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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 29, 2005
Peter’s Expanding Witness, Part 1
It is good to be back with you. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to go to the Ukraine and teach the Book of Acts at Irpin Seminary. I will give a full report about the ministry there on Sunday evening, February 12, but in brief, I believe it was very beneficial to both the students and myself, and it is something I would like to do again sometime in the future. In the ten days of ministry that I had there, I taught 28 sessions on the Book of Acts, delivered two short sermons for chapels and another sermon at Grace Bible Church, Kiev, and was part of two additional Bible studies. I had great translators where every I went who enabled me to communicate, but that process is slow and I know there is always something lost in translation. I am glad to be back here with you, my church family, and to be able to preach again with out a translator.
I was able to teach through the Book of Acts at the Seminary, though the last 8 chapters were only a cursory overview because I ran out of time to be able to go into any depth. We do not have such time restrictions here, so we have been making steady progress through out study and seeking to mine out all the riches contained in this wonderful account of God’s working through the Apostles and others to proclaim Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world. We have already been able to marvel at many precious jewels of God’s grace and mercy to man. The wonder of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1 and the precious promise to us that he will return for us in the same way. The pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2 which ushered in the start of the New Covenant and the birth of the church. The boldness of the Apostles, Stephen and Philip in preaching the gospel even when persecuted for it. These men who had previously cowered in fear following Jesus crucifixion were changed and now boldly told their persecutors that they must obey God rather than man, and they kept on preaching. The example of love toward one another given to us by the early church in Acts 2 & 4. When severe persecution did break out, Stephen responded the same way Jesus did on the cross and asked the Lord not to hold the sin of his killers against them. The intention of the persecution was to limit and even stop the gospel message, but instead it spread and expanded as it was proclaimed throughout Samaria and Judea. Then, in my last message from Acts, we saw the miraculous conversion of Saul along the road to Damascus from being a persecutor of Jesus Christ into being a proclaimer of Jesus Christ. Saul will become the major figure of the Book of Acts starting in chapter 13.
This morning we are continuing on with our study of Acts 9 starting with verse 32 in which we step back in time to pick up the story of Peter. Luke has covered at least three years of time in telling about the conversion of Saul and his eventual coming to back to Jerusalem where a plot was formulated to murder him, so the disciples there sent him away to Tarsus. Luke now goes back in time to just after the gospel had been taken to the Samaritans as a result of the great persecution that had broken out following Stephen’s martyrdom. We had last seen Peter in 8:25 returning to Jerusalem. In Acts 9:32 we find that Peter has left Jerusalem again and is ministering in the regions to the north.
Ministry In Lydda (32-35)
Acts 9:32 (NASB) Now it came about that as Peter was traveling through all [those parts,] he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise, and make your bed.” And immediately he arose. 35 And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
Peter comes down from the hill country to the costal plain of Sharon, which extends north to Mt. Carmel, and goes to the city of Lydda. This is the Old Testament city of Lod (1 Chron. 8:12), and is the site of modern Israel’s International Airport. It is about 10 miles southeast of Joppa at the intersection of the trade routes between Egypt & Damascus & Jerusalem. Lydda had been given to the Jews by Julius Caesar, and they ruled it until their revolt in 66 AD. The Roman commander Cestius burned Lydda to the ground that year when the Jews from Lydda had gone to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Peter had gone to Lydda to meet with the saints who lived there. Persecution had caused the disciples to flee Jerusalem and scatter throughout Judea and Samaria. These believers would have been either some of those that fled Jerusalem or some who had become disciples of Jesus at the proclaiming of the Gospel by those who had fled Jerusalem, or more likely, a mixture of the two.
When Peter got there he found a “certain man” named Aeneas. His name means “laudable” or “praise.” The man who had some sort of injury that had left him paralyzed for the last 8 years. The situation is very similar to the lame man Peter had encountered at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple recorded in Acts 3. In fact, there is even some question as to the spiritual condition of this man since Luke points out that this is a “certain man” as compared to a “certain disciple” when he refers to the godly Tabitha in verse 36. He may not have been saved yet, just like the lame man in Acts 3. We do not know what else Peter said to Aeneas, but in verse 9 Peter tells him that Jesus Christ heals him. This is done in the present tense meaning that it is an announcement of a fact that comes true even as Peter says the words. Peter then commanded him to get up and make his bed. Aeneas immediately did so. Like the lame man in Acts 3, this is another complete healing.
I will point out once again that the healings done by the Apostles were very different than those claimed by the faith healers of our own time. The effect of the healings by the Apostles was also different. So many of the faith healers today call attention to themselves and take glory in the supposed miracles that take place. The apostles called attention to the Lord Jesus Christ and called people to faith in Him. They took glory in those that were saved as a result of the authentication of their message by means of signs and wonders. Such was the case here in Acts 9 as well.
