"Showing the way, Teaching the truth,
Experiencing the life in Christ"
The Conversion of Saul
(Acts 9:3-5a…6, NKJV)
As he journeyed he came near Damascus,
and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
We briefly met Saul earlier in our study of the Book of Acts. He was involved in the trial and execution of Stephen, one of the first seven Deacons chosen to oversee the widow feeding ministry in the Jerusalem Church. Luke described Saul’s role in Stephen’s trial and execution when he wrote, “The witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58b, NKJV). It was customary among first-century Jews that the witness whose testimony was most incriminating and led to the sentence of death by stoning to stand guard over the robes of the other witnesses who actually participated in the stoning. The fact that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of…Saul” clearly indicated that it was Saul’s testimony that resulted in Stephen’s execution.
Luke then described Saul’s behavior during the months immediately following Stephen’s execution. He wrote, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3, NKJV). The Greek word translated “made havoc” literally means “to injure or to devastate.” The brutality with which Saul attacked the church is illustrated by the meaning of the Greek word translated “dragging off.” It referred to an ancient mariner’s tactic of dealing with sailors who were convicted of mutiny during a sea voyage. Ropes were tied to both their arms and legs. Then they were thrown over the bow of the ship. Holding the ropes on either side of the ship, the sailors dragged them along the rough underside of the ship until they resurfaced at the ship’s stern. Much of the skin and surface tissue of their bodies would be lacerated and rubbed away. Salty sea water would enter the wounds causing excruciating pain before they were finally hauled aboard again. That was the kind of brutality early Christians faced at the hands of Saul of Tarsus!
The massive wave of persecution led by Saul forced the vast majority of the believers to flee Jerusalem and take refuge in the villages of Judea and Samaria. Philip, the guy we studied about during the two previous lessons, was among those who fled. God used him to ignite a sweeping evangelistic revival in the city of Samaria and then used him to preach Jesus to a man from Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Saul continued his rampage against the followers of Jesus. Luke wrote, “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). But suddenly everything changed!
II. Saul Meets Jesus
With legal documents in hand officially empowering him to openly persecute the followers of Jesus at Damascus, Paul began his journey to that city. However, his murderous agenda took a sudden and unexpected turn when he had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. Luke wrote, “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:3-5, NKJV).
From Jesus’ initial question to Saul we can learn an astounding spiritual lesson. You see, Paul was actually persecuting the church—Jesus’ disciples, but as He questioned Paul it became apparent that Jesus viewed Paul’s persecution of the church as if Paul was directly persecuting Him! Look at the Lord’s question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4b, NKJV).
Saul must have been astounded by the radiant glory of this unknown intruder into his life. So he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5a, NKJV). He may have already begun to wonder if this uninvited guest might be the “Lord.”
Any time a man, woman, boy, or girl wants to know who Jesus is, He is more than happy to identify Himself to them. That was certainly the case on the road to Damascus that day. Luke wrote, “The Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’” (Acts 9:5b, NKJV). The Lord didn’t stutter when He said, “I am Jesus.” He clearly identified Himself to the seeking heart of Saul of Tarsus.
As he identified Himself, Jesus again emphasized the fact that when Saul was persecuting the followers of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus. He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b, NKJV). Be very careful how you treat a fellow Christian, because Jesus takes the treatment of His followers very personally! On one occasion Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:40…45, NIV).
At some point prior to this moment in their conversation, Saul was convinced that Jesus was indeed “Lord” and submitted to His authority. Notice the next question Saul asked. “He, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’” (Acts 9:6, NKJV). At that moment, Paul the persecutor became Saul the servant of Jesus! There should come a moment in the life of every believer when we sincerely ask, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6b, NKJV).
When His people sincerely ask that question, Jesus is more than willing to answer it. That was how it was in the case of Saul. Luke wrote, “The Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9:6c, NKJV). When the Lord tells us what He wants us to do, it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command! He said to Saul, “You will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6c, NKJV). Later in the story, God uses a man named Ananias to tell Saul what he “must do.” We’ll look at that part of Saul’s story next week.
When God begins to deal directly with a non-believer, it not only deeply affects that person, but also has an effect on the people closest to him. Imagine how Saul must have been affected when he realized that Jesus was truly the Messiah—and he had been brutally mistreating and even murdering those who were spiritually sighted enough to understand that eternal truth before he did. I’m not sure he ever got completely over it. Later he openly confessed, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (I Corinthians 15:9, NIV).
Imagine the depth of emotional and spiritual pain Saul must have endured as he contemplated the horrors of his sin against the Lord and His followers during his three days in the secluded darkness of blind eyes. Luke wrote, “Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:8-9, NKJV).
