Today: [Acts 9:] From Damascus to Joppa: In Acts 9 we witness the conversion of Saul and the resurrection of Tabitha in Joppa by Peter. Was Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus an extraterrestrial encounter? Was Tabitha really dead or just in an unconscious state? Does God still intervene in our lives today in the manner we see in our chapter today?
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[Act 9:1-22 KJV] 1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought [him] into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. 10 And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. 11 And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, 12 And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight. 13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. 17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. 19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. 21 But all that heard [him] were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? 22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
From the time of Stephen’s death, Saul of Tarsus’ aggressive campaign of harassment against the church continued unabated in Jerusalem and Judea. In chapter 9 of Acts we see him petitioning the high priest for permission to travel to Damascus to root out followers of Jesus there and return them to Jerusalem for trial and execution. On his way to Damascus, a brilliant light suddenly shines all around him, and a falls stricken to the earth. Scholars place the timing of this event no later than three years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If an experience such as this were reported today, it would be classified as a UFO sighting. On other occasions in Paul’s life, he reports being caught up into Paradise the same as John the Revelator did. These types of phenomena in the modern day are connected with UFO mythology and thereby dismissed altogether by the mainstream. The question is what happened to Paul here? However, this is interpreted the result was to change Paul’s life altogether resulting in him becoming the most influential man in human history other than Jesus Himself.
Many liberal thinkers in Christianity accuse Paul of co-opting the church from the other apostles and fashioning it after his liking. It is true that if you take Paul’s writings and influence from the New Testament, it would be a very different collection of books.
While Paul is on the ground, blinded and groping, he hears a voice speak to him, and he asks it to be identified. The answer is straightforward “I am Jesus you are persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the goad (pricks)…” The pricks of goad spoken of were those fastened behind oxen on a cart to keep them moving forward. In other words, Jesus speaks of Paul’s life as being in the harness of the Lord, moving inexorably toward the Father’s plan for his life. This makes the strong suggestion that since the day of Stephen’s death Saul has been a haunted man. The light in Stephen’s face, the demonic rage of the Pharisees and Sadducees compelled Paul and now the culmination of months of running from God is come. Saul calls Jesus Lord and asks what Jesus would have for him to do. This is the moment Paul becomes a Christian. He professes Jesus Christ as Lord. Do you remember when you asked Jesus into your heart? Were you thinking of what Jesus would have you to do or were you thinking of what Jesus would do for you?
Saul is instructed to complete his journey to Damascus and wait for further instructions. The men who are with Saul do not understand this at all, not seeing the light that blinded him but hearing the voice nonetheless. After three days in shock, without sight, without food or water, a man named Ananias shows up at Saul’s lodging. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision and instructed him to go to Saul and minister to him. Ananias resists at first but is commanded nonetheless to obey and seek Saul out. In verse 17 Ananias arrives at Saul’s lodging and being presented to him addresses him as a brother. In that instant, his blindness is lifted, and he is baptized into the faith. After recovering, he continues with the disciples of Jesus that were at Damascus and begins preaching Jesus in the local synagogue to the amazement of those who knew about his previous animosity to the faith.
[Acts 9:23-43 KJV]
23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: 24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let [him] down by the wall in a basket. 26 And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him, and brought [him] to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. 29 And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. 30 [Which] when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. 31 Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. 32 And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all [quarters], he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. 33 And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. 34 And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. 35 And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord. 36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. 37 And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid [her] in an upper chamber. 38 And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring [him] that he would not delay to come to them. 39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning [him] to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 And he gave her [his] hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. 42 And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord. 43 And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.
Saul’s preaching intensified in Damascus, and certain Jews took counsel to take his life. Their plot to assassinate him becomes known, and the disciples let him down the outer city wall, and he escapes to Jerusalem. When he arrives in the city, the disciples will have nothing to do with him, believing his so-called conversion is a ploy to call them out. Here is where Barnabas surfaces again and demonstrates his shining character. Barnabas, the man who sold a piece of land and laid the price of it at the feet of the apostle, is now chosen to advocate for Saul and to mentor him in the work of God that he is called to. Do you have a Barnabas in your church? This would be the person that you never know who he is going to show up with next. The disciples were not happy with Saul being brought into the council and no doubt they were not pleased with Barnabas for bringing it about. Barnabas stands alone in a unique position among the first-century believers. His love for Paul and obedience to mentor and advocate for him gives Barnabas a stake in every conversion that Paul’s ministry and writings have brought about in two thousand years. Don’t ever be hesitant to champion and advocate for those God sends your way, they might be the next apostle Paul. Saul’s presence is a tremendous disruption in Judea, and after more death threats he is sent away from Jerusalem to his home city in the north of Galilee. Verse 31 reports that only after Saul’s absence does the church have rest and begin to grow unfettered from persecution for a time.
What was happening in Peter’s life during this time? Peter is the first of the original 11 disciples to travel broadly in obedience to the Great Commission. He lands in Lydda and finds a man who had been in a paralytic condition for eight years. Peter looks upon him and commands him in the name of Jesus to rise and walk. Immediately the man rises completely healed. This is the kind of report we want to hear in our city. Verse 35 tells us that all those in the area – read ALL that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw this and became Christian. Can you imagine EVERYONE in your country or town becoming a believer after witnessing such a miracle? Would that God would grant such a testimony today, and grant us the courage to be a part of it. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What He did through Peter he will do through us!
Traveling on to Joppa, Peter finds a beloved lady, who helped many by her good works dies prematurely. Peter makes the journey to where Tabitha lies after her body is prepared for burial. He pushes his way into the upper room and seeing the scene turns all the mourners away and turns to the lifeless body in front of him. Tabitha is long dead, but Peter addresses her as if she can hear him. “Tabitha – arise…” Immediately she sits up, and Peter calls the people back into the room to greet Tabitha just returned from the dead. In Lydda and Saron the report was that EVERYONE in those towns gave their lives to Jesus. In Joppa, in spite of a notable miracle, the entire city was not converted, rather verse 42 reports that MANY but not all came to Christ.
If you were confronted with a dead body, what would you do? There are going to be times in your life when circumstances will conspire to put you in a position to work a miracle. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that Jesus wants to use you today to be the carrier of that glory? God is no respecter of persons. If you do with your faith what Peter did with his faith, you will achieve the same results.
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