Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament book of Acts—the spiritual account of the body of Christ—as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke. More specifically today’s passage is found in verses thirteen through forty-three of the the thirteenth chapter. “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perna in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perna, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers or the synagogue sent unto them, saying, ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said” (Acts 13:13-16).
“Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of fort years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven notions in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afteward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jess, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus gain; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now we no more return to corruption, he said on this wise, I gill give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had serve his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:16-41).
“And when the jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:42-43).
When you come to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will encounter the beginning what would be a series of different apostolic and missionary journeys which the apostle Paul would take. It is at this juncture of the book of Acts we find a powerful shift and transition in the history of the early church as we begin to see the emergence of the apostle Paul as the missionary unto the Gentiles. With this being said I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the history of the apostle Paul prior to this particular experience in Antioch. If you want to truly understand the history of the apostle Paul and the missionary journeys he took it is absolutely necessary to look back to the eighth, ninth and eleventh chapters. I am absolutely convinced you cannot truly understand the beginning of the apostolic and missionary journeys of the apostle Paul without understanding where his life and where his journey would indeed take him. There is something incredibly important about knowing where Saul came from for it is when you know where his story began you will be able to know where he would ultimately end up going. In fact if you read the New Testament book of Acts you will find the apostle Paul’s life would begin with and within the city of Jerusalem and yet it would ultimately take him to the city of Rome itself where he would spend three years teaching and preaching the word and gospel of the Lord Jesus. This is something we must needs recognize and understand as it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful and incredible truth surrounding the purpose, the ministry and the calling the living and eternal God had for this man who was once known as Saul of Tarsus. There is something truly astonishing about the narrative of the apostle Paul and how he did not and would not begin as an apostle of Christ nor even as one who would preach and teach the word and name of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact if you read the words presented in this New Testament book you will find and discover that the narrative of Saul began with his vehement persecution of the church and body of Christ.
If you write or speak about the life and narrative of the apostle Paul you must needs first recognize and begin that his life was such that would begin with his destroying and persecuting the church and not his building and encouraging the churches. The story of the apostle Paul—this apostle of Christ does not begin where we would expect it for we would think that a man as mighty and notable as the apostle Paul would indeed begin in a place of ministry rather than in a place of persecution. The truth of the matter, however, is that the life of the apostle Paul does not begin in the place of Paul the apostle but rather Saul the persecutor. Although we and countless other men and women throughout the history of the church know him as the apostle Paul there was something else he was known by during his early days for he would be a scourge unto the church and body of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for the narrative and account of the apostle Paul would indeed begin in the place of persecution, affliction and suffering—albeit not persecution toward and against him but his persecution of the early church. Scripture is entirely and altogether clear what sparked the persecution of the early church, however, we would be wise to recognize that there was something triggered inside of him when he witnessed the death of Stephen. Scripture does not reveal nor does it give us any glimpse or picture into that which would light the fuse of the persecution which Saul of Tarsus would unleash against the early church and the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, however, what we find within the eighth and ninth chapters of the book of Acts is a powerful picture of a man who studied under Gamaliel a Pharisee who would rise up against the early church in persecution and opposition. There is no mistake about it for Saul of Tarsus deliberately and intentionally sought to destroy the church and completely eradicate the presence of the followers of the Way during those days. Consider if you will the following words which are found in this New Testament book beginning to read with and from the first verse of the eighth chapter concerning the history of this mighty apostle of Christ who would indeed begin as a vehement and adamant persecutor of the church:
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamention over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:1-4).
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).
