I love watching movies based on historical events. It’s one of the coolest aspects of the era in which we live. I remember back in college when Titanic came out, and I watched that movie three times in the theater. Sure, the storyline of Jack & Rose somehow finding each other coming from vastly different backgrounds was a compelling love story, but the real magic of movies like Titanic is the ability for us to peek into the windows of history to briefly experience the emotions of that moment. I couldn’t escape the feelings of desperation so many on that ship must have felt as that massive cruise-liner began to sink in the middle of a cold, dark ocean with no one around to help.
As I read the Bible, and I read of the incredible characters and events in the text, I can’t help but think of what these moments must have felt like for those who experienced them. Since God created everything we see, including the marvels of Redbox (which, I’m sure, He planted as an idea in someone’s head), I’m banking on Heaven having the greatest DVR ever imagined. There are so many great moments in His-story that I want to see: the moment Adam saw Eve for the first time, the moment Joseph’s brother’s realized it was him, when Moses interacted with God through a bush, when David was in the cave and King Saul came in to take a leak – okay, maybe not that one – and so many others, including the events recorded in Acts 9. What happened in Acts 9? I’m glad you asked. Check this out.
For a little context, Jesus ascended back into Heaven, the disciples have started putting together the elements of the early church (i.e. meeting together, preaching, teaching, singing, serving, etc.), and the Jews were not happy about it. One in particular has been leading the charge to shut down the disciples and their followers. This man, Saul, has been going house to house to find people and round them up, taking official letters of condemnation to the synagogues surrounding Jerusalem to round up more people and end this movement of people claiming Jesus is the risen Son of God.
As he’s on his way to one of these surrounding towns, a place called Damascus, he is blinded with a light that stops him right in his tracks. I love that God uses light to get Saul’s attention, as we discover throughout the Bible that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). And this is no ordinary light. This must have been a laser beam of light, focused directly on Saul, as the same light did not have the same effect on his crew standing around him. This light was meant for Saul, and it was accompanied by a voice. Keep in mind, this isn’t 20th Century Fox. This is out in the middle of nowhere on the way to Damascus in first century Israel. What a moment, as Jesus speaks directly so Saul and changes his life forever.
Then God, in a vision, speaks to a guy named Ananias, who was most likely a regular Joe like you and me. Imagine sitting in your living room watching The Voice, and then out of nowhere you hear the Voice of all voices, and it tells you to go greet Osama Bin Laden on the outskirts of town, a man who you’ve heard has come to your town to round up all the Christians. How much faith would it take for you to get up out of your seat and go meet this man who has been known to torture and kill Christians? Truly remarkable what Ananias did in that moment trust God and welcome Saul to Damascus, to lay his hands on Saul to receive the Holy Spirit, to baptize Saul and to feed him. I want that kind of faith.
So now Saul, instead of persecuting Christians, becomes one, and he starts telling others about Jesus. Before long, the Jews in Damascus don’t like what Saul is saying and they plot to kill him. Saul escapes from Damascus and comes to Jerusalem, the place from which he came, and he’s doing the same thing: trying to convince the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) that Jesus is the Messiah, but they want no part of it, “seeking to kill him”. Oh, how the tables have turned. The hunter has now become the hunted, and, as Phil Hunter says, every where Paul goes from this moment on, there is either a revival or a riot. Whenever someone continuously preaches the gospel, people either accept it or reject it. There is no middle ground.
Okay, so that is what’s happening with Paul. Are you still with me, ’cause we still have another character and two incredible moments to go in this hall of fame chapter. As Saul is going through a life-altering transformation in Damascus and Jerusalem, Peter was out in the surrounding towns spreading the news of Jesus. The same Peter who three times denied even knowing Jesus about a year earlier is now boldly preaching the gospel wherever he goes, making news as well.
In Lydda, he sees a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and bedridden for the past eight years. Eight years! Think about how long that is to be laying down, to not move at all. Think about what paralysis does to the body. Think about how much muscles would atrophy and slowly dwindle from lack of use during that much time. I have a friend who suffered a tragic motorcycle accident six years ago, and as we walked that tough road together, I saw how his legs went from active and strong to limp masses with no muscle in just a few years. I can’t imagine the condition of Aeneas at this point.
But Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly looks at Aeneas and claims that Jesus Christ heals him, and then commands him to get up and make his bed! Does he have the strength for this, even if his paralysis is gone? Did he wobble a little bit as he went to use his legs for the first time in eight years? He must have been the happiest person ever to make his bed, that’s for sure! I can’t imagine the joy he felt, as well as those who had been caring for him for eight years. The emotions must have been overwhelming, and many people, not surprisingly, turned to God in that moment. And that was just the appetizer of Peter’s experiences in chapter 9.
Next, Peter goes to Joppa upon hearing of the death of a woman named Tabitha. She had been dead long enough that they had washed her up and were about to anoint her with spices for burial, so at least a day had passed by the time Peter arrives, maybe two. In our culture, it would be about the time right before the visitation, in which the body was about to be prepared for burial and laid in the casket. The blood had been drained or dried up, and all of the organs were shut down.
I’m not sure what Peter was thinking at this point, but he goes into the room where Tabitha was being laid down, he excuses everyone, and then he starts praying. Then, mid-prayer, he turns to Tabitha, who is very, very dead at this point, and he tells her to rise. I mean, what kind of crazy is this? Maybe he was feeling a little extra confident after the Aeneas healing went so well, but this, well, this is just crazy! People don’t raise people from the dead, especially old fishermen turned preachers. But in that moment, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Tabitha opens her eyes – to a stranger, no less – sits up, and then, with a little help from Peter (the only normal part of this story), stands up and is presented alive to her friends and family. What. A. Moment.
Sometimes we read something in the Bible because it’s the chapter on our reading plan we’re supposed to read that day. And all too often, we read through these events as no big deal, maybe because we’ve heard them before or maybe because we’re not really all that interested. I’m guilty of both. But my prayer for us is that we would take the time to truly imagine what that experience was like for those who lived it, and let God show Himself to us through what we read. If our God is big enough to convert a known terrorist into a great missionary, a fearful follower into a courageous Christian, a powerless denier into a powerful messenger, if He is great enough to heal someone paralyzed and raise another from the dead, He can certainly handle whatever we are going through. He wants to write His story in our lives, just as He did for Saul, Ananias, Peter, Aeneas & Tabitha, as we faithfully follow Him wherever He leads.
Are you ready? Let’s go!