36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, 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. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. – Acts 9:32-43 ESV
The gospel continued to spread. It had already moved beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem into the neighboring region of Samaria. Now, Luke provides with an overview of how it was taken to Lydda and Joppa, two cities located on the Mediterranean coastal plain, northwest of Jerusalem. And Luke records that it was Peter who made the trip to these two cities. His journey to Lydda was most likely part of a trip he made to visit the believers who existed in the cities outside of Jerusalem. Verse 31 tells us: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up” and Luke records that “Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32 ESV). Peter was checking in on all those cities where the gospel had been taken and people had responded. He felt a responsibility to gain a first-hand report on what was happening and to encourage all those who had placed their faith in Christ. It was while he was in Lydda, visiting the saints who lived there, that he heard about a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. Other than the physical ailment from which he suffered, we know nothing else about this man. His name is Greek, so he could have been a Hellenistic Jews. But we are not told whether he was one of the saints in Lydda or not. But Peter, upon meeting the man, boldly declared to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34 ESV), and Luke records that the man “immediately rose.” His healing was instantaneous and complete, a clear work of God. And the immediate outcome of this miraculous healing was not just the man’s renewed capacity to walk, but his neighbors’ acceptance of the gospel. Luke simply states that, upon seeing Aeneas healed, “they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35 ESV).
It is always interesting to consider why the Spirit of God inspired the writers of the gospels and the other books of the New Testament to include the accounts of the healings that they did. Surely, these were not all the healings that Jesus and the disciples performed. But they are all very particular in terms of their descriptions. There were many who were lame and could not walk. There were others who were blind and could not see. Jesus and the disciples all cast demons out of those who were possessed. And then, as we will see in the following verses, there are several accounts of those who were dead and then brought back to life. All of these have spiritual implications. They were physical healings, but they mirror what was happening on a spiritual level in the lives of those who came to faith in Christ. At one time they were unable to walk the path that God had chosen for them. They were incapable of following the precept and laws of God faithfully. Like a paralyzed man who was hindered by his body’s disability, the lost were totally incapacitated by their sinful condition. They could never have turned to God on their own. And the blind, while physically incapable of sight, were really unable to see spiritually. They were blind to the realities of their own sin and their inability to achieve righteousness on their own. And Jesus placed this spiritual condition on all, including the Pharisees, who He referred to as “blind guides.” They were spiritually sightless and devoid of any ability to see truth. Then there were the dead, like Dorcas, whose lives had expired and their ability to live any kind of life was gone, let alone to live righteously. They represent all those who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13). Every healing performed by Jesus and the disciples was intended to be a representation of man’s spiritual plight. Jesus spoke of this very thing when He had read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:18-21 NLT
Jesus had come to open the eyes of the blind – the spiritually blind. He had come to release those who were restricted, not by physical paralysis or non-functioning limbs, but by their own sinful state. He came to set free those who were trapped by their own state of spiritual death and condemnation, not just physical death. Jesus came to feed the spiritually hungry and to enrich the lives of the spiritually impoverished. And every physical healing He performed was a living lesson in the kind of power He possessed and proof of His claim to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
While in Lydda, Peter received word from Joppa, a coastal city about ten miles to the east, that a disciple there named Tabitha had recently died. Upon hearing of her death, Two men from Joppa had been sent to Peter with a simple, yet urgent message: “Please come to us without delay” (Acts 9:38 ESV). Why were they so insistent that Peter hurry? What was the rush? Tabitha was already dead and her body had been laid in an upper room. It would seem that the disciples in Joppa fully expected Peter to do something about this situation. They weren’t just asking him to come in order to perform her funeral. They expected something far greater to happen. So, Peter made his way to Joppa and, upon arrival, he made a beeline to the room where Tabitha’s body lay. There, he found a weeping widows who showed him the clothes that Tabitha had hand-sewn for them. This woman had been a generous and compassionate individual, who had served the local community well. The women who had gathered to mourn her death were expressing their grief over having lost a friend and benefactor. But Peter ushered them from the room, then kneeled by the body and prayed. After some time, he turned to the body and said, ““Tabitha, arise.” And she did. She came back to life. And Luke somewhat anticlimactically states: “Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive” (Acts 9:41 ESV). No emotion. No excitement. It’s almost as if Luke is overly casual in his description of this episode, as if he was not surprised at all by what he had seen. To a certain degree, the members of the early church had an expectation that these kinds of things would happen. They were become somewhat normal occurences and no longer shocked those who witnessed them. But to those outside the church, these kinds of things were far from normal or expected. And when news got out that Tabitah was alive, Luke reports that “many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42 ESV).
This chapter closes with an interesting side note. It states that Peter remained in Joppa, staying the home of a man named Simon, who just so happened to be a tanner. This little aside can be easily overlooked by those of us in the modern, western church. To us, it simply sounds like Peter stayed in the home of a gracious host, enjoying his hospitality. But notice that Luke reports that Simon was a tanner. That means, as part of his profession, this man worked with the carcasses of dead animals. To any God-fearing Jew, this man’s occupation would have made him unclean and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But with this very brief note at the close of this chapter, we get a glimpse into a change that seems to be taking place in Peter’s heart and life. He is opening up to the idea that Jesus wants the gospel to go to ALL men, not just some. It has obviously been extended to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews. Now, Peter is about to discover that God is going to open up the door to even those whom the average Jew would consider unclean and undeserving of God’s grace and mercy: The Gentiles.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.