Act two of the drama opens with, “When he came to Jerusalem . . . ” (v. 26). Jerusalem! Saul owned Jerusalem. He went to graduate school in that great town. I mean, the man knew that old city like the back of his hand—every alleyway, every narrow passage, every escape route. He knew virtually everyone of any significance. What a venue to restart his public ministry. “Get the microphones. Turn the lights up bright. Pharisee-turned-evangelist now appearing at the central Jerusalem auditorium. Come and hear! Come listen to this man preach!” Forget it. It was nothing like that.
Instead, we read this: “He was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (v. 26). Rejected again, only this time by those he most wanted to meet. Fear stood between them and the zealous, gifted preacher.
That’s understandable; who wouldn’t be afraid of him? He killed their fellow Christians, some of whom may have been relatives. They thought Saul was a spy—part of an elaborate hoax designed to trap them and drag them to trial. “Saul? No way. Don’t let him in our ranks!”
Ever felt the sting of that kind of rejection? Have you ever had such a bad track record that people didn’t want to associate with you or welcome you into their fellowship? (Or welcome you back?) It happens all the time. People are rejected because of their pasts. The load of baggage they drag behind them as they enter the Christian life keeps them from enjoying what should be instant acceptance. The rejection at times is unbearable. You may say, “Yes. I’ve been there. And I’m trying to forget those memories, thank you very much.” No, don’t forget those times. Those painful memories are part of God’s gracious plan to break your strong spirit of independence. They’ve become an essential segment of your story—your testimony of God’s grace.
Thankfully, in the midst of those times, God faithfully provides lesser-known individuals who come alongside and say, “Hey, I’m on your team. Let me walk through this with you.” That’s exactly what happened to Saul in Jerusalem. Someone stepped up, voluntarily. He didn’t have to, he wanted to. His name . . . Barnabas, the encourager.