November 8, 2006
To the Ends of
The Dead Shall Rise
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
As you’re turning to Acts 9 — and if you don't have your Bibles with you, the text is printed on the bulletin for this evening. Now before we read Acts 9 together, let's pray.
Father, again we bow our heads and hearts and spirits in acknowledgement that this is Your word, and You breathed it out. It is the product of Your doing, and we ask for blessing as we read it together. Come, Holy Spirit; help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now Acts 9, and we're picking it up at verse 32 and reading through to the end of this ninth chapter:
“Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man name Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
“Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did. And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, ‘Do not delay in coming to us.’ So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.”
Amen. And may God add His blessing to that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Saul of Tarsus has been converted. He's made a visit, you remember, to Jerusalem, and he's now gone. He's left the scene. He's gone back to where he grew up in Tarsus. He’ll be gone for, well, seven...eight years. Some say ten years. He's not in the picture for a while. Eventually, as you remember, Barnabas will go to Tarsus to fetch Saul and bring him back to Antioch, and together Barnabas and Saul will begin that first missionary journey.
The focus now is on Peter...Peter and a man by the name of Cornelius. We won't see Cornelius until next week. He’ll occupy the whole of the tenth chapter of Acts. The last time we heard about Peter was when Saul made that visit to Jerusalem, the fifteen-day visit that he makes to Jerusalem that he tells us about in Galatians 1. He spent time with Peter and with James, the Lord's brother; and now for a reason that we're not told, Peter is on the move. It's not hard to conjecture what's taking place. The folks in Jerusalem are highly suspicious of what's going on, controlling what's going on in the synagogues beyond Jerusalem in such distant places as Joppa and Caesarea, and beyond. It was an issue that was always at the forefront of the thinking of the men, especially in Jerusalem. And perhaps Peter has now been sent to see what's going on, to especially investigate the fact that Gentiles are coming to the faith. But are they also coming to observe the ceremonial standards of Judaism? The food laws...circumcision, especially...the Sabbath laws? Perhaps Peter has gone to exercise a measure of control, to supervise, to investigate. Perhaps also to encourage; undoubtedly, to instruct.
And he arrives in Lydda. If you make a journey northwest from Jerusalem toward the Mediterranean coast heading right in the direction of Joppa (which you’ll know as Jaffa or Tel Aviv) you’ll pass through Lydda. Lydda is about 20-25 miles away from Jerusalem, and another 10 or 12 miles again, and you’ll be in Tel Aviv or Jaffa or Joppa. If you make a visit to Israel today, you’ll probably land in Tel Aviv. Jaffa is an adjoining city. You can make a visit to the old city of Jaffa on the coast, and there are still some astonishing, wonderful remains right on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. It's a wonderful place for a tourist to go.
And Peter arrives now in this place called Lydda. Notice how in verse 32 “...he came also to the saints who lived at Lydda.” That's a curious expression. It's not one that Luke has used. He's used it only one time before. The way Luke usually describes believers is by the term disciples. He uses it over thirty times in the course of The Acts of the Apostles. On a few occasions he will call them Christians. That term hasn't yet been coined. It will actually be a term more or less of abuse that will be coined in Antioch, in chapter eleven. Here he calls them saints. The English language doesn't have a verb for holy. There is no to holify, and so we say to sanctify. But it's the same word in Greek, and the term saints and the term holy ones is exactly the same word. He's calling them saints. He's calling them holy ones. He's calling them those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ. He writes to the Corinthians, and it isn't exactly clear what he's saying. He calls them the holy called ones, or perhaps the called holy ones. It could go either way.
Christians are known at this point in time for their holiness, for their sanctification. They’re set apart; they’re different from the world. They’re known because of their likeness to Jesus Christ.
Now Lydda, as I said, is about 20, maybe 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem. And here he meets a man who has been sick, we are told, for eight years. His name is Aeneas. He's paralyzed. And Peter comes up to him and says to him without any preliminary conversation, apparently, of any kind...he just says to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed.” [I'm always tickled that this man... the first thing he should do after eight years is to make his bed! It sounds like my mother! Single folk, take note...] It's a curious thing. All of a sudden there's an outbreak of the miraculous. There are no incantations; there are no physical things that Peter does. It's simply a word, and immediately this man is healed.
