All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master's disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest
and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.
He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light.
As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?"
He said, "Who are you, Master?" "I am Jesus, the One you're hunting down.
I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you'll be told what to do next."
His companions stood there dumbstruck - they could hear the sound, but couldn't see anyone -
while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus.
He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing.
There was a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias. The Master spoke to him in a vision: "Ananias." "Yes, Master?" he answered.
"Get up and go over to Straight Avenue. Ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus. His name is Saul. He's there praying.
He has just had a dream in which he saw a man named Ananias enter the house and lay hands on him so he could see again."
Ananias protested, "Master, you can't be serious. Everybody's talking about this man and the terrible things he's been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem!
And now he's shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us."
But the Master said, "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to Gentiles and kings and Jews.
And now I'm about to show him what he's in for - the hard suffering that goes with this job."
So Ananias went and found the house, placed his hands on blind Saul, and said, "Brother Saul, the Master sent me, the same Jesus you saw on your way here. He sent me so you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than something like scales fell from Saul's eyes - he could see again! He got to his feet, was baptized,
and sat down with them to a hearty meal.
but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God.
They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, "Isn't this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn't he come here to do the same thing - arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?"
But their suspicions didn't slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.
After this had gone on quite a long time, some Jews conspired to kill him,
but Saul got wind of it. They were watching the city gates around the clock so they could kill him.
Then one night the disciples engineered his escape by lowering him over the wall in a basket.
Back in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn't trust him one bit.
Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him, told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus' name.
After that he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master's name.
But then he ran afoul of a group called Hellenists - he had been engaged in a running argument with them - who plotted his murder.
When his friends learned of the plot, they got him out of town, took him to Caesarea, and then shipped him off to Tarsus.
Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for a while. All over the country - Judea, Samaria, Galilee - the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully.
Peter went off on a mission to visit all the churches. In the course of his travels he arrived in Lydda and met with the believers there.
He came across a man - his name was Aeneas - who had been in bed eight years paralyzed.
Peter said, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!" And he did it - jumped right out of bed.
Everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him walking around and woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them.
Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, "Gazelle" in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out.
During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.
Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over.
Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha's body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them.
Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: "Tabitha, get up."
He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.
When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master.
Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.
There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there.
He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer. One day about three o'clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor, came in and said, "Cornelius."
Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, "What do you want, sir?"
Here's what you are to do. Send men to Joppa to get Simon, the one everyone calls Peter.
He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is down by the sea."
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two servants and one particularly devout soldier from the guard.
He went over with them in great detail everything that had just happened, and then sent them off to Joppa.
The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon.
Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance.
He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground.
Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it.
Then a voice came: "Go to it, Peter - kill and eat."
Peter said, "Oh, no, Lord. I've never so much as tasted food that was not kosher."
The voice came a second time: "If God says it's okay, it's okay."
This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.
As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon's front door.
They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there.
Peter, lost in thought, didn't hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him, "Three men are knocking at the door looking for you.
Get down there and go with them. Don't ask any questions. I sent them to get you."
Peter went down and said to the men, "I think I'm the man you're looking for. What's up?"
They said, "Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well-known for his fair play - ask any Jew in this part of the country - was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house so he could hear what you had to say."
Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.
A day later they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him.
The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him - and then down on his face worshiping him!
Peter pulled him up and said, "None of that - I'm a man and only a man, no different from you."
Talking things over, they went on into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come.
Peter addressed them, "You know, I'm sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don't do this - visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other.
So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. But now I'd like to know why you sent for me."
Cornelius said, "Four days ago at about this time, midafternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light.
He said, 'Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God's attention.
I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He's staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.'
"So I did it - I sent for you. And you've been good enough to come. And now we're all here in God's presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us."
Peter fairly exploded with his good news: "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites!
It makes no difference who you are or where you're from - if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.
The Message he sent to the children of Israel - that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again - well, he's doing it everywhere, among everyone.
"You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change.
Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.
"And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross.
But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen.
Not everyone saw him - he wasn't put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand - us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead.
He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead.
But we're not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets."
No sooner were these words out of Peter's mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners.
The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on "outsider" Gentiles,
but there it was - they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.
"Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They've received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did."
Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)