Imagine the fear and confusion of the men who were traveling with Saul on his mission of death to the Christians at Damascus as the scenes on the road outside the city unfolded. Luke wrote, “The men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:7, NKJV). The language used in this verse indicates that they heard the sounds of a voice, but could not hear it well enough to understand the articulated words…just sounds. Even more fearful and confusing was the fact that the voice seemed to come from nowhere. They could not see who was doing the speaking
At some point during his conversation with Jesus, Saul was evidently knocked to the ground, but they couldn’t see who did it. From the perspective of his companions, it must have looked like an invisible opponent was attacking Saul, and when he got up from the ground, he was blind. Luke wrote, “Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight” (Acts 9:8-9a, NKJV). We don’t know anything more about these men who accompanied Saul to Damascus. We don’t know whether they got saved or not, but the events surrounding Saul’s conversion must have affected them deeply. I’m quite sure they never forgot what they witnessed that day on the outskirts of Damascus!
An Insignificant Disciple Doing a Significant Deed
(Acts 9:17a…17c…18b, NKJV)
“Ananias went his way and entered the house;
and laying his hands on him he said,
‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus…has sent me that you may receive your sight
and be filled with the Holy Spirit’…and he arose and was baptized.”
During the course of our previous lesson from the Book of Acts, we watched as Saul of Tarsus had a life-giving, life-changing encounter with the risen, glorified Jesus on the roadside just outside the city limits of Damascus. During that encounter Saul realized that this unknown intruder into his life was indeed Jesus, whom he knew had been crucified, and that He was indeed the Lord—the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews! He immediately submitted to Jesus’ authority and asked what his personal assignment would be. Luke wrote, “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9:3-6, NKJV).
In today’s lesson we will examine how God kept his promise to Saul—the promise, “You will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6b, NKJV)—through an ordinary man. God used an insignificant disciple to do a significant deed!
II. A Disciple Named Ananias
Luke introduced us to a disciple named Ananias by writing, “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’” (Acts 9:10, NKJV). Not much is known about Ananias except Luke wrote about him here and what Paul said about him in Acts 22:12 which we will examine in a few moments.
From Luke we learn that Ananias was a “disciple” who lived in the city of “Damascus,” which means that he was one of those Christians that Paul was traveling to Damascus to arrest and transport to Jerusalem to be imprisoned when he met Jesus on the road outside the city limits and became a believer. Luke wrote, “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10a, NKJV).
We can also learn from Luke that appeared to Ananias “in a vision” and spoke directly to him, calling him by name. Luke wrote, “To him the Lord said in a vision, ‘Ananias” (Acts 9:10b, NKJV). This confirms the fact that Jesus knows each of His people by name—in spite of the fact that there are millions of them! Jesus described this “personal” approach He takes with His followers when He said, “He calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3b, NKJV).
It appears that Ananias was not at all surprised when Jesus called him by name. Notice his calm, undisturbed response, “He said, ‘Here I am, Lord’” (Acts 9:10c, NKJV). It is as if Ananias was accustomed to Jesus speaking to him and calling him by name. Also, Ananias didn’t need to ask who was speaking to him. He instantly recognized that the voice he heard was that of Jesus. He said, “Here I am, Lord” (Acts 9:10c, NKJV). He must have had an intimate relationship with Jesus!
Later, when Paul was apprehended by a mob of angry Jews in Jerusalem, Roman soldiers intervened and arrested him. The captain permitted Paul to address the crowd of blood-thirsty Jews. During his speech he related the story of how Jesus met him on the road outside Damascus, saved him, and then sent Ananias to give him further instructions. He described Ananias like this: “A certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me” (Acts 22:12-13a, NKJV).
Evidently, Ananias was a devout Jew who had become a follower of Jesus. He was “a devout man according to the law.” Even after his conversion, he still maintained a good reputation among his fellow Jews. Paul described him as “having a good testimony with all the Jews.”
III. Ananias’ Assignment
Jesus chose this seemingly insignificant disciple, Ananias, to do an extremely significant deed. Luke recorded the scene when he wrote, “The Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight” (Acts 9:11-12, NKJV). Part of Ananias’ assignment was to heal Paul’s blindness, but—as we’ll see in a few moments—that wasn’t all he was instructed to do.
His response to Jesus’ assignment reveals that Ananias was a cautious man. Luke wrote, “Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name’” (Acts 9:13-14, NKJV). Wouldn’t you have been somewhat cautious if Jesus asked you to go heal a known Christian-killer?
An important spiritual lesson to learn from the experience of Ananias when Jesus asked him to do something that he was reluctant to do is—Jesus doesn’t consider our fear a valid excuse for failing to do His will. He addressed Ananias’ fearful reluctance when He said, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16, NKJV). God soothed Ananias fear by explaining to him that Saul was “a chosen vessel of Mine,” which means he already belonged to God! Unknown to Ananias, Saul was already a Christian.
