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At the weekend, I wrote about Acts 9:36-43, the account of Peter raising Dorcas from the dead.

Dorcas became a role model for charity, particularly for women. It is not unusual to find stained glass windows depicting her, especially in Anglican and Episcopal churches. The example on the left comes courtesy of Wikipedia and can be found in St. Michael’s Parish Church, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

Dorcas Societies — Dorcas Circles in the US — exist today in many churches around the world. They are known not only for supplying clothes to the needy, which is what Dorcas did, but also food and practical help to those who need material assistance.

Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches celebrate her feast day on January 27 (Protestant) or October 25 (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic). The Catholic Church calls her St Tabitha. Protestants have a joint feast day remembering Dorcas, Lydia of Thyatira and Phoebe, two other notable women of the early Church — and the New Testament.

The early theologian, Basil of Caesarea (St Basil the Great), referred to Dorcas in his work, Morals (rule 74):

That a widow who enjoys sufficiently robust health should spend her life in works of zeal and solicitude, keeping in mind the words of the Apostle and the example of Dorcas.

She is also commemorated in poems by Robert Herrick (“The Widows’ Tears: Or, Dirge of Dorcas”) and George MacDonald (“Dorcas”) as well as in religious paintings.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:36-43

Dorcas Restored to Life

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas.[a] She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics[b] and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

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Last week’s post, about Peter’s healing of the paralytic Aeneas, explained why St Luke — who wrote Acts — shifted focus for a few chapters from Saul (St Paul) to Peter. Briefly, Saul had fled Jerusalem for his home city of Tarsus for a time.

Peter had a dramatic ministry:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Peter, healing miracle, Aeneas

The following post also gives insight into Peter’s character and personality:

John MacArthur on Peter

Peter was ministering in Lydda, which was where he healed Aeneas. Last week’s post had more on Lydda, past and present.

Lydda was close to Joppa, where Dorcas lived. The city’s modern name is Jaffa. BiblePlaces.com has a good page on the history of the port accompanied by photographs. It is near Tel Aviv and is not to be confused with Haifa, which is a modern port created by the Israelis.

The name Dorcas is Greek. Dorcas’s name in Aramaic was Tabitha. Both translate as ‘gazelle’ or, as Matthew Henry notes, ‘doe’, signifying a pleasing creature. She was a baptised convert and her life’s work was devoted to others (verse 36). Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

1. She lived at Joppa, a sea-port town in the tribe of Dan, where Jonah took shipping to go to Tarshish, now called Japho. 2. Her name was Tabitha, a Hebrew name, the Greek for which is Dorcas, both signifying a doe, or hind, or deer, a pleasant creature. Naphtali is compared to a hind let loose, giving goodly words; and the wife to the kind and tender husband is as the loving hind, and as the pleasant roe, Proverbs 5:19. 3. She was a disciple, one that had embraced the faith of Christ and was baptized; and not only so, but was eminent above many for works of charity. She showed her faith by her works, her good works, which she was full of, that is, in which she abounded. Her head was full of cares and contrivances which way she should do good. She devised liberal things, Isaiah 32:8. Her hands were full of good employment; she made a business of doing good, was never idle, having learned to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), to keep up a constant course and method of them. She was full of good works, as a tree that is full of fruit. Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker: Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus–We do not talk great things, but we live them. Among other good works, she was remarkable for her alms–deeds, which she did, not only her works of piety, which are good works and the fruits of faith, but works of charity and beneficence, flowing from love to her neighbour and a holy contempt of this world.

Dorcas was a seamstress who made clothes for the poor. She fell ill and died. The widows who attended to her prepared her body but, instead of burying her, laid her in an upper room (verse 37). John MacArthur explains:

Now, the custom of the Jews at death was immediately to bury the body, since they did not do any embalming. They would merely do what they called the washing, the Mishnah prescribed a certain washing, and then the burial immediately. But in this case, they didn’t bury her, which was very unusual, because dead bodies were a very unsacred thing in Israel to a Jew, and they didn’t let dead bodies hang around.

Henry adds information about the water and says the room where Dorcas was laid out could well have been the meeting place for the disciples of Joppa:

they washed the dead body, according to the custom, which, it is said, was with warm water, which, if there were any life remaining in the body, would recover it; so that this was done to show that she was really and truly dead. They tried all the usual methods to bring her to life, and could not. Conclamatum est–the last cry was uttered. They laid her out in her grave-clothes in an upper chamber, which Dr. Lightfoot thinks was probably the public meeting-room for the believers of that town; and they laid the body there, that Peter, if he would come, might raise her to life the more solemnly in that place.

MacArthur goes on to say:

They know Peter’s nearby, and they also know Peter has the power to raise the dead if the design of God is that; and so rather than burying her with great faith, they take her body and they stick it upstairs in the upper chamber.

The disciples in Joppa sent two men to Lydda to get Peter to make the ten-mile walk to see Dorcas (verse 38). They did not tell Peter why they came, but simply said he needed to go with them right away.

Peter needed no persuading and went with the men to Joppa. When they reached the house of Dorcas, the grieving widows showed him some of her handiwork, among them undergarment tunics (verse 39).

Henry wrote that the widows were likely to have been poor and recipients of her charity. MacArthur thinks that the widows helped her and that she led their ministry, the original Dorcas Circle.

There must have been quite a hubbub, as Dorcas was a pillar of her community. Peter, as Jesus did when He raised Jairus’s daughter, got everyone outside (verse 40). No doubt, the widows wanted to see what he would do, but Peter — as did Jesus — needed to be alone.

Peter knelt and prayed. Henry points out that this was a greater task than healing Aeneas. It involved restoring life:

in this greater work he addressed himself to God by solemn prayer, as Christ when he raised Lazarus; but Christ’s prayer was with the authority of a Son, who quickens whom he will; Peter’s with the submission of a servant, who is under direction, and therefore he knelt down and prayed.

Peter turned to the woman, and, as is so often with the miracles documented in the New Testament, asked her to do something, in this case, arise.

She opened her eyes and, upon seeing Peter, sat up. He extended his hand to Dorcas, which Henry says was not done solely to help her but also to welcome her back to life. He then summoned the ‘saints’ — quite possibly, including male disciples — and the widows to see Dorcas restored to life (verse 41).

News travelled quickly around Joppa and many more souls believed in the Lord (verse 42). Henry was certain that word of the miracle extended beyond that port city:

it being a town of seafaring men, the notice of it would be the sooner carried thence to other countries, and though some never minded it many were wrought upon by it. This was the design of miracles, to confirm a divine revelation.

Peter stayed in Joppa for some time, at the home of a tanner named Simon (verse 43). Luke’s inclusion of Simon’s occupation is an important detail. Tanning leather was one of the lowliest occupations. Even today, tanning, whilst necessary, is looked down upon. It is a smelly business.

MacArthur explains:

One of the most despicable trades in the mind of a Jew was that of a tanner, because a tanner, you see, dealt with the dead…the skin of dead animals, making leather. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a tanner. He was despised; and, in fact, the Mishnah said if a woman had a husband who took on the trade of a tanner, she had the right to divorce him, because he went into something so defiled. A tanner was not respected. Not only that, it was ceremonially unclean.

However, Peter chose to stay with a tanner, revealing that, even though he knew all the social opprobrium about the occupation. Peter lodged with someone who was among the lowest of the low.

MacArthur adds that Peter’s stay was not a short one, either:

He stuck around a couple years, and the whole time he lived in Simon’s house, and he never turned him into a carpenter. He let him be what he was. He didn’t make him change. 

I would not be surprised if Simon’s social status increased as a result. Peter might have taught the people of Joppa a valuable lesson in inclusion and humility.

Next time: Acts 10:1-8

John F MacArthurAt the beginning of August 2017, John MacArthur posted a few articles on his Grace To You website about St Peter.

As I have been posting on the Book of Acts and am currently studying more of St Peter‘s ministry, this is serendipitous.

MacArthur says that the post-Pentecost Peter was a very different man from the one in the Gospels.

In ‘Peter: The Servant Leader’, MacArthur says:

Restraint, humility, and servanthood aren’t obvious leadership qualities in the corporate world. Nor are they character traits that readily spring to mind for modern churches focused on growth and vision. But Christ prioritized those three qualities as he cultivated future leaders of the Christian church, most notably Peter.

MacArthur surmises that Peter — before and after he received the Holy Spirit — had the driven personality of a CEO (emphases mine):

Most people with strong leadership abilities don’t naturally excel when it comes to exercising restraint. Self-control, discipline, and moderation aren’t common qualities among those who live life at the head of the pack. That is why so many leaders have problems with anger and out-of-control passions. Anger-management seminars have become the latest fad for CEOs and people in high positions of leadership in American business. It is clear that anger is a common and serious problem among people who rise to such a high level of leadership.

Peter had similar tendencies. Hotheadedness goes naturally with the sort of active, decisive, initiative-taking personality that made him a leader in the first place. Such a man easily grows impatient with people who lack vision or underperform. He can be quickly irritated by those who throw up obstacles to success. Therefore he must learn restraint in order to be a good leader.

Therefore, during His time on Earth:

The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter’s mouth and taught him restraint. That is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.

Jesus also taught Peter about humility, especially when the Apostle found that he had denied Him three times, as foretold:

Of course, as usual, Peter was wrong and Jesus was right. Peter did deny Christ not once, but multiple times, just as Jesus had warned. Peter’s shame and disgrace at having dishonored Christ so flagrantly were only magnified by the fact he had boasted so stubbornly about being impervious to such sins!

However, the Spirit-filled Peter went on to become a great preacher and, as we know from Acts, a great healer. Peter also wrote epistles to his flock:

… when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said:

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5–6)

He specifically told church leaders, “[Don’t lord] it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter’s life, his message, and his leadership style.

