God’s Power for God’s Purpose
Peter’s Miracle Ministry
Dr. Jim Denison
A study in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that talking on a cell phone while driving increases the risk of accident fourfold, the same risk as driving while intoxicated. It doesn’t seem to matter if the phone is hands-free or handheld. The study did cite one safety benefit. Nearly 40% of those surveyed used their phones to call 911 after they crashed.
Who can we call before the accident? Before we drive into an uncertain future? Before we meet the truck coming around the next bend?
We in Western culture like to visualize history as a line, a timetable with a past, present, and future. We appreciate five-year plans and strategies for the future. We are at our most disconcerted when tomorrow is clouded in the mists of uncertainty and our headlights cannot see around the turn in the road. But there’s only One who knows the road before us. Learning to let him drive is the key to traveling well.
What about the future most worries you today? Let’s learn how to give that very burden to God this week.
Trust the power of God (9:32-43)
No one in scripture faced a less certain future than the apostle Peter. Identified already by the Sanhedrin as the leader of the movement they branded criminal, he will soon face the wrath of Rome yet again (ch. 12). In the meanwhile, our study this week will put him squarely in the sights of the Jerusalem church leaders and their centuries-old, cherished customs and beliefs regarding the Gentiles. Such racial tensions were at least as deep and divisive then as racism is today.
Before we can follow God into such uncertainty, we must first believe that he will lead us well. Only when we trust his power, will we trust his providence. Now Peter will learn to do both.
The apostle has traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria and back (Acts 8:14-25). Now he is in the midst of another missionary journey, this time to Lydda, a town situated some 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem. There he met a crippled man named Aeneas. Likely a believer (“he went to visit the saints in Lydda,” v. 32), he had been bedridden eight years.
Remembering his earlier experience with the healing power of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10), Peter offered this man the same grace from God. He received it in faith, getting up and trusting God to heal him (v. 34). And the Lord answered his obedience, so that all in Lydda and Sharon (probably the region, but possibly a nearby town) saw him “and turned to the Lord” (v. 35). A changed life is the most potent means of changing other lives.
26 miles further to the northwest lay Joppa, an important sea port. A suburb of Tel Aviv today, it is still a popular tourist attraction. The last time I was in Israel, our group stopped and read the story we will now review. A disciple named Tabitha lived there. Her name is Aramaic; Luke translates her name into the Greek Dorcas, a hint that his reader(s) did not understand Aramaic and thus may have been Gentiles and/or Romans (cf. the dedication to “Theophilus,” perhaps a Roman official, Luke 1:3, Ac. 1:1).
Her mercy ministry was widely known and received, so that her untimely death was mourned by all. The disciples heard that Peter was nearby in Lydda, and summoned him to come urgently (Jewish custom gave those living outside Jerusalem only three days to bury the corpse).
Peter found the deceased girl and her mourners “upstairs” (v. 39), the typical “upper room” used by families as a kind of den. The apostle had been present each time Jesus raised the dead (Matthew 9:25, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44), so he knew that his Lord possessed such power. Unlike Jesus, he knelt and prayed, making clear the fact that this miracle would come from God or it would not come at all. He then called the girl by name, an indication that he believed God intended to raise her. And he did.
The result of this physical miracle was an even more important spiritual miracle: “many people believed in the Lord” (v. 42). As in Lydda earlier (v. 35), this is always God’s ultimate purpose in healing our bodies. They will die again, but souls which turn to him in response to such grace will live forever in his paradise.
If Jesus can raise the dead, what can’t he do? Think back to all the ways the Lord has revealed his powerful grace to you. He gave you physical life, then spiritual salvation. He has given you health, the freedoms we enjoy, and a loving church family. When we remember all he has done, we will more readily trust him for all he will do. When we see his power, we can trust his providence.
Hear the voice of God (10:1-18)
So we know that our Lord can lead us into an uncertain future. But will he? Will the God of the universe actually speak with us?
He certainly spoke to Cornelius and to Simon Peter. The issue before us in Acts 10 is the most crucial turning point in Luke’s entire narrative: can Gentiles become Christians, or must they first become Jews? Is the gospel for everyone? Do you and I as Gentiles have the right to this mercy and grace?
To this point, no one had come to faith without a prior relationship to Judaism; even the Samaritans of Acts 8 espoused a kind of Jewish theology and culture. One could argue that the Ethiopian eunuch was himself related to Judaism, given his Jerusalem worship (Acts 8:27) and obvious interest in the Scriptures (v. 28). Must we all go to Jerusalem before we can go to Jesus?
Peter’s residence with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (Acts 9:43) is indication that his heart was already turning from the racial and moral prejudices of his traditions. A “tanner” was one who worked with the skins of dead animals, and thus handled things unclean to the Jew. To stay with him was a significant step out of the legalism of Peter’s heritage. Now he will be asked to take a second step, the largest of his entire life.