Not only was he a believer, but God was already working on Saul preparing him to become a world-class witness. Jesus told Ananias that Saul would “bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”
Jesus was also in the process of revealing to Saul that his witness would result in his suffering for the name of the Lord. Jesus said, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16, NKJV).
Another important spiritual lesson to learn from this episode in the life of Ananias is that whenever God asks you to intervene for Him in the life of another person, He is already working on the other person! So rather than allow our fear to cause us to be reluctant, we should just do what God told Ananias to do—just “Go” (Acts 9:15a, NKJV).
When his fears were soothed by Jesus, Ananias did what every believer should do when given an assignment from the Lord—simply obey. Notice how Luke described the scene: “Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once” (Acts 9:17-18a, NKJV). Jesus said, “Go,” and “Ananias went.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is obedience!
Through Ananias “laying his hands on him,” Saul received what he needed to accomplish the ministry God had planned for him. First, his sight was restored. Ananias said, “The Lord Jesus …has sent me that you may receive your sight” (Acts 9:17b, NKJV). Saul’s witness would require him to travel extensively which would require good vision.
Second, Saul received the spiritual power needed to witness effectively. This is the part of Ananias’ assignment that Luke didn’t mention before. Ananias said, “The Lord Jesus…has sent me that you may…be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:17c, NKJV). The primary work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is to empower him to be an effective witness. Jesus said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NKJV).
This story ends on a very positive note. Saul did what every believer should do as soon as possible after he meets Jesus. He was baptized! Luke wrote, “He arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:18b, NKJV). Then Paul ate, regained his physical strength, and launched a world-changing preaching ministry. Luke wrote, “So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20, NKJV). We’ll talk more about that next week…
Saul’s Early Years as a Christian:
Including What Luke Doesn’t Tell Us
(Acts 9:22, NKJV)
“Saul increased all the more in strength,
and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus,
proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
In this lesson from the Book of Acts we will examine Saul’s early years as a Christian—including what Luke doesn’t tell us. The first statement made about Saul’s new life in Christ is really quite impressive. Luke wrote, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20, NKJV).
Saul was so shaken by his encounter with Jesus on the roadside outside the city limits of Damascus that he was forever changed. At the center of this divine encounter was the fact that he was suddenly confronted with who this Jesus really was—He was “the Christ…the Son of God”—and Saul never got over it! From that moment on, beginning at Damascus, “He preached the Christ…that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20, NKJV). Anyone who has had a personal encounter with Jesus can “immediately” explain to others that this Jesus is “the Christ” and that “He is the Son of God!” You don’t have to wait until you have been a Christian for years, or get a seminary degree, or be ordained by some church before you can begin to tell others about Jesus. You can—and should—begin doing evangelism “immediately!”
Because the believers at Damascus knew that Saul had so very recently been a Christian-killer, they were “amazed” when they heard him preach, using Old Testament scripture to prove that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Luke wrote, “All who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’” (Acts 9:21, NKJV).
During his brief stay at Damascus immediately after his conversion, Saul began to experience spiritual growth—probably the result of being discipled by the believers in Damascus whom he had gone there to arrest and take to Jerusalem to be tried and imprisoned. Luke wrote, “Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22, NKJV). After his initial spurt of spiritual growth, Saul could not only “preach,” he could also use Scripture to “prove” that “this Jesus is the Christ.” A probing question that demands an answer is: “Can you use the Scriptures to ‘prove’ that ‘this Jesus is the Christ?’”
II. The Rest of the Story
Now let’s look at the part of Saul’s early years as a Christian that Luke didn’t include when he wrote the Book of Acts. First of all, Saul didn’t stay very long at Damascus after his conversion and baptism. He left Damascus and spent three years in Arabia. He later wrote to the believers at Galatia, “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days” (Galatians 1:15-18, NKJV). After a three-year stay in Arabia, Saul traveled to Jerusalem for a fifteen-day visit with Peter.
During his three-year residence in Arabia, God further prepared Saul for the ministry of preaching to the Gentiles that He had planned for him by giving him additional revelations of Jesus. Saul explained to the Galatians, “When it pleased God…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…I went to Arabia” (Galatians 1:15a…16a…17b, NKJV). In this same context Saul wrote, “The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11b-12, NKJV). An important spiritual lesson to learn from this episode in Saul’s life is that when God calls a man to a particular ministry, He also prepares him for that ministry.
At this point, fully equipped for the ministry of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, Saul left Arabia and returned to Damascus. He described this journey when he wrote, “I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:17b, NKJV).
It was during this return visit to Damascus that the Jews plotted their first assassination attempt against Saul. Luke described narrow escape when he wrote, “Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket” (Acts 9:23-25, NKJV). The “many days” Luke referred to include the “three years” Saul had spent in Arabia before he returned to Damascus.
