A little drama can be exciting. But too much controversy can be exhausting.
Especially in church. A little respite from the drama may be quite welcome.
Some people present the gospel as if it were the solution to all our problems. Just believe in Jesus, they suggest, and your life will be smooth sailing.
But try telling that to Saul of Tarsus. When he first met Jesus, he was blinded by the encounter. After he regained his sight, he started preaching the gospel in Damascus. Eventually, however, people there wanted to kill him, and he had to flee.
When he returned to Jerusalem, he was surely persona non grata among his former friends. Moreover, none of his new brothers and sisters in Christ wanted anything to do with him; at first, they couldn’t believe that the leopard could change his spots. Barnabas had to advocate for him.
When they finally accepted him, Saul began to preach once more. The result? People wanted to kill him, and he had to flee.
Hmm. Is there a pattern developing here?
Like everything else Saul did, his preaching in Jerusalem must have taken many by surprise. I imagine that people in the city still remembered how he had stood guard over the cloaks of those who had angrily stoned Stephen to death for blasphemy.
Stephen, you’ll recall, was a Hellenistic Jew who had become a follower of Jesus. He had run afoul of the Jerusalem authorities by effectively debating the gospel with other Hellenists in the synagogue. It’s quite possible that Saul was present at some of those debates, leading him to conclude that Stephen was a dangerous heretic who had earned his execution.
Then, just a few years later, in delicious irony, Saul was the one back in Jerusalem, arguing Jesus with the Hellenists.
Imagine how they felt about that.
Right. They wanted to kill him (Acts 9:29).
How did the church respond? They took him to the port city of Caesarea and packed him off on a ship bound for his hometown of Tarsus.
We’re not told their motivation. At the very least, it was for Saul’s protection. The fact that they were sending him home (as opposed to some first-century safe house) suggests that they thought he needed to be in familiar surroundings, perhaps for a time of cooling off. Luke won’t pick up Saul’s story again until Acts 11:25, when Barnabas goes looking for him in Tarsus.
Meanwhile, however, back at the ranch:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers. (Acts 9:31, CEB)
Luke doesn’t say it directly, but it’s hard to escape the impression that the church owes that period of growth and relative peace to the absence of Saul. He was headstrong in his newfound faith and trouble followed him. Both he and the church may have needed a break.
It makes me wonder: are there times when we push what we think is the Lord’s agenda in a way that creates unnecessary chaos? Sometimes, we may be fervent for the right things, but go about it in unhelpful ways.
And when that happens, it may be wiser to trust that God is still in control of the universe, and know when to give it a rest.