- Acts 8:1b-9:31
On the day that Stephen was killed there arose a great persecution against the Christians in Jerusalem. Everyone except the apostles fled Jerusalem to the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria. Saul of Tarsus was a key part of those persecuting the Christians. He went into Christians' homes and dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
During this time we read of the efforts of an evangelist named Philip (an evangelist is one who preaches the gospel, the good news of Jesus, to lost people). Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip started in Samaria and performed great miracles and signs there, resulting in many obeying the gospel and being baptized. Two specific people we read about are Simon the Sorcerer and a eunuch from Ethiopia. The Holy Spirit miraculously placed Philip in the path of this Ethiopian man who had gone to Jerusalem to worship. We can see how GOD was providing a means of this man knowing Jesus and being saved from his sins. GOD will always provide a way for those who want to know Him to find Him.
At the same time, Saul continued his mission to destroy the church of Jesus. He obtained permission from the Jewish leaders to go to the city of Damascus in the north and bring any Christians to Jerusalem and put them in prison. However, along the way, Jesus intervened because He had other plans for Saul.
1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
(Acts 9:1-9 NIV)
Jesus then appeared in a vision to a Christian named Ananias who was in Damascus and convinced him to go to Saul so that he would receive his sight back. Ananias obeyed and Saul became a Christian.
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
(Acts 9:17-19 NIV)
Immediately, having been deeply affected by Jesus' appearance on the road to Damascus, Saul went into the synagogue in Damascus and preached Jesus. Everyone was astonished in this life change by Saul. They couldn't believe he was now supporting the cause he had previously been so strongly against.
After some time, the Jews planned to kill Saul, but fellow Christians helped him escape one night by lowering him in a basket through an opening in the city wall. Saul returned to Jerusalem and tried to join the Christians there, but they were afraid of him and didn't trust him. A man named Barnabas took Saul to the apostles and told how Jesus had appeared to him and how Saul had testified about Jesus there in Damascus.
Saul stayed with the apostles and went about teaching Jesus in the city. Eventually certain Jews from Greece tried to kill Saul, so he went to Caesarea and then to Tarsus.
The church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace, and they grew in number, living in the fear of the LORD.