Are you thinking differently about any aspects of life because of the coronavirus pandemic? I am. As I, and every single other person, was wearing a mask in the grocery story the other, it struck me how rapidly things change. Three months ago, if you told me that scene was about to happen in just three months, I would have said, “Not a chance.” But the virus has changed us. While it remains to be seen how many changes will remain after the virus, no doubt many will. I heard a news report today about how necessity is the mother of invention, detailing new products that have already been developed during the pandemic. One is a hook that people can use to open doors so we don’t have to touch door handles, which are big culprits for carrying the virus. But what about the mission of God? Are we thinking inventively about that? Should we? Or has our response been something like, “Well, church is closed, so I’ll just watch online and I’m good to go”? In other words, have we checked out of the mission? Have we interpreted the mission as “going to church”?
But here’s the thing…going to church was never the mission. As we’ve discussed many times on this blog, the mission of Jesus is making disciples. Today we’re going to learn how some people’s creativity and innovation, even in the middle of a crisis, propelled the mission of Jesus to make disciples…and it features a big basket.
This week we have been studying Acts 9:1-31, which is the account of the dramatic conversion of the Christian-killer, Saul. But we have been keeping the focus on the supporting cast. In the previous post, we learned about the the gracious, sacrificial outreach of a Christian living in the city of Damascus, named Ananias who not only trusts that God has transformed his once-enemy, Saul, into his “brother,” but Ananias also heals Saul, gives him the Holy Spirit, and baptizes him.
What happens next is wild. If you want to see for yourself, look at Acts 9, starting in the middle of verse 19, and read through verse 22.
Saul spends time with the Christians there in Damascus, more supporting cast members. They also could have feared for their lives and shunned Saul, but they sacrificially do the opposite. They embrace the work of God in Saul’s life and welcome him. Amazing! They sacrificially put the mission of God first, in the midst of possible fearful and confusing changes.
Then it gets even crazier. Right away Saul starts preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul doesn’t wait. He doesn’t travel to Jerusalem to spend time with the Apostles first. He just starts telling the story. I find that so interesting. Bold. Risky. But that is Saul, and we’re going to hear a lot about him in the weeks and months to come as we continue reading Acts.
The people in Damascus are freaked out. I get it. There was a dramatic 180 degree turn in a Saul’s life. He went from being the greatest threat to Jesus’ church, to being a bold preacher of Jesus. We read that he grew more and more powerful in this, proving to them that Jesus was the Messiah.
The Jews in Damascus, we learn in verses 23-25, are particularly baffled by Saul. Saul was their shining star! What happened to him? Could he really have changed his mind? They must have been very disappointed and angry! He was doing their dirty work, and now he has turned on them? They are not having it, so they plot to kill him, but Saul’s followers help him flee, dropping him in a basket through an opening in the city’s wall. The author of Acts flies by this so quickly, but this is some intrigue, right? Can you imagine? Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, the supporting cast are called “his followers.” We know in verse 23 that he had been in Damascus “many days,” so it seems Saul had time to raise up followers. But still, doesn’t it seem quick for Saul to gather followers? He’s a brand new Christian. Even if he was in Damascus for a couple weeks, or even a couple months, it seems like he would be far too soon for him to have followers. Is there any way we can know how long he was there?
There is! In Galatians 1:17-18 Paul writes that three years passed between his conversion and his trip to Jerusalem. But he didn’t spend all of those three years making disciples in Damascus. He tells the Galatians that he went to Arabia during that time as well, but we don’t know what part of Arabia or how long he spent there. At some point, he says, he then went back to Damascus, which he also writes about in 2 Corinthians 11:32, including the basket story. So we don’t know precisely how long it took Paul to have followers, but that isn’t the point. What the author of Acts, Luke, wants to highlight is that he had followers!
Interestingly, that word “followers,” in verse 25 is the same word as “disciple” in verse 19. So verse 25 could be translated as referring to “his disciples.” This is where Saul is a great example for us. We don’t know if he was intentionally obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples, or maybe he was such a natural-born leader that people followed him. The point is that Saul had such a thoroughly transformative encounter with Jesus, that he lives out the mission of Jesus: Make disciples!
Second, in our closer look at the basket story, those disciples are more amazing supporting cast members. They were aware of needs and of what needed to happen and they saved his life, helping him to stay on mission, even at a possible threat to their own lives. I wonder what those followers were thinking? Did they have to answer questions the next day about Saul’s whereabouts? Did the Jewish leaders know they were friends with Saul? Yet, these followers play an important role in the story, right? They are so creative and innovative, helping Paul escape in a basket, dropped through a hole in the city wall, so the Jews who were watching the gates of the city wouldn’t see him leave.
After his disciples help him escape, Saul now heads to Jerusalem, which is a bold move. This is the one place where you’d think he should not go. Jerusalem is the headquarters of the Jewish leaders, Jewish leaders who could have easily heard from Damascus how Saul betrayed them, and how Saul escaped. Or maybe Saul got to Jerusalem first? Check back in to the next post as we find out what happened to Saul in Jerusalem, with our eye on the amazing actions of the supporting cast.
Today, remember the disciple-making heart of Saul. He wasted no time in sharing the good news story of Jesus and helping others join in the mission of Jesus. Saul was a disciple-maker, and he is a wonderful example for us. How are we making disciples? I encourage you to evaluate that in your own life.
Finally, reflect on the sacrificial creativity and ingenuity of his disciples. They were willing to risk their lives for Saul. How are you being sacrificially creative and innovative for Jesus? During the global pandemic, though much of life is shut down and we are quarantined, we still have Jesus’ call on our lives to make disciples, but we might have to think differently about that mission. Just as Saul’s disciples helped him escape in a basket through a hole in the wall, how can you think out-of-the-box to make disciples? Take some time now and pray for God’s Spirit to invigorate your creativity and thinking. Start writing down ideas for disciple-making. And then go for it!