It's a manifestation of the sovereign power of God. It's a bit like...as to the language, it's very reminiscent of that miracle in Mark 2 in Capernaum. You remember that man who was paralyzed, who was let down through the roof of Peter's house in Capernaum where Jesus happens to be staying? You remember they go up to the roof and they make a hole [and Mrs. Peter is checking her State Farm Insurance policy], and they let the man down on a stretcher, and immediately Jesus speaks the word. After saying, “Which is easier, to forgive sins or to say ‘Rise, take up your bed, and walk.’?” and in order to demonstrate that He has the power to say “Your sins are forgiven,” He says to the man, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”
Now Peter doesn't say, “Your sins are forgiven.” He's not Jesus. He is the representative of Jesus. He is an apostle. He is a plenipotentiary of Jesus. He says, “Rise and make your bed,” and immediately the man is healed.
And now, you understand, there's a sort of ‘meanwhile’ little thing that appears at the bottom of the screen, because something else is now taking place as this is going on in Lydda, in the place called Joppa, and Joppa is 10-12 miles further northwest on the Mediterranean coast. And we're introduced now to a woman: a wonderful woman by the name of Tabitha, in Aramaic; or, Luke translates it - because maybe some of his readers don't know Aramaic, he translates it into Greek and calls her Dorcas. And she has fallen sick, and she has died, and they've laid out her body in an upper room, and washed it. And her body is already cold and damp from the effects of death. And two men are sent immediately to Lydda.
Now, we assume that somebody from Lydda had come to Joppa, had made that 10-mile journey (it would be a couple of hours, maybe, on a quick sprint–maybe more for some of you, and me)...but it wouldn't take all that long to get to Joppa, and news of this man's healing would get there quickly.
I have no idea what these folk had in mind when they sent for Peter. What were they expecting? Were they expecting him to raise Tabitha from the dead? There was no precedence for this. Peter had not raised anybody from the dead in the past. There are only five resuscitations from the dead recorded in the New Testament Scripture. Three of them are recorded of Jesus (Jairus's daughter; the widow of Nain's son; and Lazarus), and there’ll be one more in The Acts of the Apostles performed by Paul (Eutychus...you know, the man who falls down after that long, long sermon), but Peter hasn't raised anybody from the dead. This is an act of extraordinary...it's just an extraordinary request on the part of these people that they send for Peter. What are they expecting him to do? You might have thought that Peter would have said to the two men ‘If she's dead, what's the point in me going? Bury the woman.’
But immediately he goes, and he discovers this tragic scene of widows to whom Dorcas has been ministering in acts of mercy, making garments of some kind. The Greek word seems to suggest a garment that you would wear next to your clothing, probably from head to toe, of some description or another. And they are there, and they’re weeping. It's an emotional scene. And Peter sends them out, and he's there alone, and it has all the marks of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath; and he falls on his knees and prays, and says to Tabitha.... [You know, if you translated what he said to Tabitha into Aramaic, it would sound like ‘Tabitha, kume’ which sounds almost identical to what Jesus said to Jairus's daughter, “Talitha, kumi”; and those who were involved in copying manuscripts of the Bible ever since have got those two mixed up, and sometimes there are manuscripts that have just mixed those two words up. That's just a little aside.]
And Dorcas wakes up. We’re so familiar with the story that perhaps it doesn't shock us. She opens her eyes and she sees Peter — the apostle from Jerusalem, no less — in the upper room. And he gives her his hand, and she gets up; and he takes her out and presents her to the astonished widows outside.
Now what are we to make of this? What are we to make of it? Are we to make of this....? Am I supposed to go tonight across the road to Baptist Hospital and say to a dear, dear, friend, “Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” No. I don't possess those gifts. This was a gift that Peter possessed. He was an apostle. He was a plenipotentiary of the Lord; and besides which, these miracles of healing — and especially miracles of resuscitating the dead — are very rare, even in the Scriptures. Even Paul didn't do that on every occasion. When Timothy was sick with stomach problems, he says to Timothy, “Take a little wine for your stomach's sake.” Trophimus, he leaves behind on the island of Miletas, sick. That's the Apostle Paul. Jesus didn't heal everybody. No, that's not what we're meant to get from this.
Let me suggest two or three things.
I. Let me suggest first of all, we live in a supernatural world. We live in a supernatural world. The reason why prayer makes sense is because we're not talking to the ceiling tiles. We’re not talking to each other. We believe in a supernatural God, who can intervene into the world of space and time. We’re not naturalists. We’re not like David Hume or Anthony Flue, who basically said ‘Miracles don't happen because they don't happen, because I say so.’
