BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
Before we can help a person to change, we must first show that person our love for them just as they are. In Acts chapter 9, verses 1-18, Luke gives us a vivid description, of the most famous, and perhaps, the most sweeping transformation of any human being in the annals of biblical literature. Here we see chronicled, the story of how Saul (the Apostle Paul) was converted by JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF, one day on the road to Damascus, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, and the capital of Syria.
Scripture tells us that Saul, who was apparently an important figure to the Libertines (a group of freed slaves who had converted to Judaism), was an arch-enemy of the Christians, who referred to themselves at that time as “Adherents of the way”. Remember the Libertines were the group that stoned Stephen to death back in Acts chapter 7, setting off a round of major persecutions against the followers of CHRIST in Jerusalem.
Saul embodied a deep hatred for this so-called sect of the Nazarenes that followed and promoted the ideology of JESUS, and, who were gaining much in popularity following HIS death at Golgotha. Little did Saul know at the time, that Stephen’s death at Jerusalem would be used by GOD to birth, and force the spread of Christianity throughout the world, and, that he, would become the face of that radical movement.
The strong preaching and teaching of the original Apostles of CHRIST, and other early Church leaders such as Barnabas, Philip, and the like, had catapulted the Christian doctrine of “Good News” into a legitimate threat against the powerful Church of Judaism at Jerusalem. The Gospel of CHRIST was swiftly becoming accepted by vastly increasing numbers of Jewish converts, who were formally associated with Judaism.
Here in Acts chapter 9, we find Saul, on a rampage, eager to destroy any of the followers of CHRIST who crossed his path. He goes to the High Priest and requests letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus asking their cooperation in the arrest of anyone proclaiming to be a follower of CHRIST that he found there. He wanted to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains to either, jail, beat, or stone them to death.
However, as Saul was nearing Damascus on this mission of hate, he is overcome by a brilliant light from Heaven, beaming down to the earth and causing him to fall to his knees in helpless wonderment. Suddenly the voice of JESUS rang out saying, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me? When Saul asks, “who are you?” The voice replies, “I am JESUS, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
The men with Saul also heard this voice, but they saw no one, and they all stood speechless in utter amazement. Saul, now blind, rises to his feet, and is led by his companions, into Damascus. He abided there for three days, fasting, going totally without food or water.
There was a believer in Damascus, by the name of Ananias, whom the LORD spoke to, in a vision. HE instructed Ananias to go over to “Straight Street”, the main thoroughfare in Damascus in those days, to the house of Judas, where Saul was residing. A protesting Ananias, who already knew of Saul’s exploits against the followers of CHRIST, is further instructed by JESUS to pray and lay hands on Saul, so that he would be healed of his blindness.
Ananias reluctantly goes and finds Saul and lays hands on him, as CHRIST had instructed him to do, and the scales fell from Saul’s eyes. Saul is then baptized, and remains in Damascus with the believers for a few days. After being baptized and filled with the HOLY SPIRIT, Saul immediately begins to preach about JESUS in the Synagogues saying, “JESUS truly is the SON of the LIVING GOD!”.
It is a life-changing thing, getting to know, and then, becoming accustomed to practicing the word of GOD. Getting to know CHRIST transforms our lives into something wonderful and new, and then, our commitment to that change, catapults us into everlasting freedom from Fear, Self, Other People, and finally, Sin. GOD is not willing that any should perish, and so HE, in HIS wonderful grace, offers this opportunity of change, to all mankind so that HIS grace and mercy towards us will win out over HIS judgment for us (katachauchatai).
SAUL EARNS CREDIBILITY WITH THE HELP OF BARNABAS
After Saul’s conversion, he abided in Damascus preaching about CHRIST for a few more days, and all who heard him were amazed at his transformation of doctrine, and, his behavior (his sudden surrender to CHRIST). They could hardly believe that this was the same man who had once terrorized the “Adherents of the Way” (followers of CHRIST) every chance he got. As Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, the Jews in Damascus were no longer able to refute his proofs that JESUS truly was, and indeed is, the MESSIAH.
In the meantime, Saul’s old Jewish comrades, the Pharisees, began plotting to kill him for what they viewed as his betrayal to them. They were to lie in wait for him at the gates of the city, but Saul was alerted of their plot by a group of believers who sneaked him out of the city by lowering him down the wall one night in a large basket, and he was able to flee, making the 140-mile trip back to Jerusalem with no trouble (Vs.23-25).
Upon Saul’s arrival in Jerusalem a week later, he tried to meet with the believers there but they were afraid of him because of his history of persecuting those who followed CHRIST’ doctrine. They thought that maybe he was only pretending to be a believer so that he might draw them out to be jailed or even killed. However, Barnabas, a trusted ally in the new Church brought Saul to the apostles and vouched for him, telling of the good work that Saul had done in Damascus over a three-year period (Galatians 1:18), and how he had been truly converted by CHRIST JESUS on the Damascus Road.
