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The Conversion and Early Labors of Paul.
Paul's continued enmity against the Church:
v. 1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
v. 2. and desired of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
In marked contrast to the earnest labors of Philip in building up the Church of Christ we have here the hostile and destructive activities of Saul. With the passing of time the fire of his enmity did not abate, but was rather fanned to ever greater heat and fierceness. This state of mind had become so habitual with him that he actually breathed threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord. That was the atmosphere which he breathed, in which he lived. The threats alone were a base transgression of the Fifth Commandment, but he also actually followed them up with murder; he delivered all the disciples whom he could capture to prison and death. But his worst sin consisted in his blaspheming the name of the Lord by this opposition and persecution. Saul's greatest delight at that time would have been to destroy both Christ and all Christendom in one day, had he been able to do so, 1 Timothy 1:13; Php_3:6 ; Galatians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9 In this frame of mind he went to the high priest and earnestly besought him for letters, credentials setting forth his authorization in the name of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. For Saul's attention had been called to the fact that Christian congregations were being established elsewhere, and the matter gave him no rest. Damascus had a large Jewish population and was the nearest foreign city of importance. To check the spread of the Gospel in this city would be a great victory for the Jews. The Sanhedrin at that time, even under Roman government, had great power and jurisdiction, both civil and criminal. Not only could it have arrests made by its own officers, but it could also deal with cases where the death penalty was not involved. And the authorities of Damascus were not liable to hinder such activities, as long as they were confined to the Jews. It was Saul's plan, therefore, to have his credentials addressed to all the synagogues of Damascus, in order that he might have full jurisdiction to act. Should he then find any persons, either men or women, "of this way," addicted to this new doctrine, as he supposed, he intended to bring them to Jerusalem in bonds. Note: The hostility of the vehement enemies of Christ in our days may not be able to show itself in just this way, but they make use of the flimsiest excuses and subterfuges to persecute the Church of Christ. Even as Saul, the Pharisee, sought to establish his own righteousness over against the righteousness of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus became the most dangerous enemy of Christ, so the modern Pharisees take offense at the preaching of salvation by the blood of the crucified Christ.
The miraculous vision:
v. 3. And as he journeyed, he came near to Damascus; and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven;
v. 4. and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?
v. 5. And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest; it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
v. 6 And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Saul, having readily obtained the letters which he desired, lost no time in leaving Jerusalem. To reach his destination, he had about 140 miles to travel in a general northeasterly direction. For Damascus was the ancient capital of the province of Syria, situated about seventy miles from the Mediterranean, from which it was separated by the Lebanon and Antilebanon ranges. The Abana River flowed through it, and the Pharpar ran a few miles south of its walls. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world, said to have been founded by Uz, the grandson of Shem, and known to Abraham, Genesis 15:15. It has always been an important trade center and was also known for its manufactories, The journey, by either the caravan road through Samaria and Galilee, or by the Roman road over Jericho and through Perea and Decapolis, occupied some seven or eight days. One fact stands out with a certainty which cannot be denied, namely, that a state of mind less favorable for conversion than that of Saul when he started out on his mad expedition can hardly be imagined. He was in the very midst of Pharisaic darkness and unbelief, abhorring the very name of Christ and full of resentment and hatred toward those that confessed belief in this name. But the Lord's manner of dealing with even the most hopeless cases and obstinate enemies passes human understanding. For it was at midday of the last day of the trip, when the travelers had left the snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon behind them, and may have been able to see the city of Damascus in the distance before them, that suddenly, without warning, an extremely bright light from heaven shone round about Saul, so bright as to render him blind. Perceiving that a miracle was happening, he fell to the ground in helpless terror. In that light, and before darkness fell upon him, Saul saw Christ, the Crucified, 1 Corinthians 9:1. And when he had fallen, he