After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Jews in Damascus, Saul traveled to Jerusalem where his past reputation as a Christian-killer made it difficult for him to be accepted by the church there. Then Barnabas, who was evidently at Damascus when Saul was converted, baptized, and preached there, spoke up in his behalf and helped him gain acceptance in Jerusalem. Luke wrote, “When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” (Acts 9:26-28, NKJV). This scene from the life of Saul illustrates the importance of relationships. Saul’s relationship with Barnabas helped him gain acceptance at the Jerusalem church. You see, sometimes it’s not what you know that matters, but who you know!
Saul’s preaching in Jerusalem ignited the Jew’s second assassination attempt against him. Luke wrote, “And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists [Jews who had migrated from Judea to the provinces of Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire], but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:29-30, NKJV). Saul’s second escape from death illustrates the important Biblical principle that as long as you are pursuing the mission God towhich God has called you, He will take care of you. You are invincible! As we will see later in Saul’s life story, nothing can stop you—not an angry mob, not a storm at sea, not a shipwreck, not Roman soldiers, not a snake bite—nothing!
Next week we will examine the next segment of Saul’s life—five years at Tarsus. Luke described the beginning of this segment of Saul’s life when he wrote, “The brethren…brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30, NKJV). But before we close, I want to offer you a few concluding thoughts.
The early years of Saul’s Christian journey were spent in obscurity, out of the spotlight, doing small tasks faithfully—preaching at Damascus, learning in Arabia, and then preaching at Jerusalem. So an important spiritual lesson to learn from his life story is that we should not discount nor underestimate the importance of faithfully doing “little things” at the beginning of our Christian journey. They prepare us for bigger things later on. As an application point in one of His parables, teaching about the importance of faithfulness, Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21, NKJV).
It is faithfulness that matters to God—not the size of the assignment or the brightness of the spotlight! He uses our faithfulness as the gauge of our character and usefulness. After all, Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10, NKJV).
Saul’s Early Years as a Christian:
More of What Luke Doesn’t Tell Us
(Acts 9:26a…29, NKJV)
“When Saul had come to Jerusalem…
he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus
and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.”
When we concluded our previous lesson from the Book of Acts, Saul was in Jerusalem. He had been disputing with the Hellenist Jews there about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, and as a result they had attempted to assassinate him. Luke wrote, “When Saul had come to Jerusalem …he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him” (Acts 9:26a…29, NKJV).
When the Christians at Jerusalem learn of this death threat against him, they escorted Saul to Ceasarea and then sent him home to Tarsus. Luke wrote, “When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30, NKJV). In this lesson we will discover what Saul did during his almost five-year residence at Tarsus, his hometown.
II. Saul’s Five-Year Residence at Tarsus
Since Saul spend about five of his early years as a Christian in Tarsus, let’s learn a little about that city. First of all, it was his birthplace—his hometown. Years later when Saul was speaking to a blood-thirsty mob of Jews in Jerusalem who had apprehended him, he introduced himself by saying, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today” (Acts 22:3, NKJV).
Saul described his stay in Tarsus to the believers in Galatia as a time when he further developed his preaching skills. He wrote, “I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia [the province in which Tarsus was located]. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy’” (Galatians 1:22-23, NKJV).
In fact, it was during his stay in Tarsus that Gentile churches were planted in the provinces of “Syria and Cilicia” as a result of his preaching ministry. When a dispute arose regarding the issue of whether Gentile believers had to be circumcised and follow the Old Testament Law in order to be saved, the apostles and elders wrote a letter to Gentiles churches addressing this issue. Among those Gentile churches addressed were those in “Syria and Cilicia.” They wrote, “To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia” (Acts 15:23, NKJV). Luke also mentioned these Gentile churches in “Syria and Cilicia” when he described Saul’s itinerary on his second missionary journey. He wrote, “Paul chose Silas and departed…and he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:40a…41, NKJV).
Since it is not mentioned by Luke in the Book of Acts, the persecution and suffering endured by Saul that he described to the believers at Corinth probably happened during his five-year ministry at Tarsus. He wrote, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Corinthians 11:24-17, NKJV).
Saul wrote to the believers at Corinth about an experience he had “fourteen years” earlier during which he was transported to Paradise and given an abundance of revelations from the Lord. “Fourteen years” before he wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth would have been during his five-year ministry at Tarsus. He wrote, “I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell” (II Corinthians 12:2-4, NLT). What an intense time of training that must have been! Can you imagine being taken to Paradise for a “cram session” with Jesus?