We believe in Jesus — a miracle in itself. His very existence was a miracle. His birth was a miracle. His resurrection was a miracle. We sang at the beginning tonight When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There. And you sang it! And that's a miracle, because it took an intervention of sovereign grace into this world to bring that about, to give us new hearts, to give us faith, to bring us into union and communion with Jesus Christ. Do you understand, friends? Of course you do! That's what this prayer meeting is about. We’re engaging with the supernatural, with a God who is there and whom we know, and with whom we have communion in Jesus Christ, and who changes things.
Now, it's not always His will to heal. Sometimes He heals us by taking us home to heaven. Don't you love that? Sometimes I want to say when I hear some prayers, you know, “Let them go, because it's going to be far better for them in heaven.” We live in a supernatural world. We’re not determinists; we're not fatalists...thank God we're not fatalists...we believe in prayer. “If there is any sick among you, let him call upon the elders and let them pray.”
2. Secondly, why did God grant this astonishing miracle to Peter at this point in the ministry? That has to be significant. It's the only time he raises the dead [I mean, don't you think there was a twinkle in his eye when Dorcas actually opened her eyes? He believed and didn't believe at the same time. I mean, that would be Peter!], because what's coming next? You know what's coming next in chapter 10: it's Cornelius. You know what's coming next: it's that dream on the rooftop when Peter is having his devotions; and apparently he's fallen asleep in his devotions, because he's having a dream [and that wouldn't be the first time!], and he sees in that dream clean things and unclean things; and he's told to go and kill and eat, because the distinction between clean and unclean has been taken away.
Now, do you understand how big that is? That there is no more barrier, there is no more distinction between Jew and Gentile; that all of a sudden the gospel is now for everybody, it's not just for these tiny little group of people in Palestine. It's for the whole world. Peter hadn't eaten a pork sandwich in his life, but he was about to. It's hard, I think, for us to enter into just how big that was, that Peter as a Jew — from Jerusalem, now — and having to go back and report to the men of Jerusalem that all of a sudden that barrier, those distinctions — clean and unclean, circumcision, food laws, all of the ritual of the Sabbath laws — are now done away with. And perhaps not only for Peter's sake but for the church's sake, to give to Peter a sense of authority in what he was about to be called to do as an apostle to the Gentiles. There’ll be another little Pentecost in the conversion of Cornelius, with some of the trappings and accoutrements of Acts 2, in fulfillment of what Luke has already written of Jesus’ last words in Acts 1:8, that the gospel will spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and now to the ends of the earth, because from now on it's going to be for the whole world. And as though to underline the bigness and the hugeness of that, there's this big, huge, miracle of the raising of Tabitha...Dorcas.
3. And one last thing, because I think we ought to say just a little word about Dorcas. She's an example of a godly woman in the Bible. She is described as one (in verse 36) as “...abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did”; and Luke describes how the widows are standing weeping at her body, holding the garments that she had made. She's a member of the venerable society of knitters and sewers, and don't mock that.
You know, I was thinking this afternoon just how many Dorcas's or Tabitha's there are in this church who make food on a continual basis for those who are sick; who in times of bereavement come in like an army and take over...Tabitha's and Dorcas's exercising this wonderful ministry of mercy to widows.
She's an example of those whom God sees as doing works for others. She wasn't living for herself, and when she died there were a whole battery of women who loved her and missed her, and wept at what they thought was her parting. What a testimony. What a testimony that is...and, ladies, if I can just apply this to you: Don't you want to be a Tabitha? And many...for all I know, all of you are Tabithas and Dorcas...and oh! that we might see more of it in the church. It's just another cameo sketch of how the blessing of the Spirit is coming down on these churches in a place like Joppa on the Mediterranean coast, where true and vibrant godliness was being evidenced in the life of the church. May we continue to see that here.
Let's pray together.
Father in heaven, we thank You that we do live in a supernatural world; that when we speak to you as we do now at this moment in prayer, that this is no futile exercise. You really are there, and You really do hear us, and You have promised to have Your ear open to the cries of Your children; and we thank You for those times that we can evidence tonight, and repeat tonight, when You've come in Your sovereign power by Your Spirit and revealed Your power, changed things that could not be changed; converted folk like Saul of Tarsus and others. And to that end, O Lord, we pray that Your blessing might continue to abound. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Let's stand and let's sing together The Doxology, and we’ll have the benediction.
Now receive the Lord's benediction.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of you, now and forevermore. Amen.
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.