Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralysed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed." Then he arose immediately. So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put 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. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
There are a couple of points that I would like to draw to our attention today from this passage. One is the work of Jesus Christ through Peter to further the spread of the gospel and increase the numbers of believers. This passage as we have just seen has two such episodes, miracles used for these purposes. The other point I think is worthwhile looking at with this passage is the work of Tabitha, and as such, the role of women in this early church in this context. It has been something that has been on my mind for some time, so will spend a little time on this topic.
To start, let us see where Peter is, for the work of the apostle is moving north and into more Gentile territory. IVP commentaries tells us:
The apostle arrives at Lydda, twenty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem at the intersection of highways from Egypt to Syria and from Jerusalem to coastal Joppa. It was the capital of a toparchy, or administrative district, and had a predominantly Jewish population in an ethnically mixed region. It is the Old Testament city of Lod, near which modern Israel's international airport of the same name is located (1 Chron 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Neh 11:35). There Peter finds saints (compare 9:13) who were converted under the witness of pilgrims returning from Pentecost or of Hellenistic Jewish Christians dispersed by persecution or of Philip (Acts 8:1, 40; Longenecker 1981:381; E. F. Harrison 1986:171; Kistemaker 1990:358).
North of Lydda is the coastal plains called Sharon, which is near Mt Carmel one can stand on top of Mt Carmel and see the Mediterranean Sea. We know this, from the story of Elijah, and small cloud the size of a hand rising out of the sea and the subsequent breaking of the drought in the time of King Ahab.
Peter is travelling about, visiting the saints and undoubtedly preaching, teaching and exhorting the people of God about the Scriptures of the day and who Jesus of Nazareth truly was along with many proofs. However, amongst these people there were the unsaved; those who would have seen the Christian way yet had not accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour. Peter would have been known to have been a personal disciple of Jesus Christ when Jesus was alive, and Christians would have been known as the group had been persecuted by the Jews, and especially by one known as Saul, who had disappeared from the scene. There would have been curious stories being relayed about Saul, for he had been seen arguing the Christian cause, and a price had been put on his head. Commentators say that this was probably when he headed to Arabia for his three years of God's own university - but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:17) So, this passage speaks of a period immediately following great persecution, peace was current as we learned in verse 31 - Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. Peter was out and about amongst the people preaching.
Something however, was hindering progress in this region. Peter was sent there, and there he found someone paralysed for 8 years. God names the man for our record, so we know who it was - "Aeneas, and God gave Peter the power to heal the man, much like he did to the man outside the temple gates back in chapter 2. Peter needs to link Jesus Christ, the man crucified, to the miracle he is about to facilitate (God does the miracle), and therefore he says point blank - Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed." Then he arose immediately. Note the words used in this text. Jesus the Christ. Christ is that part of Jesus’s name that is derived from the Greek Χριστός (Christos), which is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Masiah), meaning the "anointed" and usually transliterated into English as "Messiah" (see Vine page 250). Utilising the various names that are used for our Lord (and for our God) can be an important emphasis. The name “Jesus“ is used so often in today’s Christendom, it seems to have become too familiar, lacking due reverence. Here Peter is ensuring the audience is aware that Jesus - the man he had been the disciple of, the one who had been crucified, was the Messiah, and the Jews would have been very aware of this term and this figure - it was whom they had been waiting for, but had missed.
Note then the phrase, “Jesus the Christ heals you“. It was a done deal. It wasn’t: “Jesus will heal“, it was: “Jesus the Christ heals“ - a completed action. How was Aeneas to know he was healed? Again, we see further action, something Peter told him to do, “arise“. Note further the language used here, it wasn’t just one word, to arise, get up and about. It was “arise and make your bed“ - you won’t need that anymore. This healing is for good. This healing is from the Messiah who wants you out of bed and out and about. Why? For there are people out there who have yet to believe, and you are to be the living example of Jesus the Messiah at work in your body. Peter needs the ultimate statement, one that will impact this community, and the community responds, as does Aeneas who rises immediately. He had had enough of the bed, eight long years. He is up, and that bed I am sure is rolled up and stored faster than you can blink. A miracle for a purpose - So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
The need for such a miracle is, in all reality, a sad indictment on man. We want to see something before we believe it is so. It is not enough to hear the story and listen to the witnesses of miracles. We want one ourselves. However it was the same in Jesus’s own time. For example John 6:10-11 says: Then Jesus said, " Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. Move forward exactly one day - the same people, and the statement: Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? (v 30) They went on to say that their father’s ate manna in the desert - bread from heaven. Where did they think the bread came from to feed 1000’s just the previous day? Are we any different? However, back to our passage, God uses Peter to do a single miracle that brought many from the region to Christ. Praise the Lord that God has patience and grace and love for his dear weak and faltering human race.
