The church is afraid.
They're eyeing each other warily. Where was Peter, the apostle of the second chance? Where was Andrew, the one who was known for bringing outsiders to see Jesus? Where was the leadership of the church? Where was the church body?
They were all silent. They were all failing the test. So Saul has left one world and he's trying to get into this new community, this new world, and the bars are up on the windows and the doors are shut and look, we're comfortable in here and we'd rather you stay out. The early Christians were nervous around Paul. Let's face it, Paul was known as a persecutor of the church. That was absolutely true of him.
He was famous for his desire to eradicate Christianity before it could take root in his culture. Once God saved him, he found it difficult to fit in and find his place. One man, Barnabas, paved the way for Paul.
Welcome to Wisdom for the Heart with Stephen Davey. Today we return to our vintage wisdom library through the early part of the book of Acts. Stephen has a message for you about Barnabas and he called it the bridge builder. Saul has become a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is an amazing thing to consider. I'm sure the religious leaders back in Jerusalem were filled with a mixture of rage and fear that their brilliant young Pharisee had become a follower of this Nazarene. I'm sure they were very, very disturbed. The heir apparent to the brilliant Gamaliel is now following the Galilean.
An upset they must have been. Saul doesn't waste much time in removing any doubt of his changed life. If you're looking at chapter 9, notice verse 19, the middle part it says for several days now he was with the disciples who were at Damascus and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus to the synagogue saying he is the son of God.
Amazing. Here is the man who's come to Damascus to hunt down and capture these wayward Jewish traitors to Judaism and he is now the one standing and declaring that Jesus Christ is deity. He is the Messiah.
Now I think they were dumbfounded. Look at verse 21 and all those hearing him continue to be amazed and were saying, is this not he who was in Jerusalem, 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 priest? But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. This former executioner of Christians is now one himself. This would be as dramatic, though we can't understand it, but if you study history to read that Genghis Khan is now holding Bible studies in his home or Attila the Hun is now at a men's breakfast.
This is Saul, the hunter who has been captured by Christ. Now even though the narrative continues on in verse 23 without as much as a breath, there's actually a change in events and why Luke doesn't record it, we don't know, but from Paul's own testimony that he provides us in his epistles, we know that following that verse there begins a two to three year course of private education in Arabia. Paul is taken by the Lord and he is now having sat at the feet of Gamaliel, he is now to sit at the feet, as it were, of the Holy Spirit and he is now to have constructed in his brilliant mind that God will now use for his glory, this new theology of grace, this new covenant, this new thing called the church. But it really doesn't seem to make much sense here because you'd think that Saul is ready for service, he's ready to go, he's now a converted man, he's winning people to faith in Damascus, he is a brilliant debater, he's winning against any opponent who dares step in his way. You would think he's ready to launch into this magnificent ministry and God just kind of pulls him away and says, I wish you would enter this obscure curriculum, this isolation, this period of being alone for three years perhaps, where I'm going to teach you things that you don't know right now. So private was his education in Arabia, Nabatae in Arabia, that he doesn't really say much about it, ever. But it was in that probably obscure place, maybe a lonely place, that Saul is educated in the deeper things of God. My thinking was provoked along that line by some of the men that I have been studying under, myself and my library, by way of books. A provoking point of application, one commentator asked this question, and I ask you now, are you enduring an Arabian period, feeling lost and ineffective? From a human perspective, 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 development. If you're enrolled in that school now, be encouraged. This is God's way of weaving steel into the fabric of your life.
Isn't that good? Another commentator agreed with that line of application and wrote it this way, every Christian, Mark, every Christian God has ever used has had a course or two in the University of Arabia, wilderness training. The fees are large, the discipline is exacting, and many don't keep it up but drop out. For those who graduate, the results are utter dependence on God, utter independence on man. So God's Spirit sort of whisks Saul away into this private school where he stays in obscurity for nearly three years, and I found it interesting, by the way, that this is in the same geographical area near the base of Mount Sinai where Moses, the great leader of that nation, received from God the tables of law, the tablets of law.
It will be in that same geographical location now where this new leader of a new nation will eventually emerge, having been given from God this new theology of grace. I think even God's selection of where this school would be is fascinating. Well, after he graduates from there, this solitary school of God's design, he returns to Damascus, and there we pick it up with verse 23 where Luke says, after many days.