heard and plainly understood a voice, which solemnly called to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? With fear and trembling, Saul asked: "Who art Thou, Lord?" either because he could not distinguish from the voice whether it was Stephen or some other victim speaking, or because he wanted to be certain that he was not beset by a hallucination. The Lord now fully revealed Himself to Saul as Jesus, whom he was persecuting by his present treatment and by his proposed measures against the believers in His name. Two facts were thus impressed upon the mind and heart of Saul, that the union between Christ and His Church is perfect and lasting, and that therefore the persecution of the believers was a persecution of Christ Himself. And the searching love of Jesus was immediately made manifest in His warning and pleading cry: It will be hard for thee to strike out against the goads, a figure taken from the driving of oxen by means of pointed sticks, against which they will sometimes attempt to kick. Here the hour of conversion was come. "For there is no heart so strong, though it were nothing but flint diamond, which could hold out and must not break. " The enemy was vanquished, be. cause the Stronger had come over him and had changed his mind and heart; the Lord had revealed Himself to him, Galatians 1:16. Saul now, full of trembling and astonishment, has only one purpose in mind, to do the will of his Lord, and asks what the Lord wants him to do. "In this way we should also learn to fit ourselves properly, confess our sins and desist from them, believe on Jesus Christ, and find comfort in His sufferings, and finally yield to the right obedience to God, in order that we may not again by disobedience fall from the great grace and into the wrath of God by an unrepentant life. That means to follow the example of Paul properly, which is written for our comfort and doctrine. " And then the Lord gave this new convert directions as to his behavior, namely, to arise and go into the city, where he would receive such information as he needed to direct his future course. "Here we should mark especially: Although God from heaven speaks with Paul, yet He does not want to annul the office of preaching, nor make this an extraordinary case; but He directs him into the city to the pulpit and preacher; there he should hear and learn what is to be learned. For God, our Lord, wants to establish something special for no one, but gives His Baptism and Gospel to the whole world, to one as well as to the other. There one may learn how to be saved, and not wait whether God will make something new and send us an angel from heaven. For it is His will that we go and hear the Gospel from those that preach it; there we should find it, and nowhere else."
The end of the vision:
v. 7. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
v. 8. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man; but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
v. 9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
Luke here for the first time mentions the companions of Saul, and describes their behavior. The men that accompanied him stood stupefied when the miracle occurred; for they heard the sound of the voice, but were unable to see any one. If we here add the witness of chap. 22:6-11 and chap. 26:13-18, in which passages the same event is described, we obtain the following picture. The great light from heaven was seen by all, but only upon Saul was its immediate effect that of throwing him to the ground. His companions stood stupefied for a few moments, as though frozen stiff with fear and apprehension, trying to realize the meaning of the vision. But after the first shock their limbs would no longer support them, and they also fell to the ground. And it was while they were lying down that the men heard the voice, the utterance of someone speaking, and Saul caught every word, but they did not hear definitely, nor could they understand who it was that spoke. And while the form of Jesus was clearly revealed to Saul in the midst of the light, the others saw nothing but the light. So much, then, these companions of Saul could testify to: that a great light appeared, that a voice was heard from the midst of it, that Saul became blind as a result of the miracle. Saul now arose from the earth, but when he tried to open his eyes, he found that he had lost his sight and could see nothing. It was necessary for his companions to take him by the hand and thus lead him into the city. And there his blindness continued for three days, during which time he neither ate nor drank. That was the result of the experience which he had gone through, by which he had been shaken in the innermost parts of his being. The conversion of a person is not always attended with such miracles as in the case of Saul, but it is always as miraculous. It is the Lord that conquers and vanquishes the sinners, His enemies. His holy Law strikes them to the ground, drives them to fear and despair. But He immediately follows with the comforting message of the Gospel, and then the wonder is performed. The resistance and enmity of the unregenerated heart is changed to a cordial acceptance of the love of God. That is the miracle of conversion.
The Early History of Paul's Life.