It is quite clear from the words which are found in these two passages of Scripture for they present us with the first mention of this man by the name of Saul of Tarsus. In the eighth chapter of this New Testament book we find that during and even after the death of Stephen who was the church’s first martyr Saul was consenting and even approved of his death. At the time of Stephen’s death there would indeed break out against the church which was in Jerusalem a great persecution—a persecution that was so great that all the followers of the Lord Jesus save the apostles were scattered throughout all Judaea, throughout Galilee and even throughout Samaria. So great and so intense was the persecution of the early church that many of the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ would indeed depart from Jerusalem and would be scattered throughout the surrounding regions. What’s more is that during these days we find it written of Saul that he made havoc of the church entering into every house and healing men and women as he committed them to prison. The narrative and account of Saul of Tarsus does not begin with his building, strengthening and encouraging the church but rather stretching forth his hand to destroy it. The account of Saul of Tarsus is such that we must needs recognize and understand that he was one who would completely and utterly seek to destroy the early church of the Lord Jesus Christ and eradicate any trace of it within the earth. It is in the eighth chapter of this New Testament book we find and encounter the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the apostle Paul and how the apostle Paul would begin his time as an adamant and vehement persecutor of the early church as he would undoubtedly seed to destroy it. Oh I have to admit that I would absolutely love to know what lit the fuse and what sparked the match within his heart and mind that he would stretch forth his hand against the early church persecuting it and casting men and women into prison.
The more you read the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts the more you can and will encounter and come face to face with the awesome and wonderful truth surrounding the apostle Paul and how he would begin as Saul of Tarsus and would be a scourge of and against the early church. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for when you come to the ninth chapter of this New Testament book you can and will encounter the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding this Saul of Tarsus breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. What’s more is this persecution of and against the early church would not be limited to the city of Jerusalem alone for the apostle Paul would also seek letters to Damascus from the high priest that if he found any of this way—regardless of whether they be men or women—he might bring them bound unto the city of Jerusalem. The apostle Paul desired to take his persecution of, toward and against the early church as far as the city of Damascus for he was undoubtedly purposed to completely destroy and remove its influence from the earth. There is not a doubt in my mind that Saul sought to journey unto Damascus to bring back those men and women whom he found to be followers of the way that he might commit them into prison. What’s more is I would dare say that if Saul of Tarsus had been able to carry out his original intention without and apart from the intervention of Jesus Christ he might have launched a campaign throughout the surrounding cities, towns, villages and regions raising up and stretching his hand forth toward the early church and its followers.
If there is one thing I absolutely love about the words which are found in this passage of Scripture it’s how the Lord Jesus Christ would indeed appear unto Saul of Tarsus while traveling on the road to Damascus. Undoubtedly Jesus Christ of Nazareth would be witness unto Saul’s threatenings against the church and would behold how he greatly and vehemently persecuted it during those days. What we find in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book is a powerful picture of the salvation of Jesus of Nazareth which would indeed come unto Saul of Tarsus. How absolutely amazing it is to think about the fact that Jesus of Nazareth would not allow Saul of Tarsus to be an instrument of death and destruction against the early church but would completely and utterly transform him into an apostle and builder of the early church. This man who would seek to stamp out the mention of the name of Jesus of Nazareth would indeed be perhaps the single greatest preacher of the name of Jesus among the Gentiles. The apostle Paul would preach to both Jews and Gentiles, however, the more you read the New Testament book of Acts the more you can and will encounter and come face to face with the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth surrounding the Lord Jesus Christ appearing unto Saul while journeying on the road to Damascus. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for Saul himself would recount this encounter and experience before the Jews in the city of Jerusalem later on in this book as well as before Festus and Herod Agrippa. Consider if you will the words which are found in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book beginning with the first verse of the chapter:
“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink” (Acts 9:1-9).
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, 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. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus” (Acts 9:10-19).
Please pay close attention to the words which we find here in this passage of Scripture for what we find here is a powerful description of the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and how Saul would be the first person whom the Lord Jesus would indeed reveal Himself to after ascending unto the right hand of the Father. We know when reading the final verses of the seventh chapter of the New Testament book that while Stephen was being dragged out of the city and stoned to death he would look up unto heaven, the heavens would be opened unto him, he would see the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Scripture makes absolutely no mention of Jesus speaking or saying anything unto Stephen—only that he was standing at the right hand of the Father which was in heaven. Oh there is definitely a part of me that can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for Stephen to look up into heaven and see this Jesus of Nazareth standing there at the right hand of the Father for up until that point in time the apostles and those who had walked with and followed the Lord Jesus would be the only ones who would truly see and experience the person and presence of the Lord Jesus as it pertains to His being raised from death to life and His ascending unto heaven from the mount which is called Olivet. As you read the words which are found here you will find Stephen being the first martyr of the early church and during that time when he would be stoned to death he would not only see the glory of the living God but would also see Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of the Father which was in heaven. This is important to recognize and understand for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding Saul and how Saul would be the first person to see and hear the risen and exalted Christ after he had ascended unto the right hand of the Father.
