Acts 9: Extras

Application

Sometimes, I feel a bit intimidated by some people. You know the type. They wake up to a standing ovation. And when they go to bed, the whole world seems to wait for them with bated breath to rise again. Because when they’re awake, they’re always working on something profound. In fact, the word “people” doesn’t even do them justice; they are the “heroes.”

Often times, I find myself thinking that the Bible is filled with this type of people. Whether it’s Adam and Eve, the prototypes who did everything for the first time, Gideon who saw the fleece wet (and dry) and then defeated the bad guys with just 300 men, David who slew Goliath and went on to be the king after God’s own heart, Peter who preached the sermon that saw 3,000 saved in one day, John who had the amazing direct revelation from the Lord, or Paul who literally changed the world, the names that I remember from the Bible are those that never failed to amaze.

But you know, there are a lot of other people in the Bible, too. They emerge for a verse – maybe a chapter – but then fade away, back into the mists of time. I think of all the people who populate the Old Testament genealogies, the prophets who Saul joined in 1 Samuel 10 while on his way to become the first Hebrew king, Nathan in 2 Samuel 12, all those nameless people who were the beneficiaries of Jesus’ various miracles, and the faceless ones who were so warmly greeted by Paul in his letters to the various churches. About these people, we know nothing more than what the Bible tells us. There is no hint of who their parents are, where their hometown is, what they do for a living, what they like or dislike, or pretty much anything else. All we have is that, at this one particular point in time, they were there.

Acts 9 records a number of amazing things. From the conversion of Saul, who would become the apostle Paul, to his discipleship and establishment as a great preacher of the gospel message, to the travels of Peter as leader of the ancient church. In fact, in the past, almost every time that I have read this chapter, I’ve found myself gravitating to the actions of these two great heroes of the faith. But as I read today, I found myself noticing the other names mentioned in this passage. And as I noticed them, I had to wonder, “What about them?”

Indeed, Acts 9 records incidents in Saul’s and Peter’s lives that just happened to involve no less than eight people about whom we learn very, very little in Scripture: Ananias (vss 10-19), Judas on Straight Street (v 11), Barnabas (vss 27-28), Aeneas (vss 33-35), Tabitha (vss 36-41), Simon the tanner (v 43), and at least two unnamed “men” who were witnesses to Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (v 7). And that doesn’t even count the unknown number who believed because of Saul’s preaching, the Jews who conspired to kill Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem, the faithful believers who helped him escape in both instances, the rest of the population of Lydda and Sharon who turned to the Lord as a result of Aeneas’ healing, or the saints who were there to mourn Tabitha’s passing. Truly, Acts 9 has a whole host of Scriptural “extras,” but what can we learn from these?

Regular people can have a profound impact, too. When Ananias is introduced in v 10, we know nothing about him except that he was in Damascus. We don’t know if this is his home, if he’s there on business, or if this is his family vacation. We don’t know his academic credentials, his profession, or even how long he’s been a Christian. What we do know, though, is that Ananias was obedient. As scary as it clearly was for him to go to Saul, the man Ananias knew was out to kill Christians, when God told Ananias to go, Ananias went. And because he was obedient, he had the chance to confirm all that Jesus had told Saul on the road three days earlier; witness the miracle of Saul’s sight being restored; and play an instrumental role in the conversion, baptism, and (presumably) discipleship of the man who would become the apostle Paul, who would go on to play an instrumental role in the spread of the gospel message to Gentiles and write a significant chunk of what we now call the New Testament. True, Ananias came and went here in Acts 9 (plus a reference in Acts 22), but the impact of this single act of obedience reverberates through history to this day.

A single saint can defeat fear, gossip, and doubt. When Saul finally returned to Jerusalem after his stint in Damascus, the whole church was afraid of him. Sure, they had heard rumors that he was converted in Damascus, but as we see in v 26, they didn’t believe these rumors to be true. The rumor mill was running rampant. “Did you hear what he did to the Miller family?” “I heard he got the Smiths, too!” Rumors led to doubt that Saul was really converted, but also, inherently, that God could convert a man such as Saul. And the doubt led to fear. In v 27, though, we meet Barnabas, who stands up and cuts through it all, telling the Jerusalem church the truth about Saul’s conversion and effective ministry. Now, granted, Barnabas would become Saul’s mentor and missionary companion for several chapters here, but he still faded away into history in relatively short order. And it was his faith and courage here that enabled Saul to be welcomed into and, eventually, commissioned by the church in Jerusalem.

God works in and through regular people’s lives, too. Such is the message of Aeneas and Tabitha. Aeneas had a definite need: he was bedridden. He needed to be healed, but who was he to receive such a miracle? Yet Peter marshaled the power of the Lord to give Aeneas just that, and because of Aeneas’ healing, the bulk of the surrounding community turned to the Lord. And when Tabitha died, even though no one had ever written volumes about her works, the whole community mourned. For uncounted years, she had been meeting the needs of others by making robes and clothing, and her contribution had made her an indispensible member of the community. God had used her to meet others’ needs, and they were loathe to lose her. Clearly, God worked in and through these two precious saints.

And then there’s Simon the tanner. In Jewish culture, the tanner was taboo. Why? Because, by definition, the process of tanning leather involved direct contact with the hides of dead creatures. According to Levitical code, such contact made people ceremonially unclean. And as essential as a tanner’s job may be, no Jew would associate with someone who was ceremonially unclean. Yet Peter went to stay with Simon. I don’t know if Peter realized the significance of that, but it was huge. You see, in Peter, a Jew, staying with Simon, a tanner, we see that God can make ordinary people clean, too. Indeed, He can and will take all the garbage that we have in our lives, all the imperfections that we can’t really help, all the mundane and lowly about us and make us clean so that we, too, can be used by Him.