Verse 35 tells us that “all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” The phrase “turned to the Lord (epistrefw / epistrepho) means “to turn around,” and is used in Acts 3:19, 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; 26: 18,20, as well as in 2 Cor. 3:16; and 1 Thess. 1:9 to described salvation in terms of a change in life direction. This is conversion. Do not take the text to imply that the people seeing Aeneas caused their conversion. Paul is clear in Romans 10:17 that faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Peter would have been proclaiming the gospel throughout the area just as he did I the Temple in Acts 3, and seeing Aeneas made whole was proof of the message that Peter was preaching. The result was that all who lived in the area that were seeing Aeneas (and hearing the gospel) were being converted into disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Luke does not tell us how long Peter was in the area, but we know from his character displayed in other texts (Acts 8:25; 9:43; 10;48) that Peter would have stayed in the area both preaching the gospel and strengthening these new believers. News about him had reached Joppa, about 10 miles northwest, where a great tragedy was taking place.
Ministry in Joppa (26-43)
The Need (vs. 36-38)
36 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. 37 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. 38 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.”
Joppa is on coast. It is the city which received the timbers shipped from Lebanon for Solomon’s temple (2 Chr. 2:16). It is also the city from which Jonah sought to flee the Lord. Like Lydda, it was given to the Jews by Julius Caesar and remained in their control until their revolt in 66 AD. The modern city of Jaffa sits on its site.
Luke points out that there was a “certain disciple” in Joppa named Tabitha. Luke also gives the Greek translation which is Dorcas. The names mean “gazelle.” This was a woman of extraordinary character. Verse 36 says she was “abounding” with deeds of kindness and charity. Abounding is plhrhV / plêrês which means “full,” “complete,” “filled with.” She was doing all the good deeds and acts of mercy she could. The reaction of the widows in verse 39 shows that they were especially impacted by her ministry which included clothing that Tabitha had made for them. The end of verse 36 stresses the fact that she did these things continually. She was a New Testament example of a Proverbs 31 woman which describes the godly woman as one who “extends her hands to the poor; And she stretches out her hands to the needy” (vs. 20).
Her death was a blow to the community. By the reaction of the people of Joppa I think we can safely assume that it was not just Tabitha’s many acts of charity that made such an impact, but the love which she demonstrated by those acts. The weeping of the widows in verse 39 is not because they had lost a source of clothing for themselves, as important as that would be to them. They had lost a dear friend. Tabitha made the tunics and garments, and any seamstress can tell you that such work is a labor of love, and they did not have sewing machines then. This was all done by hand.
The reality of Tabitha getting sick and then dying caused great grief. All they could do for her who had done so much for them was to follow the normal Jewish customs. We can imagine that it was with great care that they washed her body in preparation for burial, but then they did something different. Normally the body is buried quickly after death. It is a warm climate and the body would begin to decay very rapidly, but this time they delayed. They heard Peter was in Joppa which was only about 10 miles away, and no doubt they had also heard about Peter healing of Aeneas. This delay in burial indicates they thought Peter might be able to do something, though exactly what is not indicated, but they did not want to exclude any possibilities until after Peter had come. So instead of burying Tabitha, they laid her body in an upper room and sent for Peter.
Two men made the journey to Joppa, which would have taken 3-4 hours to walk. They find Peter and entreat him to come with them without delay. This is more than just asking or requesting Peter to come. This is parakalew / parakaleô. It has an urgency to it so it is translated here as entreat, beseech, or implore. Peter agrees to do so and verses 39-42 tells us what happened.
Peter’s Response (vs. 39-42)
39 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. 40 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. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
When Peter arrives and goes to the room where Tabitha’s body is being kept, the widows show him the evidence of Tabitha’s works of charity. A tunic was something like a shirt that was worn next to the skin. A garment was an article of clothing worn over the tunic, which could be an outer shirt, a robe, a cloak or a coat. She had made these for the widows as a means of meeting some of their needs. Remember that widows during that time could easily end up destitute if they did not have children that could support them. They relied on the charity of the community.
Peter does not know what God would do, but he follows the example Jesus gave him in Luke 8:48-55 when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus had only allowed Peter, John & James along with the girl’s mother and father to be in the room with Him, so Peter did likewise and sent the people out. He then prayed. Peter did not presume on God though God had healed many people through him. Peter knew that he could not heal in his own power much less raise someone from the dead. In all the healings he performed Peter had made it very clear that it was done by God’s power and not his own. This would be no different. After Peter had prayed, he turned to the body and commanded her, “Tabitha, arise.”