As I read the words which are found in the ninth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts I am absolutely gripped and captivated with the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the Lord Jesus appearing unto Saul of Tarsus while he was journeying unto Damascus. Saul of Tarsus wasn’t journeying unto Damascus for any other reason than to continue wreaking havoc against and upon the church and yet it would be as he journeyed and traveled unto this ancient city he would encounter something he had not expected nor even anticipated. It would be there on the road to Damascus Saul would encounter and experience the person and presence of the Lord Jesus. What’s more is that it would be on the road to Damascus where Saul would hear this one speaking unto and calling him by his name and responding asking him who he was. Jesus of Nazareth would respond unto Saul by declaring that he was Jesus of Nazareth whom he was persecuting. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for there is something truly unique and powerful about the words and language found here and how Saul might have thought he was persecuting the early church and followers of the way, however, what we find here in this passage of Scripture is something entirely different. Here we find the Lord Jesus declaring unto Saul that it was he whom he was really persecuting. Saul might have thought that he was persecuting flesh and blood only and yet when Jesus appeared unto him he would reveal that it would be He Himself whom Saul was persecuting. This is something which must needs be recognized for it reveals that when man stretches forth their hand against the church and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ they are indeed stretching forth their hand against the person of the Lord Jesus Himself. The church is referred to in Scripture as the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus which means that when man attempts to stretch forth his hand against any member of that body they are indeed stretching it toward and against the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is at this juncture I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are presented in the twenty-second and twenty-sixth chapters of this New Testament book. Here in these chapters we encounter and come face to face with Saul speaking—not only unto the Jews themselves after they had come upon him with great fury and ferocity in the midst of the city of Jerusalem but also speaking unto Festus, unto Agrippa and those who would have been present in the city of Caesarea. Within these chapters we encounter the apostle Paul preaching the Lord Jesus—and not only preaching Jesus of Nazareth but also recounting his own testimony and how this Jesus of Nazareth would encounter him as he traveled and journeyed on the road from Jerusalem unto Damascus. The apostle Paul would stand before Jews, kings and governors alike and would speak of his past and how he was indeed one who persecuted the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something we must needs recognize and understand as it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth surrounding the truth of the conversion which Saul of Tarsus would indeed experience on the road to Damascus. Something would happen within the life of the apostle Paul and he would truly be found in Christ as old things passed away and all things had become new. We must needs recognize and understand these two testimonies which the apostle Paul gave unto the Jews, kings and governors alike for they call and draw our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the conversion he would experience and how he would eventually be transformed into that one whom we know as the apostle Paul who would be the greatest preacher of Christ and perhaps the greatest missionary unto the Gentiles. Consider if you will the following words which are found later on in this New Testament book as the apostle Paul would recount his conversion experience and what Jesus of Nazareth who suffered in the flesh, who was crucified, who was buried, who was raised from death to life and who ascended unto the right hand of the Father in heaven had done in and for him:
“Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defense which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Ciliciia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom I also received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. And it came to pass, that as I made my journey, and was come night unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that speak to me. And I said What shall I do, LordA? ND the Lord said unto me, Arise and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou d shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now thy tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; and saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem:f or they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. Nd I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: and when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” (Acts 22:1-21).
“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: especially because I knew thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear my patiently. My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily though with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them which journeyed with m e. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:1-23).
