1But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul of Tarsus was on his way to literally destroy the Church in Damascus. Though his mentor in the Jewish religion had been the famous Gamaliel, he did not have the wisdom of the man and was acting against something ordained of God. Saul was still breathing out threats and murder against disciples. I think you have to remember how devastating he was to the Church. Time and distance might remove us from the events but this persecution went on for some time and imagine the fear that this man would evoke in the minds of a Christian. Imagine how you would feel about a man who had taken your husband from you and thrown him into prison for believing in Christ. This Saul was bent on destroying more lives, throwing more in prison, separating more families – leaving widows and orphans in his wake.
Was Saul “seeking” Christ as we sometimes talk about? Some of us believe that the reason we believe the Gospel is because we were smart enough to go looking for God and looked in the right place. Saul, in my mind, is a dramatic example that when God comes looking for you that He will find you. Christ comes to seek and save the lost. The lost don’t know where they are and cannot find their way to God. God does not leave the lost but goes looking for them.
In Saul’s case, he was travelling to Damascus in the middle of the day and a light brighter than the sun knocked him literally off of his horse.
A voice from heaven asked him: “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting Me?”
Does anyone notice anything profound in the way that Christ called out to Saul? He said to him “Saul, Saul”. In the Hebrew, repetition is often used for emphasis as in “Holy, holy, holy” or “Amen, Amen” but repetition of a name by a Jew is meant to imply intimacy. It is meant to imply love and caring for a person. God cried out “Moses, Moses…” from the burning bush, He called out “Samuel, Samuel…” to a young prophet. When David cried over the death of his son he cried out “Absolom! Absolom!”
Before Christ was the man who has been destroying the very lives of His beloved sheep. But doesn’t 1 John 4:10 testify that the nature of Love is not that we loved God but that He loved us? Would we not all be lost if it weren’t for the initiating love, the first love that God showed us in having mercy toward us? I just marvel at the words here because I know that, in myself, Christ could have let me go to destruction to the sins and rebellion in my life but the nature of the Gospel is a God that interrupts our plans for self-destruction.
The other remarkable thing is that Christ told Saul that he was persecuting Him. He doesn’t ask why Saul was persecuting Christians because Christ so identifies with us that He considers His own person to be assaulted by those who would seek to destroy the Body of Christ.
Well, Saul may have be a fool up until then but he wasn’t stupid. He fell to his face, knowing full well he was in the presence of Someone powerful and asked: “Who are You, Lord?”
Now, imagine that you’re the man that gave approval to the death of Stephen even as he testified to seeing the risen Christ. You’ve been zealous to stop the mouths of these blasphemers – at least that’s what you think they are. Put yourself in Saul’s sandals for a moment and wonder to yourself how you would react if you heard this: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
I hope that, as you have encountered the Jews throughout the Acts that have become aware of their guilt before the living God for putting the Son of God to death and for fighting against Him how much fear that would strike into the heart. If that idea doesn’t strike fear in your own heart then pray for a heart that understands the holiness and righteousness of God for as Hebrews 10 testifies: “…it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Though Saul deserved judgment and death and knew it and would testify to it throughout his Apostolic career, he did not receive what he deserved from the hand of God but, on the basis of the grace provided in the Cross, Saul was marked out by God be bear the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was commanded to go to Damascus and wait. When he got up, he was blind.
I imagine the next few days must have been sleepless. I imagine his mind must have been clouded with confusion. The man had the Scriptures memorized. He was a master of the Scriptures, a Pharisee of Pharisees, and had missed the whole point. Everything he thought he understood was now falling away as the revelation of Christ was organizing all the Scriptures to be understandable.
10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19and taking food, he was strengthened.
Ananias was praying and was commanded by Christ to go to a specific house and lay hands on Saul to restore his sight. I find Ananias’ answer to be a bit funny as if Christ needs us to fill in the blanks on information he lacks. But, here, I think Ananias was expressing wonderment at the command. This was Saul! Murderer! Come here to destroy us.
We may be putting on the mind of Christ as we are being transformed more and more to His image but we still lack faith.
Christ is tender in His mercy toward us and patient with us. He considers our frame. “Go!”, Christ commanded Ananias, “he is a chosen instrument of mine….”
That’s all Ananias had to hear. That’s all any of us should have to understand about men who have been chosen out of this world for belief in the Gospel. “Saul belongs to me now Ananias. I’ve called him out of this world just as I’ve called you out. Just like you, he doesn’t deserve grace but I have chosen him. Go!”
Now I don’t care how many times I’ve read this, whenever I get to this next part it always moves me. Ananias walked straight to the house where Saul was praying and expecting him.
Did you notice how Ananias speaks to Saul? Does he just say: “Saul, you deserve wrath for what you’ve done but I’m under orders.”
No. He calls Saul, the murderer, the persecutor of the Church, Brother. Brother Saul. Beautiful. That’s a man that understands the Gospel. That’s a man that understands that, before God, he’s a beggar at the foot of Cross just like a murderer is. That’s a man that doesn’t confuse his belief in the Cross as being because he was better or smarter than another man or that God only chooses the decent people in this world so you better clean up your act before you come to the Cross. No! The Cross is for the filthy to come because Christ has taken our filthy garments upon Himself on the Cross and given us spotless garments in return.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
Other portions of Acts and the Epistles reveal that Saul, now an Apostle, spent 3 years in Damascus. Now, imagine the surprise of the Synagogue leadership who called for a hired gun sent with a commission from the High Priest in Jerusalem to take care of this pesky sect that is proclaiming Jesus as they see a new Saul roll into the Synagogue one day. It’s always the case of unbelievers that they seem respectable and good believers of God. They have the outward appearance and words of men that say they are seeking Truth. And so, with a smile, I imagine they welcomed Saul to the Synagogue one day wondering where he had been. I imagine they were smiling when they expected Saul to continue to breathe out the lies that the Jewish leaders had used as a way to cover their eyes from the true meaning of the Scriptures.