MacArthur goes on to say that Peter learned about servanthood and love from Jesus, particularly during the footwashing at the Last Supper:

Love became one of the hallmarks of his teaching. In 1 Peter 4:8 he wrote, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The Greek word translated “fervent” in that verse is ektenes, literally meaning “stretched to the limit.” Peter was urging us to love to the maximum of our capacity. The love he spoke of is not about a feeling. It’s not about how we respond to people who are naturally lovable. It’s about a love that covers and compensates for others’ failures and weaknesses: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is the sort of love that washes a brother’s dirty feet. And Peter himself had learned that lesson from Christ’s example.

In ‘Peter: The Compassionate and Courageous Leader’, MacArthur traces the Apostle’s transformation.

In the Gospels:

The apostle Peter was not an obvious candidate for leading the early church. He was impulsive, reckless, and vacillated between chest-beating bravado and cowardly retreat—not exactly the kind of guy you’d want to have responsible for your own well-being.

MacArthur enumerates more lessons that Jesus taught Peter. Returning to the denial in the early morning hours of Good Friday, Peter was remorseful, to say the least:

His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered greatly. But his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others. They don’t stop very long to care for the wounded as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs.

This shows in his epistles:

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

MacArthur says that Jesus also prepared Peter to be courageous in the best sense of the word, because he was going to suffer in his ministry:

Christ told him,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

What did that mean? The apostle John gives a clear answer: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The price of preaching would be death for Peter. Persecution. Oppression. Trouble. Torture. Ultimately, martyrdom. Peter would need rock-solid courage to persevere.

The first Pentecost transformed Peter dramatically. He was no longer foolhardy but openly resolute in his faith:

Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel. They were solemnly instructed “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Soon they were brought back before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach. Again they told them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the knowledge that Christ had risen from the dead, had acquired an unshakable, rock-solid courage.

That divinely-given courageous faith sustained him throughout his ministry:

Peter was secure in Christ, and he knew it. He had seen the risen Christ, so he knew Christ had conquered death. He knew that whatever earthly trials came his way, they were merely temporary. The trials, though often painful and always distasteful, were nothing compared to the hope of eternal glory (cf. Romans 8:18). The genuineness of true faith, he knew, was infinitely more precious than any perishing earthly riches, because his faith would redound to the praise and glory of Christ at His appearing. That hope is what gave Peter such courage.

Peter said and did many wonderful things in the name of our Lord. He also converted thousands of people in Jerusalem alone. These are what I have covered in my study of Acts to date:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 9:32-35 — Simon, Aeneas, healing miracles, paralysis

Repentance of St Peter, Jose de Ribera, 17th cThere was only one time in his ministry when he briefly backtracked:

In Galatians 2 the apostle Paul relates an incident in which Peter compromised the gospel of grace due to intimidation by influential heretics. We see a brief flash of the old Simon. Paul rebuked Peter in the presence of everyone (Galatians 2:14).

To Peter’s credit, he responded to Paul’s correction. And when the error of the heretics was finally confronted at a full council of church leaders and apostles in Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke up first in defense of the gospel of divine grace. He introduced the argument that won the day (Acts 15:7–14). He was in effect defending the apostle Paul’s ministry. The whole episode shows how Simon Peter remained teachable, humble, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and correction.

(Image credit: Art Hermitage)

Peter and Paul were martyred together in Rome. This is why they are so often associated together and are both the patron saints of that great city.

MacArthur tells us about Peter’s martyrdom — and that of his wife. She was put to death before he was. He witnessed it. How horrible:

We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

MacArthur concludes:

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church.

It is important to remember the Peter that arose following the first Pentecost. Too many of us — Protestants, in particular — think only of the Peter of the Gospels, but he became a great, Spirit-filled Apostle who lived and died for Christ.

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:32-35

The Healing of Aeneas

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

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Last week’s entry ended with Saul’s — Paul’s — escape from the Jews in Jerusalem to the port of Caesarea. He set sail from there to return home to Tarsus for a time.

Last week’s reading ended with this verse:

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

At this point, the Apostles were leaving Jerusalem to visit the newly established churches. Although there were thousands of converts in the city and the Apostles still ministered to them, there was no more that could be done there. So, they began travelling back and forth.

The Jews in Jerusalem had also turned their attention away from Christians to the Roman government. Saul’s departure helped facilitate this. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine below):

The church is in a state of rest. Verse 31 says, “All the churches had rest and they were edified, built up spiritually, and they began to multiply.” And this was for several reasons. This was, of course, due particularly to the work of the Spirit of God. But it was also due to the fact that Saul got out of town and didn’t create such a mess, so many problems. And it was also due to the fact that the Jews were now bugged by Caligula, the Roman emperor, wanting to set up idols in Jerusalem. And they were fighting the Romans. They didn’t have time to fight the church. So the church had a little period of rest here.

Eventually, most of the Apostles left Jerusalem altogether, as Saul found when he returned from Tarsus:

In fact, when Saul finally came to Jerusalem, according to Galatians 1, he said the only apostles he found there were James and Peter. The rest of them were long gone. The other ten were moving around preaching.

With Saul out of the picture for the time being, Luke resumed documenting Peter’s ministry. Saul — as Paul — does not dominate Acts until Chapter 13.

If you have been following this series on Acts, you might recall that once Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, he was utterly transformed. He not only became a powerful preacher but he was also able to heal and confer the Holy Spirit on others. He also had incredible powers of discernment and knew when people were lying. Here are the relevant passages:

Acts 2:33-35 – Peter, Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon, Jesus the Messiah and Lord

Acts 4:22 – Peter, John, the lame man, miracle, healing miracle (includes Acts 3:4-10)

Acts 5:1-6 – Ananias, Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit and God, hypocrisy, sin, deception, death

Acts 5:7-11 – Sapphira, Peter, testing the Holy Spirit, deception, death, sin

Acts 5:12-16 – Signs and wonders, healing miracles, miracles, the Apostles, Peter, women

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Verse 32 tells us that Peter was on the move outside of Jerusalem. If we look at it in a contemporary context, he was performing duties of a bishop. However, then, he was not considered as such and went as an itinerant preacher. Matthew Henry explains Peter’s ministry:

As an apostle, he was not to be the resident pastor of any one church, but the itinerant visitor of many churches, to confirm the doctrine of inferior preachers, to confer the Holy Ghost on those that believed, and to ordain ministers. He passed dia panton–among them all, who pertained to the churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, mentioned in the foregoing chapter. He was, like his Master, always upon the remove, and went about doing good; but still his head-quarters were at Jerusalem, for there we shall find him imprisoned, Acts 12:2.

He visited the ‘saints’ at Lydda. Henry tells us:

He came to the saints at Lydda. This seems to be the same with Lod, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, mentioned 1 Chronicles 8:12, Ezra 2:33. The Christians are called saints, not only some particular eminent ones, as saint Peter and saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ. These are the saints on the earth, Psalms 16:3.

A man named Aeneas lived there, bedridden with paralysis (verse 33). Peter went to heal him.

Note what Peter said to him (verse 34):

Jesus Christ heals you;

and:

rise and make your bed.

Peter, being full of grace, faith and the Holy Spirit, did not take credit for the miracle, but instead gave it to Whom it belongs.

As with other healing miracles, from Jesus to Peter, once the person is made whole and healthy again, he or she is asked to do something they had never been able to do or had not been able to do in many years. This is from Acts 3, when Peter healed a paralysed man at the temple:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

Henry says that these instructions indicate we are to make use of our God-given abilities:

(2.) He ordered him to bestir himself, to exert himself: “Arise and make thy bed, that all may see thou art thoroughly cured.” Let none say that because it is Christ that by the power of his grace works all our works in us therefore we have no work, no duty, to do; for, though Jesus Christ makes thee whole, yet thou must arise and make use of the power he gives thee: “Arise, and make thy bed, to be to thee no longer a bed of sickness, but a bed of rest.” (3.) Power went along with this word: he arose immediately, and no doubt very willingly made his own bed.

Henry reminds us of the spiritual element in every miracle:

Christ chose such patients as this, whose disease was incurable in a course of nature, to show how desperate the case of fallen mankind was when he undertook their cure. When we were without strength, as this poor man, he sent his word to heal us.

When the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw the man, they became believers (verse 35). That must have been a highly powerful moment. Henry tells us that not every person saw him, but enough did and many more enquired about the healing, therefore, it was persuasion enough:

We can scarcely think that every individual person in those countries took cognizance of the miracle, and was wrought upon by it; but many, the generality of the people in the town of Lydda and in the country of Saron, or Sharon, a fruitful plain or valley, of which it was foretold, Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, Isaiah 65:10. 1. They all made enquiry into the truth of the miracle, did not overlook it, but saw him that was healed, and saw that it was a miraculous cure that was wrought upon him by the power of Christ, in his name, and with a design to confirm and ratify that doctrine of Christ which was now preached to the world. 2. They all submitted to the convincing proof and evidence there was in this of the divine origin of the Christian doctrine, and turned to the Lord, to the Lord Jesus. They turned from Judaism to Christianity; they embraced the doctrine of Christ, and submitted to his ordinances, and turned themselves over to him to be ruled and taught and saved by him.

MacArthur adds historical and geographical information about Lydda and Sharon:

Lydda’s an interesting town. It’s very historic, very old. In the Old Testament it was called Lod, L-o-d. And it’s still called that today and if any of you have ever been to Israel, you’ve been there, because that’s where the airport is. And it’s about ten miles east of Jaffa or Tel Aviv. And so Lod is a very old, very ancient and in this time it was a very, very important city because it was right on the area of the trade route from Egypt to Babylon going east. And a lot of the goods that were dropped off at the seaport of Joppa went to Jerusalem right through Lod. So it was a very important kind of a mainline town …

Now Sharon here is not the name of a girl. It’s the name of a valley from Joppa clear north to the top of Mount Carmel, a long valley of many miles between the mountains and the sea of…Mediterranean Sea, that beautiful fertile valley. We drove right up through that valley. It’s become a synonym for fertility, Sharon. Beautiful and that whole valley…the gospel just went north, whom, as a result of the raising of this paralytic.

