [t]saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.

***

Peter clearly had a gift to heal. This wasn't his only gift nor was he exercising this gift in isolation to his ministry of the Word. It is very clear that this was for a time in Peter's ministry, yet he desired people to meet the Risen Saviour and many did through these miracles. 

I can't help but see the Saviour's actions written all over Peter's ministry. As he clearly is obeying the original calling Jesus placed on his life (see John 21:15-17), he is actually mimicking what he himself saw Jesus do in His earthly ministry. Note these two passages I have provided as examples:

And entering in, He *said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.” They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He *took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and *entered the room where the child was. Taking the child by the hand, He *said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded.
(Mark 5:39–42)

Then He got up and left the synagogue, and entered Simon’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Him to help her.
And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately got up and waited on them. (Luke 4:38, 39)

Both of these clearly demonstrate the power of Jesus' capacity to heal. Peter knew this, remembered this and stored this away in his heart - and now he had the immense privilege of doing similar healings himself. He was healing the same way, for the same purpose. Note how similar the healing of the little girl is to both of the miracles we read in the text for this devotional. Both individuals needed a personal touch and both received it in a miraculous way from Peter the Apostle.

I do struggle with why there seems to be far less miracles in our day than there was in the Apostles' day. I could personally name 10 different people that could receive this miraculous, healing touch from the LORD. Their lives would be drastically different and they would seek to please the LORD I'm sure even more after they were healed. But some how, some way, the LORD has changed His strategy with us living in the 21st century. I can only speak for me, but I know that my faith is the thing that needs to be stretched, prodded, and pulled by my Saviour's pottery-hands. My faith is the thing that creates the intimate relationship that I long for with my Saviour. Miracles and touches of incredible proportion would come and go, I'm afraid to say, in my life - but what is lasting is a personal, life-giving relationship with Jesus. That is what I'm after. I am setting my sights on that goal and whether miracles come, my hope is built on His continuous, walking relationship with Him.

Acts 9:26-31 : The Son of Encouragement

When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; [j]but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, [k]moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the [l]Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria [m]enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.

***

We all need a Barnabas sometimes. The truth is we need a man like Barnabas all the time, but maybe floating around in the background for a time because we need him to be on-hand at those most crucial points of our lives. And here was a crucial part of the story for Saul.

Saul's story was quite a unique one: a unique encounter with Jesus (the only one of its kind), a unique calling (which will be further developed as we go on) and a unique story (that many were in doubt of). Saul had a good story - it sounded good on paper - but the believers of the day were skeptical. And so they should be.

Let's not forget who this Saul was. When the disciples had gathered together to choose 'the seven' (see Acts 6:1-6), Stephen was among the ones chosen. They all extended their hopeful prayers on him. He was a good fit and it says he, along with the other six, were to be of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task as the Apostles would devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:3, 4). And yet, in this choosing, God had other plans. It was clear that Stephen had a gift to preach and share the Word with others - which got him in trouble with the Law. Stephen was stoned to death. It was a brutal way to die. But who was among them? Luke records for us that When they had driven [Stephen] out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul...[he] was in hearty agreement with putting him to death (Acts 7:58; 8:1).

Saul's got a track-record that isn't all that pretty to look at. I think if we were among them, we would have the same reaction of distrust. So in steps the Son of Encouragement - Barnabas - to pave the way for there to be restoration between Saul and the Apostles. We meet Barnabas for the first time in Acts 4:36, 37. He had owned a tract of land, which he sold, brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. So because of this, the Apostles trusted him. They clearly didn't trust Saul. But Barnabas, as the Son of Encouragement, encouraged the Apostles to accept Saul. This is what we could call a good ol' fashion mediation-session.

