“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.” Acts 9:19 (KJV)
The life of the disciples at Damascus challenged me so greatly. These disciples must have been a peculiar set of people; they were disciples with a difference! Their difference must have informed Saul’s going to Damascus, with the mind to bind and imprison as many as he could find walking on this path there. Saul must have felt the impact of the disciples, which were at Damascus, in far away Jerusalem, such that he thought the death of Stephen will mean nothing, as long as the disciples at Damascus are left to flourish. I am tempted to think that Paul felt the disciples at Jerusalem were not as ‘dangerous’ as the disciples at Damascus!
Damascus is too far to constitute a threat to the religion of the Jews, yet Paul went with the letters of authority from the elders in Jerusalem to arrest anybody he found to be walking in the path of Christ. How can it be that this small number of brethren at Damascus would be more important to Paul than those in Jerusalem? Has he finished with those in Jerusalem?Why going after those in Damascus? The unfolding events proved why Paul may likely be more interested in the brethren at Damascus than those in Jerusalem at that point.
THE GUIDNG BRETHREN:
The peculiarity of these brethren started playing out, when the Lord asked Saul to proceed to Damascus, after he had encountered the LORD and demanded to know what the LORD would want him to do, while he was on his way to Damascus. The Bible says:
“…And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Acts 9:6 (KJV)
Where things should be happening was Jerusalem. Cornelius was directed to send for Peter, if he must hear about what he must do to be saved! The Lord could have sent Paul back to Jerusalem, where he would be properly instructed as touching what he should do.
But on the contrary, the Lord Jesus sent him to Damascus. The Lord was so sure that Paul would not miss his direction if he should go into the same city,where he was going to hound men and women into prison. The Lord did not think that the Damascus brethren would misdirect him. Looking at the facts on the table, I feel that the Damascus brethren should be the last people to guide Paul into the right path, yet the LORD sent Paul to them!
Can the LORD send a man who had sought to kill me, to me and believe that I will not misguide and mismanage him? Would I faithfully and truthfully guide a man who had sought my hurt in the past, into the path of true righteousness and greatness? Will I be willing to be of good help to a man who had wrecked havoc in the Church? Can God trust me with such men or lives?
The truth about the Damascus disciples played out again when the LORD came to Ananias and instructed him to go and lay hands on Paul so that he might receive his sight. The Bible presents a beautiful record of what ensued between God and Ananias:
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus:for, behold, he prayeth,
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way:for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 9:10-17 (KJV)
I noticed that Ananias did not struggle with the Lord; he went his way, as instructed, came to Saul, where he was, on the street called Straight and called him ‘Brother Saul’. It was at Damascus that we have the street called Straight yet Damascus was not a city ofIsrael, Damascus was and still is, in Syria!
I must recollect that Paul was blind at this point and it should have been the joy of Ananias to leave him in that state for some days more so that he can learn his ‘lessons’. Why would I take advantage of the dealings of God with a man to punish him? Why would I be that wicked not to pray for a man who had persecuted me in the past, when he now has a problem? Shouldn’t I think that it serves such a man right, if he should have any problem? But Ananias and the brethren at Damascus were different!
It is also amazing that Ananias could call Saul, brother, when Saul’sencounter was just three days old! Ananias had not seen Saul lived out the life of a disciple prior to that time, so how did he deserve to be called a brother? The last thing he knew about Saul before God came to him that day was that Paul was a persecutor of the brethren.But here Ananias recognised and accepted him as a brother. What a liberal and large-hearted brother Ananias was! How did he accept Saul as a son of his own father so quickly? All that Ananias knew about Paul was the testimony, which God gave him; he did not wait to gather his own evidences before he took Paul as a brother that the Lord called him, going by the implication of what the Lord said to him, before he came to meet Paul.
The question I am asking myself is that why should I find it difficult to accept those that God send me to, as my brethren? How long should it take for me to accept a convert as a brother? Must he spend decades of proven life before I accept him as a brother? Why can’t I accept him as a brother, just by the stroke of introduction the Lord gives about him? Do I need many years to prove a brother who backslid before I accept him as a brother? Ananias had access to the records of Paul, which we cannot even call past records; for the records were still current when the LORD came and sent Ananias to Saul and he yet accepted him as a brother!
It is clear that it was not only Ananias that had such accommodating spirit, all the brethren (disciples) at Damascus had it too. These brethren, I believe, gave Paul the food he eat, after spending three days of ‘fasting and praying’ with them, and the Bible says he was strengthened after taking the food!
LORD, please help me and help all those You have called to be with me, to have such great heart that forgives and strengthens others. Will a convert spend few days with us and have something to eat from us that will strengthen him or her? Can I stay with a new convert for few days and the convert will be strengthened?
TOO CONVINCED TO BE CONFUSED:
The effect of Paul fellowship with the disciples resulted into:
“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” Acts 9:20 (KJV)
Paul was not only strengthened, he also preached Christ in the Synagogues that He is the Son of God. Paul had not been called into the ministry at this point in time, yet he became a preacher of Christ. It tells me that the brethren influenced Paul so much that he could no longer keep quiet about who Jesus is. He became too convinced to be confused!
Does it mean that those of us who preached Christ to others in those days, without knowing anything called anointing or calling, did so because of the breed of brethren that surrounded us? Does it mean that the kind of brother that I am is the chief reason new converts of today do not break forth into preaching Christ straightway? Then, You need to help me, LORD, so that I may be the right influence to those that You bring, by Thy mercy and direct efforts, into the faith. If I could not bring anyone to Thee,shouldn’t I be magnanimous enough to preserve and groom those You bring, the way the disciples at Damascus did of Paul?
The disciples at Damascus did not only accommodated Paul; they also protected him from premature death. Some of the Jews at Damascus decided to kill Paul, and they laid ambush for him night and day at the gate of Damascus. The disciples (though some translations regarded them as Paul’s disciples) rose to the occasion and the Bible says:
“And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” Acts 9:23-25 (KJV)
Whatever Paul became today, can be traced to these disciples who risked their lives to arrange for the escape of Paul (a man who came to imprison them) out of Damascus. Paul’s life would have ended abruptly at Damascus and we would not have seen or heard so much about him, safe that the Damascus disciples, got a basket and ropes with which they passed him over the wall of the city!
Though the Damascus disciples plotted and executed the escape of Paul, yet it was a bit difficult for the disciples at Jerusalem to accept Paul, when he got to them! Their reluctance to accept him could obviously be because of what he had done in the past and, especially,for his role during the martyrdom of Stephen. But how do we explain how the Damascus disciples accepted him freely?
Could it be that the Damascus disciples found it easy to accommodate Paul because of their cosmopolitan nature and constitution? The Damascus disciples lived among the gentiles, which could havehelped them to grow larger hearts than that of the brethren who never left Jerusalem or the shores of Israel. Could this also be the challenge we are having today, especially with some brethren, who never mixed with other believers from other denominations?
(Segun Ariyo, Ibadan. 20th September, 2015.)