The apostles accepted Saul among them on Barnabas’ word, and were willing to give him a chance to prove to them, his new-found loyalty to the Christian cause. In time, they all came to trust in him completely, and while in Jerusalem, Saul preached boldly in the name of JESUS. He even debated a group of Greek-speaking Jews, who, as a result of Saul’s powerful defense of the Gospel, were left helpless and speechless, and in their anger, they plotted to murder him (Vs.23-29).
When the believers heard about this plot they took Saul to Caesarea, and from there, sent him back to his hometown of Tarsus where he remained for about nine years teaching and preaching the Gospel. At that time the Church was at peace throughout, and it grew by leaps and bounds in both strength (quality), and, in numbers. They walked both, in the fear of the LORD, and, in the comfort of the HOLY SPIRIT (Vs.30-31).
Thanks to Barnabas, a man of GOD who insisted on believing that there is some degree of good in every man (GOD’s nature), Saul was accepted into a leadership role at the Church in Jerusalem. Barnabas understood that only GOD can change a person for the better, wealth can’t do it, man can’t do it, the greatest secular education in the world can’t do it, only GOD can save us from destruction.
When Barnabas first heard that JESUS had caused this change in Saul, it was all that he needed to know. We can absolutely trust the change that GOD can make in a person through JESUS CHRIST, and, with the help of the HOLY SPIRIT. It is a GOD-like trait to be courageous enough to give a man a second chance at redemption. Through JESUS CHRIST, GOD is saying that HE will never allow our past to permanently separate us from HIMSELF.
Saul learned very early in his Christian walk that he would have to suffer many persecutions along the way, for he himself had at one time been a source of such persecutions. And he must have always wondered to himself why a person would gladly endure the kinds of treatment that he himself used to exact upon the believers of CHRIST. But in time he came to understand that, suffering persecution for CHRIST’ sake, should be considered the greatest compliment to a believer, because it lends a certain proof that the evil forces of satan knows that what we’re doing really matters in GOD’s plan for the world HE created.
PETER HEALS AENEAS AND RAISES DORCAS
Acts chapter 9 closes with Luke’s account of when the Apostle Peter traveled to the town of Lydda, one of his many stops along his itinerant missions around Judea. Today this city is called Lod, and it is located just south of Israel’s international airport. Here Peter encounters a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. Peter’s miraculous healing of this man, in the name of CHRIST JESUS, caused many Jews in Lydda, and, in the nearby plains of Sharon, to convert to the Christian faith and accept CHRIST as their LORD and SAVIOR.
While Peter was in Lydda, an endeared Christian woman by the name of Tabitha (“Dorcas” in the Greek ), who lived in the nearby city of Joppa, became ill and died. Dorcas was widely known for her ministry in working with the poor. After hearing of Peter’s miraculous healing of Aeneas in Lydda, two men were sent there to try and persuade Peter to take the eleven-mile trip to Joppa and, perhaps, perform another miracle by restoring the beloved Dorcas to life. They had faith that, through Peter, GOD, could and would, raise this beloved woman from the dead, just as CHRIST had done a few years earlier with HIS resurrection of Lazarus.
Upon his arrival in Joppa, Peter was taken to an upper room where Dorcas’ body laid in state awaiting burial. The room was filled with weeping widows whose lives had been touched by Dorcas’ charity, caring, and compassion over the years. After entering the room, in the tradition of Elisa the prophet (2 Kings 4:33), and our LORD JESUS CHRIST (Luke 8:51), Peter sent everyone out.
He then knelt down and began to pray before turning to the deceased and commanding her to get up. Dorcas opened her eyes and Peter took her by the hand, helped her up, and then called the others back into the room to see that she was indeed alive.
Because of these miraculous events, news spread throughout the land of the goodness of GOD, and how HE can work in the lives of those who believe on CHRIST JESUS. It was events like these that, Luke tells us, catapulted Christianity from being a tiny little-known Jewish sect, in those days, into a major religious movement by the end of the first century. And it all began with the real-life examples of charitable, caring people like Peter, Dorcas, and originally, CHRIST JESUS, HIMSELF.
When we show others that we care for them, we are exercising the same form of evangelism that was used to springboard and spur the growth of the Christian Church into the formidable mechanism that it is today. Miracles have never been solely for those believers who benefited from them personally, but rather, they are most often used by GOD to help non-believers make the decision to come to CHRIST.
By showing others that we care for them, we are really showing our love for JESUS. In fact, we don’t really love JESUS unless we are willing to take on HIS task and to take up our own cross. And the biggest part of performing that task lies in us learning to love and care for one another in the traditions and examples of CHRIST, and the CHRIST-like people of scripture who preceded us.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander