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(Acts 9:19–31) The Bridge Builder

(Acts 9:19–31) The Bridge Builder

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 9:19–31

Barnabas gave Saul the support he needed in his early Christian experience and helped set Paul on his way to spiritual greatness. Are you an encouraging bridge builder, too?

In this sermon, we will explore the story of Paul the Apostle, a man who was once a persecutor of Christians but who later became one of the most influential figures in the early church. We will learn how Paul's conversion transformed his life and how he went on to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.


“The Bridge Builder”

(Acts 9:19-31)


Saul has become a disciple of Christ - amazing as that must have been.  No doubt the religious leaders back in Jerusalem shuddered with fear and rage that they had lost their young brilliant Pharisee to the cult of the Nazarene.

The heir apparent to the pre-eminent Hebrew scholar Gamaliel has now become a follower of the Galilean.  Saul doesn’t waste much time removing any doubt of his changed life -


Verse 19-20:   Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”  Can you imagine the uproar this caused?  Here is the man who was coming to Damascus to hunt down and capture the Jewish traitors who had chosen to follow Christ.  Now he is the one declaring that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.


Verse 21-22:  And 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?”  But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.  Wow, what a change in Saul, the feared hunter and executioner of Christians.

Three years of solitary education:

Even though the narrative continues on into verse 23, there is a change in events.  According to Paul’s own testimony in Galatians, God immediately instructs Saul to go into isolation in nearby Arabia.  God enrolled Saul in a personal, private curriculum that would prepare him for what would happen years later.Luke says in verse 23 that it was after many days that Saul returned to Damascus.   Well, many days literally meant 8 or 900 of them.   


Verse 23-25:  And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.  He narrowly escaped.  The word for basket here refers to a large wicker basket, perhaps woven earlier to allow the escape of Christians from Saul - it is now used by Saul himself.  Don’t miss the irony here.   Saul intended to ride in and out of Damascus on a high, proud horse, having captured Christians.  Now this brilliant Pharisee is a common fugitive, running for his life.  He escapes in the night and heads for Jerusalem where he hopes to find support from the apostles and the Jerusalem church.


Verse 26:.   And when he had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.   They were all afraid of him, thinking he was an undercover agent for the Sanhedrin.  They are defensive, cautious and maybe even resentful.

Saul’s  nervous and maybe even scared.  He’s lost every friend he knows.  He’s suddenly the hunted one wanting to be accepted by the church he persecuted.  Every door he knocked on was probably shut in his face.  Whatever happened to Peter, the Apostle of the second chance?  Where was Andrew who was always bringing outsiders to Jesus?  Saul is a pitiful young believer unwanted by both worlds.  He is an outcast by Judaism on one side and unwanted by the fellowship of the saints on the other.

He is in desperate need of a bridge into that other world.  At this point, something happens so wonderful that God wanted us to know it happened.  A bridge builder named Barnabas steps forward.


Verse 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.  Barnabas meets with Saul and personally hears his story and becomes convinced that Saul is on the level.  He is genuinely born again.  The phrase “Barnabas took hold of him” could be translated, “Barnabas took an interest in him .”

Good Encouragers:

David Jeremiah suggests at least four characteristics of good encouragers as he reflected on the life of Barnabas.

They have to be genuine people; they cannot be phonies

They are diligent; they’re hard workers.

They are assertive; they take initiative.

They are selfless; they are concerned primarily for others.


Nowhere in the word has God promised us a Barnabas, but in his word He has challenged every one of us to become a Barnabas.


Verse 28-30:  And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, he was  speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews;  but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

For the sake of Saul’s safety, he’s sent to his hometown of Tarsus.  He’s dismissed from what you and I would expect would become his career.  God has other plans for young Saul, a man perhaps in his early 30’s.  There are roots to deepen, and he has to begin developing them at home.

The leading teacher in this passage is not an apostle, and it is not the church body; it is Barnabas.

1) A bridge builder is available to listen.

2)  A bridge builder is inclined to forgive.

3) A bridge builder is determined to resolve.   

4) Finally, bridge builders are sensitive to potential in other people.

He was the only one who said, when no one else would say, Barnabas said, “Let’s hear him out - let’s forgive and forget - let’s give him a chance.”

By the way, Saul will dissapear following verse 30 and not re-appear until 8 years later.

Eight years of silence - Saul is back in his hometown - he’s returned a failure in the eyes of everyone who used to boast of his intellect and his future as Gamaliel’s brightest student.

His family had been wealthy enough to support his move to Jerusalem, even though he did live with his married sister - his father had also been wealthy enough to pay the fees so that Saul could have the finest tutoring known to the Jewish world.

Yet, when Saul resurfaces, he’s making tents to survive?  Why?  Some believe, including myself, that Saul was disowned by his Jewish parents; he was disinherited by his prominent father.

