Ever talk about Christianity with someone who can’t believe in something they can’t see? They want real proof. ACTS 9 tells the story of the ultimate non-believer who came to see things differently. ◊
A man once told me he’d believe in Jesus and Christianity if he just saw a miracle right before his eyes.
Logic or information did not work for him. He wanted real proof. Can’t say that I blame him – it’s natural to seek tangible evidence. Unfortunately many people can’t get over their unbelief unless something strikes them down or hits them over the head. All one really has to do is open their heart and their eyes.
I’m still praying for that man.
The Conversion of Paul the Apostle
Saul (later renamed Paul) was a brilliant man trained as a Jewish Pharisee while also being a Roman citizen. He was educated in the Greek and Roman classics, but knew the Hebrew Law and Torah as well as any priest working in the Temple in Jerusalem.
He believed in the God of Abraham, but he definitely did not buy into the Way, initiated by Jesus, the proclaimed Messiah. He did not believe in Jesus. Paul was on the side of the Jewish religious leaders who stuck to their old Hebrew faith and rituals and sacrifices and power over the Jewish masses.
As we saw in chapter 7, Saul was right there watching the stoning of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. In Acts 9 we see Saul on an aggressive rampage against the new Christians all around Judah:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)
But then on the road something very dramatic happens to him.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:3-9)
No Apologetic Arguments for Paul
Given his background and education, I have some sympathy for Saul/Paul at this point. He was probably not present to witness the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples and they began speaking in foreign tongues. (See Acts 2) Additionally, there were no Gospel documents written yet, so soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The accounts of Jesus’ life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would not be written for another 20 years.
I believe that if there had been common knowledge that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) instead of Nazareth, many of the Jewish scribes and leaders would have had a completely different perspective on the Man believed to have come from the region of Galilee. Galilee is a long 90 miles or so from Bethlehem.
So Paul is attacking assumed blasphemers of the Almighty God of Abraham. But God has great plans for Saul/Paul, the perfect articulate Jewish scholar with Roman citizenship – a man with all the credentials who would be the new messenger and writer of the Gospel of Christ.
Paul would go on to write up to half of the 27 books of the New Testament.
Only God’s Intervention
But apart from Jesus intercepting Paul on the road to Demascus, it took a series of supernatural miracles to get his attention and bring him around:
- A Christian named Ananias has a vision directly from the Lord. (v.10)
- Ananias is directed exactly to the house where Paul was recovering. (v.11)
- Paul is given a vision directly from the Lord about a man named Ananias placing his hands on his eyes and restoring his sight. (v.12)
- The Lord relieves Ananias of his fears and claims Paul as His chosen instrument for Gentiles and Israel alike. He also predicts how much Paul will suffer himself, literally, for Christ’s sake. (v.13-16)
- Obedient Ananias places his hands on Saul and he is healed from blindness and receives the Holy Spirit. (v.17-18)
Paul the Preacher and Peter the Healer
Saul now begins preaching in Damascus and proclaiming Jesus as “the Son of God.” This confounds both the Jewish leaders and the Christians who soon learn to trust him and now even protect him from the religious authorities.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 9:19-22)
And the early Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samara was strengthened and encouraged.
Meanwhile the Apostle Peter is called to go to the coastal town of Joppa east of Jerusalem by two men sent by the disciples. A beloved woman named Tabitha (also called Dorcas) has fallen sick and died. Peter continues his healing ministry at her house:
Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:40-42)
Yes, many are those that believe when confronted with dramatic miracles. How about you? As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
Are you like Paul? Do you need a miracle to believe in Jesus?
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. – Acts 9:31