In our ongoing study of Acts we have just seen the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. We saw the man who hated Jesus, and His followers became followers of Jesus. And because of that, there is peace in the land, which opens up the opportunity for Peter, and probably other leaders of the first century Church, to move freely about and to investigate what is happening beyond the realm of Jerusalem.
Luke now leaves Saul, home meditating in Tarsus, and comes again to the Apostle Peter. We find him right where we left him, traveling around among the churches of Judea and Samaria, ministering to them in the power of Jesus Christ:
And so, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. (Acts 8:25 NASB)
The "they" here may refer to Peter, John, and Philip, or the subjects of this verse could just be Peter and John. This is the last we hear of Peter until our current text.
So Saul goes back to Tarsus, and the scene then refocuses on Peter, who dominates from now through Chapter 12. We don't see Peter here like we have in the past chapters of Acts--preaching to great crowds of thousands. We see him kind of isolated with individuals.
In our text for today we begin to read of people becoming Christians in places farther from Jerusalem and Judea. It seems that Luke recorded the healing of Aeneas and the raising of Tabitha to show that the Gospel was being preached effectively in a region of Palestine that both Jews and Gentiles occupied. The Gospel continues to spread.
Now it came about that as Peter was traveling through all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. (Acts 9:32 NASB)
"As Peter was traveling through all those parts"--this is a continuation phrase linking with the previous verse, stressing his oversight of "the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria":
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31 NASB)
Now that the churches were at rest, the apostles made use of this interval of quiet to visit the different congregations in order to build them up in the faith.
We saw in our last study that when Saul finally came to Jerusalem, according to Galatians 1, he said the only apostle he found there was Peter. Why would Saul be in Jerusalem and not meet with the other apostles? It's possible that the rest of them were not in Jerusalem at the time. The other eleven were moving around preaching.
Our text tells us that Peter "came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda"-- Lydda was twenty five miles north west of Jerusalem at the intersection of the road from Jerusalem to Joppa and the road from Syria to Egypt. It was thus a buzzing commercial center. Josephus tells us that it was not as large as a city, but it would later become a rabbinical center for awhile and play a prominent part in Christian activity.
If you were to fly into Israel today, you would land at Lydda. The airport outside Tel Aviv is at the ancient town of Lydda, known now as Lod.
Our text tells us that there were already "saints" at Lydda. The church here may have been founded by Philip, or some other Hellenistic believers scattered by the persecution, or it may have been by believers returning after Pentecost. We don't know exactly how, but we know there were saints at Lydda.
Whenever the New Testament uses the word "saints," it's a term that is in reference to who? All believers! All Christians are saints. There are no saints that are above other saints. Why? Because, positionally, we're all perfect in Christ. And when He's talking about being saints, He's talking about our position, not our practice. Sainthood is a positional thing, not a conditional thing. If you have trusted Jesus as Savior, you are a saint. We are all saints if we are in Christ.
And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. (Acts 9:33 NASB)
Aeneas is a Greek name. He was probably a Hellenistic Jew. We do not know if he was a Christian. The fact that Luke called him a man, but referred to Tabitha as a disciple (v. 36), may imply that he was not a believer.
Aeneas has been "bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed"--the word "paralyzed" here is from the Greek word paraluo, which means: "suffering from the relaxing of the nerves, unstrung, weak of limb." Aeneas' condition left him bedridden. Now, we understand that in our culture this would be a very difficult situation. But try to imagine it in a first century culture where they did not have our medicine, our healthcare, electricity, our conveniences, our entertainment. Someone else would have to always be taking care of you. It would have been a hopeless, miserable way of life.
Aeneas had been bedridden "eight" years. Is this number significant? Remember, to a Hebrew numbers are first and foremost symbolic. Greeks see numbers primarily as a quantity, but Hebrews see numbers primarily as quality, or symbol. To us there are simply eight years, but to the Hebrew mind, the eight would be symbolic.
One of the interesting features of Hebrew and Greek is that in both written languages there are no numeric characters. Where we have numbers and letters, they have only letters. So, in each language, the letters are also used as numbers. In a small way we do the same thing in English. For example: Is "O" a zero or a letter in the alphabet? The context tells us which is which, and we have no problem understanding it. The same goes for Hebrew and Greek. They knew when they were writing numbers and when they were writing letters.
But the interesting thing is that when a word is written, it also has a numeric equivalent. For example, the word "Jesus" in Greek is "iasous." Since each letter has a numeric equivalent, we can add up each number and get a value. The value is the gemmatria. Therefore, the gemmatria of "Jesus" in Greek is 888 because i = 10 a = 8 s = 200 o = 70 u = 400 s = 200.
