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The Book of Acts Series
Acts, Chapter 9
Acts 9 (New American Standard Bible)
Significant events in Acts Chapter 9
- Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus
- Saul in Damascus
- Saul in Jerusalem
- Peter’s ministry in Lydda and Joppa
The Conversion of Saul
1Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
The passage of Time
Probably about three years have passed with the Gospel having been successfully preached in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Still the Persecution continues, with much activity against the Followers of the Way by a violent hateful Pharisee named Saul.
Saul the man:
Saul was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3), which is now located in south central Turkey. The history of the city of Tarsus goes back over 7,000 years. It was always a city of traders and commerce. Additionally it was home to a major university with a medical school, and was known for its philosophers, scientists, poets and linguists. In Saul’s time, it was the capital city of Cilicia.
father was a Pharisee, and a man of some means, apparently, because he had
purchased a Roman citizenship, which covered every member of his family. (Saul
would use this citizenship to his advantage in years to come.) Saul had a
sister who lived in Jerusalem with her son, and Saul may have stayed with her
when he lived there as a young student under the famous first century rabbi,
- "was circumcised on the eighth day, "he says. He was under the covenant of Abraham.
- "was of the nation
- "was of the tribe of Benjamin." He may have been named after King Saul. who was also of the tribe of Benjamin and who reigned some one thousand years earlier.
- "I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews." Although he was born and raised in a Greek city, he spoke Hebrew (and also Greek and Aramaic) and kept the Jewish law and customs.
- "As to the Law, I was a Pharisee." He followed in the footsteps of his father and joined the party of the Pharisees, the separatists, rather than the liberal Sadducees. Thus, he sought to obey the letter, rather than the spirit of the Law.
- "As to zeal, I was a persecutor of the church." He was a zealot who regarded followers of Jesus as a threat to Judaism. Paul would later write in Galatians: "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions."
- Finally, Paul said of himself, "as to the righteousness which is in the Law, I was found blameless." He had carried this righteousness so far as to appear perfect before men. Later however, he would write to the Philippians, ". . . whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ."
there we have young Saul's appraisal of himself as a Pharisee.
Saul was, by his statement a devout (zealous) Pharisee, who studied under Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-40 22:3). He enters the New Testament records in Acts 7: 58 as the young man who held the cloaks of the Jews who stoned Stephen to death and again in Acts 8:1-3 as the leader of the persecution of the church in Jerusalem, leading to the scattering of the believers into Judea and Samaria.
Here in Chapter 9 we find him mentioned again, seeking letters of warrant against the believers who had fled to Damascus, so that he might arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment. By carrying the warrants to the synagogues in Damascus, he could enlist the help of the guards there to arrest any Followers of The Way that he might encounter.
Some twenty-five years
later, when Paul appeared in chains before King Agrippa in Caesarea, here is
what he said of his role in the persecution:
Followers of The Way:
Verse 2 of Acts Chapter 9 contains the first reference to Followers of the Way.
John The Baptist uses this term in Matthew 3:3, quoting Isaiah:
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "
In Matthew 22:16 Jesus is said to teach the way of God:
They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
Then in John 14:4-6, Jesus addressed the disciple Thomas:
4”You know the way to the place where I am going."
5Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Other references to the followers of The Way
The early believers in Christ were known as Followers of the Way and are referenced as such in Acts:
See Acts 9:2, 16:7, 18:25, 18:26, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22, and 25:3
Acts 11:26 records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
On the road to Damascus
It is interesting that the main road to Damascus passes directly in front of the location that (I believe) was Golgatha – the hill where Jesus was crucified. The execution location would certainly have been located along a main roadway, to expose any who passed by to the execution of a criminal, and the north exit from Jerusalem was located close to the trial location and was likely the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. I have often wondered if Saul knew this and did he think about Jesus’ death on the cross as he left Jerusalem that day, on his way to Damascus and an encounter with the Lord.
3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
Did Saul have an epileptic seizure?
In an attempt to place Saul’s experience on natural occurrences, some have suggested that Saul was suffering from epilepsy and that on the road to Damascus he was suddenly seized by an epileptic fit and as he fell to the ground in this seizure he imagined that he heard voices.