We then quickly move from this miracle and the salvation of the people, due to the miracle triggering the opening of their eyes to the gospel, to the next part of this passage for this morning:
At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died.
What do these lines tell us? First this was in the town of Joppa. As we have seen it is on the coast, where some disciples could be found; one of whom we now meet, though dead named Tabitha or Dorcas. Do you find it fascinating the use of people’s names in the Bible? Some people are named, and others are not, as we have just seen Aeneas named. Where they are not named, people seem to think they know who the person is, yet God has not named them so commentators make a supposition and the myth becomes a fact. However, here we have a name, and in case we haven’t quite got the translation, we get the translated name as well - Tabitha and Dorcas. Is this useful information to know? Depends on how you look at it, but if we get the meaning of names we find out that Tabitha, or Dorcas means: gazelle. Under Old Testament law the gazelle was a clean animal, for eating, though not sacrifice. Traditionally female slaves were often named after animals, though here this is supposition, as she was a woman of some means. She was able to sew and make garments for women, not as a seamstress, or tailor making fashion for a money, but rather, in charity, making clothing for the needy women. Luke states she “was full of good works and charitable deeds“.
Her body was also laid in the upper room, indicating that she, or at least her friends, must have had some wealth, for only the wealthy could afford or own an upper room that could be put for this purpose. As I looked at a few commentaries on this angle of the topic of being given both names, I read this: Perhaps the doubling shows her ministry to Jewish and Hellenistic believers, something noted earlier in Acts 6:1 and emphasized from chapter 10 on; if so, the placement of Tabitha’s story serves as a transition in the fulfilment of Jesus’ command to his disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth“ (Acts 1:8). Perhaps her name indicates a woman of energy, grace, beauty and quick movements.
I believe that one should always stop and see what God has in store for us with each word He has in His Book. It maybe none of the above, but He does give us languages obviously for two readers, Jew and Greek, and ensures that her name is carried forward into history. As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. There is nothing here for no good reason, yet the reason may be only for a select few. However, putting this interesting point aside, let us move to another thought.
Scripture says that Tabitha was a disciple. In reading the various commentators, it is noted that people sometimes express surprise that this statement is made, however, we read in Luke’s gospel (8:1-3): And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities&mdashMary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance. So nothing out of the ordinary there! Tabitha followed the Lord, and worked for Him. Romans 16:7 says: Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Junia is named as an apostle, and all but a few scholars agree that Junia is a woman. Why do I raise this point? When looking at the modern commentators, they make much of this point, and I believe, wrongly so. Here is my trigger for moving for a brief time into this area of debate and discussion. I do so primarily because there has been so much said, and so much bad doctrine taught about the differentiation of roles for men and women, we need to be aware of the actual Biblical stances, rather than that of humankind. This particular story has no such stance despite commentators that attempting to make it say so. Being an apostle does not delineate the role, nor being named as a disciple give role delineation, rather, it provides a clear understanding of the position of the person in Christ, and their relationship with God. That is all. Can I repeat that - the titles provide a position of the person in Christ - where they sit with Christ, that is, how others view their relationship with Christ, nothing more.
I note that one of the mainstream churches the other day held a vote for whether homosexuality was now an accepted active relationship in the church. Since when has the Bible been a book where you take parts of it and vote to see if it is relevant anymore? What heresy is this! It’s complete apostasy. I am seeing that this approach is occurring with alarming frequency in the mainstream church governance systems? I take you back to Timothy: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable&hellip Not some of Scripture. Which bits are being voted on in the modern world? Two areas of doctrine really are the main focus - the role of women, and the homosexual relationship. What are two great lobbies of the twentieth and twenty first centuries? The feminist movement (of a sort) and the homosexual movement. So the church leaderships now vote on what Scripture is right and acceptable for Christian doctrine, and Christian practice! Is this right? No, absolutely not! Scripture is clear about homosexuality - it is a sin, do not practice it. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Bring the sinner to the Throne of Grace, and see God work a miracle in life. It may be hard work, but it is possible, for all things are possible with God, even when working on the body’s nature and expression.