Well, many days literally means about eight or 900 of them. After 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. It's interesting to me that the underground church in Damascus has already developed this network of communication. They probably had prepared it for the coming of Saul. He'd come to Damascus to capture the Christians. Some high official of political power or standing is on the inside track and he knows the plot and he whispers it in the ear of a messenger, go and warn Saul, they're after his head. And that messenger makes his way back to Saul and warns Saul that he is about to be taken and executed. He must escape.
He narrowly escaped. He's let down a window. Some believer had a home on the wall and the window was open and he's let down in this basket. Now the word for basket here refers to a, there's even confusion about the word because it's an unusual thing. It's a large construction. It could have been plated or like a wicker or it could have been made of small ropes. It seems to have been constructed for a year for a unique purpose. I happen to think it was constructed to allow Christians to escape from the coming of this dreaded hunter. That hunter is now using that basket to escape.
I don't want you to miss the irony here. This hunter has ridden into Damascus on a very high and proud horse intending to bring with him back to Jerusalem captured fugitive Jews. He is now the fugitive.
He is now the hunted one. And now he escapes in the night and he's headed back to Jerusalem under cover of darkness. He hopes to find in Jerusalem support from the apostles and this first century church.
And is he in for an unpleasant surprise? Look at verse 26. 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.
Let's look at it from the church's point of view for a moment, okay? They have lived in fear of this dreaded man. Just the name Saul of Tarsus would chill their blood. They've heard news that he's left Jerusalem and they probably wiped the sweat from their brow and they hear he's off in Damascus and they're sorry for the believers in Damascus but probably a little relieved that he's no longer there in Jerusalem. But then they hear word that they are rumored to that he's now a believer but they don't believe it. And then they hear word that he's kind of disappeared. He's off in Arabia somewhere and they think, well, maybe we're done with him but suddenly, unannounced, he appears in Jerusalem. And the text tells us he tries to associate with the disciples. Can you imagine that church meeting?
Maybe they're singing. Suddenly Saul slips in the back. Somebody sitting near the back looks over at him and nudges his friend, hey, who's that? You recognize him?
No, I don't know who that is. Well, it must be a first time visitor. Now let's get him the friendship album. So they pass the friendship album over to him, comes back down the road, they look at the name that he's written. Saul of Tarsus.
Stop the music. We've got an invader in the church. We're not given any detail. We don't know if it was in a service or along the street in the marketplace but it tells us that he tried to associate with them and they wouldn't do it. They were afraid. They kicked him out every time he knocked on a door.
They closed it in his face. You're Saul of Tarsus. Oh, no, no, no. But you need to understand I'm a believer now. I'm a Christian.
I'm one of you. The text tells us they were afraid. They thought he was an undercover agent for the Sanhedrin. So they're defensive. They're cautious.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. They're even a little resentful. Now let's look at it from Saul's point of view. Imagine how he must have felt when he knocked on their door. He's running for his life. He's left the world that he knows. Judaism doesn't want him. Those of his former friendships in Jerusalem, the learned scribes and Pharisees, and maybe he's even tried to talk to Gamaliel but maybe, we don't know, but he's left that world and he's desperately trying to get into this world. How do you think he felt when he knocked on that door for the very first time?
The reason we don't appreciate Barnabas like we will in a moment I think is because we haven't taken time to think how it must have been to be in Saul's sandals at that moment. His heart is beating. I think his palms are sweaty. He's nervous.
He's not some super saint. He's normal, just like you and me, and I think he's a little scared. And now he's going to introduce himself to a group of people. Have you ever been out in front of people? Kind of scary, isn't it? Have you ever given your testimony?
Have you ever had a family reunion and volunteered to pray before the meal? He's afraid. The church is afraid.
They're eyeing each other warily. But I have to ask a couple of questions here. Where was Peter, the apostle of the second chance? Where was Andrew, the one who was known for bringing outsiders to see Jesus? Where was the leadership of the church? Where was the church body? They were all silent.
They were all failing the test. So Saul has left one world, and he's trying to get into this new community, this new world, and the bars are up on the windows, and the doors are shut, and look, we're comfortable in here, and we'd rather you stay out. He's in desperate need of a bridge to get into that world.
And at that moment, something wonderful happens. A bridge builder shows up by the name of Barnabas, verse 27. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he has 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.
Now stop. Now maybe Barnabas had been waiting in deference to the apostles. Maybe he doesn't want to act out of place.
This is sort of the leadership's role. And maybe then he waited for others within the congregation and those given to mercy and hospitality and those caring individuals who seemed so easily, found it so easy to forgive, but nobody seemed to be moving here. But maybe he's a little afraid of Saul too.
