“We must rid the world of the name of Jesus. Jesus is dead, and soon his memory will be, too. A crucified fool is not our Messiah! His ignorant followers preach that Jesus is alive and performing miracles through them – but their power comes from Satan, not God. This is a dangerous cult, and I intend to eliminate it before it destroys our historic Jewish faith. It has already spread to Damascus, and I’m going there to make sure it spreads no further.”
Saul (later Paul) could have said something like that to the high priest as he threatened to murder the followers of Jesus. With warrants in hand he set out for Damascus, but on the way to arrest Christians there, Saul himself was arrested by a higher authority.
A blinding light from heaven shone around Saul – it was the Lord Jesus, revealed in all His glory. The light of His presence knocked Saul down to the ground and blinded him. That loss of sight is a powerful metaphor in this text: it is as if Jesus was showing Saul how spiritually blind he had been to the truth. Saul, who would not bow the knee to Jesus, was forcibly prostrated by His majesty.
The voice of Jesus said, “I am Jesus, and you have been persecuting Me!” As Saul lay there in the dust, he must have been terrified as he realized that the crucified founder of what he thought was a cult had been resurrected and exalted! And this Jesus took Saul’s attacks against His followers so personally that He took ownership of their persecution. Saul thought he was persecuting heretics, but he had been attacking Jesus Himself.
Throughout his ministry as an apostle, evangelist, missionary, church planter, author, and martyr, Saul referred to that encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road as the start of his new life. Saul didn’t get religion on that road (he was already extremely religious) – he found a relationship with Jesus!
For three days Saul just prayed and waited, and God sent a Christian named Ananias. You can understand his reservations (v.13-14), but he was a man of faith, and he was obedient to do it. Ananias reached out to Saul: he reached out with his hands to touch him; he reached out with his heart to love him. I’m impressed with the faith it must have taken for him to call Saul, the Christian-killer, “brother.” That’s a strong word of connection and commitment. Ananias immediately got Saul connected to a group of disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ (v.19). I am sure that Saul, an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures, had to humble himself to become a learner, a disciple.
Apparently the group’s primary ministry project was evangelism in the synagogues of Damascus. This is where Saul cut his teeth in what would become an extensive preaching ministry. Notice that he didn’t waste any time getting started, and that his transformation absolutely amazed his listeners (v.20-21): the man who hated Jesus became the man who preached Jesus; the man who persecuted believers became the man who tried to convert new believers; the man who tried to destroy the church became the man who marched with the church to share the gospel! What an amazing transformation!
The Jews were, of course, furious that Saul had converted, and they tried to kill him. They might have succeeded had his friends not lowered him from the walls of Damascus in a basket under cover of darkness! Escaping to Jerusalem, Saul was befriended by Barnabas, a true gospel encourager, bridge-builder, and networker (v.27). It was probably Barnabas who arranged for Saul’s escape to the coast where he could sail to safety in Tarsus.
The rest of this chapter records two amazing events in Peter’s ministry. First, Peter met a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years and healed him in the name of Jesus! When the man’s neighbors saw this walking miracle, they all “turned to the Lord” (v.34).
Second, the resurrection of the beloved Tabitha (a.k.a. Dorcas, meaning “gazelle”) was astounding. She was not just sick, but dead when Peter arrived. Again Jesus showed Himself to be powerful through Peter, and after a simple prayer “he gave her his hand and raised her up” (v.41). This miracle was not only an encouragement to the many widows to whom Tabitha ministered, it was convincing proof of the gospel to many lost people in Joppa. Jesus is awesome! Amen?!