These two passages found in the latter portion of this book present and provide us with yet more details concerning Saul’s experience and encounter with the risen and exalted Jesus on the road to Damascus. Both standing before the Jews as well as standing before Festus and Agrippa the king the apostle Paul would recount how he was a staunch persecutor of the early church and how he sought to imprison and destroy those who were followers of the way and those who were called by and called upon the name of Jesus of Nazareth. What we find in these three chapters—the ninth chapter included—is a powerful picture of Saul of Tarsus encountering and coming face to face with the risen and exalted Jesus of Nazareth whom He would declare was the true one whom he was persecuting. There in Damascus Saul would neither eat nor drink but would pray until Ananias would come unto him and lay hands on him and pray that he might not only receive his sight but might also be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. How absolutely wonderful this truly is for from this time forward Saul would be entirely and altogether changed and transformed as he would now preach Christ instead of stretching forth his hand to persecute Him. FROM PERSECUTING CHRIST TO PREACHING CHRIST! What a truly wonderful and powerful truth this truly is when you take the time to think about it for in the ninth and eleventh chapters of this New Testament book we find wonderful and powerful descriptions of the apostle Paul teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus Christ and preaching the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact I would dare say that if you want to understand that which we find and read in the thirteenth chapter of this New Testament book it is absolutely necessary to consider the preaching and teaching of the apostle Paul during those days, weeks, and months after his conversion experience.
If you continue reading the words which are found in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book you will indeed come face to face with the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and how he would begin preaching that Jesus was the very Christ. What’s more is that not only would Saul of Tarsus being preaching that Jesus was the very Christ but he would also preach that Jesus suffered in the flesh, that Jesus was killed and crucified, that Jesus was buried in the earth and that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day just as he said he would. This Saul of Tarsus would indeed begin to preach and proclaim the word and name of the Lord Jesus and the very One whom he had previously persecuted would now be the very one whom he would preach and proclaim during those days. Saul of Tarsus would begin in Damascus—the very city he had come unto to find any followers of the way and bring them bound unto the city of Jerusalem—and would preach that Jesus was the very Christ and that He had indeed suffered, died, was buried in the grave and was raised from death to life. In order to truly understand that which would be found in the thirteenth chapter of this New Testament book I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are found in the ninth chapter. Here in the ninth chapter—not only do we find the apostle Paul preaching Jesus as the Christ in both Damascus and in the city of Jerusalem but you will also find those who desired to put him to death. How absolutely incredible it is that so long as Saul sought to persecute the early church and the followers of the way the Jews had absolutely no desire nor any intention of destroying and putting him to death and yet the minute he began preaching that Jesus was the Christ and was raised from death to life he would be a marked man—both in Damascus as well as in the city of Jerusalem. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the ninth chapter of this New Testament book beginning with the nineteenth verse:
“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:19-22).
“And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: but their laying away was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:23-31).
Please pay close attention to the words which are found within these two passages of Scripture for they call and draw our attention to the impact Saul of Tarsus’ conversion would indeed have within and upon him. This one who was once a staunch persecutor of the church and would commit to prison those who believed and called upon the name of the Lord would now himself preach and proclaim the very name of the one whom he had previously persecuted. What’s more is that Saul not only preached the word and name of the Lord Jesus but he would also preach that he was both the Christ and the Son of the living God. The apostle Paul would indeed begin preaching Christ and would begin defending Him before the Jews and all those whom he would stand before. Scripture reveals how after Saul was strengthened, after he was baptized, after he had received the Holy Spirit he would indeed enter into the synagogues and would preach the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding the apostle Paul and how he would begin—almost immediately—teaching and preaching the word, the gospel and the name of the Lord Jesus. Luke writes how Saul would begin preaching Christ first in the midst of the city of Damascus until it was discovered that the Jews sought to kill him. The disciples and brethren which were present there in the midst of the city of Jerusalem would let Saul down from the wall in a basket thus helping him escape the persecution and threats of the Jews toward and against him. Having left Damascus Saul would return unto the city of Jerusalem from which he had come, however, he would not immediately join himself unto the brethren for everyone was afraid of him. It is what we read and find here that must needs be considered for there would be a man who would enter into the life of Saul who would be by his side in the eleventh and thirteenth chapters.
