Acts 9.1–9: Life on the Damascus Road (9 January 2020)

Bible Society's Daily Reflections follow the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan, designed for those who want to read the whole Bible in one year. Each reflection focuses on one of its four daily chapters.  Darllenwch rhain yn Gymraeg.

Pray

Pray

Lord, prepare me to receive your word. Clear my mind and warm my heart. Assure me of your loving purposes for me, and speak into my life today.

Read

Read

God's Covenant with Noah

1God blessed Noah and his sons and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth. 2All the animals, birds, and fish will live in fear of you. They are all placed under your power. 3Now you can eat them, as well as green plants; I give them all to you for food. 4The one thing you must not eat is meat with blood still in it; I forbid this because the life is in the blood. 5If anyone takes human life, he will be punished. I will punish with death any animal that takes a human life. 6Human beings were made like God, so whoever murders one of them will be killed by someone else.

7“You must have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth.”

8God said to Noah and his sons, 9“I am now making my covenant with you and with your descendants, 10and with all living beings — all birds and all animals — everything that came out of the boat with you. 11With these words I make my covenant with you: I promise that never again will all living beings be destroyed by a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth. 12As a sign of this everlasting covenant which I am making with you and with all living beings, 13I am putting my bow in the clouds. It will be the sign of my covenant with the world. 14Whenever I cover the sky with clouds and the rainbow appears, 15I will remember my promise to you and to all the animals that a flood will never again destroy all living beings. 16When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living beings on earth. 17That is the sign of the promise which I am making to all living beings.”

Noah and his Sons

18The sons of Noah who went out of the boat were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19These three sons of Noah were the ancestors of all the people on earth.

20Noah, who was a farmer, was the first man to plant a vineyard. 21After he drank some of the wine, he became drunk, took off his clothes, and lay naked in his tent. 22When Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked, he went out and told his two brothers. 23Then Shem and Japheth took a robe and held it behind them on their shoulders. They walked backwards into the tent and covered their father, keeping their faces turned away so as not to see him naked. 24When Noah was sober again and learnt what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said,

“A curse on Canaan!

He will be a slave to his brothers.

26Give praise to the LORD, the God of Shem!

Canaan will be the slave of Shem.

27May God cause Japheth to increase!

May his descendants live with the people of Shem!

Canaan will be the slave of Japheth.”

28After the flood Noah lived for 350 years 29and died at the age of 950.

The Descendants of Noah's Sons

1These are the descendants of Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. These three had sons after the flood.

2The sons of Japheth — Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras — were the ancestors of the peoples who bear their names. 3The descendants of Gomer were the people of Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4The descendants of Javan were the people of Elishah, Spain, Cyprus, and Rhodes; 5they were the ancestors of the people who live along the coast and on the islands. These are the descendants of Japheth, living in their different tribes and countries, each group speaking its own language.

6The sons of Ham — Cush, Egypt, Libya and Canaan — were the ancestors of the peoples who bear their names. 7The descendants of Cush were the people of Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah were the people of Sheba and Dedan. 8Cush had a son named Nimrod, who became the world's first great conqueror. 9By the LORD's help he was a great hunter, and that is why people say, “May the LORD make you as great a hunter as Nimrod!” 10At first his kingdom included Babylon, Erech, and Accad, all three of them in Babylonia. 11From that land he went to Assyria and built the cities of Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, 12and Resen, which is between Nineveh and the great city of Calah.

13The descendants of Egypt were the people of Lydia, Anam, Lehab, Naphtuh, 14Pathrus, Casluh, and of Crete, from whom the Philistines are descended.

15Canaan's sons — Sidon, the eldest, and Heth — were the ancestors of the peoples who bear their names. 16Canaan was also the ancestor of the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. The different tribes of the Canaanites spread out, 19until the Canaanite borders reached from Sidon southwards to Gerar near Gaza, and eastwards to Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim near Lasha. 20These are the descendants of Ham, living in their different tribes and countries, each group speaking its own language.

21Shem, the elder brother of Japheth, was the ancestor of all the Hebrews. 22Shem's sons — Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram — were the ancestors of the peoples who bear their names. 23The descendants of Aram were the people of Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshek. 24Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who was the father of Eber. 25Eber had two sons: one was named Peleg, because during his time the people of the world were divided; and the other was named Joktan. 26The descendants of Joktan were the people of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All of them were descended from Joktan. 30The land in which they lived extended from Mesha to Sephar in the eastern hill country. 31These are the descendants of Shem, living in their different tribes and countries, each group speaking its own language.

