In our series on Abraham we started at the beginning according to the Scriptures. We learned that mankind is incapable of saving itself (Genesis 1-11). So, God chose Abraham to start a family through whom He would save mankind (Genesis 11-25).
Jesus expanded this family beyond Abraham’s descendants to now include those who believe in Him and obey His commands (John 8). Sandwiched between Jesus’ two “I AM” statements (John 8:28, 58) Jesus makes a clear statement that there is a difference between being Abraham’s ‘seed’ and his children (John 8:28-58).
Stephen accuses the Jews of intentionally rejecting God’s plan and, even, killing “the Righteous One” (Acts 7).
The apostle Paul builds upon Jesus’ teachings to make it explicit: those whose faith is in Christ are now Abraham’s true descendants—his children–regardless of their genetic connection (Romans 9:8-9).
In today’s lesson we reach back from the apostle Paul’s point from Romans 9 to chapter 4 where he talks about the importance of our faith in contrast to our works, the Law of Moses or our ancestral heritage. As Paul says, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).
It had been 13 years since Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and 10 years since his failed attempt to return to Jerusalem. His hope had likely been to make amends with those he had hurt and convince his friends that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah (Acts 22:17-21). That was when the disciples ‘took’ Saul and ‘sent’ him back to his hometown of Tarsus (Acts 9:30).
Now, 13 years later, Barnabas needs help with the exploding Gentile church in Antioch and we find him knocking on Saul’s door in Tarsus, asking him if he can come help (Acts 11:25-26). They would spend a year together. So, after 14 years since meeting Jesus Barnabas and Saul make their way back to Jerusalem bearing gifts from Antioch to help steel them for the predicted famine that would come.
This trip to Jerusalem has Saul being mentored in Barnabas’s shadow as Luke notes that the two of them, uneventfully, return to Antioch (Acts 12:25). At some point in their first missionary journey, however, Luke makes a couple of changes that are significant. First, he acknowledges Saul’s Greek name, Paul (Acts 13:9), and he now lists these two evangelists as “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:14).
It is easy to think that Saul’s maturing in Christ happened shortly after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. But, a lot needed to happen for Saul to be ready to take the gospel to the world. Those 15 years represent a lot of hard work to help Saul become the evangelist, Paul. Time well spent when we consider his impact upon churches all over the world ever since then,