THE TABLES ARE TURNED
“After this had gone on quite a long time, some Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul got wind of it. They were watching the city gates around the clock so they could kill him. Then one night the disciples engineered his escape by lowering him over the wall in a basket.” Acts 9:23-25 (The Message).
What a turn-around! The persecutor becomes the persecuted!
Nothing short of a miracle could have put Saul in this predicament. The suffering the Master predicted for him had begun. Saul’s brilliant legal mind had already come into play in Damascus. His grasp of the gospel put him in the forefront of its defenders and brought him into the firing line of the fanatical Jews he once led.
Fortunately for Saul, he was securely connected to the fellowship of believers in Damascus. He had proved the genuineness of the change in his life by his bold challenge to the Jews he once stood with in his opposition to the Way. Just as he was putting his life on the line for the Master, so they were willing to put their lives on the line for him. The story of the church can easily rank among the best of modern thrillers!
“Back in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him; told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name.” Acts 9:26-27 (The Message).
Strange, isn’t it, how quickly bad news travels? The believers in Damascus knew all about Saul, the persecutor. And yet, in Saul’s case, the truth of the good news of his transformation had not yet penetrated the church in Jerusalem. In spite of his activities in Damascus and the circumstances of his departure from that city, the believers in Jerusalem were still suspicious of him.
It took the action of another big-hearted brother, Barnabas, like Ananias, to vouch for him. Barnabas not only befriended and defended him in this situation. He also became a life-long friend and partner in the gospel, travelling and suffering together with him across Asia Minor in the cause of the gospel.
What were Saul’s credentials that vouchsafed his true conversion? He had met with Jesus and become His witness in spite of the opposition and the death threats that drove him out of Damascus and would hound him across Israel, Asia Minor and Europe and put him in jail more than once.
It was this hatred and opposition from his own countrymen that bit deeply into his soul and caused him to cry out to God for deliverance. Like the idolatrous Canaanites who so harassed the Israelites in their conquest of the Promised Land that they became a thorn in the side of God’s people, Saul’s own people became his worst nightmare in his quest to win them for his Master.
It was the Jews who stirred up riots against him, who turned Roman officials against him and who eventually had him arrested in Jerusalem, and imprisoned and tried in Rome as a dangerous criminal who had no right to be alive.
But whatever was done to him in the name of religion could not take from him the reality of that moment when he saw the risen Jesus and heard His commission to take the gospel to the world. Nothing would cancel out that command, not even the hatred of his own people, the suspicion of his fellow believers and the threat of death itself.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” Philippians 3:7-9a.
What will it take for Jesus to have followers like that…especially in the western world where comfort and convenience are the great enemies of true disciples?