Paul, the great missionary of the Gentiles, was born in Tarsus, the ancient, famous capital of Cilicia in Asia Minor, on the Cydnus River, twelve miles from the sea. in the midst of a productive plain, Acts 22:3. The city was renowned for its culture as well as its learning, one historian placing it above even Athens and Alexandria in this respect. In this seat of Greek learning the boy, himself the son of a Pharisee and therefore a strict Jew, acquired a knowledge of the Greek language and of the manners and customs of the Greeks, which stood him in good stead in after-life. Incidentally, it should be noted that the inhabitants of Tarsus, having shown themselves friendly to the Romans at the time of Julius Caesar, mere given the privileges of Roman citizens (or Paul's father may have obtained the right as a reward of merit), and it was on this account that, Paul, a Roman citizen by birth, claimed the rights of such a citizen on different occasions, thus rendering the cause in which he was engaged considerable service. Paul was of pure Jewish descent, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, and descended from pious ancestors, Php_3:4-5 ; 2 Timothy 1:3. The instruction in the Law of Moses which he received at home and in the local synagogue was as thorough as that of any Jewish boy in Palestine.
According to Jewish custom some form of manual training was a necessary part of every boy's education. The young boy Saul also learned a trade, that of a tent-maker, Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34. The goats' hair which was used for the manufacture of rude garments and tent cloth, was produced in great quantities in the mountains of Cilicia, whence the finished cloth acquired the name cilicium. This trade was of great service, to Paul in some of the dark days of after-years, Acts 18:3; Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9. As soon as little Saul was ready for the great high school of the Jews At Jerusalem, he was sent there by his father, and was thus brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most learned doctors of the Jews, whose prudence and calmness made him conspicuous among the members of the Sanhedrin, Acts 22:3. His advance in the religion of the Jews was beyond that of many of his own age, since he was more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers, Galatians 1:14. He lived up to the demands of the Jewish Law and of all the traditions of the elders with all strictness, so that he could, in after-years, appeal to those that knew to testify to his having lived the life of a strict Pharisee, Acts 26:4-5; Php_3:6 .
Very likely Saul left. Jerusalem before John the Baptist began his work, and was absent during the years of Christ's ministry; for there is no indication in Paul's writings of a personal knowledge of events in the life of Jesus. It seems that he returned to Jerusalem about the time that Stephen began his debates in the interest of the Christian religion and took part in at least one of these discussions as a member of the synagogue of Cilicia. Paul's later life is largely described in the Book of Acts and in his epistles, and the probable facts as to his last years will be discussed in connection with some of his last letters.
The Lord commissions Ananias:
v. 10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
v. 11. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus; for, behold, he prayeth,
v. 12. and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight.
A certain disciple there was at Damascus, one of those whose life and liberty Saul had set out to seek. His name was Ananias ("Jehovah is gracious"), more appropriate in this case than in that of his namesake, chap. 5. Whether he was a presbyter of the congregation at Damascus, as some commentators have suggested, cannot be determined. To him the Lord appeared in a vision, whether in a dream by night or in a condition of ecstasy by day, is not stated, and called him by name. Ananias, in immediate obedience, signified his readiness to hear the command of the Lord, for he recognized in the speaker his Lord, Jesus Christ, the Head of His Church. And the Lord at once gave him the necessary, explicit directions. He was to arise and to proceed to the street which bore the name Straight, conspicuous even today in a city full of crooked and curved streets, as having only a few slight angles in the length of a mile. It runs westward from the eastern gate into the heart of the city. On this street there lived a man by the name of Judas, and in his house Saul had found lodging. The Lord had directed Saul to go to the city, where he would be told what he should do. For a matter of three days the stricken man, in total darkness, had waited for the promised message. It is often a part of God's specific plan to lay inactivity upon some person, by sickness or by some other affliction. At such a time the heart has sufficient opportunity for earnest, prayerful communion with God. The new spiritual life of Saul was giving evidence of its presence in prayer; in prayer he was obtaining strength and patience to endure the test of the Lord to the end. And a vision had also been granted to him in which he had seen the very Ananias to whom the Lord was now speaking come in to him and restore his sight by the laying on of hands. The vision had been granted Saul partly to give him the assurance of healing, partly to make him see the hand of God in all the things which were befalling him.