Scripture is also clear about a women’s role. Let us start with the most controversial one, and the one that is now cause for vote after vote in many mainstream churches. Women preaching. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says (1 Corinthians 14:34). How clear is this? Clear as a bell, note the small case churches - the gatherings of believers where men are present. It is about order - God’s order of things, and how teaching in a mixed gender group happens in the church. Paul makes the point plainer in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. Can women sing? Absolutely, Paul is speaking about preaching. Is it about silent prayer - absolutely not, a woman is always welcome to pray. How about learning in home groups, yes, home groups of mixed gender are taught by men, but nothing here says women cannot ask questions, with the right tone and place, again, ensuring that they do not usurp, and take over a study. How about in a women’s convention, absolutely a women can teach, this is a different context. Should we vote to overturn this edict - others have. No, because all Scripture is given by God! It is His Word. How can I be so adamant? Because God does not change. He does not move the goal posts. He does not offer counsel one day, saying one thing, and on another day saying something different. We even sing these words without argument:
This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend, Whose love is as great as His power,
And neither knows measure nor end.
‘Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home; We’ praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come. (Joseph Hart)
You may argue that we don’t stone adulterer’s anymore. Has God changed His view there? No, He abhors sin. He hates adultery with a passion. However, He has more visible grace in this period between Jesus Christ and His coming again to judge the world. If you repent, then well and good. No repentance, and the punishment will be worse than stoning. Numbers 23:19 tells us: "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? It is irrefutable. God makes a statement and stands to everlasting. You cannot vote on God’s Word, you cannot say that it was for then, but not for now - times change. God does not change, His standards are set in rock - He is the rock. Isaiah tells us: For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'. Note the line - My counsel shall stand.
OK, you may think that I have deviated from the track, but these things are important as we look at passages like this, where there are writings in which people use the Tabitha story for their own means and ends. However, there are boundaries. This passage of Scripture does not overturn other passages that I have mentioned. It does not promote women as priests, or open the door for there being different standards in different parts of the world of the time. If you Google “Tabitha“ or “Dorcas“ you will see some of these things. You need to be clear why we have traditions as it were, and do what we do, and not have women preaching and teaching, and how this is from God, not from man. That said, a passage like this also tells us much about the role and ministry of women in the early Church and the importance of this work, especially in the social fabric without social security being provided by government. So let us return to the story we are reading and find out what God has in it for us around this matter. For we know that: He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. (Deuteronomy 32:4)
We read about Tabitha, and it is a single sentence that paints the picture of this saint: This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. Note the words used full, good, works, charitable, deeds. This are not half hearted descriptive words, these show a person who is doing her best, working to the peak of her achievement, and doing it in love. However, Tabitha had died; the local women had lost a mentor, friend, benefactor, someone they could rely on. We are all destined for death. No matter the greatness of our mission, it will not last forever. God has plan, and the end of the plan for the earthly life is when we are translated from life to death. What sort of legacy are we going to leave? The friends of Tabitha could show the clothes she had made for them. We could be cynical and say they were interested in what they could get, and the source had died. But read it carefully, this was a loved woman, they were weeping for their loss of her, and the display of clothes was for Peter’s benefit, to allow him to see the faithful work, quite literally of their sister.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Our subject of today, Tabitha was the embodiment of this verse. She had a talent; she also obviously had a mission and at her death she was surrounded by widows mourning her loss. Her pathway was helping the widow - God had that set out and she followed that path, and was much loved for it. James also wrote of this very same life style that we, who are in Christ, need to have:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (2:14-17)
Tabitha obviously never said “depart in peace“ without ensuring they had an article of clothing to take with them. She had visible, tangible works which displayed her faith, for she was described as a “disciple of Jesus Christ“. Importantly the passage points out her care for the widows; it was not some great doctrinal teaching that she may have had amongst those same widows, nor the number of people she had saved. This work she did was obviously an important part of what God wanted to emphasise.
