Sermon for Sunday Evening, Oct 23rd, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 9:23-43 ESV] 23 When many days had passed, the Jews 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, lowering him in a basket. 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. 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. 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. 36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. 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 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.
I’ve titled this sermon – or this section of Acts – as “Snippets from Early Church History.”
My ESV Bible breaks this section down into four headings. Four rather short snippets each about things that happened among the church in the very early years.
We’re coming off of that section of major persons and events. Or, at least, they are given more space in holy writ. We had material on the martyr Stephen, the magician Simon, and the converted Saul.
And with the conversion of Saul we come into a new era in the church. Most everything before Saul are events in or near Jerusalem and among the Apostles who knew Jesus. Now with Saul the message of the Gospel begins to spread to further places and we’ll start to see new names in the history; names which are not among those who knew Christ while he walked the earth.
But we also see in these snippets, the miracles of the Lord still being performed by the Apostles, namely Peter.
So let’s look at these four short snippets to learn more about the early church and the Lord’s work in that time and place.
I. Saul Escapes from Damascus (v. 23-25)
Saul was going around Damascus “proving that Jesus was the Christ.”
How did he do that? How did he “prove” that Jesus was the Christ? From the Scriptures. That is how he “confounded the Jews.” The Jews knew the Scriptures and he was quoted the Scriptures to them. So much was he proclaiming Christ that they wanted him dead. So he needed to get out of dodge. Saul got wind of a plot to kill him. So “his disciples” let him down by through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
It is notable that here Paul has disciples! That didn’t take long. Of course these are “disciples of Christ” more broadly. And we have that statement in 1 Corinthians that you are not to say you are of Paul, Peter, or Apollos, but of Christ. But apparently it is not wrong to give some honor to your teacher. These are Paul’s disciples. We might say this counterbalances the 1 Corinthians passage, especially against those who argue that point too strongly. Some will say “How can you be Calvinist, or Luther, or Wesleyan.” Shouldn’t you be Christian? In one sense, they’re not wrong. But in another sense they are naive. Everyone has views and everyone has some human teacher. You can try to read the Bible without a teacher, but you’ll do better to listen to a teacher or teachers plural even better.
So Paul is lowered in a basket. Luke tells us this. And Paul confirms it in one of his epistles saying “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:32-33)
There is an apparent discrepancy there. In Acts it is the Jews who are trying to get Paul. But in Paul’s epistle it is the governor of Damascus who is in view. Well, the answer is easy. It is both. The Jews probably spoke to the governor and said Paul was a troublemaker and so the governor gave orders to capture him.
The escape through a window is reminiscent of the story of Rahab and the spies. It says in Joshua 2:15 that she “Let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall.”
And perhaps it is reminiscent of baby Moses being saved by a basket in the Nile river.
In any case, the Lord has plans for Saul. He will not be captured in Damascus.
II. Saul in Jerusalem (v. 26-31)
In our next snippet we find Saul in Jerusalem.
And there we find not “his disciples” but “the disciples.” These are the original followers of Jesus, but some others like Barnabas who had joined up.
And these disciples wren’t sure about Saul. I mean, would you? Saul was last known to be going after Christians, having them imprisoned and even put to death. Would you very quickly allow such a man to your gathering?
But the miraculous had happened. Saul was converted by Jesus Christ himself. And Barnabas had heard Saul’s preaching in Damascus and knew that he was legit. Barnabas saw that Saul was serious, even risking his life for the message of the gospel. This convinced Barnabas that Saul was truly a Christian. And the disciples took Barnabas’s word.
Now it says that the brothers, that is the disciples, too Saul down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Was this perhaps to keep him away from those who were seeking after his life? Tarsus was Saul’s home, and Caesarea a point of embarkation to Tarsus. Saul was sent away for his own protection?
But there is another explanation. A better one. Given by Saul himself in Acts 22.
[Act 22:17-21 ESV] 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'”
Despite Barnabas’s word, it is clear that not all would welcome Paul in Jerusalem. But out of this trouble, the Lord brings much good. He sends Saul to the Gentiles.
And without Saul in Jerusalem, it says the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. See they did not depend on Saul. They depended on Christ. Though Saul would be a great Apostle for the Lord, the church and all its doctrines existed before Saul and thrived without Saul. No person is necessary; the church does not rest on the shoulders of any man but on the Lord.
III. The Healing of Aeneas (v. 32-35)
So let’s move on the third of four snippets. The healing of Aeneas.
With the departure of Saul, Peter comes back into the forefront. And he doesn’t just stay in Jerusalem. Here he goes out to a town called Lydda. And there he finds Aeneas, a man bedridden for eight years. And a miracle was performed.
Peter said “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.”
And this is reminiscent of Christ’s work earlier when he said to the paralytic “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
These miracles of Jesus are continuing though he is no longer physically walking with the disciples.
And these miracles are not for wow-ing the people, but to bring them to Christ. We read “And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”
Often, it seems, miracles are prevalent when the Gospel first comes to a place. We see that happening in the Scriptures, and we hear about in the history of missions as well.
With the Scriptural miracles we know 100% for certain that they occurred, for the Lord has told us so.
With modern miracles on the mission field we cannot know with the same certainty whether they are legitimate. Surely not all of them are. People can and do claim things falsely.
While we can certainly rejoice when God does miracles, we should focus on his word and not be like the Jews who “demand signs.” The Word of God is entirely sufficient for faith and practice.
IV. Dorcas Restored to Life
Ok, one final snippet.
And yes, let’s get out all of our laughs. This ladies name is Dorcas. Not a name you’d probably chose today.
But it means Gazelle in Greek. And she is Tabitha in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the disciples.
And I mentioned Tabitha in a sermon not too long ago on charity. She is mentioned for her good works and acts of charity. She is an example for all Christians.
But now she has died.
And again we see the miraculous happen. A miracle just like the miracle Christ did in raising Lazarus from the dead.
Now Peter says “Tabitha arise.”
Jesus had said “Lazarus, come out.” Come out of your tomb.
There seems to be a connotation of confidence in these sayings. They didn’t need long drawn out magical spells. But simply in faith called the person back to life.
Such is the work of the Lord.
He calls us back to life.
Not only is this a calling, a responsibility for us to live as Christians, but it is the very Word of God which comes to us and enlightens our minds and gives us faith.
The Lord says to those who are dead in sin “Arise.” “Come out.” And the Christian is born again! A spiritual rebirth, a gift from God.
This is the message to us all then. Arise. Recall the Lord’s calling out to you. He still calls out to you. Even if you’ve sometimes forgotten him. The command is still there. And the Lord has wondrously brought you to new life so that you might live for Him.
Let us in all thing live for Him. Arise Christians and praise the Lord.
Let us pray.