After Saul regained his strength, he began to move about Damascus; he started preaching the Gospel in the synagogues there, to the amazement of everyone. His preaching became more and more powerful, and he taught that Jesus was the Son of God fearlessly, yet people were confused because it was common knowledge that he was the number-one persecutor of Christ’s followers.
His message was effective, Luke tells us that Saul proved “that Jesus is the Messiah”; the Jews in Damascus began to plot his murder.
Saul also seemed to have his problems with the believers, who feared him, yet he had gained enough confidence in the believing community for some of them to secrete him out of the city to escape the Jewish plots against him, and he traveled back to Jerusalem. Upon his arrival in that city, Saul attempted to join with the believers who remained, but they were having none of it, since they knew exactly who he was and what he had done to their brethren there; who can blame them?
Yet Barnabas stood up for Saul, telling the church what had happened on the Damascus road, how Saul had been converted by Jesus Himself, and how he had preached so boldly the name of Jesus in Damascus, and how he had come to be in Jerusalem. Apparently, the believers in Jerusalem more or less accepted Saul after that, but I can’t help wondering if some of them might still have harbored their suspicions. In any case, Saul moved about town preaching about Jesus, debating with his colleagues, and getting into a bit of a tiff with the Hellenistic Jews, who hatched a murderous plot against him; again murder for righteousness sake!
When the disciples heard of the plot, they once again secreted Saul out of town, and sent him off to Tarsus, no doubt relieved to have him gone. It is at this point in his narrative that Luke says something wonderful:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (9:31)
Saul, now a Christian, was gone from the region; the persecution had ended, at least for now, and peace reigned once again. The people no longer lived in fear of persecution, they no longer lived in fear of Saul; they lived in the “fear of the Lord” instead. Thus, rather than fleeing for their lives, they lived in humble submission to God and the church was strengthened and the numbers of the redeemed increased. As I read these verses, I can’t help reflecting upon the fact that when Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin back in chapter seven, they went berserk, but it was Saul who took up the persecution, and now that Saul is no longer leading it, it dies out and peace returns to the region. Stephen seems to have been the catalyst, and Saul the instrument for God to spread the Gospel out of Jerusalem and into the surrounding region, just as Jesus had said that they would preach the Gospel first in Jerusalem and then in “all Judea and Samaria”. In the next passage, Luke tells us about the kinds of things that went on during this period, about some of the amazing things Peter was up to, and about some of the amazing people he encounters…