But their smiles turned to scowls of anger as Saul began proclaiming the Name that he had come to stamp out. I wonder if some of them thought they had been duped. They had heard stories about how this man would destroy the Church and so how can this be the same man that is proclaiming the Truth?
Now you read this account about how Saul, just like Stephen before him, and just like Peter and John, and just like Christ before them would open up the Scriptures and demonstrate that the Jewish leaders had completely missed Christ in the Scriptures. The Jews had missed Christ just as they miss Him today. You probably cannot think of how something can be so obvious and people will even admit that the Word says something but will still refuse to believe it and, yet again, plot to kill a man for continuing to point it out.
But I see it all the time. All the time. It’s never that the Scriptures aren’t plain on a subject but men and women are so comfortable with the twisted meaning of some Scriptures that they become very angry when you try to teach them the Truth. I’ve noticed that a line is crossed with some men and women. Once you’ve crossed that line of comfort where the Word demands something of them – to admit that they are sinful like you. To admit that they are not honoring God’s Word. Some men and women will call you hateful and they’ll even try to destroy you. Acts Chapter 10 is not fiction. It’s real life. I’ve never been persecuted like Paul but, I can assure you, I’ve seen what standing for the Truth of God’s Word costs.
The people of Damascus eventually plot to kill Saul and he was lowered out of the city wall and went to Jerusalem. Thou shall not kill. Right? Well, when someone is forcing upon you what God’s Word says then anything goes.
26And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Remember that three years had passed but three years is nothing in the memory of some men. It was enough for Ananias to know that Saul was Christ’s but, even after 3 years, Saul found it nearly impossible to find Christians to fellowship with. This was to their discredit. He tried to explain who he was but memories of imprisonments and murders are not easily overcome. Beloved, grudges against those in the Church are wicked. Roots of bitterness will destroy you. We are commanded to forgive even as Christ has forgiven.
But Barnabas, the encourager, believed the Gospel enough for Saul to be brought to Peter and James where they extended the right hand of fellowship to him and understood that Christ had given Saul a commission. Galatians reveals he was only there for two weeks but, again, opposition to the Truth is such that Saul was a wanted man – the Jews wanted his head only after a couple of weeks of showing them that their understanding of the Scriptures was wrong. Are we to imitate Paul even as He imitates Christ? Paul commanded this of us in his Epistles. How many of us are willing to stand for what the Scriptures teach and actually tell people when they are abusing the Word of God? Or are we simply just supposed to get along with all men?
31So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
32Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
God was gracious to grant some peace to the Church but it is not long lived. I do love this story, though, of Tabitha. It says simply of her that she was full of good works and charity – known by all the Church in Joppa for her love and service to the Church. She has died and the Church is mourning for her.
Peter is in the region and disciples come quickly for him, hoping that he can do something if God be so gracious.
What a beautiful story as the widows of the town came to Peter. It doesn’t say that they said anything. They just came weeping because they loved Tabitha. They came weeping and without words showed Peter the coats that Tabitha made for them. They didn’t have to say anything. They said everything about Tabitha’s belief in the Gospel by the love and care she showed for the downtrodden. She loved and cared for those that society would normally cast out. She clothed widows and demonstrated the love of Christ that she had.
And because she honored Christ by her sacrificial service to others, the great Apostle Peter does something special. God is gracious to give her back to the Church here. Notice, though, how it says that Peter presented her to the Church.
Tabitha is honored by the Apostle as he presented Tabitha to the Church as a testimony of her love of Christ. Testimony that this was a woman who wass to be imitated even as she imitated Christ. He was pleased to return Tabitha to a Church that loved her so much for the selfless love that she showed the entire Church there.
There are a lot of different things that happened in the stories today but I do hope you at least noticed the stark contrast between light and darkness. You witnessed the hell-bent attitude of Saul as he went to murder those in the Church but then witnessed Christ knock Him off his horse to save Saul from not only harming His Church further but saving Saul eternally to be an instrument in His hands.
You witnessed Ananias struggling with Christ over laying hands on a murderer but then Christ naming Saul as His own and Ananias calling Saul “Brother.”
You witnessed Saul proclaiming words of life in Damascus and men who preferred the darkness that wanted him dead.
You witnessed Saul rejected by the disciples in Jerusalem for his former life of destruction but then the acceptance of Barnabas, Peter, and James who knew they were no better than Him and bought by a price by a Savior.
Finally, you witnessed Tabitha, taken by death who had demonstrated her hope in the Gospel by the love she poured out in service to her fellow heirs expecting nothing in return. You witnessed her triumphal presentation before the Church as they received back an honored saint.
You see Tabitha died again years later. Just like Paul did. Just like those that persecuted and hated the Gospel did. The difference at that point and what awaited them was not whether or not Truth was before them but whether or not they believed the report or hated it.
I urge you this day to believe the Gospel. If you have been hostile to it before then I pray that the scales would fall off of your eyes and that you would see Christ and Him crucified for the sins of those who believe. If you believe Christ then I urge you to draw nearer to Him and continue to cast off the prejudices and grudges that cause you to doubt portions of His Word. I urge you to consider the contempt of the world to be a small thing compared to the riches of His Gospel.