So there’s a lot of stuff going on here, and a lot of stuff to be picked up from the background characters. But the thing is, God can and will use these “extras” in our churches, too. So even if you’re not a hero of the faith, God can use you. That’s an encouraging word for people like me!

Notes

  • (1-2) Saul’s hatred of the church includes “murderous threats.” It is no stretch to conclude that the high priest’s letter was just a pretext for killing Christians. Saul was given the authority to haul innocent people off to prison; all he needed was an excuse to kill his prisoners.
  • (5) Saul’s question is interesting. He immediately rescues that this must be the Lord, but he doesn’t understand the question about persecution. He thought he was doing everything for the Lord, not against Him!
  • (5) Jesus’ response is critical to grasp. Saul was persecuting the Church, but Jesus loved the Church so dearly and associated Himself with it so closely that He considered any action against the Church an action against His Person. Never doubt that Jesus sees when you suffer for Him. And never doubt that He hurts as much or even more than you do in those moments.
  • (7) “sound” could be interpreted “voice” or simply a generic sound, like thunder. Whether or not these companions understood all that Saul heard or not is a moot point. They knew that something spectacularly supernatural had happened.
  • (10-19) Aside from his mention in 22:12, this is the only time that we see this Ananias. Apparently, he was a believer of impeccable character and integrity. Up until this point – and from this point on – he did nothing that mentioned merit in the Bible, living instead a quiet but obedient life. But look at the significance of his one act that did merit mention in the Bible! He was instrumental in the raising up of Saul, who would become Paul! We must be obedient all the time, whether our obedience draws attention or credit or not.
  • (13-14) Obedience is necessary, but we have no promise that it will be easy or even safe. Clearly, Ananias was afraid. And clearly, he was reluctant to call on Saul. But it is essential to recognize that he was not resolved to disobey. He just wanted confirmation.
  • (15-16) God’s response to Ananias’ willingness to obey provided not only confirmation that he was to go, but clarity that this was going to work out in the end. I’m not sure we can expect that God will reveal this much detail every time – or that our obedience will always work out to such a positive temporal (i.e., in this life) resolution – but I do think that God will provide what we must have to prove His call, satisfy our immediate questions, and equip us for the task at hand.
  • (17-19) Ananias’ obedience wasn’t necessarily profound. He just had to go, tell Saul what he needed to hear to confirm the gospel which had been revealed to him, and officiate Saul’s baptism and discipleship. But what a profound impact all of these things had on Saul and the rest of the world!
  • (19-22) Isn’t the power of a changed life amazing? No longer was he persecuting and destroying Christians, but rather, even before he was an expert in all things Christian, Saul began telling people about Christ! At first, this resulted in confusion and, I suspect, more than a little disdain, but ultimately, Saul “[proved] that Jesus is the Christ.” This is significant because the Jews recognized the Christ as someone who was going to deliver them from their oppressor. By proving that Jesus is the Christ, Saul provided credible and convincing arguments from Scripture, as well as evidence from recent history and his own life, that Jesus was the one who would deliver, and the oppressor He would deliver from was sin.
  • (23-25) How ironic! The man who had conspired to kill Christians is now hunted by those who had been his own! People can’t refute a changed life, but they can silence it. It’s also neat to see that, within short order of his conversion, Saul was already drawing people to follow him. We don’t have to be Christians for ever and ever to qualify for ministry or leadership. We just have to be faithful right now.
  • (27) Enter Barnabas, the Joseph of Acts 4:36. Like Ananias, Barnabas’ part in Acts was brief but significant. What would have happened in history if he hadn’t stepped up to vouch for Saul?
  • (31) Peace is not guaranteed to the Church. But in those moments when things are quiet, we must not become complacent, but rather spend the time strengthening ourselves through Bible study, prayer, and ministry.
  • (32-43) Peter’s missionary journey is notable for the places it took him Lydda (or Lod) was a tiny village southeast of Joppa, a coastal city west-southwest of Jerusalem. In other words, Peter was headed for a relative city, but he nevertheless took time to minister first in the small town. We must not write off small towns for ministry opportunities!
  • (32-35) It is interesting that, while Luke mentions Aeneas’ name here, indicating that it would be at least familiar to a number of believers who would read the book of Acts, he doesn’t mention anything that he does down the road. Apparently Aeneas remained faithful, and his name is provided as a reference point for Theophilus (the original reader) to check. I suppose, even if you don’t accomplish anything worthy of mention in the Bible, being a reference to its truthfulness isn’t too terribly shabby!
  • (36-42) For how long had Tabitha served faithfully in Joppa before this, and for how long after? How many of these items of clothing did she produce, and of what quality were they? We don’t know. Tabitha is yet another of those who appears for an instant in Scripture but spends a lifetime in Christ.
  • (43) And again, this Simon – with whom Peter never would have stayed only a few years earlier – appears to play a bit part in the account of Acts. How mundane to act only as Peter’s host for a few days! But where would Scripture have been if Peter hadn’t been able to stay with him? And what else did he do for the Lord throughout the rest of his life? God values even the bit players in life who never have entire books written about them or even credit given them!
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