After spending a lengthy emphasis on Saul’s conversion, Luke transitions back to Peter. Those who were afraid to join the Church because of the persecution were now free to do so without fear of oppression. But this text reminds us that a greater oppression remained, the oppression of sin and its consequences. However, we have a Savior who is capable of raising our hope tasting a future where all oppression will cease.
Read Acts 9:32-43
The Church’s greatest persecutor has been converted, but despite the relative peace they were experiencing, she still had real enemies. The Church is thriving and growing more and more established, but physical sickness and death remained. The problems that result from sin continued to have an impact.
It is a reminder that we have not arrived. We are not yet the Church Triumphant. This world is not our home. Sickness and death are harsh reminders of this reality. But physical healing is always of secondary importance to spiritual healing. And God is graciously raising us above our circumstances and granting perseverance to endure to the end.
In both cases, the healing was followed by mass conversions. That appears to be the Lord’s purpose in healing Aeneas and Tabitha. They were meant to display the power and mercy of God that is shown to the helpless. And it is meant to provide the Church with a hope in the final resurrection that awaits.
First, we will look at Raising the Paralyzed (32-35). Second, we’ll see Raising the Dead (36-43).
Raising the Paralyzed (32-35)
Peter was shepherding this growing body of saints (Acts 9:32). These saints were not morally superior believers (as Roman Catholics use the term). All believers are called “saints” in Scripture. Paul often began his letters addressing “the saints” (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2).
Saints are literally “holy ones”. Holiness is a common characteristic that defines the covenant community. They are “set apart” for Kingdom purposes. The Gospel gives us new ambitions.
Lydda was about 25 miles north-west of Jerusalem. Peter has been making a pastoral tour of the regions where disciples had been scattered during the great persecution. Later on, Paul describes how he did the same thing “teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
I remember reading The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter in seminary and being convinced that pastoral visitations were a critical part of shepherding. Baxter had 800 families in his church of around 2,000, and he was committed to visiting each one at least once a year. That amounts to over 15 visitations per week!
Pastoral visitations are unfortunately growing more and more rare in our modern context. But the need for shepherding, mentoring, counsel, and care remains just as important for the church today.
To properly care for the flock, there needs to be a willingness to visit, and a willingness to be visited. I’m convinced that shepherding must go far beyond preaching on Sundays. And let me also add that this kind of ministering to one another should not be restricted to pastoral visitations. You should be in the habit of regularly receiving and being received into one another’s homes.
Aeneas had been confined to his bed for eight years having somehow become paralyzed (Acts 9:33). It is hard to imagine the sense of helplessness he would have felt and the loneliness he would have experienced. Peter’s visit alone would have been a tremendous encouragement to him. We often take for granted the blessings we have until we take the time to empathize with others who do not have those same privileges.
But Peter does much more than empathize with Aeneas. He heals the man. Notice what he said, “Jesus Christ heals you” (Acts 9:34). Previously, when Peter healed the lame beggar, he clarified that the power to heal did not come from him, but the man had been healed by faith in the name of Jesus(Acts 3:12, 16). It is the power of Christ that healed Aeneas.
As disciple making disciples, our job is to point people away from ourselves, and to point them to Christ. We do not instruct people to turn away from their sin and to turn to us. Rather, we tell them to turn away from their sin, and to turn their focus to the Lord. He is to be where they find all they need. He is the only One who is all-sufficient.
Why does Peter add the command for Aeneas to make his bed? I realize all the mom’s are thinking, “Because he knew it would take a miracle to get anyone to make their own beds…” After eight years of lying in his bed, Aeneas now has to privilege of making it. It is similar to the time Jesus healed a paralyzed man and told him to pick up his mat and walk (Luke 5:24-25). It shows “that his healing was instantaneous and complete.”1
“All” of the residents who had seen this man healed “turn to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). This does not mean that every individual person living in Lydda and Sharon were converted. It is hyperbole emphasizing a large number of witnesses who repented.
I know it is a running joke for some pastors to say things like, “What does the word ‘all’ mean here? It means ALL.” That isn’t helpful, in fact, it can be misleading if they mean to suggest that each and every individual is to be included. Scripture frequently uses terms like “all” to speak of broad categories.
πᾶς occurs 1,238 times in the New Testament. It is almost always limited in some sense. It refers to particular categories of people or places (Acts 21:28). The context is necessary to determine what is meant. It rarely, if ever, means “all without any kind of limitation.”
What did “all” these witnesses do? They repented. “They turned to the Lord.” Repentance is turning away from sin and turning to the Lord.