We don't know. But somewhere this text implies that he arranged a meeting with Saul, just one on one. Maybe he saw him in the marketplace as believers were shuffling on the other side of the street to get away from him. And Barnabas walks up and he says, Saul, you're Saul, right?
Yes, I am. Well, I'm Barnabas and I belong to this church in Jerusalem. And I've heard you're now claiming to be a Christian. Let's sit down somewhere and talk.
I want to hear your story. That's all Saul would have needed. And I'm sure this young man, Saul about in his early 30s, sat down and just gushed out his whole story.
Here was finally somebody who would hear me out. And after their conversation, Barnabas is convinced that Saul was on the level. He's genuinely born again. And so he takes hold of him. You can translate that. He took interest in him.
And so you can get that idiomatic phrase. He literally, he took his hand. He took him by the hand and he goes to the meeting place. You know, they walk in.
Everybody stops singing then. And Barnabas says, hey everybody, apostles. We know later in another passage that he spoke specifically to Peter and James. I have somebody I want to introduce to you. This is my friend, Saul of Tarsus. If you don't like him, you can't like me.
If he goes, I go. Now we've run into Barnabas before, haven't we, in our study at Acts. Remember he sold a piece of real estate and gave the money to the apostles so people could have food and shelter. Remember he was so loved by the apostles that they gave him a nickname, son of encouragement.
In our vernacular, probably something like sunshine. Now, every one of us in here this morning could say, oh Lord, give me an encourager like that. Boy, could I ever use somebody like a Barnabas in my life right now.
Now it's not wrong to think that, but has it ever occurred to you that God in his word has never promised you, other than Jesus Christ, a Barnabas, but in his word he has challenged every one of us to become like Barnabas? Well, I want you to notice the result of his introduction to the fellowship, verse 28. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem.
And I don't want you to miss that. He was with them. That means he's finally accepted by them. He's finally part of them.
They let me in. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, verse 29. Those were his former friends who had stoned Stephen to death.
Now he's debating. He's taken up the mantle and Stephen had dropped, and he's now arguing and debating with these 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. That is, for the sake of your safety, Saul, we're going to send you back to your hometown, Tarsus.
And as quickly as he appears on the scene, as quickly as he gains prominence, it's almost like he's dismissed. It struck me that way. His life is in danger, but all their lives were in danger. So they said, Saul, what we think is best for you is that you go home. You go back to Tarsus.
That must have been confusing. See, Ananias had learned from the Lord and communicated to Saul, Saul, you will one day speak before kings. Lord, you want me to go back to my little village that I left years ago?
I don't understand, but I'll go. And so Saul heads back to Tarsus to develop his roots, a young 30-year-old man that God is still in the process of instructing and deepening and developing. Well, I want to shift our camera back to Barnabas by way of application here quickly. What can we learn from him? He's the prominent actor on this stage at this narrative. Well, if you want to be a bridge builder, four things struck me about Barnabas that need to be challenged by the Word in our own lives. Number one, a bridge builder is available to listen.
A blind singer by the name of Ken Miedema has written a powerful song a number of years ago. He's talking about the church. Listen to these words. If the church 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, I don't need another place for always being on top of things.
Everybody knows 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? A bridge builder is someone who makes a difference in the church. In fact, if you look at your text in verse 31, you'll read the church. So the church, it gives a sort of a result cause and effect here as a result of this all happening.
The church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace being built up. The word is edified and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. That is, it deepened and it broadened at the same time.
It matured spiritually and added numerically. And it's no surprise to me, nor to you I'm sure, that a church that could hurt all this, that could have divided it down the middle, that church would even be more attractive because it was seen then as a church willing to forgive and to listen. Well, that's my next point. A bridge builder is inclined to forgive. I happen to believe that Barnabas stuck his neck out here when he did this. By going to Saul, he is implying that the apostles are wrong.
This kind of leadership probably isn't told it's wrong very often. Barnabas helped the church avoid a tragic mistake. He helped them open their hearts not only to Saul, but to all the other believers who were new in their faith and the church was wrestling with, what do we do with them? You see, they used to persecute us, but now they're Christians. Do we let them in? You see, the church in Russia faced the same difficulty, especially in Hungary. One of our missionaries told me one of their greatest challenges was the underground church, once the wall came down and they were able to surface in freedom, now what do they do with those who persecuted them but who have now come to faith? Do we let them in? Also, what do we do with those who claim to know Christ but they never really would go public?