In closing, MacArthur makes an excellent point about Peter and his ministry which we can apply in our own lives — even as laypeople:

Everybody who’s active seems to be able to find enough to do. The little principle the rich get richer can apply in terms of spiritual richness. Boy when you get into rich ministries you’ll find that you’ll…first of all, you’ll bear fruit and then you’ll bear more fruit and then before you know it, you’ll bear much fruit. And Peter, with all the burdens he carried, and I know he was a busy guy and I bet you people wanted his time and demanded his time and wanted to talk to him and sit with him and counsel with him and have him speak for their groups and there this and that. And yet God kept opening new ministries. There was never any end to it. I really believe people that if you ever want to be fruitful in the ministry of Jesus Christ, you’re going to have to now get in the mainstream of what God is doing. God does not go up to the shelf and dust you off for some great, important ministry. Start where you are. There are so many things needful to be done, to pray, to teach, to minister to others needs, to use your spiritual gifts. And as we begin to do this, as we’re into the mainstream of the priorities of what God is doing, He’ll butt us right up against ministries right after the other …

Peter was moving. And it came to pass as he was going around everywhere, God zapped into Lydda right where He wanted him. Now if you’re active in doing what God’s doing, if you’re caught up in the mainstream, then you’re going to find so many ministries, your life is going to be abundantly enriched beyond which you could even dream. If you’re too busy doing your thing, then you may not even know ministries exist.

Next week’s reading will feature the dramatic miracle concerning Dorcas.

Next time — Acts 9:36-43

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:26-31

Saul in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.[a] But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

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Last week’s post discussed the ministry of Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — in Damascus after his conversion.

That entry says that after his Damascene conversion, Paul immediately went out to preach in Damascus, then he went to nearby Arabia for a few years prior to returning to Damascus. By then, the Jewish leaders there — possibly in Arabia, too — were out to kill him. Fellow converts managed to get Saul safely outside of the city by lowering him in a basket through a hole in the wall surrounding Damascus. Saul was small, by the way. His Roman name, Paul, means ‘little’.

Fleeing Damascus, Saul went to Jerusalem. Matthew Henry posits that a case could be made for the possibility that Saul made another trip there, although we cannot know for certain (emphases mine):

This is thought to be that journey to Jerusalem of which he himself speaks (Galatians 1:18): After three years I went up to Jerusalem, saith he, to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But I rather incline to think that this was a journey before that, because his coming in and going out, his preaching and disputing (Acts 9:28,29), seem to be more than would consist with his fifteen days’ stay (for that was no more) and to require a longer time; and, besides, now he came a stranger, but then he came, historesai Petron–to confer with Peter, as one he was intimate with; however, it might possibly be the same.

In Jerusalem, Saul attempted to join the disciples, but the converts feared him (verse 26). It is no wonder, considering that Saul viciously terrorised converts and was involved in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr (read here and here). He was on his way to Damascus to round up converts to bring back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on heresy charges. That was his idea, by the way, not something that came from the Jewish leaders, although they gladly went along with his plan.

So, Saul, a Pharisee, was a particularly bad hombre, which explains why his Damascene conversion was such a brutal one. It had to be:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

Matthew Henry thought that the disciples in Jerusalem should have been kinder to him, but I am on their side. Paul had form. This is Henry’s argument:

They knew what a bitter persecutor he had been, with what fury he went to Damascus some time ago; they had heard nothing of him since, and therefore thought he was but a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The disciples of Christ had need to be cautious whom they admit into communion with them. Believe not every spirit. There is need of the wisdom of the serpent, to keep the mean between the extremes of suspicion on the one hand and credulity on the other; yet methinks it is safer to err on the charitable side, because it is an adjudged case that it is better the tares should be found among the wheat than that the wheat should any of it be rooted up and thrown out of the field.

Saul found a sponsor in Barnabas, who introduced him to the Apostles and explained his conversion story to them (verse 27).

John MacArthur did not have much to say about this passage, but Henry gives us possible reasons why Barnabas was convinced Saul was a legitimate convert:

How Barnabas came to know this, more than the rest of them, we are not told; whether he had himself been at Damascus, or had had letters thence, or discoursed with some of that city, by which he came to the knowledge of this; or whether he had formerly been acquainted with Paul in the Grecian synagogues, or at the feet of Gamaliel, and had such an account of his conversion from himself as he saw cause enough to give credit to: but so it was that, being satisfied himself, he gave satisfaction to the apostles concerning him, he having brought no testimonials from the disciples at Damascus, thinking he needed not, as some others, epistles of commendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1.

Henry’s conclusion is worth noting:

Note, The introducing of a young convert into the communion of the faithful is a very good work, and one which, as we have opportunity, we should be ready to do.

The life of St Barnabas is interesting. He was born a Levite, a priestly class from the Old Testament. In order to be a Levite, one’s mother has to be Jewish and one’s father must be a Levite.

Barnabas was born in Cyprus. Saul came from Tarsus, in modern-day Turkey. The Jews from that part of the world were called Hellenists. (Hellas is the Greek name for Greece.)

Barnabas was born Joseph. When he converted, he gave his worldly goods to the church in Jerusalem and the Apostles gave him his new name, which means ‘son of the prophet/consolation/encouragement’. He first appears in Acts 4:36-37:

36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

It is possible that both he and Saul studied together under Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Acts 11 describes his ministry in Antioch. Before his arrival, Antioch already had so many converts that the Apostles despatched Barnabas to oversee the church there. Barnabas was gratified by the number of new converts, but as he added even more souls, he realised he needed help and called on Saul, who stayed there for a year to minister with him.

A John Mark — who might or might not be St Mark, the Gospel author — is thought to have been related to Barnabas either as a cousin or a nephew. Wikipedia describes his involvement, Barnabas and Paul’s work and how Acts refers to them:

The successful preaching of Christianity at Antioch to non-Jews led the church at Jerusalem to send Barnabas there to oversee the movement (Acts 11:20–22). He found the work so extensive and weighty that he went to Tarsus in search of Paul (still referred to as Saul), “an admirable colleague”, to assist him.[10] Paul returned with him to Antioch and labored with him for a whole year (Acts 11:25–26). At the end of this period, the two were sent up to Jerusalem (AD 44) with contributions from the church at Antioch for the relief of the poorer Christians in Judea.

They returned to Antioch taking John Mark with them, the cousin or nephew of Barnabas.[11] Later, they went to Cyprus and some of the principal cities of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (Acts 13:14). After recounting that the governor of Cyprus Sergius Paulus believed, the Acts of the Apostles 13:9 speaks of Barnabas’s companion no longer as Saul, but as Paul, his Roman name, and generally refers to the two no longer as “Barnabas and Saul” as heretofore (11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7), but as “Paul and Barnabas” (13:43, 46, 50; 14:20; 15:2, 22, 35). Only in 14:14 and 15:12, 25 does Barnabas again occupy the first place, in the first passage with recollection of 14:12, in the last two, because Barnabas stood in closer relation to the Jerusalem church than Paul. Paul appears as the more eloquent missionary (13:16; 14:8-9, 19-20), whence the Lystrans regarded him as Hermes, Barnabas as Zeus[12] (14:12).

There is more at the link, however, this is to give you some insight as to how important these ministries were. St Barnabas is considered to be the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the patron saint of Cyprus. His feast day is June 11. He was martyred on that day in 61 AD in Salamis, Cyprus — the city of his birth. The Jews there were furious with his preaching:

Church tradition developed outside of the canon of the New Testament describes the martyrdom of many saints, including the legend of the martyrdom of Barnabas.[3] It relates that certain Jews coming to Syria and Salamis, where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel, being highly exasperated at his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and, after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death. His kinsman, John Mark, who was a spectator of this barbarous action, privately interred his body.[16]

Wikipedia also puts forth the case for Barnabas and John Mark having been among the original 70 disciples:

Although many assume that the biblical Mark the Cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) is the same as John Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15: 37) and Mark the Evangelist, the traditionally believed author of the Gospel of Mark, according to Hippolytus of Rome,[19] the three “Mark”s are distinct persons. They were all members of the Seventy Apostles of Christ, including Barnabas himself. There are two people named Barnabas among Hippolytus’ list of Seventy Disciples, one (#13) became the bishop of Milan, the other (#25) the bishop of Heraclea. Most likely one of these two is the biblical Barnabas; the first one is more likely, because the numbering by Hippolytus seems to indicate a level of significance. Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, ii, 20) also makes Barnabas one of the Seventy Disciples that are mentioned in the Gospel of Luke 10:1ff.

Back to today’s reading. With Barnabas’s introduction, Saul preached boldly for Christ in Jerusalem (verse 28). Not surprisingly, this angered the Jews, particularly the Hellenist Jews, the group from which Saul came. He was able to scripturally out-debate them which led them to become so hate-filled that they wanted to kill him (verse 29).

John MacArthur reminds us:

The Hellenist Jews. He was one of them. And you know who was the last guy to preach to them? Stephen. He picked up the mantle of Stephen and took off right at the point Stephen quit. He went right back to the Hellenist Jews. Went right back to their synagogues and started debating with them again. Boy just having gotten over the shock of Stephen, it must have been something to try to handle this guy.

Recall that the Lord told Ananias in Damascus, whom He sent to baptise Saul:

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

This happened in Damascus — and possibly in Arabia — and, now, once again, in Jerusalem. Saul, the persecutor, was becoming by divine intent, Saul the persecuted.