Colossians 3:23-24 tells us:
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Here again words are important and we see the words “heartily“, and “serve“, as well as the reward - “receive“. To get a reputation like Tabitha she must have done her work in this manner serving the women rather than lording it over them, for she had the respect of them. The Lord also knew of her faithfulness and gives her more time with those she served by raising her from the dead. It all points towards a humble soul, diligent for the Lord, doing that with what she had, for those who had less, in a manner that was respected, earning the love of those that surrounded her. One cannot just leave this thought here. We must look at another example given to us, for I cannot pass by Tabitha without mentioning King Lemuel’s mother.
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life, she seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy&hellip
Strength and honour are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all." (Proverbs 31: 10-20,25-29)
Men may believe that this lets them off the hook for after all the husband sat in the gate of the town, whilst the wife did the work and made the income. However, this is not how it is, but it is certainly a lesson for us all in considering how a marriage works; who has what responsibilities along with dedication one has for one another. For in the case of Lemuel’s mother, she did it for her husband, her household, and for the needy. Tabitha did her work for the widows and needy of the town. Neither were in it for themselves. The way of the saint is to serve the Lord and whomever He places in our paths to serve. After all Paul states to the Thessalonians: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) So, maybe, with these classic verses, along with others about various women’s contribution to the saints, their work ethic may have been easier for Luke and Paul to write about! Men, we have a high standard to live up to!
We now come to the most dramatic part, but in itself, the part with least life lessons. Peter follows the pattern of Jesus as found in Luke 8 for example, where he sent all the people out, then took Tabitha’s hand and said: "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Here we have the Lord at work, through Peter, to enable the hardened heart to believe, for this appears to be the sole purpose of the exercise. Many believed after they saw this miracle, and as with the lame man, so we have another wow moment for the grieving people, one whom they loved and respected was back amongst them, undoubtedly continuing in the work that was before her.
What the miracle also did was give Peter reason to stay in the area, and encourage the saints. What catches commentator’s eyes in this part of the passage wasn’t so much the work that he was doing in this northern edge of the land, a land that was not strictly Jewish, but that he Peter, who was very Jewish was staying with Simon the tanner. Peter’s Jewishness is being broken down step by step, as his work spreads into the Gentile world. Being a tanner was not the nicest of jobs. Tanning was a smelly and filthy job. I noted in the commentaries that there is argument present regarding ritual purity of the tanner. I found one commentator who states that if the skins being tanned are from a kosher killed beast, then there is no ritual uncleanness in tanning the skin. He states: The insignificance, then, of Simon‘s profession is twofold: it tells us nothing about a laxity on the part of Peter or the author of Acts toward ritual purity, let alone kashrut. On the other hand, it might inform us about the insignificant social-economic standing of certain Jewish members who joined the Jesus movement. Some disagree with this and state that Simon would be considered ceremonially unclean, however, having a tannery would have meant that it was next to the ocean (and we see this in chapter 10), as sea water was used as part of the tanning process, and he was therefore, only a quick step to cleanse himself in the sea. What is important with this statement, and we will see more of this next week, is the process by which God uses even the poor outcast of people, (tanner’s were not the cream of society), to host the apostle, in order to spread the message that Jesus was for all.
So, what can we learn from this passage. To summarise the preceding comments we can come to the following points.
1. There is the power of healing in knowing and being a faithful believer in Christ. Healing may not always be physical, but it is certainly spiritual, and it is never half baked; you are either one with Christ, or you’re not. Once you accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour, the healing is complete, it is fully done, nothing is left, and nothing can be undone. The man Aeneas did not start to limp again, nor did he find himself back unable to walk. Yes, Tabitha would have died again, but that is not the point.
2. Beware the commentaries, test them against the Bible. Each person has a job to do, being a follower of Jesus means to do His will and the work that He has set before us. Men and women have jobs to do. They are not necessarily the same jobs, but they need to have the same focus - other people, and what it is that God wants of us.
Let us remember James 1:27 as we go our ways this week: Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
 IVP Bible Background Commentaries, (Intervasity Press) provided by Olive Tree Bible Software Copyright 1998-2013
 Vine's Expository Dictionary, Hendiskson, Massachusetts (reprinted)
Simon Peter Meets Simon the Tanner: The Ritual Insignificance of Tanning in Ancient Judaism, Isaac W. Oliver 2013