32All these peoples are the descendants of Noah, nation by nation, according to their different lines of descent. After the flood all the nations of the earth were descended from the sons of Noah.

Jesus Heals a Paralysed Man

1Jesus got into the boat and went back across the lake to his own town, 2where some people brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a bed. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the paralysed man, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.”

3Then some teachers of the Law said to themselves, “This man is speaking blasphemy!”

4Jesus perceived what they were thinking, so he said, “Why are you thinking such evil things? 5Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!”

7The man got up and went home. 8When the people saw it, they were afraid, and praised God for giving such authority to people.

Jesus Calls Matthew

9Jesus left that place, and as he walked along, he saw a tax collector, named Matthew, sitting in his office. He said to him, “Follow me.”

Matthew got up and followed him.

10While Jesus was having a meal in Matthew's house, many tax collectors and other outcasts came and joined Jesus and his disciples at the table. 11Some Pharisees saw this and asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such people?”

12Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”

The Question about Fasting

14Then the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus, asking, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples don't fast at all?”

15Jesus answered, “Do you expect the guests at a wedding party to be sad as long as the bridegroom is with them? Of course not! But the day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.

16“No one patches up an old coat with a piece of new cloth, for the new patch will shrink and make an even bigger hole in the coat. 17Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, for the skins will burst, the wine will pour out, and the skins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins, and both will keep in good condition.”

The Official's Daughter and the Woman who Touched Jesus' Cloak

18While Jesus was saying this, a Jewish official came to him, knelt down before him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her, and she will live.”

19So Jesus got up and followed him, and his disciples went along with him.

20A woman who had suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. 21She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will get well.”

22Jesus turned round and saw her, and said, “Courage, my daughter! Your faith has made you well.” At that very moment the woman became well.

23Then Jesus went into the official's house. When he saw the musicians for the funeral and the people all stirred up, 24he said, “Get out, everybody! The little girl is not dead — she is only sleeping!” Then they all laughed at him. 25But as soon as the people had been put out, Jesus went into the girl's room and took hold of her hand, and she got up. 26The news about this spread all over that part of the country.

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

27Jesus left that place, and as he walked along, two blind men started following him. “Take pity on us, Son of David!” they shouted.

28When Jesus had gone indoors, the two blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I can heal you?”

“Yes, sir!” they answered.

29Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen, then, just as you believe!” — 30and their sight was restored. Jesus spoke sternly to them, “Don't tell this to anyone!”

31But they left and spread the news about Jesus all over that part of the country.

Jesus Heals a Man who could not Speak

32As the men were leaving, some people brought to Jesus a man who could not talk because he had a demon. 33But as soon as the demon was driven out, the man started talking, and everyone was amazed. “We have never seen anything like this in Israel!” they exclaimed.

34But the Pharisees said, “It is the chief of the demons who gives Jesus the power to drive out demons.”

Jesus has Pity for the People

35Jesus went round visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness. 36As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”

Ezra Learns of Intermarriages with Non-Jews

1After all this had been done, some of the leaders of the people of Israel came and told me that the people, the priests, and the Levites had not kept themselves separate from the people in the neighbouring countries of Ammon, Moab, and Egypt or from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites. They were doing the same disgusting things that those people did. 2Jewish men were marrying foreign women, and so God's holy people had become contaminated. The leaders and officials were the chief offenders. 3When I heard this, I tore my clothes in despair, tore my hair and my beard, and sat down crushed with grief. 4I sat there grieving until the time for the evening sacrifice to be offered, and people began to gather round me — all those who were frightened because of what the God of Israel had said about the sins of those who had returned from exile.

5When the time came for the evening sacrifice, I got up from where I had been grieving, and still wearing my torn clothes, I knelt in prayer and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God. 6I said, “O God, I am too ashamed to raise my head in your presence. Our sins pile up, high above our heads; they reach as high as the heavens. 7From the days of our ancestors until now, we, your people, have sinned greatly. Because of our sins we, our kings, and our priests have fallen into the hands of foreign kings, and we have been slaughtered, robbed, and carried away as prisoners. We have been totally disgraced, as we still are today. 8Now for a short time, O LORD our God, you have been gracious to us and have let some of us escape from slavery and live in safety in this holy place. You have freed us from slavery and given us new life. 9We were slaves, but you did not leave us in slavery. You made the emperors of Persia favour us and permit us to go on living and to rebuild your Temple, which was in ruins, and to find safety here in Judah and Jerusalem.

