When reading the book of Acts, it’s not always easy to get a handle on timescales. Luke is keen to give us the main action points of the story of the spread of the church and his account of Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem (Acts 9:19b-31) seems much more condensed than Paul’s account in Gal 1:16-24. This passage reminds us, however, that there are definitely times and seasons, and we do well to consider the implications of this as we ponder our own lives.
It’s hard for us to be certain about time expressions such as ‘at once’, ‘after several days’ and ‘after many days’, but we know from Eccl 3:1 that ‘there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ I write this in the middle of winter in the UK, and the rains and winds leave me longing for spring mildness and sunshine days. Life is always made up of different seasons, however: both literally and figuratively. Already the church had faced persecution and martyrdom, times of suffering and oppression, but in Acts 9:31 we catch a glimpse of another season: ‘Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.’
Even though Paul himself suffered persecution (his escape from Damascus in a basket was hardly the most dignified of exits! – Acts 9:24-25), there was a time of calm for God’s people throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria. The church had been strengthened by God through the turbulent times of apostolic imprisonment and Stephen’s martyrdom; it is now strengthened by God in times of peace. It had grown in numbers during the difficult times (Acts 5:14) and continued to increase in numbers in times of peace. (Acts 9:31) We can’t determine which season we have to face, but we can be sure that God is with us in every season. As we live in the fear of the Lord, God will encourage us by the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding us always.