The best response to this theory comes from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great English preacher. When that explanation was first said in his presence he said, "O blessed epilepsy! Would that every man in London could have epilepsy like that!"
Was Saul struck by lightning?
He could have been, but he says that he saw Jesus.
Obviously, it is not possible to say what made up the flash of light around Saul, but lightning knocking him to the ground would have certainly been a good way for the Lord to capture his attention. It certainly appears that Christ never intended for Saul to make it to Damascus.
After he fell to the ground, Saul heard a voice calling to him.
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
It is interesting that the Lord did not say, Why are you persecution my people? It could have said, Why are you persecuting my Church? Instead, the voice said, “Why are you persecuting Me?”
We need to remember that any action against Christ’s church or His people is an action against Him.
5And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do."
7The men who traveled with him
stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul got
up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and
leading him by the hand, they brought him into
Saul had no idea what was happening, but I bet he knew he was in trouble. The response to his question “Who are you?” could have not been any more clearly stated:
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”
With identity also came orders:
“but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”
Jesus gave Saul no options. In the mind of the Lord, there was only one acceptable action on Saul’s part and that was obedience. Evidently the message was given exclusively to Saul, because the men with him heard the voice, but saw no one. Most Likely Saul only heard the voice, also, since the flash rendered him blind for three days.
A Disciple named Ananias:
10Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for 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."
Here is an interesting fact. Damascus is a very old city, with a history going back some 7,000 years. Like most of the ancient cities in that part of the world, Damascus is made up of hundreds of narrow winding streets. Even to this day however, there is a street in Damascus that is not winding and difficult to navigate. The street in Damascus called Straight is still there. I am certain the house belonging to Judas is no longer there, but the street that Jesus mentioned to Ananias in the vision (Straight Street) is still in Damascus today. Its presence is a nice reminder of the events that occurred there, concerning a disciple named Ananias, The Holy Spirit, a terrible persecutor of early Christians, and thousands of us who owe our salvation o the work of missionaries over some 2,000 years since that eventful day.
An incredible profile of faith and courage cold be written concerning Ananias. I am certain that every follower of the way in Damascus knew about the Pharisee named Saul and his persecution of the followers of Christ. Anyone who wanted to stay out of prison or worse would have been avoiding this man, who had come to Damascus with bench warrants for the arrest of believers. In the face of all of this, the Holy Spirit pays Ananias a visit in a vision. There is great comfort that Ananias immediately knew who was speaking to him in the vision. There is little comfort in what the Holy Spirit required:
11And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for 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."
The marching orders were very clear. “Get up and go to the house where Saul is staying. I have told him that you are coming and what your name is. I want you to get right beside him, close enough that he can grab you, and use the power that I will give to you to make him 100% well again.” I can find no fault with Ananias’ response to the voice of his Lord in the Vision.
13But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name."
Lord, surely you know this man and what he did to those who call on your name back in Jerusalem. Surely you know that the chief priest has given him bench warrants to arrest all of us that he can find.
Failure of obedience was not an option for Ananias and so the Lord responded.
15But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."
I have chosen this man to carry my name to the gentiles and the Kings, and the sons of Israel. I will deal with him. He will learn how much he must suffer to accomplish these things from me.
17So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
18And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19and he took food and was strengthened.
For whatever anyone might ever say about Ananias, it must be said that he was obedient. He left the safety of his house and traveled to Straight Street and found the house of Judas, and went inside where he knew he would encounter – face to face - the most feared man involved in the persecution of believers.
Then, just as if he were Jesus, he entered the room where Saul was, he placed his hands on this terrible person and said wonderful words of healing and comfort to one who did not deserve to hear them.
He said, “Brother Saul”.
I am impressed with this disciple named Ananias! Later, in Acts 22, we will learn a little more about Ananias. We learn from Paul that that he is a good man, well liked by everybody, honest, the salt of the earth, kindhearted. Otherwise he is not described as being special in any way and yet Jesus chooses him to participate in something magnificently special. He is to shepherd the new birth of the great apostle to the Gentiles.
Ananias’ story should inspire us to think about what God might send us to do. Hopefully we will also be willing to respond and be willing to go when he does send us.
As Luke continues, we quickly learn that with the placing of Ananias’ spirit filled hands, Saul’s sight was restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke (a physician) reports that immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and his vision was restored. The miracle continued. He got up, was baptized (I believe by Ananias), took food and was strengthened.
