Acts 9, For April 4-10

Saul’s Conversion

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. 23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 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.

Aeneas and Dorcas

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he visited the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. 36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” 39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas made while she was still with them. 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

 

Footnotes:     a.   Acts 9:29 That is, Jews who had adopted the Greek language and culture

Reflections on the Word

Acts 9 contains the story of the apostle Paul’s conversion from an enemy who persecuted the early Christians to the man who became the greatest spokesman for the early Church.   In this chapter he is still Saul though and we see a continuation of the persecution and scattering of the early believers from Jerusalem that began in chapter 8. Notice the two featured followers of Jesus in this chapter (Paul and Peter). Neither one was without his failings and shortcomings. Yet they experienced the love and the grace of God and they were willing “tools” in the hand of the Lord. Sometimes when our love for God cools it would not hurt us to remember what God has forgiven in our life and the debt he paid for us also. We too are very useful to our heavenly Father. This is what drove Paul. Not a bad example to follow!

Verses 1-9 We don’t know if Saul was directly involved in the death of anyone other than Stephen (at the end of chapter 7) but he was definitely at least a ‘bounty-hunter’ of sorts. The high priest in Jerusalem (probably still Caiaphas) had religious authority over Jews not only in Judea but everywhere in the empire. Damascus was located in the Roman province of Syria, about 150 miles from Jerusalem and was the nearest important city not in Palestine. This corresponds to modern Syria today which is ISIS country. It had a large Jewish population and thus would have had quite a few believers in Jesus. (remember the early Christians were mostly Jewish)   The name “The Way” was an early reference to Christianity used almost exclusively in Acts. It came from the idea that Jesus called Himself “The Way, the Truth and the Life”. So His followers would be people of “the Way” (a new religious way of life and faith to be sure.) Apparently Jewish rabbis taught that a voice from heaven is understood as the voice of God himself. Saul obviously thought so. Notice though that the voice was understood only by Saul. Those with him heard sound but did not understand anything from it.

Verses 10-19 Ananias is mentioned nowhere else in scripture except in the two accounts of Saul’s conversion (here and in Acts 22). “Straight Street” in ancient times probably followed the same route as the very long, straight street that runs through Damascus from east to west still today. This street is in sharp contrast to what otherwise are many smaller crooked streets in that city. Ananias’ words to Saul make it clear that Saul did not just see a vision but that the resurrected Jesus actually appeared to him. It is on this fact that Saul based his qualification to be an apostle, ranked in standing with the Twelve. Notice in this section how God always has a plan and is working it out even if His people do not understand.

Verses 20-31 Like many other new converts, Saul was on fire with his faith and likely approached it with the same fervor and energy that he had used to persecute Christians. You can imagine that such an abrupt turn-around would have really confused and probably made some people suspicious.   Yet it seems that his teaching and proclamation of Jesus were obviously the work of someone convinced and convincing.   Thanks to Galatians 1 we know that the “many days” in verse 23 was really a time of about 3 years.   Using information from Galatians it seems that Saul spent much of this intervening time away from Damascus in the region called Arabia. (The actual borders of Arabia came quite close to Damascus so it wasn’t like he went very far.) Seemingly it was after his return to Damascus that the attempt on his life took place that led to him being lowered down in a basket and making his escape.

Saul’s first trip back to Jerusalem after his conversion was a little rocky too. Thankfully Barnabas, who was well-respected in the early Christian community, took a mentoring role and vouched for Saul with the leaders in the church there. Again thanks to Galatians we know that only Peter and James the Lord’s brother were in Jerusalem at the time. It must have seemed weird that people who earlier had sided with Saul in arguing against Christianity were now arguing against him as he promoted Christianity. (Might we understand this when a beloved sports star goes to a rival team and comes back to play against them?) Saul was sent to Tarsus, his hometown actually, to get him away from people wanting to kill him. Interestingly verse 31 notes a time of general peace for the church after that (free of persecution).

Verses 32-43 The attention of the narrative now turns to Peter, who is away from Jerusalem also. He is over near the Mediterranean coast. He heals a paralyzed man and then even more powerful, a woman who had died who was “a disciple”. This is the only time this word (for female disciple) is used in the New Testament so we get that she was a devoted follower. Both miracles caused many to believe in Jesus.

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