Saul’s five-year ministry at Tarsus suddenly came to an end when one day Barnabas arrived and told him about a growing Gentile church that had been planted in Antioch of Syria. Barnabas convinced Saul to travel with him to Antioch to help strengthen this new Gentile church, and Saul’s ministry at Tarsus ended. Luke described these events when he wrote, “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch” (Acts 11:19-25, NKJV). Barnabas, who was at Damascus when Saul was converted and testified on his behalf when the church at Jerusalem didn’t believe he was really a Christian, was used by God to get Saul to Antioch, which is the church that later sent him out on three world-changing missionary journeys. Again, we can see how important godly relationships are. This episode in Saul’s life illustrates an important Biblical principle: In order to make the maximum impact for God’s kingdom, every follower of Jesus should cultivate strategic relationships with ministry partners.
This phase of Saul’s ministry—in partnership with Barnabas—lasted for “a whole year,” until God called these two ministry partners to another phase of ministry as the world’s first missionaries! Luke wrote, “So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people” (Acts 11:26a, NKJV).
Because Saul was faithful in his teaching ministry with Barnabas at Antioch, God entrusted to him even bigger ministry responsibilities. Luke described what God did when he wrote, “In the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3, NKJV). The faithfulness of “Barnabas and Saul” motivated God to increase their ministry responsibilities by calling them to be the world’s first missionaries.
An important spiritual lesson to learn from Saul’s life story is: We should not discount nor underestimate the importance of faithfully doing “little things” early in our Christian journey. They prepare us for bigger things later on. As an application point in one of His parables, teaching about the importance of faithfulness, Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21, NKJV).
It is faithfulness that matters to God—not the size of the assignment or the brightness of the spotlight! He uses our faithfulness as the gauge of our character and usefulness. After all, Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10, NKJV).
The Condition of the Churches
(Acts 9:31, NKJV)
“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria
had peace and were edified.
And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit,
they were multiplied.”
When we left Saul, the disciples at Jerusalem had smuggled him out of town to rescue him from a death threat by the blood-thirsty Jews of that city who deeply resented his preaching that Jesus was the Messiah. They secretly sent him home to Tarsus by way of Caesarea. Luke wrote, “He spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:29-30, NKJV). Saul’s stay in Tarsus lasted five years, until it ended suddenly at the arrival of Barnabas who showed up one day and convinced him to travel to Antioch of Syria to minister to a new and fast-growing Gentile church in that city. Luke wrote, “A great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch” (Acts 11:24b-26a, NKJV).
At this point Luke paused in his narrative of Saul’s early years as a Christian and focused his attention on the condition of the church during Saul’s absence. He wrote, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, NKJV). We really shouldn’t be surprised that during Saul’s absence from “Judea, Galilee, and Samaria” the churches “had peace and were edified…and were multiplied.” After all, their primary persecutor was gone!
Not only was Saul out of the region, but he had been converted and the news of his conversion had reached them. Saul later explained to the believers in Galatia, “I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia [the province in which Tarsus was located]. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy’” (Galatians 1:22-23, NKJV). An important spiritual lesson we can learn from this season of Saul’s life is: “The influence of one man can be huge when he is fully devoted to his cause—whether good or evil!” In Saul’s case, before his conversion his cause was evil—“He made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3b, NKJV). After his conversion his cause was good—“He…preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23, NKJV). As a result of his devotion to preaching the faith, God used Saul to literally change the course of world history! His influence was huge.
The magnitude Saul’s negative influence on the church before his conversion can be realized by examining the condition of the church after his conversion and absence from “Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.” Luke mentions three issues when describing the church’s condition in Saul’s absence: Peace, Progress, and Multiplication. Let’s briefly examine each of the three.
II. The Condition of the Churches
Peace. The first issue Luke mentioned regarding the condition of the churches during the absence of Saul’s persecution of them was “peace.” He wrote, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace” (Acts 9:31a, NKJV). “Peace” can be defined as the absence of turmoil.
No doubt, when Saul was converted and ceased his persecution of the churches, the turmoil within the churches that resulted from his persecution also ceased. As a result, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace” (Acts 9:31a, NKJV).
However, Saul was not the only persecutor of the churches during the last half of the first century. The Romans persecuted the churches because those associated with them—both Jew and Gentile—refused to pledge allegiance to Caesar as a god. The Jews persecuted the churches because their Jewish converts refused to continue following the teachings of Judaism’s corrupt priests and other religious leaders.
Shortly after Saul’s conversion God seems to have intervened in Roman history to give His churches a season of “peace.” He did so by orchestrating a political crisis that diverted the attention of both the Jews and the Romans from their persecution of the churches. The crisis arose when the Roman Emperor Caligula announced his intention of placing a statue, depicting himself as a god, in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Both the Jews and the Romans temporarily stopped their persecution of the churches while they engaged in a political battle over the issue of whether or not Caligula’s statue would actually be installed in the Jewish Temple. As a result, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace” (Acts 9:31a, NKJV). An important spiritual lesson to learn from this historical event is: “Even when circumstances are darkest, God is still in control!” King David wrote, “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (Psalm 47:8, NKJV).
