Focal Passages: Acts 9:26-28; 11:21-26
The plight of Saeed Abedini came to my attention in 2012. The Iranian-American pastor was arrested and imprisoned in Iran while helping a Christian orphanage. His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, and children have since met with U.S. leaders, advocating for negotiation and the release of Abedini. His wife said to a convention in Maryland, “I’m proud to see my husband stand up for his faith in the face of evil.”
The plight of Christians in the first century was similar. They faced danger; they needed advocates and encouragers.
Stephen had been stoned to death (Acts 7) and James, the brother of John, would soon be executed (Acts 12). Christians were nervous about who they could trust. Could they dare trust the man known as Saul of Tarsus, who had given assent to Stephen’s murderers? Was his reported conversion experience real? Or, was Saul engineering some kind of seductive trap for them?
Barnabas, whose very name means “son of encouragement,” bravely took a chance with Saul. He advocated for Saul and asked those who were the leaders of the infant church in Jerusalem to also give Saul a chance to prove that his conversion was genuine.
Given the opportunity (Acts 9:28ff), Saul spoke boldly in the name of Jesus in Jerusalem, debating the Hellenistic Jews. Opposition immediately arose, however, and in order to keep him alive, his new friends sent him back to Tarsus. A few months later, Barnabas had become God’s leader within the Antioch church. The church was growing, primarily within the ranks of Gentiles. Needing help with this growing ministry, Saul came to his mind. He traveled to Tarsus, secured Saul’s services, and for the next year they discipled the Christians in Antioch. Out of a bold decision to encourage a new believer, a dynamic missionary relationship was forged.
Christians of every generation need encouragement in dangerous situations. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Pray for pastor Abedini, his wife and children.