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Acts 9

Thursday Evening Bible Study

November 14, 2013


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision Is the church loved?

Target 4400 words

On the day of Pentecost, the church was born.  It began with the Holy Spirit filling the believers.  As the apostles preached about Jesus, the church began to grow.

A few weeks ago we saw the church needing to make some changes because of the growing numbers.  They appointed “deacons” to help out the apostles with things like the food distribution to the widows.  But these deacons didn’t stop with that.  Stephen was a deacon, but he also preached and impacted many people.  Chapter seven ended with Stephen being the first to die for his faith as he was stoned for talking about Jesus.  Persecution began to grow and the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  The man behind the first wave of persecution was named Saul.

9:1-9 Saul meets Jesus

:1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

:2 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.

:1 breathing threats and murder

Saul might have been one of the men that had been debating with Stephen.

(Ac 6:9 NKJV) Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen.
Saul is from Tarsus, the capital of ancient Cilicia.

When Stephen was stoned, Saul was there holding the coats of the people throwing rocks.  As a great persecution began for the church, Saul was one of the men driving it all:

(Ac 8:3 NKJV) As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

It was this persecution that Saul was a part of that had scattered the church and had led to things like Philip going to Samaria and a revival breaking out there.

:2 the Way

This is what the Jews were calling the Christians at this time.  Christianity was still being seen as a “sect” of Judaism, not as a separate religion.

:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

Play Damascus road map clip.

Damascus is about 150 miles north of Jerusalem (almost like Fullerton to Bakersfield).  The most typical route is to take the coastal road from Jerusalem up to Carmel, head inland toward the Sea of Galilee, and then head toward Damascus.

:4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

:4 persecutingdioko – to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away; in any way whatever to harass, trouble, molest one; to persecute

:3 why are you persecuting Me

The church is called the “body of Christ”.  When the church is being persecuted, Jesus is being persecuted.

:5 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.”

:5 kick against the goads

“Goads” are sharp sticks used to poke at animals to guide them. 

This was an ancient proverb, and the idea is that an animal would only hurt itself more by trying to kick against the uncomfortable “pricks”.

It would seem that Saul’s conscience had been bothering him with what he had heard about Jesus.  But instead of being led by the pricking of his conscience, Saul had been “kicking” against his conscience by persecuting the church.  All Saul is doing is hurting himself.

:6 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.”

:6 trembling and astonished

Can you imagine what Saul thought when he hears the words, “I am Jesus…

Some people find it easy to criticize others they’ve never met.

Until they meet them.

I think about all the people who like to criticize each president, and yet how many actually know the president?

Too often we build up “straw” caricatures of people which are easy to criticize, until we meet them.

Saul had felt that he was serving God by persecuting these Christians.  And then he finds out that he’s been working AGAINST God instead of for Him.

Being passionate about something doesn’t make it right.  You can be passionately “wrong”.

:7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

:8 Then 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.

:9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

:9 three days without sight

Proud arrogant Saul is now humbled, blind and dependent upon other people to lead him.

“Paul was a great man,” said Charles Spurgeon, “and I have no doubt that on the way to Damascus he rode a very high horse. But a few seconds sufficed to alter the man. How soon God brought him down!”

I wonder if God’s purpose for keeping Saul blind was to connect him to the church.

Saul is going to have to meet Ananias and be prayed for to receive his sight.
Some people claim to follow Jesus, but stay away from any kind of church.
In God’s eyes, when we accept Christ, we become a part of the body, the church.  Like it or not, we’re connected.

9:10-19 Saul and Ananias

:10 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.”

:10 Ananias –“whom Yahweh has graciously given”

There are several other Ananias’ in the New Testament.  This guy is not any of those other fellows.

This is not the same Ananias that lied to the Holy Spirit and was killed back in Acts 5.

There’s a place in ancient Damascus called “The House of Ananias”, an underground chapel that was supposedly the cellar of Ananias’ house.


Bridge builders

This Ananias wasn’t just a Christian, but a good law-of-Moses-abiding Jew as well.  Later Paul would say of Ananias:
(Ac 22:12 NKJV) “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,

This devout Jew/Christian will be an important link for Saul. 

Paul described himself as…
(Php 3:5–6 NKJV) —5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

God used someone with a background like Paul’s to draw Paul into the church.

It’s not uncommon for God to use people with specific backgrounds to reach out to people similar to themselves.
God isn’t limited to using people with parallel backgrounds – God used a clean cut raised in church man like Pastor Chuck to reach out to a generation of hippies.
Yet at this point, Saul needs a good “devout” Jewish man to speak to him further about Jesus.

God may want to use your past to reach people who are going through what you’ve been through.

:11 So 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.

:11 the street called Straight

Play Straight Street map clip

Most of the streets of ancient Damascus were crooked, but this one ran straight, from east to west (the street is still there).
Ananias’ house is just a couple of blocks north of Straight Street (Bab Sharqi).

:12 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.”

:13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.

:14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

Ananias has already heard about Saul and the persecution he’s brought against the church.

:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.

:15 Gentiles, kings, and … Israel

Paul’s primary ministry will be outside the “Jewish box”.  Up until this time, this is something inconceivable to a good Jewish boy’s mindset.  I can’t imagine what Paul must have thought when he heard about the “Gentiles”.

:16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

:16 things he must suffer

Paul is not going to have an easy life.


Suffering included

Some folks mistakenly think that when they accept Christ, all their problems are over.
The truth is that often suffering is very much a part of the Christian life.
Sometimes the pain we experience is simply because of our stupid actions.
That’s not the kind of suffering we’re talking about.
I heard there was a driver who was told to her car needed a quart of oil.  She wondered why her car started smoking and eventually caught on fire …
Play Blonde and Engine Oil clip
But if we are suffering because we have been following the Lord, then we shouldn’t be surprised.
(1 Pe 4:12 NKJV) Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
Paul wrote,
(2 Ti 3:12 NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
God will even use the suffering we endure as a Christian.
Adoniram Judson, the renowned missionary to Burma, endured untold hardships trying to reach the lost for Christ.  For 7 heartbreaking years he suffered hunger and poverty.  During this time he was thrown into Ava Prison, and for 17 months was subjected to almost incredible mistreatment.  As a result, for the rest of his life he carried the ugly marks made by the chains and iron shackles which had cruelly bound him.  Undaunted, upon his release he asked for permission to enter another province where he might resume preaching the Gospel.  The godless ruler indignantly denied his request, saying “My people are not fools enough to listen to anything a missionary might SAY, but I fear they might be impressed by your SCARS and turn to your religion!”

:17 And 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.”

:17 laying his hands on him

Notice that Saul is “filled with the Holy Spirit” after coming to believe in Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Notice that it is a relatively unknown disciple (Ananias) who lays hands on Saul, not one of the apostles.


God uses ordinary people

You may not be a Greg Laurie or a Billy Graham, but you can be an Ananias.  All it takes is a willingness to say, “yes Lord”.
A Sunday School teacher, a Mr. Edward Kimball, in 1858, led a Boston shoe clerk to give his life to Christ.  The clerk, Dwight L. Moody, became an evangelist.  In England in 1879, he awakened evangelistic zeal in the heart of Fredrick B. Meyer, pastor of a small church.  F. B. Meyer, preaching to an American college campus, brought to Christ a student named J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman, engaged in YMCA work, employed a former baseball player, Billy Sunday, to do evangelistic work. Billy Sunday held a revival in Charlotte, N.C. A group of local men were so enthusiastic afterward that they planned another evangelistic campaign, bringing Mordecai Hamm to town to preach.  During Hamm's revival, a young man named Billy Graham heard the gospel and yielded his life to Christ.
Think of the impact that this one Sunday School teacher has had …

:18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

:19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

9:20-22 Saul preaches Jesus

:20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

:20 Immediately he preached the Christ


Speak up

We aren’t all called to be preachers, but when you become a Christian, others should know about it.
Jesus said,
(Mt 10:32–33 NKJV) —32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
Saul no sooner is touched by the Lord than he lets other people know where he stands.

:21 Then 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?”

:22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

:22 proving that this Jesus is the Christ


Intellect and Will

I’m sure that there are people who truly have an intellectual problem in accepting who Jesus is.
But for most people, the real issue is their “will” or their “pride”.
Saul had heard all the arguments about who Jesus was.  We already suggested that Saul had heard Stephen when he spoke of Christ (Acts 6:8-10)
(Ac 6:8–10 NKJV) —8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

Saul was from the area of “Cilicia” and was likely in these meetings hearing Stephen speak.

Yet even though Stephen was presenting compelling evidence about Jesus, Saul resisted the truth – not because Stephen was unclear, but because Saul was unwilling.
Now that Saul has met Jesus on the road to Damascus, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s using the same arguments that Stephen was using.
But it wasn’t the power of the arguments that won Saul, it was meeting Jesus and humbling his pride.
It’s not that we shouldn’t study and learn the intellectual arguments – I believe God uses them.  It plants seeds.  But when people reject the intellectual argument we shouldn’t be disappointed.  We need to recognize that some people are just stubborn and proud.

9:23-25 Saul Escapes

:23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.

:23 after many days

Paul gives a few more details of these days to the Galatians (Gal. 1:15-18)

(Ga 1:15–18 NKJV) —15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
He wasn’t in Damascus continually for three years, but had spent time out in the desert, returning to Damascus, and then getting into trouble.
It was during those years in the desert that God clarified much of Paul’s theology about Jesus and the gospel.

:24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.

:25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

:25 in a large basket

Saul escapes in a basket.  I guess by this time Paul was a “basket case”…

9:26-31 Saul goes to Jerusalem

:26 And 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.

:27 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.

:27 Barnabas …brought him to the apostles

You can imagine the kind of caution the apostles were feeling with Saul’s previous history.  They were understandably suspicious of Saul.

Yet Barnabas has risked enough to get close enough to Saul to realize that he is the real deal.

This is the second time we’ve run into Barnabas.  His given name was “Joseph” (or, “Joses”).

(Ac 4:36 NKJV) And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus
At some point in his life he took on a different name, Barnabas, “son of encouragement”.

Here we see Barnabas doing his thing by coming alongside Saul and helping him into the church in Jerusalem.

The next time we’ll see Barnabas is when the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11) sends him up north to Antioch to encourage and strengthen the Gentile believers that have come to Christ.  Part of his ministry in Antioch will involve looking Paul up and bringing him with him to Antioch to help with the teaching and encouraging of the believers there.
Eventually Paul and Barnabas will team up to go on the first missionary journey (Acts 13).


Be a Barnabas

It seems to me that one of the chief characteristics of Barnabas was the ability to see a need and then without needing to be asked, he does something about it.
We see this when he sells a piece of property to meet needs in the church.  We see it here when Paul needs a helping hand into the church.
A Barnabas is a person who has his eye open to needs, and then responds with encouragement.
It might be a new person visiting church and doesn’t quite know how to fit in.
It might be a person who has not been around awhile, perhaps they even have slipped a bit in their walk.
It might be someone who is simply going through a rough period and need a word of encouragement.
We all are called to be a “Barnabas”, an “encourager”.
(Heb 10:24–25 NKJV) —24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

The word “exhorting” is the same Greek word translated “encouragement”, what a Barnabas does.

Part of our encouragement ought to be about being together at church and stirring up love and good deeds.

Do you remember the “Lord of the Rings” movies?
The story was all about Mr. Frodo getting that “precious” ring destroyed.  Towards the end, Frodo has run out of strength and can’t go on any more.
It’s Sam that steps up.
Play “I Can Carry You” clip.

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”.

That’s what encouragement is all about.

You can’t carry another person’s responsibilities, but you can help carry them.

:28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

:29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

:29 disputed against the Hellenists

It kind of sounds like Saul is now debating with his former colleagues, the ones that Stephen used to debate with (Acts 6:9).

:30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

:30 Caesarea … to Tarsus

Play Caesarea Tarsus map clip

Caesarea is over 50 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast.  It’s the major seaport of the area. Tarsus is over 300 miles to the north in modern Turkey.  It was the capital of ancient Cilicia.  Tarsus is also Saul’s home town.

Saul will be in Tarsus for about 5 years before Barnabas picks him up and takes him to help with the work in Antioch.

:31 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.

:31 they were multiplied

After Saul’s conversion, the persecution slows down, there was a period of peace and growth for the church in the land of Israel.

9:32-35 Jesus heals Aeneas

:32 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.

:32 Lydda

Play Lydda Joppa map video

Lydda is a town on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa (part of modern Tel Aviv).
Lydda is 23 miles northwest of Jerusalem, Joppa is another 11 miles on the coast.