Progress. The second issue Luke mentioned regarding the condition of the churches during the absence of Saul’s persecution of them was “progress.” He wrote, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…were edified” (Acts 9:31b, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated “edified” in this verse literally means “to be built up.” It was used by ancient Greeks to describe the process of constructing a stone building, and emphasized the “progress” made when a firm foundation was laid and then stones were cut to precision and fitted together as a result of the persistent effort of the builder.
The progress emphasized in the process of being “edified” requires three components. First, there is a firm foundation, which in the case of the spiritual edification of Christians is the Lord Jesus—a personal relationship with Him. Paul described the necessity of this firm spiritual foundation when he wrote, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11, NKJV).
Second, there must be continuing progress. Once the process of spiritual edification is allowed to lapse it is difficult to get the process started again. Barnabas’ ministry philosophy included encouraging believer to “continue with the Lord.” Luke wrote, “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:19-23, NKJV).
Third, there must be persistent effort on the part of the individual who is seeking to be “edified.” Edification doesn’t happen in the life of a believer without his persistent effort, no more than a building will be constructed without the persistent effort of the builder. Paul emphasized the effort required on the part of a Christian who desires to be “edified” when he wrote, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15, KJV). “Study” requires persistent effort! Wise King Solomon emphasized the “effort” required for “study” when he wrote, “Much study is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b, NKJV).
Multiplication. The third issue Luke mentioned regarding the condition of the churches during the absence of Saul’s persecution of them was “multiplication.” He wrote, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…were multiplied” (Acts 9:31c, NKJV).
Unfortunately, in today’s churches we think in terms of “addition” rather than “multiplication.” For example, when discussing the issue of church growth, we talk about how many “additions” our church had during a given year. But when God inspired writers of Scripture to address the issue of church growth, they wrote about the “multiplication” of disciples. When describing the circumstances surrounding the selection of the first seven deacons to serve the Jerusalem Church, Luke wrote, “In those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1, NKJV).
When Luke described the growth of the Jerusalem Church after the installation of the first deacons, he wrote, “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7a, NKJV). Here is another important spiritual lesson: “God prefers ‘multiplication’ over ‘addition’ because the numbers get bigger faster when you ‘multiply!’”
Throughout the history of the church, God has allowed—maybe even engineered—alternating seasons of “peace” and turmoil for His people. Perhaps He has done so to give us the opportunity to learn valuable spiritual lessons that we would never learn without being surrounded by turmoil. Then we have the opportunity to meditate upon those hard-learned lessons during seasons of “peace” which results in our being “edified”—built up spiritually. When members of His churches are “edified” the natural result is that the churches will be “multiplied.” Maybe that’s what Luke was describing when, after the turmoil of Saul’s persecution, he wrote, “The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, NKJV).
Viewing both seasons of “peace” and seasons of “turmoil” as part of God’s plan to “edify” individual Christians and “multiply” His churches, will motivate us to obey the command Jesus gave us through the pen of Saul, who wrote, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18, NKJV).
Aeneas Gets Healed
(Acts 9:34a, NKJV)
“Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you.
Arise and make your bed.’”
In today’s lesson from the Book of Acts Paul fades from the spotlight and the focus of the story suddenly shifts back to Peter. The last time we saw Peter was when he and John had finished assisting Philip with his evangelistic ministry in the city of Samaria and on their way back to Jerusalem they were “preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”
Luke wrote, “When they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25, NKJV).
During that particular season of his ministry, Peter would have been preaching to Jews only. So he would have been preaching to Jewish migrants in the “villages of the Samaritans.” The Lord had not yet shown him the error of the Jewish tradition that Gentiles were of no value to God. Peter doesn’t learn that life-changing lesson until we get to chapter ten of the Book of Acts where Luke quoted him as saying, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35, JKJV).
So it would be natural—not spiritual, but natural—that when Peter came to Lydda he sought out a congregation of Jewish Christians to whom he would minister. And that is exactly what he did. Luke wrote, “Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda” (Acts 9:32, NKJV). Remember that Peter is not yet convinced that he should minister to Gentiles, so in his mind “the saints who dwelt in Lydda” would be Jews who had become Christians. Those would be the only people with whom Peter would even consider associating.
An important spiritual lesson to learn from this season of Peter’s life is: “Racism can prevent us from ministering to people whom God desperately wants to save.” I wonder how many evangelistic opportunities Peter missed in the ethnically-mixed city of Lydda because he would preach to Jews only. Peter obviously didn’t get it when Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV).