The objection of Ananias answered:
v. 13. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem;
v. 14. and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name.
v. 15. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel;
v. 16. for I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake.
The obedience of Ananias was put to a severe test by the Lord's commission, when he heard the name Saul of Tarsus. He had heard from many people concerning this man, what and how many and how various evil things he had done to the Lord's saints in Jerusalem. Note the honoring name "saints," which is here given to the Christians for the first time, as such that have been cleansed and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. They are His saints, purchased and won by Him for His own; He is their Redeemer and their God. Ananias also had the definite knowledge that Saul here in Damascus had authority and power from the high priest at Jerusalem to bind and thus to arrest all those that called upon the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Here is another honoring description of the believers which also characterizes them exactly. They place their full and complete trust in their Savior, a fact which they show by their calling upon Him. But the Lord quickly silenced the objection of His servant by repeating His command: Go! And He took away all the apprehensive fears of Ananias by telling him that Saul was to be a vessel of His choosing, a vessel in which, as it were, the riches of God's mercy would be preserved for the use of many. For in this chosen vessel, Saul of Tarsus, God had determined that His name should be carried before Gentiles and before kings and before the children of Israel. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ is like a precious jewel, for whose bearing He had selected and prepared a fitting casket. The special mission of the man who became the Lord's apostle afterwards was here already indicated. His chief work was to be among the Gentiles, to those not belonging to the children of Abraham according to the flesh. But he was to testify also before kings and rulers, as the governors of Cyprus, of Achaia, of Judea. And lastly, his work was to include his brethren according to the flesh. The Lord here opened the door of the future wide before the eyes of Ananias, in order to work in him the proper willingness to execute the commission. But not only in witnessing for the Lord would this man Saul be found a fitting, choice vessel of the Lord, but Jesus intended also to let him experience suffering for His name's sake. These sufferings would come upon him as a part of the obligation of the Lord's vessel. No longer will he bring sufferings to others, but he would bend his back willingly to the load which the Lord knew to be the measure of his strength. That is the privilege of believers to this day, both to confess the name of the Lord and to endure the reproach of Christ.
The baptism of Saul:
v. 17. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
v. 18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
v. 19. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
The apprehensions of Ananias had been removed by the Lord's revelation. Leaving his own house, he entered into that which had been designated to him by the Lord. Finding Saul, he at once laid his hands upon him to transmit to him recovery from his blindness, and at the same time addressed him as a Christian brother. His conversion had changed the raging enemy and persecutor to one that was in true communion and union with all the believers. He explained the reason for his visit by stating that the Lord had sent him, the same Jesus that had revealed Himself to Saul as he was traveling along the way. He was now both to receive his sight and to be filled with the Holy Ghost. By his conversion, Saul had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and by the present imposition of hands, besides regaining his eyesight, he was given a new and extraordinary measure of the light and power of the Spirit, as well as the power to perform miracles, thus being prepared for the ministry for which he had been chosen. As the immediate result of the laying on of hands, sight was restored to Saul; from his eyes there fell down a deposit, or skin, like scales, either a crust due to inflammation or a growth caused by the Lord for the time being. And the baptism that followed brought the reception of the Holy Ghost, as also his formal acceptance into the Christian Church. Thus, also, Saul received the assurance and the seal of the forgiveness of his sins, chap. 22:16. Now the time of uncertainty and doubt was past, the crisis had safely been weathered. Saul now took food and strengthened himself. After the days of severe remorse he broke his fast. The Christians, contrary to popular opinion, are not given to foolish asceticism, but make use of the gifts of the Lord in a proper way. The young convert was now also introduced to the disciples, to the members of the congregation at Damascus; he openly joined their ranks and thus confessed his faith. Note: The excuse which is sometimes offered that people may be just as good Christians without belonging to the Church does not hold in the face of the example here narrated.
