Acts: Chapter 9

Themes:

  • Conversion: In Acts chapter 9 we experience the power of conversion, and specifically conversion as a type of resurrection in Jesus Christ, a spiritual resurrection. Conversion is a moment of one’s salvation but not the whole of it. Conversion is the moment when we believe in the name of Jesus and have faith in his life, death, and resurrection. It is in this moment our souls rise from the grave of sin and death. Luke in Acts 9 is trying to show us this with Saul’s conversion. Saul had just been complicit in the death of Stephen, and then right after, he persecuted and aggressively attacked the church. Saul caused death and was living in complete darkness and sin. Yet, it is Saul that God uses to show the power of new resurrection life. MD Goulder rights, “The death of Stephen is connected causally in Acts with the Church’s persecution by Saul, in a way that we have seen. Saul presides at his stoning, Saul was consenting to his death, Saul followed up his burial by making havoc of the Church. The mention of Stephen’s burial by devout men is not insignificant. It reminds us of the burial of his master, Jesus Christ, by another devout man, Joseph of Arimathaea, and leads us to expect God once more to bring life from the dead. Nor is it modem psychologizing which tells us that the martyr’s death was the seed of the apostle’s conversion: for Paul himself said to Jesus on the Damascus road, ‘And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by. . .’ (22.20). St Luke was not ignorant that the blood of the martyrs was new life to the Church. So he portrays Saul’s entry into the Church as a ‘resurrection.’ He falls to the ground at the vision, and hears Jesus’ voice saying, ‘Rise up’; ‘. . . and Saul was raised up from the earth.” That’s not the end either: He must spend three days, like his Lord, in darkness and fasting, before the act of God is complete. Then, at the hands of Ananias, the scales fall from his eyes, and he enters into the kingdom of light: ‘He arose and was baptized.” This is such a beautiful image of God’s power and grace. Stephen’s death was not in vain, his death had resurrection life in bringing Saul to faith in Christ. From the mire of sin and anger, God drew Saul unto himself. For, conversion is our first resurrection and a reminder of the great promise that God will raise us body and soul on that great and final day! Conversion is, therefore, a reminder that our savior, Jesus Christ, has conquered sin and death and that means even our own sin! Fall to your knees and look to him, the Author and Finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)! Remember that he has saved you, that he has converted you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Amen!

People:

  • Ananias of Damascus: “A disciple in Damascus, to whom the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was made known in a vision, and who was the instrument of his physical and spiritual restoration, and the means of introducing him to the other Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:10-19). Paul makes honorable mention of him in his account of his conversion spoken at Jerusalem (Acts 22:12-16), where we are told that Ananias was held in high respect by all the Jews in Damascus, on account of his strict legal piety. No mention is made of him in Paul's address before Agrippa in Caesarea (Acts 26). In late tradition, he is placed in the list of the seventy disciples of Jesus, and represented as bishop of Damascus, and as having died a martyr's death.”

Culture:

Places

  • Damascus: This was a celebrated city of Syria, and long the capital of a kingdom of that name. It is situated in a delightful region about 120 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and about one 190 miles southeast of Antioch.

  • The street called Straight: - This street extends from the eastern to the western gate, about three miles, crossing the whole city and suburbs in a direct line. Near the eastern gate is a house, said to be that of Judah, in which Paul lodged. There is in it a very small closet, where tradition reports that the apostle passed three days without food, until Ananias restored him to sight. Tradition also says that he had here the vision recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2.

  • Tarsus: the chief city of Cilicia. It was distinguished for its wealth and for its schools of learning, in which it rivalled, nay, excelled even Athens and Alexandria, and hence was spoken of as “no mean city.” It was the native place of the Apostle Paul (Acts 21:39). It stood on the banks of the river Cydnus, about 12 miles north of the Mediterranean. It is said to have been founded by Sardanapalus, king of Assyria. It is now a filthy, ruinous Turkish town, called Tersous.

Cultural Background

  • Why was Paul even traveling to Damascus? “As we have seen, the persecution which followed Stephen’s execution had driven many believers out of Jerusalem and Judea to seek refuge in neighbouring regions. But Saul reflected that the refugees’ teaching might infect the Jewish communities of those other regions. He therefore procured from the high priest letters requiring the extradition of refugees from Judea. The extent of the extradition rights possessed by the high priest is not precisely known. In any case the synagogue authorities or leaders of Jewish communities in other cities would themselves decide how far to pay attention to the letters. Armed with the letters, Saul travelled to Damascus to round up and bring back to Jerusalem any fugitives in the synagogues there. Damascus had a Jewish population of 10,000 or more, so it must have had several synagogues.”

  • An Ox kicking against the Goad: “The metaphor of an ox, only driving the goad deeper by kicking against it, is a classic one, and here forcibly expresses, not only the vanity of all his measures for crushing the Gospel, but the deeper wound which every such effort inflicted upon himself.”

Contemplating God:

Voices of the Past:

  • “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue humans are capable of. Every day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in these words: “I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.” When he saw death imminent, he asked others to share his joy: “Rejoice and be glad with me!” And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: “I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution.” These he called the weapons of righteousness, telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

Even amid the traps set for him by his enemies, he had a happy heart, and he turned his enemy’s every attack into a victory for himself and God; constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: “Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us!” This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse than the most pleasing honors, even more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth; he loved hard work far more than others even love the rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.

The most important thing of all to him was that he knew himself to be loved by Jesus Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without the love of Christ, life would be of no satisfaction to him. He cared not to be the friend of principalities, politicians, and the powerful, rather to be the friend of Christ. He preferred to be thus loved by God and be the least of all among men. He would rather be damned and condemned to death, than to be without that great love of Jesus Christ and be among his honored.

To be separated from the love of Christ was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.  So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing eternal life, the whole world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings.

Paul put no value on earthly, created things, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than annoying gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.”

Footnotes:

Goulder, MD. Type and History in Acts. Pg. 93-4.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. “Ananias of Damascus.”

https://www.godvine.com/bible/acts/9-2

https://www.godvine.com/bible/acts/9-11

http://eastonsbibledictionary.org/3589-Tarsus.php

Bruce, F.F. Commentary on the Book of Acts. Acts 9

Jamieson, Fausset & Brown. Commentary on Acts. Acts 9:5b.

Chrysostom, John. Hom. 2 de laudibus sancti Pauli: PG 50, 477-480.

Peter Elliott