Paul, a pharisee by day, moonlighted as an enforcer for the Synagogue to capture the followers of the way. He would travel from city to city and synagogue to synagogue, to find those who proclaimed Jesus as son of God. He would even force them to blaspheme and have them arrested, tried and put to death (Acts 26:11). On one of his crusades, Saul was on his way to Damascus, when at mid day a bright light flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:4-6
The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus left the people travelling with him speechless. They heard the voice but could not see anyone. Saul picked himself from the ground but when he opened his eyes he could not see anything. He was led by hand to Damascus and he went on a fast and started questioning every decision he had ever made. He literally had a ‘come to Jesus moment’.
Meanwhile, in Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias whom the Lord had chosen to bring the Gospel to Saul. Ananias had heard of Saul’s fame, how he had captured all that followed Christ but God assured Ananias that he had great plans for Saul. Can we put ourselves in Ananias shoes. God is asking us to pray for others and bring them to the fold no matter what their past might be. Ananias a devout follower of Christ was used only as a tool (at least in this instance) to bring in Saul to the Church. Do we have the same obedience that Ananias had or does our pride takeover when it come to praying for someone we don’t like?
Ananias went to the house where Saul was staying and prayed for Saul. Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. Saul’s life was transformed due to his encounter with Jesus and he took baptism and joined the Church. Even the most hate filled human being is not immune to the transformation that Jesus’ love brings in our lives.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
After spending some time with the disciples in Damascus, Saul led by the Spirit immediately began to proclaim the Gospel in the synagogues. Everyone was astonished, as the man formerly persecuting anyone who dared to speak in Jesus’ name, was now preaching the same Gospel. God used Saul’s fame as a persecutor to show everyone the works of the Spirit in transforming such a human being. Saul would argue and prove to the people living in Damascus that Jesus is the Messiah. The scriptures were opened to him by the Holy Spirit and he could finally understand what he had been reading since his childhood. Do we read scriptures with the guidance of the Spirit or is it part of our daily rituals?
As was the case with all the followers of the way, Saul also started facing death threats and it is then that the disciples helped him escape from Damascus and reach Jerusalem. The disciples, though were sceptic towards Saul’s intentions in joining the church, welcomed him and Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem. Do we doubt the intentions of newcomers into the Church? We must remember that Jesus can transform anybody and that’s the reason we also were able to come to his fold.
When the Hellenistic Jews turned against him, the disciples sent Saul to Tarsus and the Church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. What’s the reason for the peace in our churches? Is it the calm before the storm or has the flame that once burned strong has now been extinguished?
Peter in Lydda and Joppa
Towards the end of the chapter we find Peter, travelling throughout the country, having two deja vu moments. One in Lydda, when he heals Aeneas, who was bedridden for eight years. And the other in Joppa, where Tabitha (Dorcas) was raised from the dead. Both these miracles draw comparison from Jesus healing the paralytic and Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter. Jesus told the paralytic to get up and pick up his mat and walk. And at Jarius’ place he vacated the room of all the unbelievers and only took in the parents of the child, and Peter, James and John. Peter would have remembered Jesus’ miracles and realized how far the Spirit had led him, from denying that he knew Jesus to performing the same miracles as Jesus.