And 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. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. (Acts 9:26-27a)
A few years after he was wonderfully converted, Saul (also known as Paul) made a visit to Jerusalem. The visit didn’t go as he had hoped, at least not at first: he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him. It seems strange that Christians in Jerusalem were so suspicious of Saul even three years after his conversion. They perhaps thought that he was part of an elaborate and extended plot. Maybe they were reluctant to embrace such a dramatic conversion without seeing it with their own eyes. Simply, they did not believe that he was a disciple.
That had to hurt. At this point, some people might turn their back on Jesus Christ. We could imagine Saul saying, “I’ve been serving the Lord for three years, preaching Jesus Christ, enduring assassination attempts and death threats. Now you don’t want to accept me as a Christian? Do you call this the love of Jesus? Forget it!”
But Saul had a greater heart of love for Jesus and Jesus’ followers. It no doubt hurt, but he understood that the disciples in Jerusalem remembered the Christians that Saul had killed and persecuted before Jesus changed his life. If the disciples in Jerusalem lacked a little in love, Saul added a little more love to make up for it.
Yet in Acts 9:27 we read something wonderful: Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. Barnabas simply extended the love of Jesus to Saul, and as Saul (Paul the Apostle) would write later, love believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Barnabas said, “I believe you, Saul. I believe you had a terrible past and I know Christians were really afraid of you. But I believe Jesus has changed your life, and for three years you’ve lived as a changed man.”
Thank God for people like Barnabas, who will welcome people into the family of God with simple friendship.
Many of us know what it is like to be hurt in the church, among God’s people. Some of us have known this pain very deeply. It seems like many people experience times when they are rejected, abused, neglected, or put out by God’s people. Some of us get treated the way that many of the Jerusalem disciples treated Saul.
If that is you, please don’t despair. You’re in good company, and God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign enough to bring blessing and good even out of a painful season.
Here’s my prayer for you: that if you are in that painful place, God would send you a Barnabas – someone to hear you, help you, and love you in the name of Jesus. I also pray that God would help you to be a Barnabas to someone else.