The power of Christ is greater than raising the paralyzed. He is also capable of…
Raising the Dead (36-43)
Joppa was near Lydda (about 12 miles inland). Tabitha is Aramaic and Dorcas is Greek for “gazelle”. She was known for her “good works and acts of charity.” The text indicates that she made tunics and garments for widows (Acts 9:39). She served the church in simple ways. She saw a need among the widows and ensured that they had adequate clothing.
Tabitha’s death was difficult for the women (Acts 9:37). They had grown to love this woman dearly for her selfless character. When they heard Peter was nearby, they sent two of the disciples to get him (Acts 9:38). Peter’s visit would provide them the comfort and strength to mourn with hope.
But it is interesting that Luke mentions her body being laid in the upper room. There is precedent for upper room resurrections. Elijah carried the widow’s dead son to the upper chamber where he brought him back to life (1 Kings 17:19). Elisha raises a Shunnamite’s son in his own room that was on the roof (2 Kings 4:10, 21). It is possible that this was an act of faith on behalf of the disciples hoping for a miraculous resurrection.
When Peter came to see Dorcas, the widows were mourning and showing him all of the garments she had made (Acts 9:39). He sent them outside, prayed, and commanded her to arise (Acts 9:40-41). And after he brought her outside she began to describe what heaven was like. But before she could explain it, a representative from Joppa Books offered her a contract…
I know some of you will have the theological question of where Tabitha was during the time she was dead. Very few people have come back to life, but what happened to those that did? “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Does that mean Tabitha, Lazarus (John 11:1-46), Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12), and Jairus’s daughter (Matt. 9:18-26) were with the Lord for a short period before entering back into this fallen world?
On the one hand, it seems like these people would have shared something about their disappointment to have been brought back to life. One moment they were in the presence of the Lord, and the next moment they are back in this fallen world.
We know believers are not separated from Christ at their death, and they have a soul that never dies (Matt. 10:28). Revelation 6:9 depicts the souls of martyrs under the heavenly altar. The bible also refers to the spirit of man in this way (Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23).
Scripture seems to suggest an intermediate state where there is some level of conscience awareness, but also a sense of waiting for the resurrection when they are reunited with their physical bodies and reside in the New Heavens and New Earth. So the hope is never in the temporary, but the eternal.
All that to say, any description Tabitha might have given of this intermediate state would not have been the same as the descriptions of the New Heavens and New Earth. The pictures we have of the eternal state in the Book of Revelation are depicting a future hope that no one has experienced yet.
Now, I’m about to step on some of your toes, so brace yourself. What does this mean for certain modern bestselling books and blockbuster movies? It seems like anyone can claim to have died and gone to heaven and receive a book contract to tell us about it. Don Piper spent 90 Minutes In Heaven. A three-year-old boy named Colton, Todd Burpo’s son, came back to tell us Heaven Is For Real.
So, let’s get this straight. Paul couldn’t speak of the glories of heaven because it was inexpressible (2 Cor. 12:2-4). And of all of the accounts of people dying and coming back to life in Scripture, none of the stories of where they were, what they did, who they were with is ever recorded. If God had intended for us to know something about heaven to stir up our faith, He could have easily ensured that it was recorded by one of the New Testament authors. There were certainly opportunities. But, no. According to Don Piper and Todd Burpo, God wanted our generation to have this special knowledge of meeting Jesus while riding on a rainbow colored horse…
Tabitha’s resurrection “became known throughout all Joppa and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42).
The raising up of the paralyzed Aeneas and the deceased Tabitha is all about the proclamation and display of the power and glory of Jesus Christ. Peter didn’t draw attention to himself. He pointed those he healed to Jesus and all who witnessed the healing were pointed to Christ.
Peter “stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner” (Acts 9:43). Who is Simon? Other than being “a tanner”, he was just another Christian brother showing Peter hospitality. Actually, the fact that he was a tanner might anticipate what is to come in Peter’s vision. Because a tanner would have spent a lot of time with the skin of dead animals they would have often been considered “unclean”. Luke is preparing his readers for the removal of the walls between what is clean and unclean. But more on that next week.
This passage teaches us that we serve a God who heals. Aeneas had been in a helpless situation for eight years. Tabitha was dead! There was no natural way for either of them to escape their predicaments. But we see that our Lord is able to heal those broken by sin and its consequences.
Are you trusting the Lord to bring the healing you seek? It might be physical, spiritual, or emotional. If God is able to raise the paralyzed and the dead, He can certainly heal the brokenness that sin and its consequences have brought into your life. We cannot abandon our only hope!
- Dennis Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, 120. ↩︎