Tuesday, May 19, 2020
When he (Paul) came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 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.
Saul of Tarsus was a name everyone feared in the early church. He had become infamous for being one of Judaism’s most militant proponents. In these introductory verses on his biography, he was effectively serving as a Jewish bounty hunter, chasing down Christians and imprisoning them. He had become a constant thorn in the side of the Christian church.
When Saul suddenly showed up in Jerusalem claiming to be a new Christian, you can only imagine the stir it caused in that young assembly. Perhaps the congregation was in the middle of singing songs or listening to a sermon, when, all of a sudden, Saul walked in. The music stops. The keyboardist hits some wrong notes. The mic feeds back. And people begin looking around for the nearest exit.
We’re not given any indication of how Christians shunned Saul, but Scripture is clear that he was an outcast in their midst. They were afraid, skeptical, and probably bitter – his vicious tyranny against the church had no doubt touched many of their lives either directly or indirectly. As far as they were concerned, there was no room in the assembly for Saul. The church in Jerusalem effectively nailed a “Keep out” sign to their door, with a picture of Saul in the middle of it.
Imagine how Saul must have felt when he first experienced the hostility and ostracism of this congregation. He has just abandoned the only world he knows and has lost all his friends in the process. Now the Church is abandoning him as well. Beyond the beatings and shipwrecks and imprisonments he would later face, I believe this would have been one of the lowest points in his Christian life.
Where is Peter? Where is Andrew? Where is the godly leadership of this church? Frankly, their tongues are tied. They might have been preaching a series of messages on the grace of God, but they weren’t quite prepared to apply any of it to Saul of Tarsus.
But someone finally speaks a word of welcome. Someone steps up and reaches out. His name is Barnabas, and he is about to live up to that nickname the apostles gave him in Acts chapter 4 – the “Son of encouragement.” We’re not sure how he approached Saul. Maybe he invited him out for tea or dinner, or maybe he ran into him in the market and started a conversation. Regardless, he gave Saul a chance, and I imagine Saul was moved deeply by Barnabas’ willingness to hear his story.
Barnabas doesn’t stop with that, however. He doesn’t just listen. He effectively put his arm around Saul, walked with him past the “keep out” sign on the sanctuary door and introduced him as a new brother to the apostles. Amazing! And convicting to the leaders in the church!
Is there a Saul somewhere nearby? Are you aware of someone who is struggling to turn his or her life around – to get beyond their past? Is there a hurting brother or sister you are refusing to forgive? Imitate Barnabas by tearing down the “Keep out” signs and inviting that person into your life – and into the life of your church.
Saul would later shake the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So can that hurting member of your church. That’ll be up to God. But God gives us a special role – the role of encourager.
Let’s not just sing and preach about grace. Let’s become the embodiment of grace to those who need it most.
Prayer Point: Bitterness, envy, and pride are a virus to the church and none of us is immune. So pray for God to reveal who it is in your assembly you are refusing to forgive or accept. Don’t make rationalizations. God sees your heart and He knows what you really think and feel. Pray for His compassion and love, because only He can enable you to truly forgive and genuinely accept those who have wronged you.
Extra Refreshment: Read the similar account in Acts 15:36-41, where Barnabas again shows grace to an ostracized believer, only to be opposed this time by Paul. Let this serve as a reminder that it’s possible to experience and preach grace, while failing to bestow it on others.