As you would expect, the passage can be read here.
Many believe Usain Bolt to be the best sprinter of all time. He has a unique set of records; the only man to win 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100meters relay Gold at two consecutive Olympics, the only man to break 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 meters world records at the same Olympics. Many experts suggested early in his career that Bolt would be even better at the 400 meters event but Bolt has never been keen, preferring the shorter distances. It’s certainly paid off as he still holds the sprint world records and unlike many sprinters, there has never been any question of failed drugs tests.
Saul must have loved athletics, he used it to describe the Christian life at least five times (Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, 5:7, 2 Timothy 4:7) but you could argue he was more of a long distance specialist than a sprinter. We learn in today’s passage that his start was explosive as well.
Saul may have only stayed in Damascus for a matter of days but he set out to share the truth that had been revealed to him. He didn’t receive any training but he had experience of a personal encounter with Jesus. He preached that Jesus was the Christ (or the Messiah) and we know from elsewhere in the New Testament that he used the Scriptures to prove it. We also know that his message was one of repentance (Acts 26:20), putting him in line with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. His teaching must have been empowered by the Spirit because it baffled those who sort to oppose him. What a turnaround, earlier Stephen’s preaching had also been full of the Spirit’s wisdom forcing the Jews into violence and ultimately murder with the approval of Saul. Now it was Saul’s preaching that was producing the same results and forcing the Jews to attempt murder in order to silence him. The irony would not have been lost on him. Neither would the dying prayer of faithful Stephen; “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Saul, or as he was known later Paul, is sometimes portrayed as a sort of ‘Lone Ranger’, off on his own breaking new ground for the Christian faith. Nothing could be further from the truth; he had companions as he travelled, partners in ministry and a network of Christian friends across the known world. He had a heart for the Church and loved the fellowship of believers. Even in these very early days as a Christian, he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus and when he returned to Jerusalem tried to link up with the apostles. Sometimes people find themselves in a situation where fellowship is impossible and when that happens, I know God is faithful and somehow makes it up to them. But his purpose is to have believers united in Christ as one body, a beautiful bride or a holy temple. We need the Lord of course but we need each other too.
It wasn’t surprising that the disciples were unwilling to meet Saul – you could hardly blame them! Neither was it surprising that it was Barnabas who brought Saul to the disciples. Barnabas was a sort of nickname given to this man, it meant; ‘son of encouragement’ and he really was a great encouragement to the apostles. We’ve already had him mentioned in 4:36-37 where he had sold a field and gave the proceeds to the apostles. From the context, it would seem the money was given to help people who were in need and this, as we shall see, was typical of the man. Here, Barnabas saw that Saul needed a friend and when everyone else was afraid, he went to him and then took him to the disciples. Was Barnabas just like that or was he a man who listened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit? My suspicion is the latter. We need more people like Barnabas in our churches; perhaps the Holy Spirit is already prompting you.
God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name
I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name
And in Jesus’ name I come to you
To share His love as He told me to
He said: ‘Freely, freely, you have received
Freely, freely give
Go in My name, and because you believe
Others will know that I live.’ (Carol Owens)