:33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed.

:34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately.

:34 Jesus the Christ heals you

I love this.  It is very clear in Peter’s mind just who is doing the healing.

:34 Arise and make your bed

I think Aeneas’ mother was happy for Peter’s ministry.  She had been trying to get him to make his bed for years.  J 

Of course, if you want to be technical, it doesn’t say that Aeneas actually made his bed, just that he got up immediately.  J

:35 So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

:35 Sharon

Play Sharon map clip

This is the coastal plain that runs the length of Israel from the port of Joppa to Mount Carmel 50 miles to the north.
Aeneas apparently let people know about how he was healed. 
Because Peter said “Jesus Christ heals you”, people are turning to Jesus, not Peter.  I like that.

9:36-43 Dorcas is raised

:36 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.

:36 Tabitha … Dorcas

Tabitha is Aramaic for “gazelle”.  Dorcas is Greek for “gazelle”. 

I think the next time someone calls me a “dork” I just might say “thank you”.

:36 charitable deedseleemosune – this is the word usually translated “alms”

The meaning of the word is “mercy, pity”.  It’s doing things out of mercy for others.  We’ll see in a second what some of those things were that she did.

:37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.

In Israel the custom is to bury the dead immediately.  But for some reason the believers weren’t ready to bury her.

:38 And 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.

Peter was about 11 miles away.

:39 Then 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.

:39 widows … tunics … garments

Apparently some of Dorcas’ “charitable deeds” involved making garments for the widows.

This gal had done many good works and was much loved by her community.

:40 But 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.

:40 Peter put them all out

There was no need for distractions.  Peter’s not here to put on a show, he’s here to pray.  He’s not here to pray to the people in the room, he’s here to pray to God.


Prayer without distractions.

It’s not that you can’t pray in a busy place.
But sometimes your prayers can be more focused, and your time with the Lord more sweeter when there aren’t distractions all around.
Put away the distractions.  Turn off the TV.  Get up a little earlier.

:40 Tabitha arise

Notice the similarities between what has just happened with Peter and Dorcas and a miracle that the Lord did:

(Mk 5:35–43 NKJV) —35 While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37 And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.

Note that Peter was one of the few present when the Lord would perform this miracle.

38 Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39 When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

I wonder if the same atmosphere of weeping and wailing for Dorcas reminded Peter of this earlier time.

40 And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.

Jesus had put all the others outside and only a few were there to see what would happen, just like Peter would do.

41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

Jesus’ words were a little different, but the similarities between “Talitha” and “Tabitha” are pretty close.  It’s almost as if Peter was copying what he had seen Jesus do.  It also makes me wonder if hearing Tabitha’s name helped remind Peter of what the Lord had done with the little girl.

42 Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43 But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.



Jesus said that the disciples would do the same things He had done.
(Jn 14:12 NKJV) “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

Part of being a Christian is learning to follow the example that Jesus gave us. 

The example we leave is not just about the kinds of good things we do, but how we live, even how we suffer.  Peter would write,
(1 Pe 2:21 NKJV) For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

What would Jesus do?

We will also leave an example for others to follow.  Paul wrote,
(1 Co 11:1 NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.

Just as Peter was imitating Christ, we leave examples for others to follow as well.

:41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.

:42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.

:43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.

:43 with Simon, a tanner

Peter doesn’t move on from Joppa, but decides to stay awhile.

tanner – this is a guy who works with animal skins, turning something that came from a dead animal into something useful like leather. 

Ancient tanning methods made for pretty stinky work.  The skins were soaked and scraped to remove any dead flesh or fat.  Then the skins were soaked in urine to remove the hair.  Then the skin would be pounded with dung until they became flexible but not too soft.
According to the Levitical law, the “tanner” would be a guy who was considered “unclean” (Lev. 11:40).  Tanners usually lived and worked on the outskirts of town (can you imagine why?).

What an interesting place for Peter to be staying.  We’re going to see Peter being used to reach out to the “unclean” Gentiles.  But first Peter will be up on Simon’s rooftop having a vision of animals being lowered on a sheet and the Lord commanding him to “kill and eat”.  And Peter says he doesn’t eat “unclean” things.  Interesting…