The historic Christian Church has traditionally associated the number 8 with the entrance into the Covenant of God. This understanding comes from God Himself, Who commanded circumcision--the sign of the covenant--to be performed on the eighth day:
"This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 12 "And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised... (Genesis 17:10 & 12 NASB)
The number eight (8, 80, 800, 8000) has to do with new beginnings; the first-born son was circumcised on the 8th day entering into the covenant. The week has seven days, and the 8'th day is the beginning of a new week. With Noah's flood, 8 people were saved and started a new beginning for man.
There is contextual connection between the number 8 and the name of Jesus. It is in the name of Jesus that Aeneas has a new beginning:
And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise, and make your bed." And immediately he arose. (Acts 9:34 NASB)
The mention here of a specific miracle performed should be seen as having a specific purpose. So the point here is that, as at the beginning (3:1-10), the lame and paralyzed are restored. Here it was Aeneas, and yet we are also to see Aeneas as a picture of mankind, paralyzed and awaiting restoration. This was what the continuing ministry of the apostles was accomplishing, and the stress is on the fact that it was indeed continuing. Nothing could stop the onward movement of the power of the Spirit.
Jesus cured a paralyzed man in the town called Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12). Here, Luke describes how Jesus cured another paralyzed man called Aeneas. Jesus cured people when He was on the earth, and He continued to cure people after He went to be with His Father.
Jesus told the paralyzed man in Capernaum to pick up his bed (Mark 2:11). Peter told Aeneas, "make your bed," the healing is carried out in the name of Jesus the Messiah (compare 3:6); and Aeneas immediately rises. It is Jesus the Messiah Who now offers hope to all and can relieve the paralysis of the world.
Peter declares, "Jesus Christ heals you"--and this man was made well instantaneously, completely delivered. As we have seen before in Acts, these physical miracles are a picture of the spiritual miracle that God is performing in the human heart.
Do you realize that God's physical healings are selective? He never heals everybody that is sick. Jesus didn't heal everybody when He walked the earth. He healed selectively, because it is intended to picture the healing of the spirit--that is what God really wants. Any healing of the body is, at best, temporary. Every one who was ever healed in New Testament days died later on. The healing of their bodies was just temporary, because it was designed to be a picture--God's wonderful way of illustrating the healing of the spirit, which would be eternal, and which is really what God wants.
And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:35 NASB)
Luke points to the great impact this miracle had for the advancement of the Church. All who saw Aeneas in Lydda and the coastal plain of Sharon, which stretches from Joppa to Mt. Carmel beyond Caesarea, turn to the Lord. Was everyone who lived at Lydda and Sharon saved? Isn't that what it says? "All" here is used in a general way; it is not inclusive of every human being, but it means a total populous.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the results were that many were coming to faith in Christ:
But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:10-11 NASB)
The same thing happened in our text. Because of the miracle, many were turning to the Lord. In Acts, miracles accompany about half of the occasions of effective preaching of the Gospel; on the other occasions they do not.
Lydda would have been a town that had a mixture of Gentile and Jewish people. I think what's happening here is that through this, Peter is beginning to have his eyes opened that this movement might not just be about the Jewish people, but about the Gentile people as well.
Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did. (Acts 9:36 NASB)
Luke now takes us to Joppa. This was a seaport town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, 10 miles west and a little north of Lydda. It was the ancient seaport for Jerusalem. Joppa would have been made up of a population of Jewish and Gentile people. Luke believes it necessary to tell us both her Jewish name and her Greek name.
Here we meet a woman named Tabitha, who Luke calls a "disciple." Luke only uses this term "disciple" specifically for four individuals:
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Behold, here am I, Lord." (Acts 9:10 NASB)
Luke calls Ananias a disciple. He uses it of Tabitha in our text, he uses it of Timothy in 16:1, and he uses it of Mnason of Cyprus in 21:16. Disciple is from the Greek mathetes, which literally means: "learner." It is the most common designation in the Gospels for the followers of Jesus. Outside the Gospels, it is found only in Acts.
Luke uses the term "saint" three times in this chapter: 13, 32, 41. But he doesn't say that Tabitha was a saint; she was, but he calls here a disciple. Is there a difference? Are all saints disciples?
Many Christian teachers use the term "disciple" as synonymous with that of a Christian. I think there is a difference between a Christian and a disciple. How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is simple--believe the Gospel! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Jesus Christ:
Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 NASB)
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At that moment they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there.
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)
Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe--do you see any cost involved here? But now notice:
"So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33 NASB)
Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John 3:16? Do you see a difference between "believing" and "giving up all"? I sure do. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun.
Let me ask you some questions: What is the distinguishing mark of a Christian? This question will get many different answers in churcheanity, but Biblically there is only one answer: Faith. The thing that distinguishes a Christian is the fact that they believe the Gospel.