Saul preaches Christ:
v. 20. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God.
v. 21. But all that heard him were amazed and said, Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
v. 22. But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
Saul had, by the Word of the Lord through Ananias and probably also by direct command of God, received his commission as preacher and missionary. And he lost no time in entering upon his duties. Quickly, as soon as possible, he preached in the synagogues, heralding the message, proclaiming Jesus that He is the Son of God. He proved to the assembled Jews that the same Jesus that had been put to death by them could be none else than the promised Messiah, the very Son of God, concerning whom Psalms 2:7 spoke. That is the great message of the New Testament, the sum and substance of all preaching of the person and office of the Savior. The result was that all those that heard Saul speak were stupefied with astonishment, which they voiced in the excited inquiry: Is not this the man that destroyed, laid waste, in Jerusalem those that called upon this name, and has come here for the purpose of leading them bound to the high priests? The mission of Saul had become known among the Jews, probably through his companions or by message from Jerusalem, and his former hatred had been a matter of general knowledge. His complete change, therefore, was altogether inexplicable to his former companions. Meanwhile Saul was growing in spiritual and religious strength day by day, in his understanding of Scriptures and of their great central theme, and in his power to apply the import of the wonderful news to the situation before him. Whenever he had the opportunity, he argued his inexhaustible topic and confounded the Jews, literally, poured them together, mired them up, making it impossible for them to stand up before his mighty exposition and demonstration that this man Jesus is the Christ. This truth he proved by demonstrating the agreement between the Messianic predictions and the historical facts in the life of Jesus, and he testified to it from the soundness and firmness of his conviction. The power of the Holy Spirit in his message, added to his confidence and joyfulness, could not fail to make a deep impression, even as it does to this day.
Saul in danger of his life:
v. 23. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him;
v. 24. but their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
v. 25. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
"After many days were fulfilled," at the expiration of a longer period of time. Luke does not say where Saul stayed during this time, nor does he describe his labors, but it is probable that the journey to Arabia, Galatians 1:17, took place at this time. Whether Saul was engaged in missionary labors, or whether the Lord was granting him period of special preparation, we have no means of knowing. But having returned once more to Damascus, Saul was soon to learn that the amazement of his fellow-countrymen had worn off. The Jews planned together to kill him, to put him out of the way for proclaiming the Gospel. He experienced something of the hostile attitude and persecution which he had formerly shown to the disciples of Jesus. Saul found out about the plot to kill him and made plans to escape. The Jews, however, had laid their plans so well that they had also gained the cooperation of the ethnarch under King Aretas, 2 Corinthians 11:32, and they had guards at all the gates of the city, with orders that they should put Saul to death if he attempted an escape. Undoubtedly they hoped to have little difficulty in laying hold of him in the city, as soon as they thought the time would be ripe. In this emergency the disciples found a way to foil the pursuers. They found a house which was built next to the city wall, or even with a superstructure resting on the wall, and it was an easy matter to lower Saul from an opening in the wall, by means of a large basket, such as were used by hucksters to carry their wares. In this way the disciples of Damascus sent Saul away from the city and provided for his safety. This was about three years after his conversion, Galatians 1:18.