More than that, he was a new man – old things were turned away. Years later, in his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul would write
if any man be in Christ, he is a new
creature: old things are
The picture of Saul’s conversion, of his passing from the darkness into the light as he gave his life to Christ is striking, dramatic and intense.
Saul’s conversion story is told three times in the book of Acts (Chapters 9, 22, and 26) In chapters 9 and 26, Paul tells the story himself as a part of his testimony while he is on trial. All three versions are dramatic. Throughout his life, Paul never pulled any punches about his past and the terrible things he had done before coming to Christ. It’s important to note that he is willing to speak of his violence and blindness, and of the transforming love of God. This man became one of the greatest exponents of the grace of God and the love of God for sinners who has ever lived. His knowledge was firsthand. He experienced it himself. What God did for him shaped everything that he would later come to understand and is reflected in all of his epistles. But nothing that ever happened to him ever changed the fact that he knew himself to be someone who did not deserve it, yet was given a great gift.
Saul, the changed man
Saul Begins to Preach Christ
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."
21All those hearing him continued to
be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in
22But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
Saul has encountered Jesus. He has been filled with the Holy Spirit. We are not told if he yet knows what he must suffer, but he definitely begins the task (joy) of bearing (proclaiming) Jesus to the sons of Israel, saying that “He is the Son of God”.
To hear this coming from Saul amazed those in the Synagogues. Questions immediately came to those who were hearing the witness of this small fervent man. “Isn’t this the man who destroyed those in Jerusalem who were saying similar things?” “Didn’t he come here with the stated purpose and the legal authority to do the same here in Damascus?”
It didn’t matter to Saul what the people were saying. He was now a man with a mission. His purpose in life and for the rest of his life would be to prove that Jesus is the Christ.
In fairness to Paul’s statements in Galatians 1:16-17, these events (Acts 9:19-23) probably took place over a period of three years. During most of this time Saul was alone in Arabia. The northern edge of the Arabian empire was just opposite Damascus, not far away, but it was a wilderness. Saul had begun to aggressively name the Lord, and though it is not clear in Luke’s writing here, the best interpretation of what took place is that Saul realized he didn’t know enough. He could say Jesus was Lord, but he wanted to understand the implications. So he gathered up his copies of Scripture, perhaps commentaries and other things, and went away to the desert. Evidently he was met there by the risen Lord Jesus. Later Paul argues forcefully that he was made an apostle by the direct intervention of Christ, that no one else except Christ taught him the things he learned (Galatians 1:11-12). As the other apostles had spent most of three years with Jesus, walking in Galilee and Judea, Saul spent most of three years with his Lord alone in the desert.
Then he returned to Damascus, and with these new insights he began to preach, proving that Jesus was the Christ. His arguments were sharper, his insights greater. His ability to see Christ in every text of the Old Testament was more profound, and so he was winning arguments, defeating anybody who would stand up against him.
23When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24but their plot became known to Saul They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
In the mind of many of the Jews in Damascus, there was only one way to deal with such a traitor. He was to be killed. But Saul found out and was rescued from death by the disciples of Damascus, who lowered him down the wall of the city in a large basket.
It needs to be said that this story is a testimony of faithfulness to the disciples who worked that night to save the one who would eventually be responsible for carrying the Gospel across the known world of that time. Those disciples are unnamed and their names are not important, only what they did. They took Saul and held the rope for him as long as needed to save him that night. He was a brother in Christ who needed help and they helped him. He was a new, “wet behind the ears”, “say what he felt like saying and let the chips fall where they may” Christian, and they took care of him. They did what was needed at the time it was needed. Although we do not know their names, they are heroes of the faith.
Later on, Paul the apostle tells this same story. His version is in his letter to the church in Corinth. (2 Corinthians 11:5-33 New American Standard Version)
5For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things. 7Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? 8I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; 9and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.
10As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
16Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little. 17What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also.
19For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. 20For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.
21To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison But in whatever respect anyone else is bold--I speak in foolishness--I am just as bold myself.
22Are they Hebrews? So am I Are they Israelites? So am I Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
23Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.
24Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.
25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.
26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren;
27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
28Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
29Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
30If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.