What is the distinguishing mark of a disciple? It is love:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35 NASB)
Let me be clear on this, ALL Christians are called to be disciples:
Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32 NASB)
So all those who trust Christ are called to follow Him in obedience to His word; all Christians are called to be disciples, but not all obey that call--Tabitha did!
Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did. (Acts 9:36 NASB)
In Joppa there was a Godly woman named Tabitha, a Christian woman whose life was the product of her faith. She was full of good works, including works of charity; a woman renowned and respected for what she did. Tabitha is Hebrew for "gazelle," for which the Greek is "Dorcas."
Notice what Luke tells us about this disciple, Tabitha: "This woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did." The word "abounding" here is from the Greek word pleres, which means: "controlled by." This woman was controlled by her devotion to good works. She lived to give to others. Specifically, she made clothes for them. The word "charity" is from the Greek word eleemosune, which refers to charitable acts. The word means: "acts of charity or mercy" and encompasses many kinds of deeds.
She was, in effect, a woman who was the personification of what a Christian should be, and the word "disciple" is given to her. What is interesting here is that it's the only feminine form of disciple in the New Testament. Now when it's used in the masculine, it is not limited to just men; it can include men and women. But it is as if Luke is bending over backwards here at this part of the text, where the emphasis in this part of Acts is the opening up of the eyes of the leaders that this church is going to be different. It is going to include people they never imagined. Not only is this a Jew and Gentile thing, but it is a way of saying it even will include women in a way that has not been known or understood before. So there is just a little hint toward that in the language.
And it came about at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. (Acts 9:37 NASB)
Even her practical holiness and usefulness could not prevent her from sickness and death. Although "signs and wonders" were a feature of the early church, they could not be performed by just any group of Christians. The church in Joppa had been unable to prevent her from dying. There was no one there with the gift of healing.
Does anything in this verse stand out as strange to you? The custom of the Jews at death was immediately to bury the body since they did not do any embalming. They would merely do what they called the washing; the Mishnah prescribed a certain washing, and then the burial immediately. But in this case, they didn't bury her, which was very unusual, because dead bodies were a very unsacred thing in Israel to a Jew, and they didn't let dead bodies hang around. So why didn't they bury her? Aeneas' healing led to the broadcasting of Peter's reputation to the nearby town of Joppa--they obviously thought Peter could help:
And since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, entreating him, "Do not delay to come to us." (Acts 9:38 NASB)
The disciples in Joppa send for Peter. But why? Did they have an expectation that he could raise her from the dead? None of the apostles had as yet raised anyone from the dead; and if God did not choose to restore Stephen to life, why would he do so for Tabitha? We are not told why they sent for him, or what they asked him to do. Was Dorcas still alive when they first sent for Peter?
And Peter arose and went with them. And when he had come, 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. (Acts 9:39 NASB)
The widows would be among those who would most miss her ministry, because they benefitted by it. Hard Questions: If you were to suddenly die would there be a bunch of people mourning because they would miss your ministry to them? What are you doing to minister to others? Is there anyone you minister to outside your family? We are called by God to minister to others:
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10 NASB)
The Greek word for "gift" here is charisma, it has the idea of: "grace." The word "special" is in the text, but we should think of it as follows: "As each one has received grace, employ it in serving others." We have received grace, and we are to minister grace to each other. Think about this for a minute. How important is God's grace to you? We can't make it through one day apart from the grace of God. We need God's enabling power to live our lives; and this power, this grace, can come to us through the ministry of others.
Now you might be thinking, "How is this possible?" Have you ever been in the pit of despair, being overcome by your circumstances? I have. And in those times, God uses His Word to strengthen me, and He uses prayer. But He also uses "fellow believers." When I think of times of trial, I remember the comfort that I received from my friends; friends who gave me encouraging words, words of support, words of comfort. My friends reminded me of what I knew the Scripture said and reminded me of God's faithfulness. My friends ministered grace to me. They were used of God as a means of grace. Ministering to one another in time of need is an important means by which the Lord mediates His grace to us.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NASB)
When you live independent of the corporate community, when you don't spend time with other believers, you cut off a means of the grace of God. How sad it is for those who have no one to minister grace to them in their time of need. How sad for you when you are to be the minister of grace and are not.
Back to our text:
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. (Acts 9:40 NASB)
Peter's first response is to pray. What is prayer? It is a declaration of our dependance on God; whereas prayerlessness is a declaration of our self-sufficiency.
