Do you have a nickname? I love nicknames. I don’t believe I’ve ever had one that stuck, though.
Sometimes nicknames meander through a progression, like the nickname Michael Scott gives Daryl Philbin on the TV show, The Office: “Michael refers to him as “Mittah Rogers”—a nickname which began as “Regis” (as Darryl’s last name is Philbin, a reference to Regis Philbin who is producer Michael Schur’s father-in-law), then “Reeg”, “Roger” and then finally settling on “Mittah Rogers”.”
Many nicknames are like that, based on the person’s actual name. But in the next part of our study this week of Acts 9:1-31, a man who we met earlier in Acts re-enters the story, and this man had a nickname that was about to make a huge difference in Saul’s life.
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, the headquarters of the Jewish leaders, who by now might have heard from Damascus how Saul betrayed them, and how Saul escaped. Or maybe Saul got to Jerusalem first? We don’t know. What we’ll see is that Saul’s choice to travel to Jerusalem is basically doomed from the start.
When he arrives, he tries to join up with the Christians, but they, too, and I would say rightly so, are super suspicious of him. He had previously persecuted them. How would you feel if the bully who over and over and over again hurt you, shows up one day asking to be your friend? How would you feel if the co-worker who betrayed you and lied to you, now says they want to work together on a project? You would think, “No way, buddy!” You would think to yourself, “This guy is a menace, and he has hurt so many people, and he has hurt me, and I am not letting him near me. I am going to be wise and impose boundaries on him.” And none of us would blame you for that.
Those disciples in Jerusalem were thinking like that. Or they might have been thinking, “Nice try, Saul. Go back to your Pharisee buddies. You’re not changed. This is a trap.”
That bring us to the next candidate for the best supporting actor award in this story, Barnabas. We met him before in chapter 4:36-37. Back then he sold a field and gave it to the apostles to help those in need. His name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement,” perhaps a sort of nickname. It sure fits. Barnabas loved Jesus, and sought to live the way of Jesus, which is the way of sacrifice. Here in chapter 9:27, Barnabas is willing to take a sacrificial risk on Saul.
He brings Saul to the Apostles, and vouches for him. What an encouragement! Saul is finally welcomed, and he continues his bold ministry in Jerusalem!
But in verse 29, the Grecian Jews, the same ones that were so opposed to Stephen in chapter 6, now come against Saul, trying to kill him. Are you noticing a pattern in Saul’s early days as a Christian? Twice now he has people wanting to kill him. Jesus was right in verse 16 when he told Ananias that Saul was going to suffer for Jesus. Saul had to flee for his life in Damascus, and now again in Jerusalem. So some Christians brothers take Saul to Caesarea, which was a Mediterranean port city to the west of Jerusalem, and from there Saul caught a boat to Tarsus, his home town. Again, the supporting cast saves Saul’s life. They are faithful and sacrificial to the call of Jesus to be all about the Kingdom of God where they are at in their lives.
The author tells us in verse 31 that with Saul gone, the threat now transformed into an ally, the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and growth.
This is an astounding story that features the work of God in Saul’s life, and the faithfulness, sacrificial love and obedience of the people of God in supporting the mission, even when they were quite afraid and uncertain because of Saul’s reputation. There would have been a lot of very real and valid reasons for them to not step out of their routine and step up in obedience to God in this. But they chose faithful sacrifice to the Kingdom.
Are you choosing likewise? What does faithful sacrifice look like for you? It can and should look like encouragement of those who are struggling. How are you being an encourager?