They kind of kept it a secret. What is the church do with former persecutors? This church was in the process of putting up steel doors and saying to not only Saul, but to all others, sorry, we're closed.
And Barnabas is one act taught this church how to forgive their chief enemy. That's what bridge builders do. Third, a bridge builder is determined to resolve.
Anybody following after Barnabas this morning needs to know you're giving up the luxury to gossip. You're giving up the ability to just float downstream with all the other Christian fish. You take the challenge on personally. You determine to resolve issues. You are involved. You take initiative for the sake of Christ's name and cause.
It's easy to spot the problems. A bridge builder says, how can we resolve the issues? Let's say what needs to be said. Let's get it on the table. Let's put it all out here where we can all look at it and carve it up, but let's put it on the table and say it. Now, this, by the way, is not only good advice for Christians in your relationships when you think, well, maybe I shouldn't say anything, when you really ought to confront or warn.
This is good for families as well, not only to say those things that are hard but say those things that are hard to say, especially as children age. Bridge builders, ladies and gentlemen, are the ones who make the first move. Finally, one more thought.
Bridge builders are sensitive to potential in other people. Barnabas was the only one who said, when no one else said, Barnabas was the one who said, let's give this guy a chance. Let's hear him out. Let's hear his story, and then let's forgive and let's forget. By the way, Saul is going to disappear after verse 30, and he will not reappear for eight more years.
There will be eight years of silence as Saul goes back to his hometown. And by the way, he has returned to his home village a miserable failure. In the eyes of his former world, he's flunked out. The family that once bragged that, oh boy, our boy Saul, he's being trained by the eminent theologian, Gamaliel, and now he's flunked out of that course and he's back home.
The one whose prominent father, even a Roman citizen, was able to have him secure that tutorial position under Gamaliel was undoubtedly proud. Now he's gone off and he's joined some Nazarene. When Saul appears eight years later, he's making tents to survive. Why? It's where we get the phrase tent making. Somebody in ministry that has to work a job to keep food on the table while they get involved in ministry where they'd rather just be involved in ministry. Here's the one who, when Saul reappears, he's making tents.
Why? His family was prominent enough to pay the fees, the exorbitant amount of income needed to secure Gamaliel as their teacher for their son. Now he's stitching canvas. I believe with others that Saul has been disowned by his Jewish family because he followed the Messiah. And furthermore, he has been disinherited by his prominent father.
Eight years would go by before we hear of Saul again. As far as the Jerusalem church knows, well, you know, what's so great about him? Young guy, you know, he's back in his home village and they didn't know what we know today, that he's the prominent leader theologian of this new nation called the Gentile church. Here he languishes, as it were, in Tarsus.
I have no doubt he's involved. There are believers there later. But he's there, it seems, would he ever speak to kings?
Well, no, he's there for good, but something wonderful happens again. I want you to see something, beginning in verse 21. By the way, the Spirit of God is moving in Antioch. People are coming to faith in Christ.
A new church is being established, and the hand of the Lord was with them. Verse 21, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord, and the news about them reached the ears of the church of Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 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, for he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord, and he left for Tarsus to look for Saul.
And when he had found them, he brought them 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 the church today has this predominant leader teacher is because of the persistence of a man who never let Saul go? A man so used by God that when he's in Antioch leading this massive movement there in the midst of all of that, he says, hey, I know who would be perfect here. That young man named Saul, we sent him back to Tarsus.
I wonder if he's still there. And Barnabas goes to Tarsus and finds Saul, who I believe at this point would be living in humble quarters, stitching tents. And once again, Barnabas says, Saul, the church needs you.
I need you. Take my hand, and I want us to go back together and build bridges into the lives of new believers in Antioch. Thus ends eight years of obscurity and aloneness, all because, again, this man was willing to listen, willing to forgive, willing to resolve, and willing to see potential in him that nobody else could see.
Why don't we do that today? The example of Barnabas is powerful, and I hope we'll follow in his footsteps. Well, for the last several weeks, we've been working our way through this series from our Vintage Wisdom Archives. Stephen Davey first taught this series to the church he pastors back in 1996. The series is called The Harvest Begins, and we only have one more lesson to go.
We'll bring you that next time. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from you. If you have a comment or question, email us at info at wisdomonline.org. Wisdom International has a website which you'll find at wisdomonline.org. Join us next time for the conclusion to this series on Wisdom for the Heart.
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