Tabitha opened her eyes, then sat up. Peter then gave her his hand and she stood up. Peter then called for the saints and widows and presented her to them alive. We can only imagine the great rejoicing that went on in that house that day. We do know from verse 42 that the rejoicing spread the news of what happened throughout the area of Joppa with the result that many believed in the Lord.
Again we find a complete healing. This time from the ultimate sickness, death. Tabitha was restored to life in full health. This was a great a blessing for the community of believers. It was also a blessing for the whole community because again we find that the result of the miracle was the spread of the gospel so that many placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Use of Spiritual Gifts
Now I want to add here a side note about the importance of doing whatever ministry that God calls you to do. It is common in our culture to think that the only people that are important are those who are rich, famous or powerful. That idea often creeps into the church so that the only people viewed as important are those who can finance ministry, those who are in some ministry that is done before lots of people, and those who are in positions of power. It is not uncommon to find people that seek such ministries or positions because they think they will then be important. However, Paul tells us that these things are not true in the church.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul uses the example of the physical body to illustrate the nature of the spiritual body of Christ, which is the church. Just as the physical body is made of many different parts, so the church is made up of different people each one having individual gifts as God has given them. Just as every part of the body is needed for the body to be healthy and function at full potential, so the church needs every member to be healthy and function at full potential. If a part of the body, or a member of the church, is not fulfilling the role or ministry God has given them, then the rest of the body will suffer. Paul even goes on to say that those parts of the body that seem less important to us are actually the ones that are more important. Tabitha is an example of this principle.
She was not a church leader. She did not have a gift or ministry that put her in front of the rest of the congregation. Her gifts and ministry were all done quietly to individuals who had needs. She had the gift of mercy and helps and that is what she did. She mercifully helped those in need. In addition, she was doing this for those who would never be able to repay her back in anyway, for again, widows at that time who did not have children to support them were dependent on the charity of others. They received that charity from Tabitha. Yet, the impact she had for the cause of Christ was great. That is why it is important to note the reaction of the widows to her death and their desire to show Peter all she had done for them.
Perhaps you are involved in some ministry that seems thankless because there is little or no public recognition of what you do. If so, then that is not a reason to be jealous or be concerned about your usefulness to God. Remember that your spiritual gifts, your ministry and its effectiveness are all given to you by God as He desires. Like Tabitha, you may not know how much of an impact you are making on others while you are alive. Yet God rewards faithfulness to Him and that is all He asks of us. Be faithful and serve Him to the best of your ability to whatever He calls you to do whether it be little or much in your sight or the sight of anyone else.
Consider that of the 9 people Scripture records as being raised from the dead [which includes Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:17-23), the Shunammite widow’s son (2 Kings 3:32-37), the young man laid in Elisha’s grave (2 Kings 13:21), the widow’s son (Luke 7:12-15), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 7:49-55), Lazarus (John 11:43,44), Tabitha (Acts 9:37-40), and Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12)], the only one that had a position of fame or power was Jesus Himself. Everyone else was someone of a humble position. There is no record of a king, prince, priest or church leader being raised from the dead.
Tabitha had glorified God through her ministries of mercy and charity. God then raised her from the dead and glorified Himself through her more than she could have ever imagined beforehand. Never think that the ministry that God has given you is unimportant. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you have to be a church “leader” of some sort or have a ministry others consider important in order to impact people for the cause of Jesus Christ. Every gift and every ministry is important even if you do not recognize that importance yourself. It may be something small in the eyes of others or even in your own eyes, but it is big in God’s eyes if it is what he wants you to do. In addition, you do not know what God may do through you in the future. Our quest is simply to be faithful to our Lord.
Peter’s Continuing Ministry (vs. 43)
In verse 43 Luke adds what seems like an unimportant footnote, but actually it is an indicator of the great work God had already done in Peter in preparing him for what was to occur very soon.
43 And it came about that he stayed many days in Joppa with a certain tanner, Simon.
After raising Tabitha from the dead, Peter stays in Joppa for many days, no doubt continuing to proclaim the gospel and seeking to strengthen the new believers in the faith. But Luke notes that Peter is staying with a certain tanner named Simon.
Tanners were outcasts of proper Jewish society because they worked with the hides of dead animals and therefore were ceremonially unclean. A godly Jew would stay away not only from a tanner, but also from the places they worked for fear that they would touch something, even if by accident, and also become unclean. Yet here we find that Peter is actually staying with Simon the tanner. God has been steadily working in Peter so that he has become more accepting and less prejudiced.