As you come to the twenty-seventh verse of the ninth chapter of this New Testament book you will find that when the Jews and the brethren were afraid of Saul Barnabas would take him and bring him unto the apostles. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for Barnabas would not only bring Saul unto the apostles but would declare unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken unto Him, and how He had preached boldly in Damascus in the name of Jesus. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it truly is for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding this man named Barnabas who would indeed come alongside Saul and would present him unto the apostles and brethren as one whom the Lord Jesus had not only appeared unto but who had also spoken unto him along the way. Barnabas would indeed come alongside Saul and would present him unto the apostles and brethren as one who was truly changed and transformed by the power and the might of the Holy Spirit. Luke emphatically writes concerning Barnabas that he would take Saul of Tarsus and bring him to the apostles and would vouch for him that he had seen the Lord in the way, that the Lord had spoken to him and how this would lead the apostle Paul to preach boldly as Damascus. OH we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for Barnabas would indeed be a wonderful and powerful companion to Saul of Tarsus as one who would come alongside him and truly walk with him as a brother in Christ. Scripture makes absolutely no reference to whether or not Saul had any interaction with Ananias after he initially came unto him laying his hands on him and praying that he might receive his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. Scripture makes absolutely no mention whether or not Judas who opened his home unto Saul was a disciple of Jesus and whether or not Saul would continue with Judas while he was present in the city of Damascus.
I am absolutely convinced we must needs recognize and pay close attention to the narrative which exists between Saul and Barnabas for the words we find here in these passages of Scripture bring us face to face with a man who when everyone else avoided and was afraid of Saul would come alongside him and would both vouch for and believe in him. This Barnabas whom we first learn about in the fourth chapter was one who would be instrumental in the days of the early church for we first learn of his selling a piece of land and bringing the money and funds unto the apostles. WE don’t learn or read of Barnabas again until we come to the ninth chapter when he would come alongside of Saul of Tarsus and present him unto the apostles and brethren as one who was truly changed and transformed by the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. It would be this Barnabas who would indeed come alongside Saul as the Holy Spirit would and truly be a brother unto him—one who would stand beside him and would defend him. It would be Barnabas who would present Saul as having seen the Lord—and not only as one who had seen the Lord but also as one whom the Lord had spoken unto. Oh how absolutely wonderful and incredible this truly is for I am convinced that each and every one of us not only needs a Barnabas within our lives but we also need to be a Barnabas in the lives of others. There is a need within our lives to have a Barnabas—one who will come and stand alongside us speaking of the wonderful change and transformation that would take place within our lives. When many in Jerusalem were afraid of Saul of Tarsus there would be one who would take a chance and take a risk on this Saul of Tarsus. Scripture doesn’t reveal exactly what prompted Barnabas to move and operate in such a way, however, suffice it to say that he would indeed fee compelled to come alongside Saul and present him unto the apostles and brethren. Perhaps Barnabas saw that which Saul was to become and knew that he had been called “for such a time as this” to be an advocate and support for him in the midst of the apostles and brethren.
The more you read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture the more you will encounter and come face to face with this Barnabas who would come alongside Saul of Tarsus and present him unto the apostles as one whom the Lord had appeared and spoken unto. Luke writes and records how from that time on Saul was with the apostles and brethren coming in and going out at Jerusalem. What’s more is that there in the midst of the city of Jerusalem—perhaps even in some of the very same places he would persecute the early church previously—he would not preach and speak boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and would dispute against the Grecians. What we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture is that Saul would not only walk in fellowship and community with the apostles and with the brethren but he would also preach boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. There in the midst of the city of Jerusalem the apostle Paul would indeed preach and speak boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus until it was discovered that the Grecians sought to kill and put him to death. It would be when it was discovered that the Grecians desired to put him to death the brethren would bring Saul down to Caesarea and would send him forth to Tarsus. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for Scripture does not mention or reveal anything concerning Saul of Tarsus again until the eleventh chapter. The rest of the ninth and tenth chapters of this New Testament book shifts gears and focuses on the apostle Peter and that which he would be used of the living and eternal God to accomplish and fulfil—namely to be the first to preach and bring the gospel unto the Gentiles as he would preach the word and name of the Lord Jesus unto Cornelius and his entire household there in Caesarea. It would be Cornelius and his entire household who would be the first Gentiles to not only hear the word and name of the Lord Jesus but would also be baptized and would receive the person, the presence and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
As you continue reading the New Testament book of Acts you will come to the latter portion of the eleventh chapter. It is here in this portion of Scripture we find those who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen would travel as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word to none but the Jews only. There would be some of them who were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which when they were come to Antioch spake unto the Grecians preaching the Lord Jesus. Luke writes how the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord. Eventually tidings and report would come unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem and they would send forth Barnabas that he should journey as far as Antioch. Scripture reveals how Barnabas would come unto Antioch and would witness and behold the grace of God and was glad and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. Moreover it would also be written of Barnabas that he was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith and much people were added to the Lord. It would be there. In Antioch where a great work would begin—not only of the edifying of the brethren and not only in the growth of the church but also in how the followers of the way would be known in the world. Luke writes how the disciples were first called Christians there in Antioch—a name and title which would be used throughout history even until the very generation in which we are living.