So when Peter arrived at Lydda he located a congregation of Jewish Christians and attended one of their worship gatherings, and in the midst of those “saints,” he “found…Aeneas.” Luke wrote, “There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33, NKJV). So let’s talk about this Jewish Christian named “Aeneas” and Peter’s ministry to him.
II. A Man Named Aeneas
Before we consider Aeneas specifically, let’s try to determine why there were any “saints who dwelt in Lydda.” Who told them about Jesus so they could become “saints?” We find a slight hint regarding the answer to this question at the end of Luke’s story about Philip and the man from Ethiopia. Luke explained that after he baptized this man, “The Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40, NKJV). Since “Lydda” lies between “Azotus” and “Caesarea,” it is likely that “the saints who dwelt at Lydda” were the fruit of Philip’s preaching ministry after the conversion and baptism of the man from Ethiopia. The implication is that Aeneas’ conversion from Judaism to Christianity was also the product of Philip’s preaching ministry. He was, in all probability, among “the saints who dwelt at Lydda” because of Philip’s preaching.
When Peter “found” him, Aeneas was suffering from a disease that had paralyzed him. Luke described his physical condition when he wrote, “There he [Peter] found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33, NKJV).
The severity of his disease is emphasized by the fact that “Aeneas…had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33b, NKJV). We don’t know exactly what his disease was, but we do know that it had left him completely immobile. He was “bedridden” and “paralyzed.”
His disease was evidently incurable. Had it been curable, he would certainly have sought out some physician with the cure rather than remain in that horrible condition for “eight years.” Luke emphasized the lengthy duration of his disease when he wrote, “Aeneas…had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33b, NKJV).
The fact that Peter “found” Aeneas among the “saints who dwelt at Lydda” reveals that he was searching for people who had needs he could meet—people he could serve! Luke wrote, “There he found a certain man named Aeneas” (Acts 9:33a, NKJV). The Greek word translated “found” refers to “discovering something as the result of a search.”
An important spiritual lesson we can learn from the fact that Peter “found” Aeneas is: “God’s people should consistently search for opportunities to meet the needs of people in order to provide a good environment for evangelism.” Jesus modeled this kind of life-style when he said about Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).
Aeneas was already a believer when Peter “found” him, but as a result of Peter meeting his need of physical healing, many others were evangelized. Luke wrote, “All who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35, NKJV). So let’s take a quick look at Peter’s ministry to Aeneas.
III. Peter’s Ministry to Aeneas
Luke described Peter’s ministry to Aeneas in one simple statement, “Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed’” (Acts 9:34a, NKJV). And the instantaneous result of Peter’s ministry was astounding. This man, who had been “bedridden” and “paralyzed” for “eight years,” suddenly stood! Luke wrote, “He arose immediately” (Acts 9:34b, NKJV). Let’s examine three important facts about Peter’s ministry to Aeneas:
In the case of Aeneas, just as in every case of miraculous healing recorded in the New Testament, the purpose was evangelism. Notice what happened as a result of Aeaneas’ healing: “All who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35, NKJV). The purpose of the supernatural healing ministry was not just about sick people getting well. It was about non-believing people turning to the Lord. It was about evangelism!
Evangelism—explaining the Good News to people so they can believe it and receive the gift of eternal life—is one of God’s highest priorities. That’s why He said to his disciples shortly before He ascended to heaven, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, NKJV).
Tabitha Gets Raised from Death
(Acts 9:40-42, NKJV)
“Peter…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.
Then he…presented her alive.
And it became known throughout all Joppa,
and many believed on the Lord.”
When we last left Peter he was residing at Lydda in the aftermath of the healing of a guy named Aeneas. This supernatural healing of a paralyzed man led to the outbreak of an evangelistic revival. Luke wrote, “All who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35, NKJV). The miraculous power of God evidenced in the healthy body of a man who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years provided Peter and the other believers at Lydda with a wonderful platform from which to share the “Good News”—and that’s exactly what they did. So those who saw him and heard how Jesus had healed him “turned to the Lord.” An important spiritual lesson we learned last week was: “The purpose of the Lord’s supernatural healing ministry is not just about sick people getting well. It is about non-believing people turning to the Lord. It is about evangelism!”
In the midst of this wave of evangelism, two men from Joppa arrived and begged Peter to travel with them to Joppa to help them deal with a crisis that had occurred in their church—one of the key members of their church had died, a woman whose Hebrew name was “Tabitha,” and whose Greek name was “Dorcas.” That’s what Luke referred to when he wrote, “At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas” (Acts 9:36a, NKJV). Let’s look at the story of Tabitha.
II. A Disciple Named Tabitha
Luke gets right to the heart of the story in its opening lines. He wrote, “At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room” (Acts 9:36-37, NKJV).
The heart of Luke’s story rests in the fact that “Tabitha” was a “disciple.” She wasn’t merely a believer—a saved sinner. She was actually a “follower of Jesus!” You see, it is one thing to be a believer, but it is another thing to be a “disciple.”