When his brothers in Christ heard of this plot by the Hellenists to kill him, they got Saul out of the city, took him to Caesarea — a port on the Mediterranean Sea — and shipped him back home to Tarsus (verse 30).

Matthew Henry examines the reasons why:

They remembered how the putting of Stephen to death, upon his disputing with the Grecians, had been the beginning of a sore persecution; and therefore were afraid of having such a vein opened again, and hastened Paul out of the way. He that flies may fight again. He that fled from Jerusalem might do service at Tarsus, the place of his nativity; and thither they desired him by all means to go, hoping he might there go on in his work with more safety than at Jerusalem. Yet it was also by direction from heaven that he left Jerusalem at this time, as he tells us himself (Acts 22:17), that Christ now appeared to him, and ordered him to go quickly out of Jerusalem, for he must be sent to the Gentiles, Acts 9:15. Those by whom God has work to do shall be protected from all the designs of their enemies against them till it be done. Christ’s witnesses cannot be slain till they have finished their testimony.

Verse 31 has several nuances. The Church was once more at peace. Saul, the chief persecutor, had been converted. He, the powerful persecutor turned convincing convert, had also fled the Hellenists in Jerusalem. The Hellenists were not interested in anyone else. Preaching continued and more Jews converted. Because all were walking in the way of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, the Church grew and grew.

MacArthur adds a historical note about what was going on in Rome at this time and an instructive principle of the growth of Christianity, then and now:

… at this point in history a very interesting footnote comes out that you must understand. At this point, the emperor of Rome was Caligula. And Caligula attempted to set up idols in Jerusalem. And this got the Jews so angry that the Jews concentrated their fight against Caligula and consequently left the Christians alone for a period of time. That occurred at the same time. So Paul’s leaving and the Jews preoccupation with Caligula’s efforts to set up idols gave the church rest and as a result of the rest of the church it says “the church was edified and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was,” what, “multiplied.”

First it was edified and then it was multiplied. You want to know the pattern for church growth? People say to me, how do you build a church? You don’t build a church, you build a believer and the church will build itself. There it is, first edify, what kind of growth is that? Spiritual. Then multiply, what kind of growth is that? Numerical. You people who are here today aren’t here because we had a contest to get you here. You’re here in most cases, in fact, if not in all cases, because some Christians’ lives were changed and they touched your life. That’s the only way God ever intended the church to grow. And it grew.

MacArthur also tells us what Paul did next:

They put him on a boat and Galatians 1:21, he says, “Afterwards, I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was in Cilicia. What do you think he did there? It’s terrific. The indication of what he did is in Chapter 15:23 of Acts

It says, “The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting,” … “unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia.” Guess what he did? He went all over the place founding churches. He was absolutely inexhaustible. There was no stopping the man. He was a human preaching machine. You couldn’t stop him. He got to Syria and Cilicia and even in Antioch and he took off preaching Jesus. Over in verse 41, he went through Syria and Cilicia later on confirming the churches that he had established. Fantastic. And he didn’t worry about anything. He was fearless. It didn’t matter what was going on. If they tried to kill him or not try to kill him, he was so bold.

The story continues next week.

Next time: Acts 9:32-35

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:23-25

Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 When many days had passed, the Jews[a] plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,[b] lowering him in a basket.

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Last week’s entry discussed Saul of Tarsus preaching to converts in Damascus in their synagogues.

They had already been converted. He was originally going to the Syrian city to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial on charges of heresy.

On the way, Christ made sure Saul had his Damascene conversion, described in the posts below:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

After his three days in spiritual solitary confinement, he immediately went to preach to the converts there.

Verse 23 tells us that ‘many days had passed’, then Saul had to leave Damascus.

How long a period of time is that? In Greek — St Luke’s language, and Luke wrote Acts — it was a very long period of time. For whatever reason, Luke omitted Paul’s three-year stay in Arabia, near Damascus.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

Luke here makes no mention of Paul’s journey into Arabia, which he tells us himself was immediately after his conversion, Galatians 1:16,17. As soon as God had revealed his Son in him, that he might preach him, he went not up to Jerusalem, to receive instructions from the apostles (as any other convert would have done, that was designed for the ministry), but he went to Arabia, where there was new ground to break up, and where he would have opportunity of teaching, but not learning; thence he returned to Damascus, and there, three years after his conversion, this happened, which is here recorded.

John MacArthur also refers to this period, similarly mentioning Galatians 1:16-17:

He says after his conversion, “neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and abode with him fifteen days.”

MacArthur describes this part of Arabia:

What was he doing in Arabia? Well, God sent him there, no question about it, but there’s several things to consider. That part of the world had an Arabia that’s a little different than the Arabia we know today. It’s much north of that and it was called Nabatean Arabia. And it is very likely that at this particular time in history Nabatean Arabia had actually included the city of Damascus. According to some geographical indications, Damascus would have actually been in what was known as Arabia. So that Damascus would be a city on the very frontier of Arabia which would be to the east of it.

We discover in verse 23 that the Jews plotted to kill him. Recall Saul’s powerful personality which made him a great Apostle, although he was not part of the original Twelve nor the replacement for Judas (that was Matthias, Acts 1).

Whatever happened in Arabia, his robust personality and fervent preaching sparked opposition from powerful people. Our commentators have their own theories.

Henry thought the Jews in Arabia were out to get Saul because he — a Pharisee and one of the best — converted to Christianity. Recall from last week’s reading that Saul did not preach about his conversion but Christ alone, saying that He is the Son of God. The more Saul preached, the greater his faith and sermons grew. The Jews did not want people seeing that. Saul was the greatest walking advert ever for Christianity.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The Jews took counsel to kill him, being more enraged at him than at any other of the preachers of the gospel, not only because he was more lively and zealous in his preaching than any of them, and more successful, but because he had been such a remarkable deserter, and his being a Christian was a testimony against them.

MacArthur thinks differently, that Saul got under the skin of Aretas, who ruled over Nabatean Arabia:

Now this Nabatean Arabia as it’s called was ruled by a king by the name of Aretas. That’s indicated to us in 2 Corinthians 11:32. It tells us that. And Aretas, it says in that same verse, had put a governor in Damascus and put a garrison to guard the city. Now that’s interesting. Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews to catch Saul. Now why? What does Aretas care about Saul? Why does he want to give a garrison of soldiers to stand at the gates to capture Saul? The only answer that I can come across in my own thinking and this is my own thinking, is that somewhere along the lines Saul has irritated Aretas.

However, by saying that Aretas lent his soldiers to the Jews, MacArthur makes Henry’s point. Aretas could have exercised his own power here. After all, these were his troops. Instead, MacArthur says he lent them to the Jews.

Saul discovered the plot against him and we discover that ‘they’ — the Jews — were watching the city gates around the clock (verse 24). Henry tells us:

they incensed the governor against him, as a dangerous man, who therefore kept the city with a guard to apprehend him, at his going out or coming in, 2 Corinthians 11:32.

It would appear then that the Jewish leaders goaded Aretas into lending them his troops to apprehend Saul.

As the Jewish leaders did with Jesus, so they were doing with Saul. The leaders in Jerusalem during Jesus’s time and those in Damascus during Saul’s time saw both as temporal threats to their authority and privilege. No doubt Aretas worked hand-in-glove with the Jewish hierarchy the way the Romans did in Jerusalem.

To recap, Saul left Damascus soon after his conversion to go to Arabia. He stayed three years. He had to leave because of the tension he caused to the Jews during that time, who then got the ruler involved. He returned to Damascus. The Jewish leaders were watching the gates continuously, with military guards, to capture Saul.

However, disciples in Damascus helped Paul to escape the city (verse 25). Saul crouched in a basket, and they let him down through an opening in the city wall.

In the final part of the conversion story, the Lord, in summoning Ananias, told him of his purpose for Saul (Acts 9:16):

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

The Lord did not let Saul of Tarsus off easily. Saul had terrorised converts in Jerusalem and arranged for them to die by stoning (e.g. Stephen, the first martyr). He was now going to let Saul get a taste of his own medicine.

However, the Lord was merciful to Saul in making him aware of the plot — possibly through someone notifying him — and in delivering him — with other men’s help — safely outside the city walls.

God sends help in human form when we need it.

This reminded me of the story about the man trapped in a severe storm who needed to be evacuated. He prayed, ‘God, please rescue me!’ A rescue boat came by. The man refused to get in. The prayer-rescue offer-refusal cycle happened twice more before the man prayed once again, ‘Why, Lord, did you not rescue me?’ The Lord replied, ‘I sent you three boats and you still didn’t get in.’

Saul, on the other hand, knew the Lord was sending him help in getting out of Damascus. May we all have such discernment.

Next time: Acts 9:26-30

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:19b-22

Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

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Last week, I wrote three lengthy posts on Paul’s conversion based on the first half of Acts 9. These are important, because only by carefully studying his Damascene conversion can we come to appreciate and understand how the Holy Trinity worked through Paul and made him such a pivotal Apostle, even though he was not of the original, or even replacement (Matthias, Acts 1), Twelve:

Part 1 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion

Part 2 of Acts 9:1-9: Saul’s — St Paul’s — conversion (includes interesting info from John MacArthur on his own conversion)

Acts 9:10-19 — when scales fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus (final part of St Paul’s conversion story)

People say that Paul was much ‘greater’ than Peter. He certainly left his stamp on the Church and the New Testament. That said, God gave the two men different types of ministries.

Peter actually had the blessing of being with Jesus for three years. Paul did not.