If you continue reading within the eleventh chapter of this New Testament book you can and will find that while in Antioch Barnabas wouldn’t remain and abide there himself. As you continue reading in the eleventh chapter you will find that Barnabas would depart for Tarsus that he might seek for Saul of Tarsus. When Barnabas had found Saul he would bring him unto Antioch. Luke goes on to write and record how a whole year would pass as Barnabas and Saul would assemble themselves with the disciples and brethren which were present in that place. For an entire year Saul and Barnabas would abide and tarry together with the saints and brethren which were in Antioch and would teach much people. This is something we must needs recognize and understand when coming to the thirteenth chapter of this New Testament book for it is in the thirteenth chapter we find Saul and Barnabas still present in Antioch as they would faithfully serve among the brethren which were present there. Oh please don’t miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it truly is for there is something we must needs recognize when reading the words present in this passage of Scripture—namely the faithfulness of Saul and Barnabas there in the midst of Antioch. What’s more is there is not only witness and testimony of their faithfulness in Antioch but we also read how during those days there would come prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch—one of whom was named Agabus. It would Agabus who would signify and prophesy by the Spirit that there would be a great dearth or famine throughout all the world—a famine that would come to pass during the days of Claudius Caesar. Luke goes on to write and record how the disciples—every man according to his ability—determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt at Judaea. This they would do sending it by the hands of Saul and Barnabas unto the elders which were present in Jerusalem. Oh this is something which must needs be carefully considered for in the final verses of the eleventh chapter we continue to find the church operating in the care, the compassion and hospitality of the Holy Spirit. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the eleventh chapter beginning to read with and from the nineteenth verse:
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as PHenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none by unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, speake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:19-26).
“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11:27-30).
There is a great need for us to recognize and pay attention to the words which are found in the final verses of the eleventh chapter for within these verses—not only do we find Saul and Barnabas spending a whole year assembled together with the brethren in fellowship and community but we also find them being sent forth from the brethren in Antioch to deliver relief unto the brethren which were present in the midst of Jerusalem. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for there is something absolutely necessary for us to learn and recognize when we come to this passage of Scripture. Within this passage of Scripture we not only find Saul and Barnabas assembling themselves faithfully with the brethren there in Antioch but we also find them teaching the people which were present there. What a truly wonderful and powerful picture is found in this passage of Scripture—a picture of faithfulness and commitment which is something that is truly rare in many of our Christian circles and even within many of our churches. It would be very easy to come to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts and not recount and recall the faithfulness of Saul of Tarsus and how he would indeed be faithful in preaching the word and name of the Lord Jesus—first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem. This Saul of Tarsus would faithfully assemble himself with the disciples which were present in Damascus before departing unto Jerusalem after the Jews desired and sought to kill him. There in the midst of Jerusalem Saul of Tarsus would indeed preach that Jesus was the very Christ and that He was the Son of the living God. Oh we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely wonderful and incredible this truly is for it calls and draws our attention to the incredible faithfulness in fellowship Saul and Barnabas would exhibit during these days. Oh there would be many who would like to talk about apostolic ministry, signs, wonders and miracles, and even preaching the word and name of the Lord Jesus and yet the truth of the matter is that there is something to be said about faithfulness in community as we give ourselves to abiding and dwelling together in unity with the brethren. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the one-hundred and thirty-third Psalm which is only three verses concerning this fellowship and unity of the brethren:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133).
