19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 21All who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?’ 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus* was the Messiah.*
23 After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,* lowering him in a basket.
26 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. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. 30When the believers* learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
And so, Saul was healed of his blindness, and Ananias became his mentor and taught him the Gospel. And Saul began “immediately” to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues in Damascus. Wait a minute, the people said, isn’t this the very man who persecuted the followers of Christ in Jerusalem? And didn’t he come here intending to arrest them here? And yet, Saul continued to preach Christ, and his testimony was powerful.
They plotted to kill him – he who had changed to the other side! The Pharisees among us still reserve their worst vitriol for the one who was one of them, but has questioned what they believe to be absolute, unquestionable right. They were watching the gates, likely thinking to catch him alone outside the city. But Saul became aware of their plot, and he slipped out of the city, in a basket his friends lowered over the wall.
Now, in reading Luke’s account, we get the impression that Saul went immediately from there to Jerusalem, but that is not the way Paul tells the story, and that is not really what Luke says – he says, “When he came to Jerusalem”. This was likely many months, or even years later – Paul says he preached for some time in the area around Damascus.
When he did go to Jerusalem, his reputation as a persecutor was still known, and the disciples there were afraid (remember, Luke uses the word “disciples” in reference to all believers, and “apostles” for the twelve.) But Barnabas (his name means “encourager”) stood up for him, and described how Jesus had appeared to him, and changed him, and how he had spoken boldly in Damascus. And the believers accepted him. He went in and out of the synagogues and preached the Christ, but there too, the Pharisees, especially the Hellenists, sought to kill him. And so, the believers brought him down to Caesarea and sent him home to Tarsus.
Paul’s story after his conversion is not an easy one – he became an important disciple, even an apostle, but not without struggle. Doing what is right, serving the Lord, may not be easy for us either, but when we follow his call, he leads us through the darkness and to his light.