Toward the end of this portion of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul (in verses 30-33) boasts of what pertains to his weakness. In order to escape being seized, he had to escape Damascus, rather than face what would have come, had he stayed.
In Paul’s mind, his escape was an example of a weakness at the beginning of his ministry that he never forgot. Jesus told Ananias that he would tell Paul what he must endure. Evidently this event was one of those things. He speaks of labors, imprisonments, robbers, shipwrecks, lashings, stoning, dangers in cities, the wilderness and all manners of things he had to endure. Then he lists this event and calls it a (shame of) weakness
So, what did Saul (later Paul) see as weakness in this event? Perhaps Saul/Paul discovered that fleshly confidence in his training and his intellect were in fact a great weakness. He had not learned the need for total dependence on God. He was self-confident, convinced of his own gifts and strengths and that showed weakness.
What’s wrong with pride and self-confidence? This - our best contributions are almost always completely inadequate. What we have been called to do is far too difficult for what we have to offer. We battle with darkness that comes from hell when we proclaim the Lord Jesus. We are placed before lost people who are in bonds so strong that nothing we can do will break them. If we imagine that we have the wits to take on the lies of the devil and with our clever speech persuade people not to listen, we are fools. If we think our energy and passion can shed light into dark places where people are hurting, we are great fools. What is required when we come face to face with the lost is the presence of Jesus. Light comes from the face of Jesus. Hope comes from the words of Jesus. Power comes from the Spirit of Jesus. It is critical for servants of the Lord to realize that whatever strength they bring to bear will get nothing done. Saul needed to learn that he had to yield himself in order to be made useful to Christ, to allow Christ to touch other people through Saul’s life and do what only Christ can do. Christ is the only one who is a match for the devil. Christ is the only light that can dispel the darkness. That is what Saul had to learn. That is the weakness (the weakness of self) that he had to overcome.
Saul learned that although he had much to offer, it amounted to nothing in the final analysis. Being yielded to Christ is what really brings about change and what passes on life.
Saul in Jerusalem
26When 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. 27But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
Saul’s return to Jerusalem renewed the fear in the disciples. To accuse them of fearing Saul was only to state the truth. They all knew what he had done to the believers in Jerusalem and saw no reason to trust him. His past actions certainly spoke louder than his words.
However, Barnabas steps up again. We have seen this name in Acts:4:36 as one who supported the early church with his giving. We already know that his name means “Son of encouragement”. Evidently he is well known to the disciples in Jerusalem and when Barnabas “Took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and told Saul’s story to them, he was accepted.
28And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
We learn in Galatians 1:18 that Saul spent only fifteen days in Jerusalem. However, Saul is still a changed man and the same fervent witness he showed in Damascus is the same witness he displays back in Jerusalem. The results are also similar. Before long, The Jews (This time, the Greek – Hellenistic – Jews) decide to kill him, and once again Saul was forced to leave town. This time, his new friends carry him to Caesarea and then send him to Tarsus – His home town. We know from Galatians that ten more years elapsed before he entered the story again as a mature servant of God.
Acts 22:21 tells us that during the time that Paul spent in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him once again and told him he was not to focus his ministry on Jews, “for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”
31So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
The work of the witnesses continued even through the persecution and scattering of the believers. Luke ends this portion of Chapter 9 with a statement of progress of the Gospel spread. The increase continued throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria. In the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
At this point, Saul leaves the stage. Until Acts Chapter 13 there is very little reference to him. In Chapter 13 of Acts Paul returns and will dominate the rest of the teaching of Acts to the end. However, for ten years he will live in his hometown, perhaps teaching Bible studies, learning, listening, growing, working through his brokenness, and being made ready for something great that is yet to come.
Peter's Ministry in Lydda and Joppa
32Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed." Immediately he got up. 35And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. 37And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. 38Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, "Do not delay in coming to us."
39So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. 40But Peter sent 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. 41And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.
Peter’s ministry continued with preaching on missionary journeys to Lydda and Joppa and all across the region. He healed Aeneas in Lydda and all who lived with him turned to the Lord. In Joppa, he brought back Tabitha Dorcas from the dead and many there came to believe in the Lord.
This ends Acts Chapter 9.
Copyright © 2009, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries