St Paul escapes from Damascus
Do you know who your friends are?
There was once a man called Saul. He’s in the Bible and when we first meet him he was dead set against the friends of Jesus, the people who were trying to follow him and pass on his message.
He thought they had got it all wrong, and he wasn’t the only one. He had friends who agreed with him, friends in high places, friends who had power to make life very difficult for those who were trying to live the way Jesus had shown them.
Saul and his friends wanted to put a stop to Jesus’ ideas spreading, so they had people arrested if they talked about him.
One day Saul heard that there were some Christians, some of Jesus’ followers in a city called Damascus. He decided that he should go there, find out what they were doing and stop them. His friends all agreed, and they sent him off.
But on the way, a strange thing happened. Suddenly Saul saw a bright light, so bright that he fell down on the ground, and found he couldn’t see. And as he lay on the ground he heard a voice. Saul, why are you persecuting me? It said. Who are you? said Saul. I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. Paul didn’t know what to do or what to think. He was led into Damascus, because he still couldn’t see, to a house where he could stay.
That night, says the Bible, a Christian called Ananias was praying in his house, when he heard God’s voice. Go to Straight Street, said God, there’s a man there called Saul, who needs your help. I’ve heard of a man called Saul, said Ananias, from Damascus. He has been trying to stop Christians from meeting together – it can’t be him you mean, can it?
Yes, said God, that’s the one.
Ananias was very scared – perhaps it was a trick – but he went, and found Saul, and prayed for him. And Saul was healed. Saul realised that he had got it wrong about these Christians, and he decided that he wanted to join them.
But that was where the trouble started.
Ananias told the other Christians about Paul. They were horrified. Saul is our enemy, they said. What if this is all a trick? What if he is just spying on us. But Ananias persuaded them, and eventually they welcomed him. His enemies had become his friends.
But what about his old friends? The ones who wanted to get rid of Jesus followers, the ones who had sent him to Damascus to sort them out. When they heard that Saul had changed his mind about Jesus they were furious. They hated him even more than they hated the people he had gone to sort out… Soon the word was out – Get rid of Saul, any way you like…
Saul and the Christians in Damascus heard that his former friends were out to get him. He wasn’t safe in Damascus, but how could they get him out. Damascus had a wall all round it, and a big gate which was shut at night. It was really hard for people to get in and out without people noticing.
Then Ananias and the Christians had an idea. They got a big basket, a huge basket. They tied thick ropes to it. In the middle of the night, when it was all dark, they carried the basket up to the top of the walls, and they got Saul to climb into it. Then they lowered the basket over the walls, quietly, quietly, slowly, slowly, till it reached the ground. Saul climbed out, and went quietly away into the night, and he got away safely.
Saul went on to be a really important leader in the church, but we know him by another name he used, his Roman name – do you know who he is?
In that story Saul’s old enemies, the Christians, weren’t sure of him at first, and his old friends hated it that he changed his mind.
It’s hard when people around us change. If they are our friends we want them to think like us and like the things we like. But people do change. We all change. We might change the football team we support, or change our ideas about something. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends anymore, though. It is a real pity when people are so upset by it that they start hating each other.
Prayer of thanks for our friends, help us to let them be themselves.