To be an authentic “disciple” of Jesus means to submit to His authority—be willing to do, without question or reservation or argumentation, whatever He says to do. Among His final words to His disciples were these: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18b, NIV).
Learning to remain under “authority” is the key to developing “great faith.” The story of Jesus’ encounter with a Roman soldier clearly illustrates this fact. Matthew wrote, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’
The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’” (Matthew 8:5-10, NIV). This Roman soldier was “a man under authority.” Therefore, Jesus said he had “great faith.” An important spiritual lesson to learn from the story of Jesus’ encounter with this Roman soldier is: “The key to developing and maintaining ‘great faith” is to be a man or a woman “under authority.”
Christians who possess “great faith” are people whose lives are characterized by “good works and charitable deeds.” In fact, James declared that if your “faith” does not produce “good works,” it is not real faith at all. It is “dead” faith. He wrote, “Do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20, NKJV).
Tabitha must have been a woman of “great faith,” because she was “full of good works and charitable deeds.” Luke described her lifestyle when he wrote, “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did” (Acts 9:36b, NKJV).
Because we live in a world under the curse of sin, even people with “great faith” like Tabitha suffer and die. Having such strong faith that it fills your life with “good works and charitable deeds” will not exempt God’s people from suffering and death. Luke interjected this reality into Tabitha’s story, when he wrote, “It happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room” (Acts 9:37, NKJV). An important spiritual lesson to learn at this point in Tabitha’s story is: “Everyone needs to be prepared to stand before God, because everyone will eventually die.” The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, KJV). Death is an appointment everyone will keep, so we need to be prepared for it!
III. Peter’s Role in Tabitha’s Story
Tabitha’s story would be mundane and routine without the role Peter played in it. You see Peter stepped onto the stage and dramatically delayed the ending of the story. Luke wrote, “Since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them” (Acts 9:38, NKJV). Someone had heard that Peter was at nearby Lydda so a delegation of two men was sent on a mission to convince Peter to come to Joppa. After all, if anyone could do anything about this crisis, it was Peter.
Peter decided to travel to Joppa to help out in this crisis, and when he arrived the scene was chaotic. Luke wrote, “Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them” (Acts 9:39, NKJV). The phrase “all the widows” refers to those destitute widows who were being financially supported by the church. These church at Joppa evidently had the same kind of benevolent ministry of feeding widows that we read about in the Jerusalem Church back in Acts chapter 6. These “tunics and garments” were articles of clothing made by Tabitha and were the fruit of her “good works and charitable deeds.” Imagine the chaos of perhaps dozens of distraught older women weeping and wailing as they clutched gifts of clothing made for them by their deceased friend.
Little did those dear distraught women realize that God was about to bring a miracle into the midst of all the chaos. Luke wrote, “Peter put them all out, 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. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive” (Acts 9:40-41, NKJV). Their dear friend was raised from the dead!
Peter would never undertake to do a miracle by his own power. He prayed and asked God to bring His power into this situation. Luke wrote, “Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed” (Acts 9:40a, NKJV).
He also would not make a public spectacle of a miracle God worked through him. He didn’t draw attention to himself. Luke wrote, “Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed” (Acts 9:40a, NKJV).
I have often wondered what kind of look Tabitha gave him when she “opened her eyes…and saw Peter.” Think about her story from her perspective. She has been sick and her sickness was severe enough that it had killed her.
At the moment of her death, her spirit left her body and was immediately transported by angels into the very presence of Jesus—no more sickness, no more pain, only eternal joy, and worship, and perfection in the presence of the One who had died to pay the penalty for her sin and prepare for her a place in His Father’s house.
Then suddenly she is summoned by God into His throne room…and is given the unthinkable news that she is being sent back! Peter has asked God to do the miraculous and God has decided to grant his request.
Do you really think Tabitha wanted to leave heaven and come back to this broken, sin-cursed world with all of its stuff? So what kind of look do you think might have been on her face behind those closed doors “when she saw Peter?” Luke wrote, “Turning to the body he [Peter] said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up” (Acts 9:40b, NKJV).
The purpose of the miracle of raising Tabitha from death that God did through Peter was the same as that of almost every miracle Jesus did. It was evangelism! God will go to great lengths to get people saved. Luke wrote, “It became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:42, NKJV).
After people have been saved, God’s next priority for them is that they be discipled—that someone assume the responsibility of teaching them what it means to follow Jesus. Since in the aftermath of Tabitha being raised from the dead “many believed on the Lord,” Peter stayed in town several days to begin the process of discipling these new believers! Luke wrote, “So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner” (Acts 9:42-43, NKJV).
It’s not enough to make “converts.” God wants us to “make disciples.” Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJV).
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.