Whilst foolhardy at times during Jesus’s ministry, Peter did not commit the sins that Paul did, requiring a brutal conversion. If Paul did not actually participate in murdering Christians, he certainly engineered and approved of it e.g. Stephen (Acts 7 and 8). He was pure evil before the Light of Christ struck him off his horse.

Ultimately, both died together as martyrs in Rome at the same time although in different ways, which is why their names are so often linked together. Their feast day is June 29 in the Western Church. They are the patron saints of Rome.

Now on to today’s verses. After he received the Holy Spirit and was baptised, Paul — still Saul — immediately began his ministry in Damascus (verse 19b). The city had a large Jewish population, possibly up to 20,000, and the Christian converts — ex-Jews — there, as elsewhere at that time, worshipped in the synagogues. So he had many new Christians to address.

Wherever he went in the city, Saul preached that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 20). He did not talk about his own dramatic testimony, only Christ and Christ crucified.

Matthew Henry elaborates:

When he began to be a preacher, he fixed this for his principle, which he stuck to ever after: We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord; nothing but Christ, and him crucified. He preached concerning Christ, that he is the Son of God, his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased, and with us in him, and not otherwise.

Martin Luther emphasised that principle and it holds true today.

John MacArthur clarifies what the words Son of God mean (emphases mine):

Jesus is God, He is very God of God in human flesh. He is only called Son in the sense that as the second person of the Trinity He came to earth. He is a Son in the sense that He was born. He is not a Son in terms of rank in the Trinity. He’s not less than the Father. He’s only a Son in an incarnate sense. Before His incarnation He was God the second person of the Trinity. The title Son belongs to His incarnation …

He is not a Son in the sense of inferiority to God the Father in any way, shape, or form. And I only say that because you’ll run into some people who’ll deny that He is God because He’s called the Son of God. Since we only know Christ from our standpoint in terms of incarnation, we call Him the Son of God and so did Saul, because we know Him in His incarnation. We call Him Jesus too, but that’s an incarnation name as well. We call Him Christ and that’s an incarnation name as well. So he began to preach that he is the Son of God.

The alternative to preaching Christ and Him only is a subjective testimony. MacArthur warns:

Now there’s nothing wrong with your testimony, it’s just that your testimony is relatively inconsequential in terms of the importance of the presentation of who Christ is, you see? Your testimony as a supplement is fine. Your testimony as a witness itself isn’t any good at all because it’s got to be more than that. All good preaching and witnessing is doctrinal. And really, you know, the church has gone overboard on people’s testimonies and people’s experiences and we have created, what I’m afraid, is almost a subjective approach to Christianity.

Now subjectivism is a curse that man has had to live with for a long time. Ever since the Garden of Eden when man sinned, immediately God started looking for man and man started looking at man. He ran in the Garden, I’m naked, I better cover myself. Man became man centered or subjective. God’s always been looking at man. Man’s always been turning inside. And man creates religions that are totally subjective. It’s all experiential. And even today the cultured philosophical men of our world have found an experiential religion, you know. The leap of faith. The upper story, whatever you call it.

But religion is subjective, but not Christianity. Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” Did you hear that? “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” Not a subjective analysis of what’s going on in me. Now it’s all right to talk about your own experience in certain context and it’s all right to include your testimony in terms of presentation, but never to the exclusion of the actuality of the presentation of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting that Saul’s own testimony, being so dramatic, rarely entered into his preaching. It did briefly later on, as documented in Acts 22 and 26. However, from the start — immediately upon beginning his ministry — he did not take that route.

Bear in mind that, from an early age, as a Pharisee, Saul was educated in Scripture and philosophy in Tarsus. Later, in Jerusalem, he continued his studies under the famed Gamaliel. He was blessed with a gift for sound logic and argumentation. Now he was using that blessing to preach to new Christians. MacArthur imagines the sermons:

And boy I imagine he unlocked that Old Testament, and it was exciting. And that’s how he became known his whole life as a preacher of Jesus Christ.

Recall that Saul originally went with his men to Damascus to round up Christian converts and take them back to the temple in Jerusalem for trial on charges of heresy. Now he is preaching to them, full of the Holy Spirit and knowledge of Christ.

It is no wonder then that the people were ‘amazed’ at hearing Saul before them preaching to them (verse 21). No wonder they were abuzz asking, ‘Isn’t this the man who was persecuting converts brutally in Jerusalem?’ And, as verse 21 tells us, they knew he was coming for them.

Yet, now he was one of them.

Matthew Henry says that the people would have found his conversion as a massive proof that Jesus is the Messiah:

Doubtless this was looked upon by many as a great confirmation of the truth of Christianity, that one who had been such a notorious persecutor of it came, on a sudden, to be such an intelligent, strenuous, and capacious preacher of it. This miracle upon the mind of such a man outshone the miracles upon men’s bodies; and giving a man such another heart was more than giving men to speak with other tongues.

St Luke, the author of Acts, wanted us to know that the more Saul preached, the stronger he became in faith and oratory (verse 22). As such, he was able to argue his case with Jewish opponents. ‘Confound’ in that verse means to frustrate.

Henry explains:

He grew more bold and daring and resolute in defence of the gospel: He increased the more for the reflections that were cast upon him (Acts 9:21), in which his new friends upbraided him as having been a persecutor, and his old friends upbraided him as being now a turncoat; but Saul, instead of being discouraged by the various remarks made upon his conversion, was thereby so much the more emboldened, finding he had enough at hand wherewith to answer the worst they could say to him. (2.) He ran down his antagonists, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus; he silenced them, and shamed them–answered their objections to the satisfaction of all indifferent persons, and pressed them with arguments which they could make no reply to. In all his discourses with the Jews he was still proving that this Jesus is very Christ, is the Christ, the anointed of God, the true Messiah promised to the fathers. He was proving it, symbibazon–affirming it and confirming it, teaching with persuasion. And we have reason to think he was instrumental in converting many to the faith of Christ, and building up the church at Damascus, which he went thither to make havoc of. Thus out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness.

Saul must have known it would not be long before he would be hunted down and persecuted.

More on that next week.

Next time — Acts 9:23-25

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Last week’s post about Calvinists is recommended reading for today’s entry.

The theological conflict between Calvinists and traditional Anglicans continued long after Elizabeth I’s reign.

Elizabeth I was not a Calvinist, nor was her successor, James I (James VI of Scotland). However, a Calvinist — Puritan — faction was strong and still wanted to leave its stamp on the Church of England.

This conflict continued throughout most of the 17th century, as Dearmer explains in Chapter 9 of his book.

Fortunately, even during the tumultuous atmosphere of the early 1600s, lasting good was to emerge in England via the Authorised — King James — Version of the Bible.

Percy Dearmer researched the history of that era and found documentation by a prominent German historian, Dr Dollinger, regarding this new edition of the Bible (emphases mine below):

I believe we may credit one great superiority in England over other countries to the circumstance that there the Holy Scripture is found in every house, as is the case nowhere else in the world. It is, so to speak, the good genius of the place, the protecting spirit of the domestic hearth and family.

Would that this were the case today. Believers would do well to pray that this becomes so once more. I have never seen such a group of atheists as I have in England — and Great Britain as a whole.

Dearmer, while condemning Edward VI’s advisors and the subsequent Puritans, asks us to be philosophical about good coming from bad:

Those who come after — some time after — are able to separate the good from the evil, and to possess all that is worthy, not from one side only, but from both. Thus the world does slowly grow in wisdom, learning to eschew what is evil and to hold fast what is good … that freedom to-day which is the main hope of Christendom — the freedom to go back behind the traditions of men to the plain words and pure example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before I get to the Authorised Version — the KJV — there were other ecclesiastically historical events which preceded it.

The Hampton Court Conference, 1604

In January 1604, when James I succeeded Elizabeth I, the Puritans pressed for what they called a Millenary Petition. The objective was for more reform in the national Church.

The King, who was no Puritan but who — according to Dearmer — loved a good argument, responded with the Hampton Court Conference.

The Puritans, predictably, laid out their objections to the Third Prayer Book of Elizabeth’s reign. As notionally ‘Romish’ elements of the First Prayer Book had been restored, they wanted to see these eliminated once and for all.

The Puritans’ objections were much the same as before: vestments and the Sign of the Cross made during Baptism.

They had others:

the wedding ring, the word “priest,” bowing at the name of Jesus; the Puritans also disliked the Thirty-nine Articles as not sanctioning Calvinism; they desired that Baptism should never be ministered by women, that Confirmation should be taken away, and also the Churching of Women, that “examination” should go before Communion, that “the longsomeness of service” should be “abridged” and “Church songs and music moderated,” that the Lord’s Day should not be “profaned” (by the playing of games), that an uniformity of doctrine should be prescribed, and a few other things.

The wedding ring is interesting. I used to run across committed Christian men in the United States who refused to wear one. They never explained exactly why, but, presumably, this objection to wedding bands as being unbiblical must have persisted through the centuries.

As for the Thirty-nine Articles espousing Calvinism, that was never going to happen as the previous posts in this series explain. The Church of England was always intended to be a middle way. It had — and has — its own identity.

Unfortunately, that sound set of Thirty-nine Articles was discarded as being of historical interest only at the end of the 20th century not only in England but elsewhere in the West, including — perhaps, especially — in the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is no surprise, therefore, to find clergy becoming agnostic or atheist and turning to New Age rituals. Biblical preaching and practice is largely gone. But I digress.

Dearmer explains that dictating to the letter what churchgoers should believe in what was a somewhat pluralistic church community would have been a dangerous move. So was dictating what people could do on Sundays. That came during Cromwell’s Interregnum, but that is the subject of another entry.

Dearmer also points out that the Puritans’ desire for fewer hymns resulted in an equally ‘longsomeness of service’ as clergy preached ever-longer sermons and introduced lengthy extemporaneous prayers.

