“When he came to Jerusalem, Paul tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Act 9:26).
Things did not go well for Paul when he started his journey with Jesus. To begin with the apostles were quite reluctant to embrace him without reserve, or to give him access to their “mailing lists.” For all they knew his “conversion” was a ploy to penetrate and decimate their ranks.
Clearly the early Church had legitimate concerns about Saul of Tarsus, a man described by Luke as “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”(Acts 9:1).
This helps us understand the great reluctance of Ananias, the man whom the Lord told to pray for Paul to receive his sight after being blinded on the Damascus Road. “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.” (Act 9:13,14).
The inference is, “Are you sure You want me to do this?”
Ananias obeyed and prayed for Paul, a singular act of courageous faith. As soon as the scales fell from his eyes, Paul at once began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” (Act 9:20-21).
Paul’s success became such a threat to the religious leaders in Damascus they conspired to kill him. However, the believers in Damascus helped Paul escape in the night. Paul returned back to Jerusalem empty-handed….. but full-hearted.
Luke writes, “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Act 9:26). And, to complicate matters, not only did Paul find it difficult to get in with the disciples – but his former associates, the religious leaders in Jerusalem, themselves were even now attempting to kill him.
It seemed that the one true friend Paul had during all of this was Barnabas, the Encourager. Working with a group of brothers who could see the truth of Paul’s testimony, they managed to get him out of Jerusalem and back to his home town of Tarsus.
It would take seventeen years before Paul would be brought back into the vortex of the growing Christian community. He was, in effect, a man in exile.
Though forgotten by man, Paul was not forsaken by the Lord. It was during this time that he had visitations from Jesus, and was given the staggering revelation of Grace. Barnabas had stayed in touch with him, encouraging him all along; and he knew firsthand of Paul’s insights into grace.
And now that Barnabas had seen for himself the grace of God in Antioch – he knew that the first person he had to tell was Paul.
Luke writes, “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Paul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Act 11:25-26)