I have to admit there is something absolutely remarkable about the faithfulness of Saul and Barnabas—not merely in teaching and preaching the name of the Lord Jesus but in their willingness to abide in fellowship together with the brethren. It’s one thing to abide in fellowship with the brethren for a night of “prayer and worship” or perhaps even for a “potluck” or “meal after church,” however it is something else entirely to devote an entire year to faithfulness in abiding together with the brethren. Nowadays men and women are so quick to move on from fellowship and community—if they even allow themselves to engage in fellowship and community to begin with. In our present generation there are men and women who have an incredible amount of distrust and distaste for churches and for abiding in fellowship and community with others. There are very few among us who are truly willing to give ourselves to fellowship and community with brothers and sisters as we learn to abide one with another in unity. This is precisely what is referenced in the final verses of the second chapter as well as the final verses of the fourth chapter and what makes the thirteenth chapter all the more powerful. We would like to focus our attention on the Holy Spirit calling on the brethren in Antioch to separate unto Him Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto He had called them, however, there would be very few who would like to focus on the commitment and faithfulness to fellowship and community that played a critical role in that setting. I am convinced it wasn’t merely about them praying, and fasting and ministering unto the Lord that fostered and created the atmosphere and environment that was needed for Saul and Barnabas to be separated unto the Holy Spirit for the work they had been called to. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the second and fourth chapters of this book concerning abiding in fellowship and community with the brethren:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation), a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).
There is a great need for us to recognize and understand the words and language that is found in these two passages of Scripture for they strike at the very heart of what we find in the final verses of the eleventh chapter. In the final verses of the eleventh chapter—not only do we find Saul and Barnabas continuing in fellowship together with the disciples and brethren in Antioch for a full year but we also find them carrying out and continuing the ministry of hospitality and compassion which we first read of in the second chapter. We would like to think and focus solely on what we read in the thirteenth chapter and how all those in Antioch were ministering unto the Lord and fasting and praying, however, we must needs recognize that the Lord looks upon the heart and honors faithfulness. We must needs recognize and consider the fact that the Lord honors faithfulness in community as much as—perhaps if not more than—He does faithfulness in ministry. There are men and women among us who might very well be great at faithfulness in ministry but who are absolutely horrible when it comes to faithfulness in community or faithfulness in fellowship. In all reality I would dare say that faithfulness in fellowship and faithfulness in community is as important as faithfulness in ministry—if not more. How can you say that you are able to give yourself to ministry when you can’t even give yourself to fellowship? How can you expect the living and eternal God to entrust you with ministry unto others when you can’t even live in community and fellowship with those around you? There is a great need among us in this generation—especially in the midst of all the division that is prevalent all around us—to be those who are able to truly live and remain in fellowship and community with each other. We are undoubtedly living in days when fellowship, when community and when the breaking of bread and meeting in houses and homes is a scarcity and is virtually non-existent. I am absolutely convinced that if there is one thing that is so desperately needed within our generation right now it’s for men and brethren, for women and sisters to dwell together in unity. The words of the psalmist have never rang truer than they have within this nation right now and perhaps one of the greatest things that’s lacking the most is unity.
Over the past two plus years there has been a great call for “peace” and there has been a great emphasis placed on one’s rights and “civil liberties.” There have been countless men and women who have indeed given themselves to protest throughout the streets of our cities for one reason or another—Black Lives Matter, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and so much more. There have been some glimpses of unity over the past two plus years, however, even these have fallen far short as much of what we have perceived as unity and fellowship is merely aligning ourselves with those who think like us, act like us, look like us, talk like us, and so much more. We have been divided across racial lines, across gender lines, across sexual orientation lines, across political lines, across religious lines, and even across medical lines as it pertains to abortion and the vaccine. There might be some who are inclined to say that they have witnessed and perhaps even been inspired by the “unity” they have seen within our major cities, towns, communities and the like. The truth of the matter is that what we are seeing and what we are witnessing is nothing more than a façade and smoke and mirrors. Oh there might be some degree and element of unity, however, true unity and true fellowship doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other, have to look like each other, have to act like each other, have to talk with each other, and so much more. In fact, I would dare say that true unity, true community and even true fellowship can only take place as a direct result of the work, the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Saul and Barnabas devoted an entire year to living in community and fellowship together with the brethren in Antioch and this is something we dare not and must not quickly glance over and lose sight of.