King James wrote his impressions of the Hampton Court Conference afterwards, documenting his delight at verbally opposing the Puritans:

We have kept such a revel with the Puritans here these two days as was never heard the likeI have peppered them as soundly . . . They fled me so from argument to argument without ever answering me directly

Today’s Puritan sympathisers do the same thing. Answer comes none.

The Fourth Prayer Book, 1604

The Puritans were determined, as are their present-day Anglican equivalents, most of whom reside in the United States.

They wanted a new prayer book and they got one.

It was not a total win for the Puritans, but they won certain battles over verbiage and ceremony (see sections in bold):

– A new section was added to the Catechism which explains the Sacraments. Dearmer credits this to a prominent theologian of the day, Dr Overall.

– A prayer for the Royal Family was added to the end of the litany.

– Prayers of thanksgiving for weather (e.g. needed rain) and health (e.g. against the Plague) were added.

– A ‘lawful Minister’ — not ‘priest’ — had to administer Baptism, although this did not exclude a layperson doing so in an emergency.

– A subtitle to the rite of Confirmation — ‘the laying on of hands’ — was duly added.

– A subtitle to the Absolution — ‘the remission of sins’ — was added.

Existing lessons (readings) from the Apocrypha, still in use in Roman Catholic liturgy, were omitted:

the quaint history of Bel and the Dragon, and the much-loved romance of Tobit were given up.

The Canons of 1604

The King had approved the Canons of 1604 which prescribed elements of worship in England, including use of the Prayer Book.

Some of these please neither ‘Romanists’ nor Puritans as they specified a middle way. They reinstituted the reverence for the name of Jesus — probably by the bowing of the head each time His name was mentioned — and enforced a minimum of altar linen and clerical vestments in worship.

The Authorised Version of the Bible

The Fourth Prayer Book was eventually replaced by that of King Charles II in 1662.

The more lasting contribution of this era was the Authorised Version of the Bible, so called because King James granted his approval, hence ‘authorised’. Today, most of us call it the King James Version, the KJV.

I wrote about the KJV in 2011:

The King James Version celebrates its 400th anniversary this year

BBC shows on the King James Version

BBC’s Story of the King James Bible — The Commission

BBC’s Story of the King James Bible — The Translation

BBC’s Story of the King James Bible — The Legacy

The timeline of a Bible for the British Isles

Now on to Dearmer’s history of it. During the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, one of the Puritans, Dr Reynolds, proposed a new edition of the Bible.

At that time, the Geneva Bible of 1560 — inspired by John Calvin’s teachings in that city — was the pre-eminent version used in England by the people. It seems odd then, that a Puritan would want a revision of it and that the mainstream Anglicans present opposed the idea. The clergy used the Bishop’s Bible of 1568, which was never popular amongst churchgoers.

However, King James voiced his support. He never liked the Geneva Bible because its Calvinist footnotes, in his words, were:

very partial, untrue, seditious, and savouring too much of dangerous and traitorous conceits.

This is because the footnotes implied that only God, not governors, kings or princes, was the true authority. Whilst that is scripturally accurate, our governors are there to maintain godly order. However, the Geneva Bible does not mention this. Consequently, James thought that zealous people could take against the Crown, citing the Bible.

When the conference ended, James drew up a list of 54 divines, irreprochable and highly learned theologians. Interestingly, none were bishops, although some did become bishops later. Dearmer observes:

the Authorized Version, in fact, owes its excellence to the common sense of the King in choosing his men for their learning and capacity, and not for their official position. This may seem a very obvious piece of wisdom: but it is to be noted that it has been forgotten in our hitherto unsuccessful twentieth century attempts at Prayer Book revision.

I couldn’t agree more.

The King reduced the number of divines to 47. They were the ones who came up with the new Bible:

King James’s fifty-four divines were afterwards reduced to the “prodigiously learned and earnest persons, forty-seven in number,” who, Carlyle says, gave us our version of that Book of Books, “which possesses this property, inclusive of all, add we, That it is written under the eye of the Eternal; that it is of a sincerity like very Death, the truest utterance that ever came by alphabetic letters from the Soul of Man.”

The history of English versions of the Bible was accompanied by bloodshed and martyrdom, and this particular era would see the same in the English Civil War, which was to come.

However, as Dearmer rightly says, Scripture united the divines, some of whom were mainstream Anglicans and others Puritan:

Puritans and High Churchmen had the Scriptures in common, and did alike fervently believe in them: outside the rooms in Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster, where the forty-seven divines met, religious folk were maligning each other in brilliant, bitter, and abusive pamphlets; but within those learned conferences all hostilities were silenced, all differences ignored: men like Overall and the saintly Andrewes, on the one side, joined with Reynolds and Abbott on the other; and the forty-seven worked in such singular harmony that it is impossible even to distinguish between the three companies which worked in three different places: the Authorized Version of the Bible reads like the work of one great man.

The Holy Spirit was truly working through them to write one great Bible which has withstood time. Dearmer explains that the genres of various books were preserved, some poetic and others, such as the Gospels, simplistic so as to be understood by the greatest number of people.

It is a theological and literary masterpiece — for everyone:

The divines — who might have wrought a literary gem for the bookshelves of the learned, after the manner of the age that produced Donne and Milton, Burton and Sir Thomas Browne — threw aside the pedantries and preciosities which were in fashion, and sat humbly at the feet of those predecessors who in peril of death had hewn out the words of life with such strength of simplicity; and they produced a book which has been at once the comfort of the peasant and the model and inspiration of our greatest writers.

Dearmer rightly adds that, although this was the era of literary masterpieces (e.g. Shakespeare), scholarly wisdom does not often equate with absorbing prose:

Now scholars are not generally masters of prose, and the combination of the critical and the constructive gift — of science and art — is almost unknown to-day, when learned translations and exact commentaries are common enough, but the majority of ancient books have still not been turned into English classics. The English Bible is an exception. We do not think of it as a translation at all: we think of it as the greatest of English classics, which, among other things, it is.

Many unbelievers in Britain have read it for its literary merit. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit works through them and ends their stubborn blindness to our Redeemer and only Advocate.

Dearmer says that, although King James appointed the divines in 1604, they did not begin work until 1607. It took them only four years to write this beautiful and enduring Bible, which first appeared in print in 1611.

Dearmer concludes:

And what is true of the English Bible is true also of the English Prayer Book. Scholars who won the consecration of martyrdom gave to it a like power of inspired translation, and endowed it with the magic of their prose. Thus it is that the one book worthy to be set side by side with the English Bible is that Book of Common Prayer, which has won a place in the heart of the Anglo-Saxon race second only to the Bible, and which day by day issues it forth in psalter and lectionary to the people.

I wish that were still the case. Fortunately, I am able to attend a 1662 Book of Common Prayer service once a month.

Next time we look at Dearmer’s history of that prayer book, written after the Restoration. With the end of the English Civil War and the Interregnum came the return of monarchy and a new king, Charles II, my favourite.

In order to better understand and appreciate St Paul’s ministry, it is helpful to read the first half of Acts 9 carefully.

My past two posts — here and here — went through the background and conversion of Saul of Tarsus in detail.

The painting at left depicts his dramatic Damascene conversion according to St Luke’s account in Acts.

Today’s post looks at what happened after he was blinded and the men around him led him by the hand into Damascus.

The passage below is from the English Standard Version of the Bible. Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 9:10-19

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.

————————————————————————————————

My previous posts discussed how Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, devised a grand plan of travelling to Damascus to persecute Christians, only to find himself blinded by the light of Christ and toppled from his horse.

He travelled with a number of men in pursuit of converts whom Saul wanted transported back to Jerusalem for religious trial on charges of heresy. So much for that plan. Our Lord had other ideas, but, first, Saul had to be taught a lesson about his persecution of our Saviour.

Before being struck down, Saul of Tarsus was a nasty little piece of work. (Yes, he was of short stature. His Roman name Paul means ‘little’.) He went around persecuting Christians in Jerusalem. Man or woman, it did not matter. He was involved with the martyrdom of Stephen, after which the disciples (but not the Apostles) fled Jerusalem. Philip the Evangelist went to Samaria and made many converts there. Damascus was also a destination for evangelism, hence why Saul wanted to go there.

Saul and his companions found a place to stay in Damascus. Saul immediately spent three days contemplating his grave sins against Christ to the extent that he could not eat or drink. Physically, he was as helpless as a baby. Spiritually, he was growing: engaging in heartfelt prayer and increasing in divine grace. He was leaving his Pharisaical heritage behind and becoming a Christian.

Verse 10 tells us that the Lord appeared in a vision to a convert named Ananias. Matthew Henry tells us that Ananias was a native of Damascus, not a convert who fled Jerusalem, and that he had occasional visions from the Lord (emphases mine below):

it is said (Acts 22:12) that he had a good report of all the Jews who dwelt there, as a devout man according to the law; he had lately embraced the gospel, and given up his name to Christ, and, as it should seem, officiated as a minister, at least pro hac vice–on this occasion, though it does not appear that he was apostolically ordained

It is probable it was not the first time that he had heard the words of God, and seen the visions of the Almighty; for, without terror or confusion, he readily answers

The Lord told Ananias to go to a street called Straight and to the house of Judas (not Iscariot) where a certain Saul of Tarsus was praying (verse 11). John MacArthur says that Straight is the main avenue in Damascus:

It had a street that ran right straight through the middle of it from the eastern gate to the western gate, straight about three miles long. It’s still existing today. The street’s called Straight there, it’s called Darbal Mospakeem, different name of course. But it’s still there and the street called Straight, at one end of it was the house of Judas. Today some people say that there’s a spot where that house was and supposedly a closet where Saul was praying for those three days, but that’s conjecture.

