Uniform 10.11.2015: A Credible Witness


Acts 9:19b-31

Few childhood stories have lessons as powerful as that of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Most of us are familiar with the tale: Assigned with the task of keep watching over a flock of sheep, a boy finds the job boring and thankless. It only becomes exciting when a wolf creeps into the fold. At the sight of a wolf, the boy is to run toward the nearby town, shouting, “Wolf! Wolf!” Unfortunately, that never happens. One day he reaches his limit and decides to fool the town, crying, “Wolf!” when there’s no predator in sight. He plays this trick a few times, getting the townspeople more and more disgruntled, until they finally decide he’s not worth listening to. He’s made a reputation for himself.

And of course, one day the wolf really does come sneaking into the flock. Only this time, no one believes the boy’s cry of “Wolf!” The sheep are devoured, and it’s all his fault. His past actions have ruined his credibility as a witness.

The story in our text has similarities to this children’s morality tale. Saul is widely known as a persecutor of Christ followers, dragging them before councils to stand trial for abandoning the tenets of Judaism. He’s even been a witness to brutality against Christians. He’s made a reputation for himself. Those who believe in Jesus either know to avoid him, lie to him, or be bold and face prosecution at best and death at worst.

But then Saul meets Jesus Christ personally, and the encounter changes his entire outlook. Instead of persecuting Christians, he is one of them and wants everyone else to join them as well. The problem is, he’s crying “Jesus” much too late. His past actions have ruined his credibility as a witness. Why should anyone believe him now? How can they trust him? What if he starts antagonizing those who aren’t Christians?

It seems like there’s little Saul can do to prove his case. Surely there isn’t a Christian alive who would risk taking him in.

But we read that there is. One named Barnabas decides to take a chance on this fragile new Christian, this guy whose very name sparks fear in the hearts of those who follow Jesus. Barnabas not only “took him in” but went to the other disciples and vouched for him. “I know what he’s done,” he says, “and you’re right to be worried, confused, even skeptical. But I’ve seen what’s happened to him. Trust me—he’s met Jesus and heard him speak. He’s changed!” (See Acts 9:27.)

We don’t know what happened to the boy who cried “Wolf.” The story ends with dead sheep and a sheepish young man. He probably had to move away and find another career. But the rest of Saul’s story is miraculous! It doesn’t end with dead Christians and an ashamed young man. Instead, it ends with a changed heart lived out in bold preaching, extensive travel, healing, conversions, and tremendous hope amid great suffering.

All of us have opportunities to deceive, to degrade, to persecute, to lie, to cheat. We may earn some of the things that people say about us. But, thanks to God, we also have the chance to be reborn—to allow Jesus to transform our lives into selfless sacrifices in his name for the good of all people. Will we take that chance each day?


1. As a child, did you hear the story of the boy who cried “Wolf”? What did it mean to you then, and how has its meaning changed for you over the years?
2. Have you (or someone you know) ever undergone a complete change in outlook and behavior? If so, what was that experience like?
3. Think about a time when you struggled to trust someone based on his or her past actions. If you were able to overcome your distrust, what helped you do that?
4. What would it have been like to live in Saul’s time? How would you feel to learn that the determined persecutor of Christians had become a devoted follower of Christ?
5. What second chances has God offered to you? Have you taken them? If so, how have they changed your life and the lives of others?

Reference Shelf

He Proclaimed Jesus, 9:19b-25

Luke introduces this section with his customary general indication of time (“several days,” v. 19b; see also v. 23 [and cf. 2:47b; 6:1; 8:1). This narrative device gives the story a sense of chronological movement. It also informs readers that the larger faith community in Damascus has accepted Saul. Historically, one might surmise that Saul was learning some more about the teachings of Jesus or the “kerygma,” but such instruction is not part of Luke’s narrative world. Hence, one should offer such “commentary” cautiously, in full awareness that suggestions such as these are not “commentary” on the Lukan text, but speculations on events taking place outside the text.

In the narrative world, Luke clearly states that Saul’s preaching in the synagogues began “immediately” (v. 20). This preaching in the synagogues, readers will later learn, foreshadows the pattern Saul will employ as he moves toward “the ends of the earth.” By preaching in the synagogues, Saul can fulfill his calling to carry the name of Jesus to the “children of Israel” (cf. 9:15). The narrative does not allow readers to hear one of Saul’s sermons, but only quick summaries of their essential thrust: Jesus is “the Son of God” (v. 20) and the Christ (v. 22b). Verse 20 offers the only explicit use of “Son of God” in Acts. It could be significant that it is found on the lips of Saul, given that Paul often employed the term in his letters. However, one should not think it striking to find use of this phrase in Acts; it was not foreign to the narrator (cf. Luke 1:32, 35; 4:3, 9, 41; 8:28; 22:70).

More significant to the flow of the story is the response of Saul’s audience to his conversion and preaching. To this point, Luke has employed the word “Jews” quite sparingly (2:5,10). Even the Gospel used the term infrequently and always within the title “king of the Jews” (see Luke 23:3, 37, 38). Yet now that the Messiah has appointed the instrument to carry the gospel to all people, “the Jews” emerge as a voice of opposition. Luke was aware that Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Saul, and the many thousands of Jerusalem disciples (cf. 2:5, 10; 21:20) were “Jews.” And Luke can use the term “Jews” to denote folk out of whom believers, or at least sympathetic listeners, emerge (13:43; 14:1; 17:11). However, perhaps reflecting the actual context out of which Luke penned his narrative, he depicts “the Jews” primarily as the group that opposes the gospel. The response of “the Jews” to Saul (“amazement” [v. 21], “agitation/consternation” [v. 22], violence [v. 23]) foreshadows what is to come.

Contemporary readers must use caution and not transfer today to Jewish people the generally negative portrayal of “the Jews” one finds in Luke’s narrative world. Further, in Luke’s narrative world the Christian characters do not abandon the Jews; persons like Saul/Paul continue to offer the word of the gospel to them, even as he offers the word to all, until the end of the narrative. Even more importantly, Christian characters never respond with violence or “hate speech” toward “the Jews.”

Due to threats of violence from the Jews of Damascus, Saul is forced to leave the city, being lowered in a basket. The suffering promised in 9:16 is already beginning to find fulfillment.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 150–51.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.


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