After his conversion Saul immediately began to preach in the synagogues at Damascus. Instead of proclaiming that the followers of Jesus should be arrested he testified that Jesus is the Son of God. He soon found that his life was in danger and his disciples helped him to escape through a hole in the wall. Saul went into Arabia until it was safe for him to return to Damascus. He continued in Damascus for about three years and then went up to Jerusalem.
There was a disciple in Jerusalem who had proven himself to be an encourager. His name was Joseph but we shall always know him as “Barnabas”. “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement” We know that he was of the tribe of Levi and that he was a native of Cyprus. The disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of Saul. They knew that when he left Jerusalem he was an enemy and they did not know how to trust him.
In spite of the fears Barnabas came to help. Let’s read about that event in Acts 9:26-28. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
Barnabas knew some of Saul’s history and was confident that he was safe. Since he did not fear Saul he was able to bring him to the apostles. In his letter to the Galatians, Saul, by then called Paul, told about this encounter. Luke did not know how many apostles he met with but Paul tells us that he met with Peter and spent about two weeks with him. And almost as an afterthought, he said that he met with James, the Lord’s brother. Within a very short period of time it became obvious that Saul of Tarsus could not stay in Jerusalem if he wanted to stay alive.
For his protection, Saul was sent away. Let’s continue to read in Acts 9:29-30. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
So, within the first four or five years of his life in Christ Saul returned to his home district in what is now Turkey. For several years Saul traveled around the regions of Syria and Cilicia preaching the good news of Jesus. We have no record of the time that Saul spent absent from the Holy Land. Knowing what we do about him in his later years, as well as in the immediate years after his salvation, we can be sure that Saul went into the synagogues and preached the good news about Jesus. In fact, there may have been churches founded during that time. I can’t believe that he would have failed to bear witness anywhere he went. Saul/Paul was consistently a witness for the living Lord Jesus Christ. His isolation would come to an end when God was ready to use him.
Fourteen years later Barnabas came to Antioch. Let’s read Acts 11:20-22. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
The church in the region that Saul was operating in began to have an influx of Gentile believers. We do not know if there was any connection between Saul’s life in Tarsus and the growth of the church in Syrian Antioch. What we do know — Antioch was rapidly becoming a large center of Christianity. Within the first 300 years we are told that the church there grew to more than 100,000 disciples. Obviously, this early response to the gospel concerned the apostles in Jerusalem. After all, Jesus himself had told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them (this occurred almost immediately and is recorded in Acts 2). And when this powerful spirit came on them they would become Christ’s witnesses beginning in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and would continue to the end of the earth.
You recall the event I’m sure. Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven two angels appeared to them and, in effect, asked why they were standing there looking up into heaven. Angels are always prepared to do the will of God without question and without hesitation. I am fairly sure that the angels do not understand how we can be so hesitant when we have a clear instruction from God!
When Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the apostles, still huddled in Jerusalem, he saw right away that the grace of God was manifest there. Barnabas was pleased at what he saw but he needed help in deciding how to present the report to the apostles. Barnabas needed someone who could relate to the people of the region. After he had given it some consideration, and a lot of prayer…
Barnabas knew who could help. Let’s continue to read Acts 11:25-26. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
I would really like to be able to see a record of the things that Saul had done in Tarsus and the surrounding region. I do not believe for one moment that he was able to be quiet about his newfound faith. At the same time, he needed to study and pray to understand the tremendous changes that had come into his life. After all, he had persecuted the church! Wouldn’t that disqualify him? He had to know, from God, that he was acceptable. It mattered little what men thought. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Accepting Barnabas’ call for help must have been very refreshing to the man who had persecuted the church. He went gladly to see what he could do to bind the church together.
We are so impatient! It’s true that we rush in where angels fear to tread. Saul and Barnabas settled into the role of teaching pastors for this rapidly growing church.
For an entire year they taught the new church. My how good it would be to see the outlines of their Bible teaching. How good it would have been to sit in on their leadership discussions. They had a definite problem! The church was rapidly becoming a mixture of Greeks and Hebrews. God was preparing his two servants for their future ministries. During the time that they were in Antioch a prophet named Agabus reported that there was going to be a famine that would particularly harm the church in Jerusalem.
The Christians in Antioch felt an obligation to help those who had sent the gospel to them. In order to help solve the problem…
Barnabas and Saul became a team. Let’s read on Acts 11:29-30. So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
First, they helped to organize financial relief for the elders in the home church. The leaders of the church in Antioch knew they couldn’t do better than sending these two fine Christian men to Jerusalem with the offering.
By this time, Barnabas and Saul were inseparable. Wherever one went the other went. They worked well together. It seems to me that Saul was the teacher and Barnabas was the worker. Barnabas could bring people together and organize them and Saul could teach them. This mission team would finally began to fulfill the words of Jesus on the day of his ascension. God was preparing them to bring the gospel to the end of the earth. Up until that time it seems that there was a Christian presence in Rome and also along the far eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Most of the believers were organized in such a way that they were led by the church in Jerusalem.
We cannot know if there were any other centers of the faith. We have no record to rely on but there are stories told about the expansion of the gospel beyond what Luke recorded for us in Acts.
On their trip to Jerusalem…
They added to their team. Let’s read on Acts 12:25. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.
We do not know much about John Mark. It appears that he was a cousin of Barnabas. We know also that his mother had a sufficiently large house where the church could meet. The church was meeting for prayer in the house of John Mark’s mother when Peter was rescued by an angel.
It would appear that John Mark was not with them very long before the church at Syrian Antioch came together to be an entirely new phase outreach. Barnabas
The team then became traveling missionaries. Let’s look at Acts 13:1-3. Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
The title “prophet” is not used a lot in the New Testament. It usually refers back to the Old Testament prophets. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he speaks of prophecy in its place in the church there. Whatever their role was at Antioch they were listed among the teachers. When I consider what was happening in the church in Antioch I am reminded of one of J. Edwin Orr's more colorful phrases, which he repeated time and again, was: "Whenever God gets ready to do a great work, He always sets His people a-praying." Orr was one of the faculty members at the Fuller Seminary School of World Mission a generation ago. He was a great evangelist as well as a prolific writer. Incidentally, he wrote the last verse of Amazing Grace – “When we been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
While they were fasting and praying the church in Antioch began to sense a new direction from God. As they understood God’s direction they set aside Paul and Barnabas for the special ministry. After fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them away. The next few months were exciting times for Paul and Barnabas and John Mark.
As we have seen from the earlier experiences of the disciples, the gospel was spreading fairly slowly across the world. At his ascension into heaven Jesus had announced that they would receive power and were expected to carry the gospel out into the world. They would begin in Jerusalem but they were not to stay there. We are not told exactly how much time had passed but it was certainly more than seventeen years since Jesus had left the earth. The gospel was being spread but it was almost accidently rather than intentionally. Now it was time to get serious about spreading the good news!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.