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A Wicker Basket and a Bridge Builder

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 9:20–31

Serving the Lord is not the easiest path in life, as Saul soon discovers. This is why we all need the support and encouragement of a “Barnabas.” And it is why we all need to be a “Barnabas.”


Some time ago I read the biography of Joseph Stalin’s daughter. I was not all that interested in reading about Joseph Stalin—the murderous Soviet dictator who brought death and starvation to millions of his own people. But I was interested in reading about Svetlana Stalin—and for one primary reason: some time after her father’s death, she defected to the United States. That was headline news, and it was a major embarrassment to the former Soviet Union.

Well, that same kind of embarrassment is now being felt by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. They can’t believe that one of their own—the brilliant young scholar named Saul of Tarsus—has just defected to the Christian church. This was headline news, not only for Saul, and Judaism, but also for the church that has now been scattered abroad because of persecution.

We read in Acts 9:15 that Saul was chosen by Jesus Christ to be His witness “before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” And don’t miss the next verse, where the Lord said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now as we pick up the biography of Saul here in Acts 9, he is still in Damascus among the believers there. He has regained his sight and been embraced by the church in Damascus. Then verse 20 tells us, “Immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

I cannot imagine the shock and the uproar this caused in the Jewish synagogues and among the Jewish leaders. Verses 21-22 give us a little glimpse of what happens next:

All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here . . . to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Nobody can stand up to Saul as he takes the Old Testament Scriptures he had studied throughout his life and uses them to point to Jesus, the Messiah.

The verses that follow describe Saul’s departure from Damascus and his return to Jerusalem. But there is actually a time interval here between verses 22 and 23. In fact, that little space between verse 22 and verse 23 is three years long. Over in Galatians 1, Paul fills in the gap by explaining in verse 17, “I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” He then records, “After three years I went up to Jerusalem” (verse 18).

Paul does not give us details about this period of time when God enrolled him in a private university taught by the Holy Spirit—divinely written curriculum that educated Saul in New Testament doctrine and the truths about the church and the Christian life.

What we do know, back here in Acts 9, is that three years later, Saul returns to Damascus to begin preaching again. And within days, opposition reaches a boiling point. In fact, we are told, “The Jews plotted to kill him” (verse 23). No wonder. He had been personally assigned by the high priest to eliminate Christianity, and now he is defending it! Verse 24 says they were “watching the gates day and night in order to kill him.”  

It looks like there is no way out. They are watching the gates day and night, but evidently, they are not watching the windows. Verse 25 says, “His disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.”

The word for “basket” here refers to a large wicker basket. It might very well have been woven earlier to allow Christians to escape when Saul arrived. But now it is used by Saul himself.

Don’t miss the irony here. Saul was going to ride out of Damascus, having captured Jesus’ followers. Now he is a fugitive, running for his life. He is going to head to Jerusalem, where he hopes to find a welcome mat from the apostles. But he is in for an unpleasant surprise—verse 26:

When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

They read the headline news, but they could not believe it. I imagine there were skeptics who could not believe Stalin’s daughter wanted to become an American. Well, the believers cannot imagine that Saul wanted to become a Christian.

We can understand their skepticism. They had lived in fear of this man. When they heard he went to Damascus, they were probably praying for the believers there to escape. When they heard the rumor that he had become a Christian but then disappeared into Arabia, they assumed he was gone for good!

But suddenly, here he is in Jerusalem. They don’t believe he is a disciple of Jesus. They probably think he is an undercover agent for the Sanhedrin.

For just a moment, slip into Saul’s sandals. The Sanhedrin hates him and wants him killed. The church does not believe him and will not accept him. At this point in time, Saul has nowhere to turn. There is not one friendly face in Jerusalem.

Well, there is one. A man who is about to build a bridge for Saul to walk over and join the Jerusalem church. This bridge builder’s name is Barnabas. Note verse 27:

Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

This introduction implies that Barnabas has met with Saul and heard his testimony. He is now convinced Saul is a genuine believer in Jesus, and he takes it upon himself to introduce him to the apostles.

No details are given here, but evidently Barnabas convinced the apostles. Over in Galatians we are told that Saul met with Peter and James, the Lord’s half-brother, who is now the pastor/teacher in the church at Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18-19).

It does not take long at all for Saul to begin “preaching boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28). Once again, the Jewish leaders start plotting to kill him. And just like the believers in Damascus, the believers here in Jerusalem step up to save Saul’s life. We are told in verse 30 that when the believers learned about this plot to kill Saul, “they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”

They send him back to his hometown of Tarsus, located in Cilicia, in Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey. And with that, we come to the conclusion of this section of Acts here in chapter 9. We are given a little summary statement in verse 31:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Beloved, the Lord has not called us all to play a similar role in the church today. I frankly have never had to escape out a window or across the sea to save my life. I am like that church leader who once said that wherever the apostle Paul went, they started a riot; and wherever I go, they serve me tea.

Well, we each have a different role to play; the important point is that we faithfully fulfill our role and responsibility. You might be a courageous pioneer; you might be an anonymous basket weaver; you might be a bridge builder like Barnabas. Whatever the Lord brings to you, ask Him for the strength and grace to accomplish it for His glory.

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