10“But now, O God, what can we say after all that has happened? We have again disobeyed the commands 11that you gave us through your servants, the prophets. They told us that the land we were going to occupy was an impure land because the people who lived in it filled it from one end to the other with disgusting, filthy actions. 12They told us that we were never to intermarry with those people and never to help them prosper or succeed if we wanted to enjoy the land and pass it on to our descendants for ever. 13Even after everything that has happened to us in punishment for our sins and wrongs, we know that you, our God, have punished us less than we deserve and have allowed us to survive. 14Then how can we ignore your commandments again and intermarry with these wicked people? If we do, you will be so angry that you will destroy us completely and let no one survive. 15LORD God of Israel, you are just, but you have let us survive. We confess our guilt to you; we have no right to come into your presence.”

The Conversion of Saul

1In the meantime Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest 2and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.

3As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed round him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”

5“Who are you, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. 6“But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.”

7The men who were travelling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.

10There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, “Ananias!”

“Here I am, Lord,” he answered.

11The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, 12and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.”

13Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.”

15The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. 16And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”

17So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me — Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18At once something like fish scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; 19and after he had eaten, his strength came back.

Saul Preaches in Damascus

Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. 20He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.

21All who heard him were amazed and asked, “Isn't he the one who in Jerusalem was killing those who worship that man Jesus? And didn't he come here for the very purpose of arresting those people and taking them back to the chief priests?”

22But Saul's preaching became even more powerful, and his proofs that Jesus was the Messiah were so convincing that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not answer him.

23After many days had gone by, the Jews met together and made plans to kill Saul, 24but he was told of their plan. Day and night they watched the city gates in order to kill him. 25But one night Saul's followers took him and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Saul in Jerusalem

26Saul went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. But they would not believe that he was a disciple, and they were all afraid of him. 27Then Barnabas came to his help and took him to the apostles. He explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had spoken to him. He also told them how boldly Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28And so Saul stayed with them and went all over Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He also talked and disputed with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30When the believers found out about this, they took Saul to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

31And so it was that the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had a time of peace. Through the help of the Holy Spirit it was strengthened and grew in numbers, as it lived in reverence for the Lord.

Peter in Lydda and Joppa

32Peter travelled everywhere, and on one occasion he went to visit God's people who lived in Lydda. 33There he met a man named Aeneas, who was paralysed and had not been able to get out of bed for eight years. 34“Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ makes you well. Get up and make your bed.” At once Aeneas got up. 35All the people living in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

36In Joppa there was a woman named Tabitha, who was a believer. (Her name in Greek is Dorcas, meaning “a deer”.) She spent all her time doing good and helping the poor. 37At that time she became ill and died. Her body was washed and laid in a room upstairs. 38Joppa was not very far from Lydda, and when the believers in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him with the message, “Please hurry and come to us.” 39So Peter got ready and went with them. When he arrived, he was taken to the room upstairs, where all the widows crowded round him, crying and showing him all the shirts and coats that Dorcas had made while she was alive. 40Peter put them all out of the room, and knelt down and prayed; then he turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41Peter reached over and helped her get up. Then he called all the believers, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42The news about this spread all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43Peter stayed on in Joppa for many days with a tanner of leather named Simon.

Reflect

Reflect on Acts 9.1–9

A 'Damascus Road experience' has come to stand for anything that completely changes someone's perspective on life. This is the original, and it's a key moment for the early Church. Bitterly opposed to the gospel of Jesus, Paul – Saul, as he still was – meets the living Christ and realises how wrong he has been.

His Damascus Road experience has a shattering effect on him. His physical blindness echoes his spiritual blindness. He eats and drinks nothing for three days. He is clearly unable to function at all, until he's restored by the coming of a brave and devoted disciple, Ananias.

Not all 'conversion' experiences are like this, and we shouldn't try to suggest that they should be. In any case, it wasn't that Paul suddenly started believing in God – though he did start believing in Jesus. Nevertheless, his eyes were opened to something new and wonderful, and he was never the same again.

It's easy to imagine that we have our lives sorted, and that one day is going to be just like another. But sometimes God breaks in and does something completely different, and sets our lives off on an entirely new track. By its nature, this isn't something we can prepare for. Perhaps, though, it's something we ought to be bold enough to pray for, and – once we've got over the shock – to be thankful for.

Pray

Pray

God, if you change things so I have to come to terms with new ways and new thinking, help me to accept it with rejoicing. 

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