Eight years would go by before we hear of Saul again - as far as the Jerusalem church believed, Saul wasn’t the leader or teacher we know him to be - until, something happened - believe it or not, until Barnabas acted again.

Turn to Acts chapter 11 quickly

ACTS 11 - I want you to see something beginning in verse 21.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.  22.  And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.  23.  Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with 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 numbers were 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 it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the reason the church, then and now would have the Apostle Paul as it’s pre-dominate teacher was becuase of the persistence of a man who saw in Saul what no one else seemed to see.

A man who was willing to see in him potential that no one else could see.

A bridge builder named Barnabas - who came to Tarsus, and finally located Saul - probably living in some humble quarters.  Barnabas, came and took Saul by the hand again and said, “The church needs you Saul;  I need you Saul - come work with me.”

Let’s build a bridge together in the hearts and lives of people who are about to become known, as Christians.

Why don’t we do the same thing in our world today!

Would you take the hand of the person next to you and sing:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow:

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.


“Are you enduring an Arabian period, feeling lost and ineffective?  From a human perspecitve, Saul had an impressive resume.  Though he was highly educated, in God’s eyes Saul was completely useless until he graduated from God’s Desert School of Character Develop/ment.  If you’re enrolled in that school right now, be encouraged.  This is God’s way of weaving steel into the fabric of your life.

Another writer agreed with that line of application and wrote:  Every Christian God has ever used has had a course or two in the university of Arabia - a wilderness training.  The fees are large, the discipline exacting and many don’t keep it up but drop out.  For those who graduate, the results are utter dependence on God, utter independence of man.


1.Good encouragers have to be genuine people - they can’t be phonies. (Paul wrote, “Let love be without hypocrisy”)

2.Good encouragers are diligent - they are hard workers. (never lagging in diligence)

3.Good encouragers are assertive - they take initiative. (practicing hospitality)

I want to add here something I heard years ago - Maybe you remember the comedian, “Flip Wilson”?  One day someone asked Him about his religion and he answered, “I am a Jehovah’s Bystander.”  What do you mean?  “Well, They asked me to be a witness but I didn’t want to get involved!”

The Apostle Paul will later write - practice hospitality (that’s another way of saying, be assertive, take the initiative, get invovled!!!!!)

4.Good encouragers are selfless - they are concerned primarily for other people.


If this is not a place where tears are understood,

Then where shall I go to cry?

And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wings,

Then where shall I go to fly?

I don’t need another place for trying to impress you

With just how good and virtuous I am, no, no;

I don’t need another place for always being on top of things.

Everybody knows it’s a sham, it’s a sham.

I don’t need another place for always wearing smiles,

Even when it’s not the way I feel.

I don’t need another place to mouth the same-old platitudes,

Everybody knows that’s not real.

So if this is not a place where my questions can be asked,

Then where shall I go to seek?

And if this is not a place where my heart’s cry can be heard,

Then where shall I go to speak?

And if this is not a place where tears are understood,

Where shall I go, oh, where shall I go to cry?


They were growing apart as he grew older - words were harder to say - she resolved to say them anyhow . . . let me read:

When she went upstairs, all she could hear coming from her boy’s room was the loud sound of his drums.  She had a message she wanted to deliver, but when she knocked on the door, she got cold feet.

“Got a minute?” she said, as he son answered her knock.

“Sure Mom.”

“You know, son, I. . .I. . .I just love the way you play the drums.”

He said, “You do?  Well, thanks Mom!”

She started back downstairs.  Half-way down, she realized that she had not conveyed the message she had intended so back she went to his door and once again said, “It’s Mom again!  Do you have another minute?”

He said, “Mom, like I told you before, sure!”

She sent over and sat on the bed.  “When I was here before I had something I wanted to tell you and I didn’t get it said.  What I really meant to say was; your dad and I. . .we just really think you’re great.”

He said, “You and Dad?”     

She said, “Yes, your Dad and I.”

“Okay, Mom, thanks.”

She left and was again aware that she had gotten closer to the message she intended but had still not told her son what she wanted.  So up the stairs again and back to tehd oor again, and this time he heard her coming.

Before she could knock, he shouted, “Yeah, I have a minute!”

Mom sat down on the bed once more.  “you know, Son, I’ve tried this twice now and haven’t gotten it out.  What I really came up here to tell you is this.  I love.  I love you with all of my heart.”

He gave her a great big hug and said, “I love you too Mom.”

She started out of the room and was back at the head of tehs tairs when her son stuck his head out of his room and said, “Mom, do you have a minute?”

She laughed and said, “Sure.”

“Mom,” he asked, “Did you just come back from a seminar?”

Bridge builders are the ones who make the first move.

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