The hunter becomes the hunted.
New International Version (NIV)
Saul in Damascus and JerusalemSaul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 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?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 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. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
As we covered Saul's conversion experience last week, I realized we did not spend any time on anything else in the passage. Specifically, his blindness. As much as I wanted to say something profound upon that event, the more I dwelt upon it the more I felt it wasn't that significant. His blindness only lasted a short while and his eyes sight was restored. Trying to correlate or sympathize with anyone who had lost their eyesight permanently seemed demeaning to the person inflicted with that state of being. Saul does lose his eyesight. It seemed to be done as a way to get his attention and let him know that this is truly serious business. His eyesight is restored by a disciple named Ananias. Hesitantly, the disciple approaches and follows the Lord orders. Saul is given his sight back and with it comes not just enlightenment as to whom he is dealing with, but instantaneous purpose as to what he is here to do.
Purpose. It is a difficult thing to define and an even more elusive matter when someone is seeking what they are truly meant to do in life. Some folks are meant to be in the bright lights and some are meant to stand behind the scenes. You can be happy in either place as long as you know in your heart that the thing you are doing is what you are supposed to do.
As I prepared for this passage from vv19-30 this morning, I was drawn to the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting". Aside from the crude language, I felt as if there were some interesting parallels to be drawn from the film to this scripture. If you've never seen the movie, the story centers around a young man named Will Hunting. Will is a boy genius in the world of math. However, he never jumps on the desire to pursue any kind of future in that direction as he is held back by much of his disturbing past. As we have covered Saul's narrative, I have asked the question "What drives a man to become such a persecutor of others?" In the movie, Will comes off as a punk who has a truly incredible gift. Saul feels that way to me. It seems as if religion comes to him naturally. Both of them treat other people with a crudeness that seems unjustifiable.
However, both of them also turn dramatic corners in their lives.
Saul has an encounter with the Savior on the Damascus road. Will finds out that it's appropriate to love and trust people. Both of them find that there is purpose for their lives. That purpose just happens to be in the field of work they are truly gifted. For Saul, there is no pause in the discussion, it seems. Our scripture says that "At once he began to preach in the synagogues..." He goes from conversion to preacher immediately. This a road that has led to tragedy for many. Many of the TV preachers we see and hear about did not take any time to go away and learn from others about what it means to preach and do ministry. There are many in holiness circles who would interpret the work of the Holy Spirit as the defining issue that should put someone into a preaching position. 1 Cor 12 lays out the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to people. I have heard the argument from those who would say, "The Holy Spirit gave the gift..." OK, that's great. Maybe there is some education and development needed of said gifts before we as the students and followers just jump out there and start running our mouths.
What is needed is witness. Witness that Jesus is, in fact, real in our lives.
Saul doesn't hesitate to demonstrate that experience he has had on the Damascus road was real. His speech, his actions, his new faith is seen by all. Purpose envelops Saul. Jesus is his new found purpose. Everyone needs to know about this Jesus. You will recall me mentioning a young man named Matt. He was my best friend in high school and I stand where I am today because he wanted everyone around him to find Jesus. After his tryout with the Marines at Paris Island did not go the way he wanted, Jesus showed up in his life. Jesus turned his life upside down. Matt then felt the need to turn everyone else's life upside down. Saul doesn't delay in getting right out there into the culture he had formerly been tyrannizing. The problem that lies before him is that everyone will not want to hear from him.
Maybe it's been a while since you've heard the phrase. "Not everybody is going to like you."
No words could be more true in the life of a person that it is for Saul right now. The disciples he tries to interact with are scared of him. All they remember are the persistent threats he has put on the lives of those trusting in Jesus. The Jews in the area have set up watches at the city gates to try and catch him if he leaves town. The hunter has now become the hunted. Good will. There doesn't seem to be much of it. This much needed commodity is in short supply in Damascus, a city where religious life has thrived for centuries. The sacred souls of this long inhabited city are missing something. If I'm in Saul's shoes I'm probably wishing just one person would be willing to stand beside me and stand up for me.
In Good Will Hunting, Will comes into contact with Sean, a counselor he is set up with to try and get him to open up. Sean turns out to be the one person, outside of some high school friends, who really believes in him. Sean stands up for Will in the face of adversity and criticism. When it seems no one believes in this newest convert that a man named Barnabas is the only one to stand up for him. We were introduced to Barnabas back in Chap 4 of Acts. His name means "son of encouragement". In Saul's traveling and witnessing he makes his way to Jerusalem. It seems nobody wants to talk to him. There is no "good will" here either. But, Barnabas is there and he introduces Saul to the apostles. We all need a Barnabas. Sometimes, we need to be a Barnabas to someone else. We need someone who can relate to us and share in our life story. Barnabas can tell others that he sees Christ in the life of this Saul.
This is the encouragement we need. Someone to help guide us and direct us.
Saul's days of debating and preaching would be cut short. He has exhibited that the Lord is truly in his life. Now, in the face of persecution, there will be people to help support him. Instead of jumping right into some kind of full time life sharing Jesus with those around him supporters will shuffle him away to Tarsus, mostly for his protection. Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't we all like it if there were people around us to help make sure we didn't get in over our heads, get burnt out, maybe even keep us from dying. Later, the apostle Paul would reflect upon his earlier days and state he wound up in Egypt learn from some rabbis and enriching his knowledge of Christ. Then, he would come back. Then he would begin his journeys. Then he would be ready to share Christ on a more open stage.
Our scripture says that peace followed these events. The church grew and flourished. Living in the fear of the Lord and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, their numbers grew. Having our focus on the proper initiative, we find out what our purpose in life actually is. Jesus.
The Light of the world.
May peace like a river flow.