Unit: Acts (Part 1)
Theme: The Church Begins
Lesson Text: Acts 9:32-43
Supplemental Text: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11
Aim: Look for ways to serve in whatever way you are gifted.
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By Mark Scott
Acts 9 highlights the two pillars of the early church, Peter and Paul. Most of the chapter tells about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and some of his earliest ministry. The remainder of the chapter tells about the miraculous ministry of Peter. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, but he typically went to the Jews first when he arrived in a town to plant a church. Peter was the apostle to the Jews, but he used the keys that Jesus had given him (Matthew 16:19) to open the kingdom to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48).
The locations and details in this lesson matter. Peter used his gifts to serve the Lord as he had opportunity. Peter had the gifts of preaching, teaching, and healing (cf. Acts 3:1-10). In this lesson text, he made full use of that last gift, which was consistent with his later instruction to the church in 1 Peter 4:10-11.
Note the locations of these events. The apostles had stayed in Jerusalem following the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:2). But in time, they left Jerusalem and headed in different directions. Peter went west to Lydda (the Old Testament city of Lod). Then he was summoned to Joppa. That is where the prophet Jonah—recall that Peter’s given name was Bar-Jonah (i.e., Son of Jonah)—fled to board a ship headed to Tarshish. Jonah was hesitant about going to the Gentiles in Nineveh, and Peter was hesitant to go to the Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 10:28). And Peter, upon arriving in Joppa, stayed with a tanner named Simon. This, of course, put him in contact with skins of various animals (some no doubt unclean). Both Lydda and Joppa move us one step closer to the Gentile mission of the church.
The Healing of a Paralyzed Man
As Peter traveled west, he encountered some of the Lord’s people (literally, “set apart people” or saints). This indicated the gospel message had preceded Peter’s arrival. In Lydda he found a man named Aeneas (a name meaning “praise or praiseworthy”). He was paralyzed, which caused him to be bedridden for eight years. Peter felt compelled to heal him, which is part of the larger impact of the work of Christ and previews the healing that all of creation will experience one day (Romans 8:19-21).
As Peter spoke with Aeneas, he first used an indicative verb and then an imperative. The indicative was, “Jesus Christ heals you.” This time there would be no question as to the source of healing (cf. Acts 4:10). The imperative was, “Get up and roll up your mat.” The man did it immediately. This miracle was the impetus for a critical mass of converts in Lydda and Sharon. People turned to the Lord (a summary way of speaking of conversions; “believed in the Lord” will later be used in a similar way, Acts 9:42).
The Raising of a Dead Woman
Not far from Lydda was the seacoast city of Joppa, which today is swallowed up by the modern city of Tel Aviv. News of Aeneas’s healing reached the believers in Joppa. So, Luke shifted the scene to that city and to a woman who had died; her Aramaic name was Tabitha, and her Greek name was Dorcas. Both names mean “gazelle,” perhaps referring to being clear-sighted and coordinated. She is the only woman in the New Testament who is called a disciple.
But more significant than where she lived, or the meaning of her name, or the fact that she was called a disciple was that she was well known for her good deeds. The text says she was always doing good. She also remembered Jesus’ teaching to help the poor. She conducted a significant ministry to widows, which included being a seamstress for them by making robes and other clothing.
We do not know what the believers thought Peter could do in summoning him to Joppa from Lydda. Had Peter raised anyone from the dead before (cf. Matthew 10:8)? Was this among the “wonders and signs performed by the apostles” earlier (Acts 2:43)? Peter went with the two who summoned him. When Peter arrived in the upstairs room (mentioned twice in the passage), he found the typical mourning scene from the ancient Near East. People were crying and speaking kindly about the departed.
Peter sent everyone away, knelt, and prayed. What happened next was reminiscent of Elijah’s, Elisha’s, and Jesus’ resurrection miracles done in a private setting (1 Kings 17:21, 22; 2 Kings 4:32-35; Mark 5:38-43). Peter called Tabitha back to life. She opened her eyes and sat up. Peter helped her up, called the believers in—especially the widows, Luke notes quite tenderly—and presented her to them alive (i.e., caused her to stand). The result of Peter using his gifts? Many people believed in the Lord. May we use our gifts to achieve the same purpose.