Remember that it was through Peter and John that the Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritan’s when they turned to Christ at the preaching of Philip (Acts 8). Peter then preached in the Samaritan cities as they returned to Jerusalem. Then sometime later as we have seen this morning, Peter is again outside of Jerusalem preaching which led his being in Lydda where he heals Aeneas and then Joppa where he raised Tabitha from the dead. Now he has overcome his prejudice against the lower classes of Jewish society so that he is actually living with a tanner. These transitions are preparing him for the most difficult hurdle to over come which we will see next week in our study of Acts 10 when God sends Peter to bring the gospel to the gentiles.
Bigotry and prejudice are always a hindrance to ministry where ever they are found. God had chosen the Jews to bear His name and declare His glory to all people (Deut. 7:6f; etc.). Instead, they became proud and thought themselves to be better than all other people. Their bigotry and prejudice hindered them from proclaiming God to the gentiles. Even gentile proselytes were kept at arms length and not accepted in their society. Jewish men that thought themselves godly would pray in the morning and thank God that they were not a gentile or a woman, for they held both to be beneath them.
In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul explains that Jesus Christ has broken down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles to make them fellow saints in God’s household. In Galatians 3:28 Paul explains that the separation caused by gender and economic status is also broken down so that Jew, Greek, slave, free man, male and female are all one in Christ Jesus. Our standing in Him is the same so that the pride that is the basis of bigotry and prejudice is removed and we can be unified and worship and serve our Lord together in harmony regardless of our ethnic, cultural or gender differences.
I say all of that so say this. The pride that lies at the heart of prejudice is difficult to overcome, but God desires that we do overcome it. It took Peter time to learn the lessons he needed in order to overcome his pride and prejudice. It may take us time to overcome our own pride and prejudice, yet God is working to make us into His own humble people.
I think we should praise God for what He has done here at Grace Bible Church. I believe that we are now a church that for the most part is without prejudice otherwise it would be impossible for a group as diverse as we are to be together. Our congregation is made up of people that were born in at least 12 different countries, and if we counted the ethnic heritage of those here born in the USA we would have to double or triple that number. While I was traveling, that is something that seemed to amaze many people when they asked about this church. Again, this is something that we should praise God for, and not something to become arrogant about. There is always room for continued improvement as well as seeking to be used by God to help others along in the process of becoming like Jesus Christ just as God has used others to help you become what you are today.
My closing challenge to you this morning is two fold. First, Peter was used by God because he made himself available to serve Him where ever God wanted. Tabitha was used by God because she was faithful to use her gifts in serving God. Are you available and faithful to God in your own service to Him? If not, then you need to make the necessary changes in your life so that you are. Praise Him for what He has allowed you to do so far even as you seek His will for the future.
Second, are you willing to make positive steps toward changing your own life even when it means doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Peter did that when he stayed with Simon the tanner. He moved out of his comfort zone in order to do what was right before God and in the process he became more mature. What area in your life is God working on? God desires us to move in the direction of our fears and learn to trust Him that His ways are better than our own. Perhaps there is still some prejudice issue as there was with Peter. Tolerance and acceptance of those who are different from us are two different things. We learn to accept and even enjoy people who are different by getting to know them. Perhaps it is trying a new area of ministry, but you cannot know what your spiritual gifts are without trying different ministries and seeing how God uses you. Perhaps it is even something as simple as telling others about Jesus. I challenge you to be faithful to God and see what He does in you.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch.
Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times Peter and Tabitha are mentioned. Talk with your parents about what God did through them, then talk with your parents about what God can do through you.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Give a brief outline of the Book of Acts 1-9. What has impacted you the most in this study of Acts so far? Find the location of Lydda and Joppa on a map. What are the similarities between Peter healing Aeneas in Acts 9 and his healing of the lame man in Acts 3? What are the differences? What the result of the healing of Aeneas? What is not stated in the text that must have also occurred for that to have happened? Compare the healings done by the Apostles with those done by modern “faith healers”? Describe the character of Tabitha. What was the normal Jewish practice when someone died? Why did they send for Peter? How long would it have taken for messengers to come from Joppa to get Peter in Lydda and return? Compare Peter’s raising of Tabitha from the dead with Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter. What was the response in Joppa to this miracle? What spiritual gifts are important? Why? Explain how the body of Christ works? What does God require of you in ministry? What is the significance of Peter staying with Simon the tanner? How can you recognize and overcome prejudice in your own life? Is there an area of your life that God would like you to change? Have someone else pray with you and hold you accountable to make those changes.
Sermon Notes – January 29, 2006
Peter’s Expanding Witness – Acts 9:32-43
Peter’s Ministry in Lydda (vs. 32-35)
Peter’s Ministry in Joppa (vs. 36-43)
The Need (vs. 36-38)
Peter’s Response (vs. 39-42)
The Use of Spiritual Gifts
Peter’s Continuing Ministry (vs. 43)
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