This Week's Gospel Sermons
October - December 2011 Fall Series At Jackson Drive.
"MIRACLES OF JESUS"
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December 18, 2011
Damascus is locatedabout 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem on an extremely fertile plain, the Ghutah, just to the east of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. The plain is large, about 30 miles in diameter and 2300 feet above sea level. The river Barada (Abana in Scripture) flows in to the plain and through Damascus which is built largely on the banks. The Nahr el-Awaj (Pharpar in Scripture) also flows to the south of the city.
The city is bordered on three sides by the hills and to the east by the desert. This plain which borders the desert is so well-watered that there are numerous fields, fountains, streams, and orchards with innumerable fruit trees. It is strikingly beautiful compared to the bordering desert; Arabic literature often describes it as an earthly paradise.
Militarily, Damascus is weak and almost defenseless, but because of the great fertility, it has been the oldest continually inhabited city known in the region. This small area between the mountains and the desert has been called the “harbor of the Syrian desert.”
Politics and Economy
Damascus, because of its location in such a well-watered plain, has historically had economic roots in trade. Foodstuffs, naturally were a very marketable item, but through the years, Damascus also developed a great reputation for textiles; our word, damask, a figured woven fabric with a pattern visible on both sides, typically used for table linen and upholstery, comes from Damascus. The area came to be known as an area of great craftsmanship, not only in textiles, but in wood and metals.
Owing to the lack of defensive positions, Damascus was never really suited for political might. Throughout its history, it passed through control of many hands. It is mentioned in Scripture as early as Genesis. There were long wars between Israel and Syria, of which Damascus was the chief city. Later the two countries allied themselves against Judah. The Syrians were eventually subdued by the Assyrians, as was the kingdom of Israel. Syria remained a province of Assyria until Nineveh fell to the Medes.
After an even more vicissitudinous existence throughout the struggles between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires, in 64 BC, the Roman, Pompey, annexed the area. Rome made Damascus part of the Decapolis (the league of ten cities) with the city being the seat of the province. In the year AD 37, the Emperor, Caligula, by decree transfered Damascus to Nabataean control. This was after the Nabataean King, Aretas IV Philopatris, drove away Herod Antipas who had been granted jurisdiction for a time by Rome. The city still remained much a Roman city, and by the second century Emperor Hadrian granted the city status of Metropolis.
Since the city of Damascus passed through many hands, it shared religious remnants of all of them. Naturally, there would have been influences there from the local nomadic tribesmen of the desert areas. Influences from the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, and Romans could also be felt. The people of the city also had had much interaction with Israel, as enemies and allies.
By the first century, with the influences of the Macedonians and Romans, there would have been large followings of their gods and goddesses. A temple to Jupiter was prominent in the city. There was also a strong Jewish presence. Saul of Tarsus (the apostle, Paul) was on his way to Damascus with “letters” giving him permission to arrest those Jews who were there and had joined themselves to “the Way” when he heard the Lord. Paul was baptized in Damascus and met with saints there.
Lessons from “the Way”
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)
In describing the fanatic attacks Saul of Tarsus made on the church, we are told of his going to Damascus to this end. Luke refers to these people as being a part of “the way.” Other references using this term are found in the Bible. Let us consider “the way.”
The “way” seems to have been the very earliest designation of the church other than the word “church” (Acts 19:23; Hebrews 10:19,20). Of course, Jesus had referred to the “way” as to the means of going to heaven, and had identified himself as “the way” (John 14:1-6). Very likely the term was acceptable to the apostles in view of what the prophet had said in Isaiah 35:8.
This term “the way” seems to have been a designation which the enemies of the church understood and used (Acts 19:9; Acts 24:14). The term “the way” seems to have been a designation used and understood by members and friends of the church, also (Acts 22:4).
This term “the way” was very fitting because of the very nature of the existence of Christians. Christians are pilgrims and travelers (1Peter 1:1; 2:11).
The designation of “the way” was called the way of the truth in the New Testament. (2Peter 2:2). This is in harmony with the very nature of people who are members of the church. They are people who have been purified by obeying the truth (1Peter 1:22). These are the people who have been made free from their sins by the truth (John 8:32).
This designation of “the way” was also called the way of salvation (Acts 16:17). Again, this is in harmony with the state of those who make up the church—the saved (Acts 2:47). It was natural to refer to it as the way of salvation.
This designation of “the way” was also called the way of righteousness (2Peter 2:21). This was mentioned in 2Peter because some of those had become unrighteous (2Peter 2:20-21; 2:15).
While the term “the way” may have been used in an uncomplimentary way by some at times, it is not out of order to refer to the Lord’s church as “the way.” The question for all is: “Are you a member of it?” (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:47). If you have become a part of “the Way” the remaining question is: “Is there enough evidence to convict you?”
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.