One might wonder why the Lord did not send one of the Apostles to travel from Jerusalem to minister to Paul. It was no doubt more expedient to employ a local believer and that would also help the Church grow there. Furthermore, as Henry points out:

Surely, because Christ would employ variety of hands in eminent services, that the honours might not be monopolized nor engrossed by a few–because he would put work into the hands, and thereby put honour upon the heads, of those that were mean and obscure, to encourage them–and because he would direct us to make much of the ministers that are where our lot is cast, if they have ordained mercy to be faithful, though they are not of the most eminent.

As we discover in verse 12, the Lord had already given Saul a vision of a man named Ananias who would go to visit him and restore his sight. Saul’s expectations must have been high.

Ananias hesitated, telling the Lord that Saul was notorious for ‘evil’ — persecuting converts in Jerusalem (verse 13). Furthermore, he said that Saul was in Damascus to persecute Christ’s followers (verse 14). So, word had already reached the converts that Saul was going there under the authority of the chief priests in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the religious centre for Jewish authority, regardless of where Jews lived.

The Lord replied that He intended to use Saul as ‘a chosen instrument’ to minister to Gentile and Jew alike (verse 15). He added that Saul would suffer in His name (verse 16), which he did. He, the one who sought to imprison Christians, would himself be no stranger to confinement. He was instrumental in Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem and would also die a martyr, along with the Apostle Peter, in Rome.

Ananias obeyed the Lord and spoke a precise message, identifying himself, describing Saul’s being struck down and announcing that he would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Note that Ananias laid hands on him (verse 17) — healing hands on someone who had been a believer’s worst enemy. Ananias also addressed the man he was fearing as ‘brother’. What an experience that must have been for both men.

Then, a supernatural event took place: ‘something like scales’ fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see once more (verse 18). This has a double meaning, one that is physical and one that is spiritual.

Did a scale-like substance really fall from Saul’s eyes? MacArthur says no:

Now this is Luke. Luke is a physician and so naturally he chooses a little metaphor that would be medical. He didn’t really have scales as it were as jose in the Greek, not to be confused with the Spanish jose. But it means as if. It was as if he had some medical problem and scales dropped of his eyes. 

Henry takes the verse literally:

Saul is delivered from the spirit of bondage by receiving sight (Acts 9:18), which was signified by the falling of scales from his eyes; and this immediately, and forthwith: the cure was sudden, to show that it was miraculous.

You’re welcome to interpret that as you like. Personally, I would like to think that there was a physical manifestation of a scale-like substance as God’s way of demonstrating to Saul how spiritually blind he had been for the following reason. Recall that Saul was born and raised a Pharisee. Recall how often Jesus told the Pharisees of their blindness — spiritual blindness. I think this was a physical manifestation, a divine way of driving home a point to Saul.

Henry offers this analysis:

This signified the recovering of him, [1.] From the darkness of his unconverted state. When he persecuted the church of God, and walked in the spirit and way of the Pharisees, he was blind; he saw not the meaning either of the law or of the gospel, Romans 7:9. Christ often told the Pharisees that they were blind, and could not make them sensible of it; they said, We see, John 9:41. Saul is saved from his Pharisaical blindness, by being made sensible of it. Note, Converting grace opens the eyes of the soul, and makes the scales to fall from them (Acts 26:18), to open men’s eyes, and turn them from darkness to light: this was what Saul was sent among the Gentiles to do, by the preaching of the gospel, and therefore must first experience it in himself.

The removal of scales would also signify that Saul’s time in judgement and terror had ended:

[2.] From the darkness of his present terrors, under the apprehension of guilt upon his conscience, and the wrath of God against him. This filled him with confusion, during those three days he sat in darkness, like Jonah for three days in the belly of hell; but now the scales fell from his eyes, the cloud was scattered, and the Sun of righteousness rose upon his soul, with healing under his wings.

Ananias then baptised Paul. Baptism is very important. I have read notional Christian websites that say it isn’t, but the New Testament has several mentions of baptism, beginning with Jesus in the Gospels and continuing in Acts. If it were unimportant, these mentions would not exist.

Henry tells us:

He was baptized, and thereby submitted to the government of Christ, and cast himself upon the grace of Christ. Thus he was entered into Christ’s school, hired into his family, enlisted under his banner, and joined himself to him for better for worse. The point was gained: it is settled; Saul is now a disciple of Christ, not only ceases to oppose him, but devotes himself entirely to his service and honour.

MacArthur says:

Baptism is so important people. If you haven’t gotten that message through the book of Acts you haven’t been listening. See? Baptism is critically important. Why? Because it’s a public confession of your identification with the body of believers.

I knew a lady who had strayed from the Church for many years. She married an unbeliever. She never had her daughter baptised. By the time I met her, she had returned to the Church and her daughter was an adult. This lady regretted never having had her daughter baptised as an infant because, later on, it was too late! She broached the subject with her daughter, but the young woman replied, ‘Why? I don’t even believe!’ Baptism confers grace. The lady knew it and regretted depriving her daughter of that grace, thinking it would persuade her to become a believer. But I digress.

In verse 19, St Luke tells us that Paul ate and was strengthened. MacArthur thinks it was a large Christian meal. He says in jest:

And if you know anything about how Christians feed, you can imagine the poor guy was almost sick when it was over.

Quite possibly!

Saul being Saul, he wasted no time in going out into Damascus to preach in Jesus’s name. Christ’s divine intervention transformed the zeal he had in persecuting converts to passionately preaching in His name.

More on that when Forbidden Bible Verses returns at the weekend.

Yesterday’s post introduced Saul — later, Paul — whom Christ brought to the ground and, with that fall, accomplished the most dramatic conversion in Christian history.

That post has much information on Saul’s background. It is important to know, as it helps reveal the man who wrote so many letters to his converts — Epistles which we hear most Sundays — and, other than Jesus, contributed the most to Christian theology.

The painting at left shows what happened as described in Acts 9:1-9.

Yesterday’s post covered Acts 9:1-2. Today’s will cover the next seven verses.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I’ve used the English Standard Version below:

Acts 9:1-9

The Conversion of Saul

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Saul, journeying from Jerusalem to the ancient city of Damascus to round up Christian converts, probably travelled there with a retinue of men. All were likely to be on horseback, as it was a long journey.

Yesterday’s post explained that Saul was on a religious mission that he devised himself. He asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus to reveal their Christian members. The temple in Jerusalem had jurisdiction over all Jews, wherever they might be. The temple was like the Vatican, all powerful in matters religious. Christians were to be brought back to Jerusalem for trial on grounds of heresy, akin to the Spanish Inquisition.

John MacArthur describes the journey as follows (emphases mine below):

he probably had really a large entourage of people going along with him to bring these prisoners back. So this whole gang is going north.

And what’s a fantastic note is this. Just think about this. To go north to Damascus, 160 miles, he’s got to go right through Samaria. Now … you know what’s going on in Samaria. And if he was irritated already, you can imagine how irritated he was by the time he got through Samaria, because who had just finished going through Samaria? Philip, who was immediately followed by Peter and John. The gospel was preached all over Samaria. People were turning to Jesus Christ by the thousands. A revival was going on in Samaria. That must have really irritated him.

I wrote about Philip the Evangelist’s powerful ministry, as documented in Acts 8, here, here and here. Acts 8 ends with Philip’s conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, a man well placed in Queen Candace’s household.

MacArthur continues:

But he didn’t seem to stop at any point. He made his way through, infuriated, no doubt, at what he saw, but intent on getting to Damascus, and figuring he’d mop this area up later. It normally took a caravan six days to get there, so it was a pretty good trip. Well, on that sixth day, as they got near town, something fantastic happened, and that, in verse 3, begins the conversion of Saul of Tarsus.

For such a long trip, the men were securely and comfortably saddled. That is important to keep in mind.

Matthew Henry gives us a bit of history about Damascus and its significance in Saul’s conversion:

Some observe that he who was to be the apostle of the Gentiles was converted to the faith of Christ in a Gentile country. Damascus had been infamous for persecuting God’s people formerlythey threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron (Amos 1:3), and now it was likely to be so again.

Also important to keep in mind is that Saul was a well educated man, a knowledgeable and rational thinker. Although short in stature — his Roman name Paul meant ‘little’ — he was probably physically powerful, very determined and rarely frightened.

As they approached Damascus, then, a shaft of light from heaven shone around him (verse 3). It shone only on him, although the men around him, particularly those nearest him, saw it, too, although it did not envelop them. Henry explains:

… the Lord Jesus was in this light, and appeared to him by the way. He saw that just One (Acts 22:14), and see Acts 26:13. Whether he saw him at a distance, as Stephen saw him, in the heavens, or nearer in the air, is not certain. It is not inconsistent with what is said of the heavens receiving Christ till the end of time (Acts 3:21) to suppose that he did, upon such an extraordinary occasion as this, make a personal visit, but a very short one, to this lower world; it was necessary to Paul’s being an apostle that he should see the Lord, and so he did, 1 Corinthians 9:1,15:8. (1.) This light shone upon him suddenly–exaiphnes, when Paul never thought of any such thing, and without any previous warning

Also:

It was a light from Heaven, the fountain of light, from the God of heaven, the Father of lights. It was a light above the brightness of the sun (Acts 26:13), for it was visible at mid-day, and outshone the sun in his meridian strength and lustre, Isaiah 24:23. (3.) It shone round about him, not in his face only, but on every side of him; let him turn which way he will, he finds himself surrounded with the discoveries of it. And this was designed not only to startle him, and awaken his attention (for well may he expect to hear when he is thus made to see something very extraordinary), but to signify the enlightening of his understanding with the knowledge of Christ. The devil comes to the soul in darkness; by this he gets and keeps possession of it. But Christ comes to the soul in light, for he is himself the light of the world, bright and glorious to us, as light.