What was Barnabas' tactic? He revealed Saul's story in Damascus, but especially relayed the fact that he had attempted to speak with the Hellenistic Jews but in turn, was threatened with his own life. Why is this significant? The Hellenistic Jews were the same who put Stephen to death. The tables have now turned. Saul was now the hunted by these men. And where did he flee? To the only ones that could accept him - the followers of Jesus. And so they did. They not only accepted him, but helped him flee from his accusers. They knew all too well what these people were capable of. And so begins the new chapter of the Book of Acts - complete with another summary.

As stated before, Luke records for us a few of these summary statements in his letter to Theophilus. Now that we are about a quarter into the book, we can see a pattern developing. When Luke gives his summary of what has taken place, the story takes a turn. Sometime for good, some for not so good, but it is still important to for us to recognize what he is doing. This time round, the hinge that Luke provides is a free-flowing connector of peace for a time. But only for a time, as we will read. Yet here we have yet another lesson for us today about unity. 

All through the book we see how essential it is for us to be in unity together, no matter the cost. The fact is, Saul was a hater of the Way, but he has now become a part of the Way and will be an integral part of its spreading, literally, around the globe. If the Apostles did not accept and seek to help him, who knows where the Church would be today. Thank God that the Apostles accepted his story and thank God for Barnabas, the man who paved the way for the Apostles to see the truth of Saul and what he had to offer for the LORD's fame.

Acts 9:19-25 : In Steps the New Saul

Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, [h]saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the [i]Christ.
23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

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Here we have a wonderful look at a changed man. Note that he was with the disciples who were at Damascus several days. Though these disciples knew who Saul was, they invited him into their lives, their homes and displayed the love of Jesus to him. The result? Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God" (vs. 20). Don't miss this point.

Saul, a pre-persecutor of the Church, was now rubbing shoulders with Christians and he began to immediately share the truth of Jesus - the very thing that he was literally threatening people with not so much earlier in his personal ministry. This is a good ol' fashion change of heart, change of mind, change of life. But isn't there always opposition. It seems to be the constant in our lives.

Saul was continuing to gain much wisdom and strength (vs. 22) and those that were 'on his side' previous to this, took it upon themselves to to make very sure he understood he was a traitor and they threatened his life because of it. He would later reflect on his ministry how this just seemed to be par for his course (see 2 Cor. 11:30ff) but never seeking to wallow in it due to his desire to filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24).

Saul is a model for us. He had a story to tell of an incredible conversion, but more so, an incredible journey of trusting the LORD through some of the most horrific circumstances. This text begins that journey. He felt betrayed by those who were originally for him but their plot became known to Saul (vs. 24) and so he fled.* And so begins the new journey of Saul turned apostle for the LORD's sake.

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*Wiersbe writes in his New Testament Commentary:
"It is likely that Saul’svisit to Arabia (Gal. 1:17) took place about this time. Had Dr. Luke included it in his account, he would have placed it between Acts 9:21 and 22. We do not know how long he remained in Arabia, but we do know that after three years, Saul was back in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). Why did he go to Arabia? Probably because the Lord instructed him to get alone so that He might teach Saul His Word. There were many things that would have to be clarified in Saul’s mind before he could minister effectively as an apostle of Jesus Christ. If Saul went to the area near Mount Sinai (Gal. 4:25), it took considerable courage and strength for such a journey. Perhaps it was then that he experienced “perils of robbers” and “perils in the wilderness” (2 Cor. 11:26). It is also possible that he did some evangelizing while in Arabia, because when he returned to Damascus, he was already a marked man. The important thing about this Arabian sojourn is the fact that Saul did not “confer with flesh and blood” but received his message and mandate directly from the Lord (see Gal. 1:10–24). He did not borrow anything from the apostles in Jerusalem, because he did not even meet them until three years after his conversion. When Saul returned to Damascus, he began his witness afresh, and the Jews sought to silence him. Now he would discover what it meant to be the hunted instead of the hunter! This was but the beginning of the “great things” he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:16). How humiliating it must have been for Saul to be led into Damascus as a blind man and then smuggled out like a common criminal (see 2 Cor. 11:32–33)."