Script for the June 28th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.

Introduction

Welcome to the June 28th episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis, and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.

Today’s reading is Job 11-13 and Acts 9, but we will focus only on the New Testament in this podcast.

If you have questions about anything in the Old Testament or New Testament reading assignment, please e-mail me at mattellis1997@gmail.com. I may answer it on the next podcast.

Acts 9

Acts 7 ended with the death of the first recorded Christian martyr. We are told that Stephen was murdered, and those who watched placed their robes in Saul’s care. We assume they knew they would get a bit hot and sweaty while throwing all those rocks, so they took off their outer garments and let Saul keep them from being stolen.

Saul was there at the first Christian killing. But what did he think about it? Acts 8:1 tells us that “Saul agreed with putting him to death.” Saul wasn’t an innocent bystander. He watched Stephen get bloodied as he was being hit with rocks until the Lord called him through death’s door.

As this next chapter opens, it seems as if Saul is even more militant, at least in his demeanor and speech toward Christians.

Acts 9:1-2 (CSB): “Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

Saul was a terrorist. He hated Christians and wasn’t content to eradicate them from Jerusalem. He was prepared to travel 135 miles north of Jerusalem so that he could arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be imprisoned and even killed.

But as he was traveling toward Damascus, God’s glory instantaneously surrounded him, and he fell backward to the ground. Then, in shock, Saul heard a voice asking him why he was persecuting Him.

Saul asked who the voice was, and He said, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” We learn from this that when God’s children experience injustice and persecution, Jesus doesn’t merely notice. He feels it, too. If it happens to us, it happens to Him.

We may safely assume that Paul was arrogant and self-righteous. He was a Pharisee, after all. So, what did Jesus do to him as Paul was new to being a Jesus-follower? First, Jesus hammered away at Saul’s pride by making him dependent upon Him. He told him to go into Damascus and wait until the Lord told him what to do next. He also struck Saul blind so that he had to be led by men into the city. God knows how to humble us when He needs to.

God can use anyone He pleases to accomplish His purposes. But God typically uses humble people. Jesus delights in using people who are convinced that they can do nothing apart from Him.

The Lord spoke to a Christian in Damascus named Ananias. He told Ananias to go to a house on Straight Street and ask for Saul of Tarsus. Ananias expressed his fear at such an encounter. He felt the need to inform the Lord about what kind of man Saul was.

But this is where we realize that living by faith should be the norm for Christians. When the Lord has made something clear in His Word, or if we believe that He is leading us to do something uncomfortable, trusting in the Lord will enable us to proceed.

Acts 9:15-16 (CSB): “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

It is noteworthy that the Lord didn’t rebuke Ananias. Instead, he gave him the information he needed to strengthen his faith. Jesus did this very thing with “doubting Thomas.” Thomas had said that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead unless he could see the nail prints in His hands and touch the spear entry point in His side. Jesus, rather than rebuke him, graciously offered to let Thomas see and touch him.

Friend, we all need to grow in our faith. But our Lord has demonstrated in His Word that He rarely gets upset at those who demonstrate a weak faith. Instead, Jesus seems to only get upset when we persist in our distrust and when that distrust leads to disobedience.

So, Ananias went to the house on Straight Street, found Saul, and placed his hands on him. Saul’s eyesight was restored as he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul’s ministry of powerful Gospel proclamation had started.

Acts 9:19-20 (CSB): “… Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.”

From verses 21-25, we read that Saul stayed in Damascus for some time, powerfully proclaiming the Gospel and proving that Jesus was the Messiah. Eventually, Saul was made aware of a death threat against him, so he was lowered in a basket out a window in the city wall. From there, he made his way back to Jerusalem.

I love my interactions with those who listen to the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast or who read the scripts of the podcast on my website. On Sunday evening, I received an e-mail from one of the friends of the pod, Herb Wells. He pointed out that the book of Galatians tells us that Saul spent time in Arabia, which Acts 9 doesn’t address. So, let’s talk about that for a few moments.

First, let’s look at the verses Herb is referring to.

Galatians 1:15-18 (CSB): “But when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone. I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days.”

Given the context of Paul’s story in Galatians 1, we understand that it coincides with Acts 9. Galatians 1 tells us that Paul was saved in Damascus, then went to Arabia, and returned to Damascus. All total, his time in Damascus and Arabia was about three years.

So, where is Arabia? We may be tempted to point to the Arabian Peninsula. But an entry in the Holman Illustrated Bible Encyclopedia is helpful.

Arabia: “The NT references to Arabia are fewer and less complex. The territory of the Nabatean Arabs is probably intended in each instance. The Nabateans controlled what is today southern Jordan and the Negev of Israel; for a time they controlled as far north as Damascus.”