The story is told of five young men who were visiting London years ago, and they were Christians, and they thought it would be interesting to go to Spurgeon's tabernacle and hear the great master preach. So they arrived a little early, hoping to get a seat, and the doors were still locked. They were standing on the steps in the front, and a gentleman walked up to them and introduced himself by this statement. "Young men, would you like to see the heating apparatus of this church?" They looked at each other and thought, "The heating apparatus, who wants to see that?" But they didn't want to turn away their friend that they had just met, and so they said, "Why, fine, if you would desire to show that to us, yes," being gracious young men. So he proceeded to take them in the door. They went down long steps, and they came to a hallway that looked like a dead end. They went to the end of the hallway, and a man opened the door, and there was this large room filled with 700 people on their knees in prayer. At which point, the gentleman turned to them and said, "There, my young men, is the heating apparatus of this church." They later found out that their unknown guide was Charles Haddon Spurgeon himself.
Spurgeon recognized that God's power was unleashed in prayer. You know what prayer is? Prayer, at this point, is simply the admission that I can't do it, and God can.
Peter seems to remember the healing Jesus performed in Mark 5:38-43, when He brought the daughter of the ruler of a synagogue back to life. In that healing, Jesus put everyone from the room and said, "Talitha, cumi." Peter puts everyone from the room and says, "Tabitha cumi."
Peter said, "Arise," and everything in her body was reversed like running the film backwards. All the decay that had begun to set in was reversed, her body temperature returned to normal, air filled her lungs, her heart began to beat, and she opened her eyes. It's a miracle!
Several commentators make mention that Tabitha must have been filled with regret to find herself thus called back to earth again having to leave the glories of heaven. Where did all believers go at death prior to the resurrection? They went to Hades/Sheol, which I believe was a state of unconsciousness awaiting the resurrection.
And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. (Acts 9:41 NASB)
Once more the Christians are called "saints." Notice the distinction her--"saints and widows." That would make me think that these widows were unbelievers that Tabitha ministered to.
This must have been quite a scene when the saints and widows saw their dear friend Tabitha alive again. With emotions high, they rushed in to greet the loved one recovered from the dead!
These widows were being ministered to by Tabitha. In that society orphans and widows were the most economically vulnerable. No government safety net was there to catch them. Do you realize that the Church has a responsibility, according to 1 Timothy chapter 5, to care for the widows? If you're a Christian, and you have a widowed mother in your family, you're to care for her. The Church is not to care for her; but if she has no family to care for her, the Church should care for her. God cares for widows, and He expects His Church to care for them also.
I can't find in Scripture that the Church is to use its money to build buildings. Yet, that is where most of the Church's money today goes. Biblically, we are to care for the poor and support those who teach. It seems we have it all backwards. But Tabitha had it right.
The fact that the Lord raised Dorcas, yet Stephen (and later, James in Acts 12:2) remained dead, reflects on God's unknowable ways. After all, it certainly seemed that Stephen and James were more important to the Church than Dorcas; yet God knows what He is doing, even when we don't.
And it became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:42 NASB)
Again we see the results of the miracle is that many believed in the Lord. These miracles were signs that God was at work.
And it came about that he stayed many days in Joppa with a certain tanner, Simon. (Acts 9:43 NASB)
For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals. According to the laws of that time, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet outside a village because of his ritual uncleanness. The Mishnah said if a woman had a husband who took on the trade of a tanner, she had the right to divorce him, because he went into something so defiled. A tanner was not respected. Not only that, it was ceremonially unclean.
So for Peter, an orthodox Jew, to have stayed with Simon is a way of saying something is changing here. Peter is obviously less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than he was before. This work of God in Peter's heart lays groundwork for what God will do in Peter in the following chapter.
Our text says, "it came about that he stayed many days"--the same phrase is used earlier in the chapter to speak of Paul's three years in Arabia. So Peter spent some time there ministering to the believers.
When you stop to think about what is happening here, it looked very much like Jesus. The first miracle in Lydda seems almost exactly like what happened in Mark 2 when Jesus raised the paralytic and told him to take up his bed and to walk. Now we get to Joppa, and this miracle is almost identical to a miracle in Mark 5. As a matter of fact, Peter follows step by step exactly what Jesus did. It looks as if Peter took notes when Jesus did His miracle, and he did the exact same thing--even to the point that when he said to Tabitha to arise; the wording is so exact there is only one Greek letter difference between what Peter said and what Jesus said.
It almost seems as if Jesus is still alive. We saw what Jesus could do when Jesus was alive, and now those exact same miracles continue on, which would be a way of saying, Jesus is alive! Even though Jesus had been crucified and buried, obviously He has risen from the dead. How else do you explain how a fisherman is healing disease and raising people from the dead? Jesus is alive and not limited to a house or dwelling in Jerusalem, but now He is out in Lydda, and He's out in Joppa. He's out among the Gentiles, and the ministry continues just like it did when Jesus walked this earth in the flesh.
The healing of their bodies was designed to be a picture; it was God's way of illustrating the healing of the spirit, which would be eternal.
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