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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rewriting the Title Page of our Lives

19-21Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, "Isn't this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn't he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?"  22But their suspicions didn't slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.
(Acts 9:19-22)

Saul of Tarsus - the persecutor of the New Testament church - is now dedicated to the work of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  He was called to be God's personal representative to the non-Jews (those with no real knowledge of the one true God), the kings (those with power and influence), and to the Jews (those that crucified Christ).  You would think that the believers in Damascus would be delighted to see Saul's transformation.  Yet there is skepticism and a sense of unease as he launches into his ministry.

Most of their initial mistrust of Saul was due to their "perception" of who Saul WAS - he had been well known as the persecutor of believers.  Their mistrust was based on how they HAD known Saul - not on how he WAS behaving in the present.  We sometimes have the tendency to judge the book by the cover.  We know certain things about an individual and then we just don't look any farther.  We allow the things we know about them to give us what we embrace as our TOTAL impression of that individual.  We might even say that based on what little we know, we give them a "title" - like "persecutor of the church" was a title Saul had come to be acquainted with.  There is always a danger in limiting our perception of an individual based on what we know of them in the past.  The danger is that we will never discover the potential of Jesus in them if we always just perceive them under the "title" of their past.

The believers of the day met in meeting places - like small groups in homes of other believers - they did not have many large meeting places like we think of as the churches in our neighborhoods today.  Saul kept with this tradition at first, and launched out to meet as many of the Damascus disciples during his first few days of being a believer in Christ.  Then, we are told, he went right to work with the ministry calling God had given him.  Saul was known as a zealous man - he certainly would embrace the call of God to bring people to Christ as much as he had embraced his misguided belief that the church was "against God".  Saul wasted no time.  One of the tendencies we see with new converts to Christianity is that they are excited about the work Jesus has done in their lives.  They want to share how much grace has touched their lives.  This was the case for Saul, as well.

Look at Saul's enthusiasm - but don't forget to see the reaction of those who knew Saul as the persecutor of the church.  They were reluctant to believe this life change was real.  They almost wanted to not have him in their meeting places because they were fearful this was a trick on his part.  This did not stop Saul - he launched himself into the ministry of sharing the good news about Christ's grace and love as intently as he did all things with his life, plowing head-on into the opposition he encountered.  That opposition was first those within the church that did not fully trust the change they saw in him, then the Jews that stood in total opposition to the New Testament believers and their message of grace.  

The following verses in this chapter begin with a few words common to us in story-telling:  "Now, back in Jerusalem..."  The story is focused on what Saul is doing in Damascus, but then we move to the reaction of the disciples at Jerusalem.  This gives us insight into how widespread the fear of Saul was at that time - even the disciples there did not trust that the change in Saul was real.  But...one man would make all the difference in changing their view of Saul.  That man was Barnabas. 

Barnabas was a Levite - of the line of priests in the Jewish faith that served in the Temple ministry.  He was now a "converted Jew" - one who had embraced the Messiah and had become a follower of Christ.  He was a native of the land of Cyprus - a landowner there.  We find that he sold his land and used the funds from that sale to assist in the work of the church (Acts 4:36-37).  It is quite possible that Barnabas was a long-time acquaintance of Saul - perhaps even "buddies" in the school of Jewish education known as Rabbinical teaching.  

When Saul comes to Jerusalem, it is rough sailing for him - his reputation precedes him.  As is often the case, living "beyond" our reputation is often one of the highest hurdles we will take!  Saul needed to be embraced by one that the other disciples and believers would look up to and trust - Barnabas was that man.  Scripture tells us that he "took Saul under his wing", introducing him to the apostles, and "standing up for him".  If there is one thing that every new convert to Christianity needs, it is someone who will take them under their wing for a while.  That bond and support made all the difference in the acceptance of Saul as a "changed man".  It helped others see him beyond his "reputation" and understand the work God was doing in his life.

Theirs would be a long relationship - Barnabas and Saul traveling throughout the land, preaching the good news of Christ's grace and establishing new churches.  At first, Barnabas is the key player - introducing Saul (now known to them as Paul) to the apostles, church leaders, and believers in Jerusalem, then inviting him to assist him in a full year's missionary work in the region of Antioch.  Before long, Paul began to know the calling on his life - it was that of a missionary.  I cannot help but wonder how much Barnabas influenced the early ministry of Paul, helping him rise to the place that he would be commissioned as a missionary in the New Testament church.

The relationships we form are often the very thing we need to "rewrite" the "title page" of our lives.  No longer was Saul known as the "Persecutor of the Church" - now he was "The Missionary to the Gentiles".  Today, as you consider those who have taken you "under their wings" as mentors, coaches, and simply as positive examples by which you come to learn what it is to live as a Christian, offer a special word of thanks to God.  They are God's gift to us to help us "rewrite" the "title page" of our lives!