So, it is possible that Paul’s time “in Arabia” merely points to an excursion into the wilderness surrounding Damascus. He may not have traveled far to the south to what has traditionally been called Arabia (or, as it has been called for the past 100 years, Saudi Arabia). He may have only gotten far enough away from society so that he could study the Scriptures prayerfully. The Lord revealed these truths to him. The Lord Jesus may have shown up in person to instruct Paul, or Paul might merely have ascribed to the Lord the many insights he obtained in prayerful study.

But it seems that as a result of his time in study and reflection, he became a formidable force for good as he proclaimed the Gospel and pointed to Jesus as the Messiah that the Old Testament talked about. His masterful, Spirit-inspired books and letters in Scripture came from the understanding he developed during this time.

After his time in Arabia and Damascus, he took the 135-mile southward journey to Jerusalem. However, this time, he wasn’t going to mingle with the Pharisees again. Instead, he intended to mingle with the Christians. But they weren’t having it.

Acts 9:26 (CSB): “When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”

This rift might have taken a long time to mend if it were not for a man named Barnabas. The Christians had no reason to trust that Saul was genuinely saved. On the contrary, they could easily perceive that he was tricking them so that he could imprison them all. But Barnabas took the risk, or rather a step of faith, and welcomed Saul. He then took him to the Apostles and shared his testimony about how he became a follower of Jesus.

Saul was unafraid. He knew that aligning himself with the Christians would immediately get him into trouble that could be life-threatening. But he seems not to have cared. He spoke “boldly in the name of the Lord.”

But when he so effectively debated and defeated the Hellenistic Jews (Jews who were culturally Greeks), they tried to kill him. So, his Christian brothers took him to Caesarea Maritima, a 60-mile trip northwest of Jerusalem. From there, they put him on a ship that would take him 300 miles due north to his home city of Tarsus.

The story leaves Paul in Tarsus as Peter’s ministry comes into focus. Luke will resume his focus on Saul of Tarsus when it is time for his missionary journeys to begin. But for now, Peter is still the main character of the story.

Acts 9:32-33 (CSB): “As Peter was traveling from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years.”

Lydda was located on the road from Jerusalem to Joppa (present-day Tel-Aviv). It was about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem, so we observe that Peter is venturing out to share the good news of Jesus with people far and wide. He wants the people of Israel to hear about their Messiah and to trust in Him.

We read that Peter healed Aeneas in the name of Jesus. When the people of Lydda saw such power demonstrated by someone who was telling them that Jesus was the Messiah, they responded.

Acts 9:35 (CSB): “So all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

But Peter wouldn’t stay in that city for long. Some folks in Joppa heard that Peter was nearby, so they pleaded with him to come to their city.

As Peter traveled 12 more miles northwest to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, he arrived in Joppa. We first learn about this city in the Old Testament when we are told that Jonah came to this city and hopped onto a boat heading west. Peter will eventually have a vision in this city that will transform how he sees Gentiles.

But on this occasion, he heard about a Christian lady named Tabitha. The believers told Peter that she was such a kind and charitable person. But she got sick and died. Her lifeless body was washed and placed in a second-story room awaiting burial.

When Peter stepped into the upstairs room, he was met by fellow believers who showed him “the robes and clothes that (Tabitha) had made while she was with them.”

For some reason, Peter sent them all out of the room before he knelt down and prayed. Was Peter concerned that he wouldn’t be able to raise her? He had never raised anyone from the dead before. So, he may have sent everyone out of the room for this reason. And then came the moment of truth. He said, “Tabitha, get up.”

To the amazement of everyone, Peter presented Tabitha alive to them all. And, once again, we realize that people responded when God’s power was so powerfully demonstrated.

Acts 9:42-43 (CSB): “This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Peter stayed for some time in Joppa with Simon, a leather tanner.”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank You for so magnificently placing Your stamp of approval on the first-century church. Through them, You demonstrated that You had come to deal with the sin problem and the problem of sin’s consequences.

As the church has marched through the ages, it has stood for truth and shared the good news with a lost and dying world. Help us, as the baton is being passed to us, to run our leg of the race with gusto. Help us to grow in our understanding of Your Word and be always ready to share the good news of the Gospel with others.

We pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Closing

I hope today’s episode has helped you to understand and enjoy God’s Word so that you can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If looking over the script for this podcast would be beneficial to you, hop on over to my website at mattsmusings.net. I will provide a link in this episode’s show notes.

The “Enjoying the Bible” podcast is a ministry of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida. Check us out at fbcpolkcity.com. See you next time!