A HOT POTATO
“After that, he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name. But then he ran afoul of a group called Hellenists — he had been engaged in a running argument with them — who plotted his murder. When his friends learned of the plot, they got him out of town, took him to Caesarea, and then shipped him off to Tarsus.” Acts 9:28-30 (The Message).
What does one make of this scenario?
Saul was emerging as a powerful leader of this new movement. His highly trained legal mind and Pharisaical upbringing wrestled with the implications of the life, death and resurrection of the Man he had met on the Damascus road. As he preached and taught, he was formulating his defence of the gospel and pitting his new understanding against the best brains of his day.
He was drawing a great deal of attention from fanatical Jews and particularly those who were Greek-speaking and had embraced a much more “broad-minded” religious outlook on life. His debates with them had become so one-sided and hot that they could not out-argue him so they decided that the best way to win the war of words was to eliminate him.
One wonders about the wisdom of Saul’s actions. Was there any value in stirring up the kind of opposition that drew too much attention to the followers of Jesus and put their lives in danger? Up to this point Peter and John had been the natural leaders of the church. They had fallen foul of the authorities by preaching the resurrection of Jesus, implicating them in His death.
The crippled beggar’s healing outside the Temple put the cherry on the top. The Jewish religious leaders thought they had safely disposed of Jesus and intimidated His followers into silence, but now His uneducated Galilean peasant disciples were publicly insisting that Jesus was alive and doing the same things as He had done. The movement had become unstoppable.
When Stephen had publicly accused them of being in league with their forefathers who silenced every prophet that indicted the people of God for their stubborn disobedience and rebellion against God, they were so incensed that they stoned him to death. The set off a wave or persecution so fierce that the believers had to flee Jerusalem.
Now Saul comes along and stirs up more trouble by his fiery debates with these Hellenists. It’s no wonder the believers in Jerusalem shipped him back to Tarsus where he was safely out of their way!
We have to admire Saul’s zeal and his courage but we must also remember that he was a young man and a new believer. Sometimes the fire of youth does not always match the wisdom of experience. Amazing how God uses everything for our good! Perhaps the time Saul spent back home in Tarsus gave him opportunity to think through his own understanding of the gospel.
When the right moment came, he was available to join Barnabas and accompany him to Jerusalem on a mission of mercy for the suffering believers. Perhaps a little tamer and a little wiser, he was ready to embark on his calling to take the message from Jerusalem to Rome.