20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 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?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 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.
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 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. 41 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. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
In today’s reading we get several snapshots of the work that the Spirit is doing in this early Christian community, particularly focused through the lens of two important leaders whose exploits will frame much of the story in the coming chapters of Acts: Saul and Peter.
Though Saul’s story is just beginning to unfold, we see in this passage the beginning of his remarkable transformation from enemy number one of the Christians to a bold, effective apologist and missionary (Acts 9:20-22). And we have already observed, in the early chapters of Acts, the equally remarkable transformation of Peter from denier of Christ to the pioneering leader of the church (Acts 2-5).
Perhaps at this point we might be tempted to insert any number of leadership quotes to summarize the importance of these kind of strategic, visionary leaders to a movement or organization. Everything rises and falls on leadership we are told! Now I would not want to deny that God uses leaders like Saul and Peter in important ways both then and now. Yet it is easy to overlook, even in reading this passage, the quiet, kind, understated work of everyday, salt-of-the-earth followers of Jesus, whose names, if they are given, might not make it in the Great Leaders Hall of Fame (if there was such a place).
Did you see the friends of Saul who sneak him out of Damascus to save his life (Acts 9:25)? Did you notice the role of Barnabas who puts a good reference in for Paul to the Jerusalem leaders (Acts 9:27)? What about Tabitha who sews clothes for the poor (Acts 9:39)? Or her anonymous friends who plead with Peter to come and heal her (Acts 9:38)? Then, as now, the witness of Christians and their impact on the world around them was not just the provenance of great leaders. It depended on thousands of ordinary, behind the scenes followers of Jesus saying yes to the need the Spirit presented to them.
How have you been impacted by the faithful, humble service of brothers and sisters in Christ behind the scenes? Perhaps you might take a moment to name some of them and say a word of thanks to God for their impact on your life.
What needs that go unnoticed by others might the Spirit be prompting you to respond to?
Now, Lord, enable your servants through the empowerment of your Spirit to speak your word with great boldness. (taken from Acts 4:29)
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.