Saul at Jerusalem:
v. 26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
v. 27. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
v. 28. And he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
v. 29. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians. But they went about to slay him,
v. 30. which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
v. 31. Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified, and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
Three years before, Saul had left Jerusalem. an enemy and persecutor of the disciples of Christ. And now he returned to the city, himself persecuted and hunted by his former friends and companions. Just what feelings surged through his heart as he passed the place where the Lord had appeared to him, or the spot where the stoning of Stephen had taken place, may well be conjectured. But the crowning humiliation came to him in Jerusalem, in the treatment of the disciples. He tried to join himself to the members of the congregation, with the intimacy which was the rule among the disciples in those days. But his efforts were met with suspicion, since his former career was too well known. Very likely they feared that Saul was merely simulating interest and conviction for the sake of being admitted into the secrets of the congregation and of obtaining names of the prominent people connected with it, in order to pursue his old methods once more. In their distrust they felt that they needed the strongest kind of evidence for the sincerity, both of his conversion and of the honesty of his motives in desiring to join them. It may often happen that a sin of earlier days, though performed in partial or total ignorance, may harm a person's standing in later years, in spite of the most sincere repentance. Fortunately, this distressing experience of Saul did not last too long; for Barnabas, the former Levite, Acts 4:36, who may have been acquainted with Paul even from early days in Tarsus, now undertook to vouch for him. He took him to the apostles and narrated to them at length how the conversion of the former persecutor of the Church had taken place when the Lord Himself appeared to him and spoke to him on the way, and also that Saul had spoken the great truths of the Gospel boldly at Damascus. In the name of Jesus he had spoken so freely, and had thus received the same commission as had the apostles themselves. This introduction took place to Peter and James, Galatians 1:19, the other apostles being absent from Jerusalem on matters pertaining to the Church. Barnabas having vouched for Saul, the latter was now recognized as a brother, and he went in and out among the congregation in Jerusalem; he had confidential intercourse with the apostles and with all the brethren daily. And very naturally Saul, also in Jerusalem, began to preach freely in the name of the Lord. The message of salvation whose glory and comfort he had experienced he felt constrained to bring to others, Acts 4:20. But when he also spoke and disputed with the Hellenists, to whom he himself had belonged, perhaps in the same synagogue that had attempted to argue against the wisdom of Stephen, Acts 6:9, he found that they were deeply embittered against him as a deserter from their ranks. With this feeling prompting them, they undertook to kill him; they did not actually apply their hands to it, but they began to make arrangements to that effect. It was true, therefore, that the Hellenistic Jews would not accept Saul's testimony concerning Jesus, Acts 22:17. The brethren found out about the intention of removing the brother whom they now highly esteemed, and foiled the evil purpose. They took Saul down to Caesarea on the Mediterranean, whence he had an opportunity to cross over to Asia Minor, to Tarsus in Cilicia, his home town. It seems to have been the opinion of the brethren that it would be best for Saul to wait in his own city until such a time as the Lord would assign some definite work to him. Here we leave Saul for a while. Luke, in closing this section, appends the remark that all the congregations, the entire Church, since their fiercest, most zealous enemy had been vanquished, had rest, peace, and prosperity, had a fine opportunity of being established, internally and externally, throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria. The Church was edified, built up as a solid structure; its right to exist was fully vindicated; its members walked, conducted their entire lives, by or through the fear of the Lord, as a result of the faith which lived in their hearts; and they were filled with the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the promised help and sustenance of Jesus became a fact, and the result was seen also in the growing number of the disciples. It is the Lord that builds His Church, as well in the days of strife and oppression as in the days of peace and prosperity, and it is the comfort of His Spirit which makes true church-work possible, causing also the appearance of true, piety in the life of the congregations.
Two Miracles Performed by Peter.
Peter at Lydda:
v. 32. And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
v. 33. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
v. 34. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; arise and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
v. 35. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
It seems to have been the custom of the apostles to visit new sections of the field that were opened, new congregations that were established. Peter and John had done so in Samaria, Paul followed the same custom in his mission-work, and here we find Peter traveling throughout all quarters, throughout the sections of the provinces where congregations had lately been established. The purpose was evidently to establish and keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. In this way, Peter also came down to the saints, to the members of the congregation, in and about Lydda, the ancient Lod, Nehemiah 7:37, about two-thirds of the distance between Jerusalem and Joppa, in the beautiful valley of Sharon, some three hours from the seacoast. Here at Lydda Peter found a certain man, apparently not a member of the congregation, but one that undoubtedly had heard of its work, a Greek, or Hellenistic Jew, by the name of Aeneas. He was a paralytic and had suffered for eight years, being bedridden and unable to help himself. Note how carefully and exactly Luke, as a physician, describes the sickness. Peter spoke only a few words to this man, telling him that Jesus Christ healed him. At the same time he therefore commanded him to arise and to arrange his own pillows, to make his own bed, something which his paralyzed limbs had not permitted him to do for years. The miracle of healing was performed at once. Jesus, the exalted Christ, who now sits at the right hand of God, is everywhere near His congregation, also in all bodily needs. The miracle was so obvious that its effect was marked. Not only the people in and about Lydda, but also the inhabitants of the great valley or plain of Sharon, which extended its fertile fields northward to Mount Carmel, saw the man that had been healed, and there followed a general conversion to the Christian faith as professed by Peter and by the congregation at Lydda. The people were convinced that the claims of Jesus as the Messiah must be well established if even His servants could perform such mighty deeds.