There are men and women among us who read the account of Saul and Barnabas being called out and separated by the Holy Ghost in the church at Antioch and desire such a reality for themselves and yet there are very few who recognize that community, fellowship and abiding with the brethren is just as important as the ministry. You will notice the direct connection between unity and brethren dwelling together in unity and the anointing as the psalmist spoke of the anointing oil that was poured upon the head of Aaron and flowed down upon his beard and even down upon his garments to the soles of his feet. We must needs recognize and understand that there is an intrinsic link and connection between unity and the anointing—despite and regardless of how much we would like to try and separate it. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it is within our own lives for we are such who have been called to more than simply ministry. In fact I would dare say that ministry apart from community is nothing more than a sham and smoke and mirrors within our churches and even within our communities. Anyone can preach and teach the word and name of the Lord Jesus but not everyone can abide in fellowship and community with others. Saul and Barnabas committed themselves to fellowship and community for an entire year in Antioch—and not only this but they also gave of themselves to be instruments and vessels of compassion and hospitality as they would journey unto Jerusalem bringing the distribution and offering that was given in Antioch. Oh we must needs acknowledge and recognize this within our own hearts and lives for we are such who have been brought into a place of fellowship and community with the saints and brethren. It is not enough simply for us to be baptized in water and even baptized with the Holy Spirit for we have indeed been called into fellowship with the beloved. What’s more is I would dare say that those who aren’t willing to live and commit themselves to fellowship with the beloved are such who are not only shortchanging themselves but who are also limiting that which the Holy Ghost can in fact do within their lives.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the fact that those who are perhaps unwilling to devote and commit themselves to fellowship together with the brethren are those who are at the same time limiting themselves from the activity and involvement of the Holy Spirit within their lives. I continue to believe that the single greatest work and miracle of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not causing men and women to speak with other tongues as they were given utterance nor even three thousand souls believing on the name of the Lord Jesus and being baptized and becoming part of the brethren. I am convinced the single greatest work and miracle on the day of Pentecost was not even one that was limited to that day in and of itself but would be carried out and continued in the days ahead. The single greatest work of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was bringing more than three thousand souls together in fellowship as they learned how to dwell and abide in community one with another. Stop and think about what it would take for three thousand plus souls to live and abide in fellowship together with each other as they committed themselves to breaking bread, to meeting from house to home, to live in one accord and to walk in fellowship and community with each other. When we read of Saul and Barnabas spending a year in Antioch living in community and fellowship together with the brethren we are reading of the breeding and training ground for the movement and activity of the Holy Spirit. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to be actively involved within our lives if we are not willing to commit ourselves to fellowship and community with the body. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for there is something truly captivating about men and brethren, women and sisters who are willing to live and abide in fellowship one with another.
There at Antioch the Holy Ghost called for the separation of Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto He had called them and yet it’s important to recognize that this separation was not only a separation from those in Antioch but also a separation unto the Holy Ghost Himself and the work whereunto they had been called. The word “separate” used here in this passage of Scripture not only speaks of separation “from” but also separation “to.” The Holy Ghost did in fact separate Saul and Barnabas from the brethren which were at Antioch, however, He was separating them—first unto Himself, secondly unto the work whereunto they were called and third unto those unto whom they would be sent. This is something we must needs recognize when reading the words presented here for we are never separated to the work first and a person second. We are always and have been separated unto the person of the Holy Spirit first and then the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact I would dare say that we cannot truly say we are separated unto the work of the Holy Spirit if we are not first and foremost separated unto the person of the Holy Spirit. The words which we find here in this passage of Scripture calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful truth surrounding our need to be separated unto the person of the Holy Spirit as we walk in and enjoy fellowship with Him and then and only then can and will we be able to be separated unto the work of the Holy Spirit whereby we are able to walk in that for which we have been called. Oh that we would be men and women who are not only willing to be faithful in community and fellowship but that we would also be men and women who are able to be separated unto the person of the Holy Spirit and thereby also able to be separated unto the work of the Holy Spirit whereunto He Himself has called us.