HE WAS A bad man.
You might be tempted to take me to task and say, “But preacher, Saul said that he had lived in all good conscience…” (cf. Acts 23:1) and you would be correct. But even in good conscience, Saul of Tarsus did some really, really bad stuff (26:9). Pay special attention to the following words in all caps:
“Now Saul was consenting to his (i.e., Stephen’s) DEATH…” (Acts 8:1; cf. 22:4a).
“As for Saul, he made HAVOC of the church, entering every house, and DRAGGING OFF men and women, COMMITTING THEM TO PRISON” (8:3; 22:4b).1
“Then Saul, still BREATHING THREATS AND MURDERS against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (9:1).
“Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you PERSECUTING Me” (9:4; cf. v. 5; 22:4, 8; 26:14-15).
He “PERSECUTED this Way to the DEATH, BINDING and DELIVERING into PRISONS both men and women” (22:4).
He brought “in CHAINS even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” (22:5).
He said, “in every synagogue I IMPRISONED and BEAT those who believe on You. And when the BLOOD of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his DEATH…” (22:19-20a).
He took many of the saints in Jerusalem, shut them up in PRISON, and then had them put to DEATH” (26:10).
He “PUNISHED” these brethren “often in every synagogue and COMPELLED THEM to BLASPHEME; and being exceedingly enraged against them, [he] PERSECUTED them even to foreign cities” (26:11).
He was “a BLASPHEMER, a PERSECUTOR, and an INSOLENT man” (1 Tim. 1:13).2
A handful of passages and multiple indictments. I’ll say it again—Saul of Tarsus was a bad man.
Now based upon what you just read in the preceding verses, would you say he was a good candidate for a home Bible study? “Of course not, preacher…” Yeah, I’m just guessing that any first-century door-knocking campaigners thought exactly the same thing and observed the Passover when they got to Saul’s mailbox. “Let’s not stop here, he wouldn’t be interested, right…?”
Ananias (cf. Acts 22:12) didn’t think it was a good idea to try to reach out to this young Jewish firebrand either. When Christ commissioned him in a vision to go visit Saul, he protested, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much HARM he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to BIND all who call on Your name” (9:13-14).
Saul had a reputation. He was the church’s most rabid, most fanatical and most frenzied assailant. Ananias was understandably apprehensive and didn’t want to become another casualty in Saul’s war on the saints.
The Lord not only reassured Ananias that He had a divine purpose for Saul (15-16; cf. 22:14-15; 26:16-18), but He also prepared Saul for his forthcoming one-on-one Bible study with Ananias (vv. 6, 8-9; 22:6-11). Ananias then made his way to Straight Street and the house of Judas, laid his hands on Saul, told him how and why he had been sent, and then baptized him for the forgiveness of sins (v. 18; 22:12-16).
The bad man’s guilt was instantaneously washed away in the blood of the sinless Lamb of God (cf. Rev. 1:5), and the individual who was the worst possible candidate for a Bible study became the best, and most shining example, of the manifold grace of God.
End of story, right? Wrong.
Yes, Saul was now a Christian in the eyes of the Lord, but in the minds of his Christian peers, he was still the bad man with the checkered past. When Saul started preaching Christ in the local synagogues (v. 20, 15), church folk weren’t at all convinced that his faith was legitimate. They asked, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests” (v. 21)? From their perspective, Saul was a charlatan, a spy—a Jewish plant, and he had been sown into the local community in order to ferret out other disciples, whom he would then deliver back to Jerusalem for prosecution.
Later when Saul made his way from Tarsus to Jerusalem, he encountered the same prejudice he had experienced earlier. Luke records, “…When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (9:26; cf. 22:18).
This entire story is compelling. The avowed enemy of the cross became the number one defender of the cross. Christ accepted Saul into His family upon his obedient faith (Eph. 3:15; Mark 3:35; cf. Mat. 7:21; Eph. 2:8-9), and yet Saul’s own brethren wouldn’t accept him—at least, initially.
And why not? Because Saul’s sins were too numerous and too scarlet to be washed away. The waters of baptism simply weren’t deep enough to bury his all of his transgressions. (Can you imagine trying to worship with the very man who had been responsible for the death of your loved ones and friends?) “His conversion isn’t legitimate,” they opined. It was just another clever ruse he employed in order to further menace and oppress the church.
But then Barnabas entered the scene. The trusted encourager (4:36). The patient facilitator. The gentle go-between. The devoted mediator (cf. Phil. 4:3a). He stepped in and brought Saul to the leaders of the church (9:27). He personally vouched for Saul, and it was then that the brethren accepted him into their fellowship.
This is a powerful Bible account about three very special people:
- there was Saul—with his seemingly unforgivable past,
- there was Ananias—who was afraid to talk to Saul, but who courageously and obediently shared the good news of the gospel as the Lord had commanded, and then
- there was Barnabas—who certified that Saul’s faith was genuine.
May I ask you a personal question, good reader? Which of these three men best represents you today?
Are you an unforgiven sinner with a dark past (like Saul) who needs to be saved of his sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Rom. 6:3-4)? May I suggest that if the Lord could forgive the chief of sinners, don’t you think He can forgive you too (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11)?
Are you an anxious person (like Ananias) who knows he needs to work through his insecurities (2 Tim. 1:7) and initiate a Bible study with a lost soul (Mat. 28:19-20)? Think about it. If Ananias could go to somebody like Saul, surely you can go to a lesser threat he did, right?
Or are you an assuring person (like Barnabas) who’s willing to take in a new brother with a broken past and then introduce him to the local family of God?
All three of these people have a place in church of Christ (Eph. 2:21). Whom will you emulate today?