The miracle at Joppa:
v. 36. Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas; this woman was full of good works and alms-deeds which she did.
v. 37. And it came to pass in those days that she was sick and died; whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
v. 38. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
v. 39. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber; and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made while she was with them.
v. 40. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and, turning him to the body, said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
v. 41. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and, when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
v. 42. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
v. 43. And it came to pass that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon, a tanner.
Peter may well have stayed at Lydda for some time, confirming the disciples and establishing the congregation. But he was suddenly called away to a house of mourning in Joppa, the seaport of Jerusalem. In this city there was a woman disciple, whose Aramaic name was Tabitha (splendor, beauty), given by Luke in the Greek form Dorcas (doe). She may have been known by both names. The preaching of the Gospel, probably through the efforts of Philip, who traveled through this country, chap. 8:40, had had a wonderful effect in the case of this woman. She was full of, she abounded in, good works and in deeds of mercy, in the giving of alms which she practiced. She gave evidence of the power of the Gospel which lived in her heart, with the love toward Christ and her neighbor breaking forth at all times. But this good woman, about this time, took sick and died, and the people that had witnessed and enjoyed her goodness made the first preparations for her burial by washing her and laying her out in the upper room of the house. Meanwhile it had occurred to some friend that Peter, according to the general report, was in Lydda, and the disciples of Joppa resolved to dispatch two men to him with the earnest entreaty: Do not delay to come to us. The urgency of the matter should be emphasized. Whether the disciples had any definite plan as to the probable bringing back of Dorcas to life, or whether they simply wished the presence of Peter to comfort them in their sorrow, is not stated. At any rate, Peter lost no time in accompanying them, and they had about three hours' time to discuss the situation with him as they traveled back to Joppa. Upon Peter's arrival they immediately took him up to the upper room where the deceased sister lay. If anything was to be done, hurry was imperatively demanded, since the climate makes a speedy burial necessary. As is usual upon such occasions, all the widows that had received any kindness at the hands of Dorcas, crowded around Peter, bitterly weeping and exhibiting to him the undergarments, or gowns, and the mantles that Dorcas had made while she was still alive with them. Such works of charity, though usually hidden before the eyes of men, are valued highly in the sight of God. The simple works of Christian service, done in all simplicity of heart, the care of the household, sewing, mending, cooking, and the little helps shown to neighbors, if done for the love of Christ, are recorded with God for a reward of merit in His day. Peter, first of all, removed all these people from the room; he wanted to be all alone in prayer with his heavenly Father and with his Lord Jesus Christ. Throwing himself upon his knees, he laid the matter before God in prayer, and then, turning to the dead body, commanded: "Tabitha, arise!" And by the power of the Lord the miracle was performed. The woman that had been dead opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, sat up. And he, assisting her to her feet, called the members of the congregation and especially the widows that were so deeply grieved, and presented her alive. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life, that had returned Aeneas to perfect health, called also this woman back to life, in order that she might continue her works of mercy in their behalf. Life and death of all Christians is in the hands of their Lord. The miracle was soon spread forth throughout the city, and many believed on the Lord. The power necessary to bring a dead person back to life impressed them, and the Gospel won their hearts for Jesus. And Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, his presence at this time being especially fortunate. A man by the name of Simon, a tanner by trade, was his host. The trade was commonly detested by the Jews, but Peter was rapidly learning to discard the old prejudices and serve all men, become all things to all men.
Saul, on his way to Damascus to persecute the disciples, is concerted by an appearance of the Lord, and begins his work of testifying for Jesus, while Peter, in the course of his missionary journeys, heals a paralytic at Lydda and brings a dead woman back to life at Joppa.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Acts 9". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany