Acts 9:23-26, When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.
One might wonder how a person with a damaged and ruined reputation can get back on track with God and Man. If one is a Christian, then repent and prayer is all that is required to be in the grace of God. (Acts 8:17-24) While we may find solace in that relationship being restored, we may still face consequences to our actions here in our human relationships. Being restored spiritually does not guarantee human forgiveness. Young Saul the Pharisee in training was destructive and even homicidal when it came to being on the wrong side of the spiritual relationship with God. Paul’s life offers us several insights into the Apostle John, and gives us some very distinct indications as to how to live a “repairing” but damaged life.
When Paul writes Galatians, he explains his first evangelistic efforts were focused on Arabia, and then on Damascus. It was after three years of experience in this arena that he travels to the place that would be most difficult. Great ministers don’t shy away from the difficult, even if it means sacrifice(s) on their part. We now find Paul standing among the Apostles in Jerusalem.
The apostles in Jerusalem had every reason to be skeptical of Paul’s relatively new found faith. Read Acts 9:1 and you will understand that the new “Paul” was radically different than the old “Saul.” The Apostles would have rightfully taken Paul’s previous actions very personally. They had not experienced Saul’s vision on the Damascus road. It’s interesting that God saw fit for this pivotal event and strained circumstance to exist minus further divine intervention. While God could easily have made all of this transpire with less speculation, He chose to let His children work this out among themselves. Paul could easily have tried to get close to them to expose their continued evangelism, so caution would be the attitude of the initial interactions.
We now move forward to the death of John’s brother – James. There is little reason to see much time difference in the death of James and Paul’s conversion. Stephen’s death was prior to Paul’s conversion and James’ death was after that same event. But knowing what John knows about Paul’s previous life, it would be entirely reasonable to understand that John may have had some strong feelings about Paul.
It would be understandable if John were reluctant to accept Paul. When we are told to love our enemies, we can see it from a very sterile place. A place where it is easy to say, but supremely difficult to apply. It is possible that John never experienced these emotions. It is likely that whatever the reactions of the early Christians, they were very much like us. Even vested with the Holy Spirit, as they were, no one has the devastation and pain of losing a loved one mitigated by their personal righteousness. Apparently, none of the other Apostles had lost a loved one at this point. It is just interesting to contemplate the struggles of even the holiest and most faithful people when it comes to love, forgiveness, and prayer for our enemies.
Thankfully God seeks faith from His people because we are too far past perfection to go back. We need healing, forgiveness and grace. God is willing to grant all of these to those who were once His enemies. (James 4:4; John 8:44)