Paul — prepared, determined, fearless and, likely, secure in his saddle — fell to the ground. However, the Lord saw that he broke no bones. Henry describes the scene:

It is probable that he was mounted, as Balaam, when he went to curse Israel, and perhaps better mounted than he; for Saul was now in a public post, was in haste, and the journey was long, so that it is not likely he should travel on foot. The sudden light would frighten the beast he rode on, and make it throw him; and it was God’s good providence that his body got no hurt by the fall: but angels had a particular charge concerning him, to keep all his bones, so that not one of them was broken. It appears (Acts 26:14) that all that were with him fell to the earth as well as he, but the design was upon him.

MacArthur reminds us of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, hours before His death:

if you read further, in chapter 22 and chapter 26, you’ll find that those two chapters also record this same event, and they fill in a lot of details. What happened was, the light shone and the whole crowd hit the ground. They just completely fell over. They were face to face with Jesus Christ. They did the same thing, you remember, the soldiers in the Garden? Jesus walked out, and the whole army went just like that. And they all hit the ground. Apparently, as you put the narratives together, some of the soldiers started picking themselves back up again, and they were dumb with amazement. They couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Saul heard Christ’s voice from heaven asking why he was persecuting Him. Up to now, Saul no doubt knew about Jesus’s ministry on earth but, for him, the story stopped with the Crucifixion. Saul considered Jesus’s followers heretics.

However, being surrounded by a ray of light brighter than the noonday sun, which, in that part of the world is startlingly bright, Saul’s recognition of Jesus came instantly.

Now, the all-powerful Saul was prostrate on the ground, lying defeated, immediately addressing Christ as ‘Lord’ (verse 5)!

What a moment that must have been.

Henry offers this analysis:

This may be considered, (1.) As the effect of Christ’s appearing to him, and of the light which shone round about him. Note, Christ’s manifestations of himself to poor souls are humbling; they lay them very low, in mean thoughts of themselves, and a humble submission to the will of God … (2.) As a step towards this intended advancement. He is designed not only to be a Christian, but to be a minister, an apostle, a great apostle, and therefore he must thus be cast down. Note, Those whom Christ designs for the greatest honours are commonly first laid low. Those who are designed to excel in knowledge and grace are commonly laid low first, in a sense of their own ignorance and sinfulness. Those whom God will employ are first struck with a sense of their unworthiness to be employed.

That unworthiness is a continual theme in Paul’s letters to his flock. For that reason, he was vigilant in exhorting others to see their own sinfulness and repent.

Note that Jesus told him that, by persecuting His followers, Saul was persecuting Him (verse 5). That was emphasised in the previous verse when He used Saul’s name twice. MacArthur explains that the double use of a name in Luke’s Gospel and here in Acts, also by Luke, denotes a warning:

… in Luke’s writing, the repetition of a name refers to a rebuke or a warning, whether Luke says, “Martha, Martha,” “Simon, Simon,” or “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” and here, “Saul, Saul.” In Luke’s mind, that’s rebuke and warning. And it was.

Henry’s assessment agrees but further posits that Saul was so stunned that Jesus had to call him twice:

First, The deep sleep that Saul was in; he needed to be called again and again, as Jeremiah 22:29, O earth, earth, earth. Secondly, The tender concern that the blessed Jesus had for him, and for his recovery. He speaks as one in earnest; it is like Martha, Martha (Luke 10:41), or Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31), or O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Matthew 23:37. He speaks to him as to one in imminent danger, at the pit’s brink, and just ready to drop in: “Saul, Saul, dost thou know whither thou art going, or what thou art doing?”

As for Christ’s asking Paul why he was persecuting Him via His followers, Henry explains:

Christ never complained so much of those who persecuted him in his own person as he did here of those who persecuted him in his followers. He complains of it as it was Saul’s sin: “Why art thou such an enemy to thyself, to thy God?” Note, The sins of sinners are a very grievous burden to the Lord Jesus. He is grieved for them (Mark 3:5), he is pressed under them, Amos 2:13.

It was more powerful for Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, to ask than to tell:

Those have no knowledge who eat up God’s people, Psalms 14:4. Why persecutest thou me? He thought he was persecuting only a company of poor, weak, silly people, that were an offence and eye-sore to the Pharisees, little imagining that is was one in heaven that he was all this while insulting; for surely, if he had known, he would not have persecuted the Lord of glory. Note, Those who persecute the saints persecute Christ himself, and he takes what is done against them as done against himself, and accordingly will be the judgment in the great day, Matthew 25:45.

Henry says we would do well to remember this story in light of our own sins:

It is convincing language: “Why dost thou thus: Canst thou give any good reason for it?” Note, It is good for us often to ask ourselves why we do so and so, that we may discern what an unreasonable thing sin is

If God contend with us for our sins, we are not able to answer for one of a thousand, especially such a one as the sin of persecution. Convictions of sin, when they are set home with power upon the conscience, will silence all excuses and self-justifications.

Jesus told Saul to enter Damascus and to await further instructions (verse 6).

Although he was still on the ground, Saul’s travelling companions were now standing, startled. They could hear Christ’s voice but could see no one (verse 7). Henry tells us that Acts 22 describes this further:

… when they were up, (1.) They stood speechless, as men in confusion, and that was all, Acts 9:7. They were going on the same wicked errand that Paul was, and perhaps, to the best of their power, were as spiteful as he; yet we do not find that any of them were converted, though they saw the light, and were struck down and struck dumb by it. No external means will of themselves work a change in the soul, without the Spirit and grace of God, which distinguish between some and others; among these that journeyed together, one is taken, and the others left. They stood speechless; none of them said, Who art thou, Lord? or, What wilt thou have me to do? as Paul did, but none of God’s children are born dumb. (2.) They heard a voice, but saw no man; they heard Paul speak, but saw not him to whom he spoke, nor heard distinctly what was said to him: which reconciles it with what is said of this matter, Acts 22:9, where it is said, They saw the light and were afraid (which they might do and yet see no man in the light, as Paul did), and that they heard not the voice of him that spoke to Paul, so as to understand what he said, though they did hear a confused noise.

Saul rose, but he was blinded (verse 8) — blinded by the Light. He was now helpless. His men had to lead him by the hand into Damascus. He, who was to lead a sweeping mission against Christians and Christ, could not do a thing.

Henry describes Saul’s condition at that point. A divine plan was at work:

(1.) He arose from the earth, when Christ commanded him, but probably not without help, the vision had made him so faint and weak, I will not say like Belshazzar, when the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another, but like Daniel, when upon the sight of a vision no strength remained in him, Daniel 10:16,17. (2.) When his eyes were opened, he found that his sight was gone, and he saw no man, none of the men that were with him, and began now to be busy about him. It was not so much this glaring light that, by dazzling his eyes, had dimmed them–Nimium sensibile lædit sensum; for then those with him would have lost their sight too; but it was a sight of Christ, whom the rest saw not, that had this effect upon him. Thus a believing sight of the glory of God in the face of Christ dazzles the eyes to all things here below.

This is essential to understanding Saul’s loss of sight and why Saul remained not only blind but also unable to take any food or drink for three days (verse 9):

Christ, in order to the further discovery of himself and his gospel to Paul, took him off from the sight of other things, which he must look off, that he may look unto Jesus, and to him only

So far from this that we have reason to think he was all this time rather in the belly of hell, suffering God’s terrors for his sins, which were now set in order before him: he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and was so wounded in spirit for sin that he could relish neither meat nor drink.

We find out that they went to the house of a man named Judas in the street called Straight, nothing more. The important thing is that Saul was reduced to nothing for three days. In Damascus, he planned to persecute many — and violently. Now he was in spiritual lockdown — a spiritual prison — to ruminate on and repent of his sins in order to fully acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.

The number three is significant in Holy Scripture. Bible Study tells us, in part:

The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible. It pictures completeness, though to a lesser degree than 7. The meaning of this number derives from the fact that it is the first of four spiritually perfect numerals (the others being 7, 10 and 12)

There are 27 books in the New Testament, which is 3x3x3, or completeness to the third power.

Dr Richard D Patterson has much more, with a list of all the occurrences of the number 3, except for Saul’s conversion story. That said, his detailed essay is well worth reading, especially as his general theme for the number 3 is one of not only completion but also expectation of a future event.

In this case, that event is Paul’s magnificent ministry, unequalled in the Church.

In closing, MacArthur gives in his sermon a few interesting details about his own conversion. You might find these events from his youth as surprising as I did:

Some people God gently calls. And some people hear the still, small voice. But there are other people who are making so much noise that God’s got to make a lot of racket to get through, see. You know, I think about my own life, and the years and years that I was in a Christian home, and went to church so many years, and all this stuff. And I was in…I knew everything. I had seven zipper Bibles from the graduation from every department, and, you know, and I always had sticker stains on my head from turkeys and gold stars. I’d been in Sunday School since the year one. And I knew all of the things there were to know, and God continually spoke to my heart, and I continued to rebel in my own heart about really committing my life to Him.

And so, finally, going 75 miles an hour, a car flipped, He threw me out, I hit the pavement, slid 100 yards on my…and after it was all over, God could communicate. I said, “You know, I can only go so far, Lord. If you’re going to do it like this, I can’t fight it.” But it was one of those kind of things in my life where God had to get dramatic

If you’re a sinner here and you die and go to hell, it won’t be because you lied. I’ve lied, and I’m not going to hell. It won’t be because you stole something. I stole something. Even got put in the Glendale City Jail. But I’m not going to hell. If you go to hell, it won’t be because you went out and got drunk, because you took drugs. I’ve never done that. I’ve done a lot of other things. If you go to hell, it’ll be because you didn’t acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the only reason.

The next part of this series concludes with what happened next to Saul in Damascus.

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