“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:19-27).
This passage is how the apostle Paul (then known as Saul) is introduced to the church in Jerusalem. In his pre-Christian days, Paul was an opponent of the church … giving his approval to the killing of Stephen and persecuting believers. He wasn’t just annoyed with this new faith; he was out to destroy it.
Then he has his “Damascus road experience,” culminating in his decision to surrender to Jesus. But even with such a dramatic conversion, he is still not accepted by his fellow Christians in Jerusalem. And can you blame them? Many, if not all of them, had known Stephen — perhaps were even related to Stephen. It’s not surprising they are afraid and suspicious.
Who steps in to vouch for Saul/Paul? A fellow named Barnabus. While this passage doesn’t tell us much about Barnabus, a later passage does:
“News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11:22-24).
Who vouches for Saul? A good man who is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. A good man who is willing to risk his own reputation so that Saul might be accepted. A good man who says, “If you don’t believe him, believe me.”
There may be times that God calls you to leverage your good reputation for the sake of someone who isn’t quite accepted. Is it risky? Absolutely. It was for Barnabus. He risked losing friendships. He risked losing face. It will be risky for you, too.
But Barnabus was more than just a good man. He was also full of the Holy Spirit and faith. That makes all the difference in the world.