Mother Teresa was known for saying, “God did not call me to be successful but to be faithful.”
At the end of the day that is the desire of every disciple. What Christian does not long to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23)? In our lesson today Tabitha was faithful, the disciples in Joppa were faithful, and Simon Peter was faithful.
Acts 9 bridges the expansion of the gospel to the Samaritans (v. 8) to the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles (v. 10). It is therefore a transitional chapter. The first half of the chapter records the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and events that followed (9:1-32). The last half of the chapter recounts two miracles by Simon Peter (9:32-43). Peter healed a lame man named Aenas (vv. 32-35) and raised Tabitha from the dead (vv. 36-43).
Faithful Disciples Do Good
Peter was in Lydda (northwest of Jerusalem). That was where he healed Aenas. But Tabitha lived in Joppa (northwest of Lydda). Tabitha is the only woman in the Bible who is actually called a “disciple.” Other women no doubt were disciples, but Tabitha had the distinction of actually being named such. The fact that her Greek name was given (Dorcas) probably hinted that something big was getting ready to happen to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–11:18).
It is proper for Tabitha to be called a disciple because she had learned well the lessons that a disciple is to learn, namely, doing good and helping the poor. This is exactly what our Lord did (Acts 10:38; Luke 4:18). Part of Tabitha’s goodness was evident in her ministry as a seamstress. She made robes and clothing for widows. She exemplified the important ministry to widows envisioned in 1 Timothy 5:3, 4. She gave herself to doing good deeds (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14).
Luke told few details, but wrote that she became sick and died. The typical custom of the day was followed in washing the dead body and perhaps starting the funeral preparations immediately. But some of the “faithful disciples” of the church in Joppa heard that Peter was nearby (about 12 miles away). We may not be sure what they thought he could do, but Peter had worked other miracles (Acts 3:1-10; 5:1-11) and perhaps even raised the dead (Matthew 10:8). Their plea was earnest, “Please come at once!”
Faithful Disciples Just Go
There is something wonderfully simple about the first phrase in verse 39, “Peter went with them.” In doing this Peter followed the example of Jesus. When a centurion requested help for his servant, Jesus said, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7, ESV). That is what a faithful disciple does. He just goes. We may not be able to relieve suffering with the miraculously divine intervention available to Jesus and Peter, but we can just go. Presence matters when grief is present.
Peter was taken into the upstairs room. He saw Tabitha’s body, heard the crying (loud wailing) of the widows who were served by Tabitha, and saw the articles of clothing she had made. What happened next will be familiar to Bible readers. Something similar happened to Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37). And more to the point, something similar happened to Jesus with Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43).
Peter had a private worship moment (got down on his knees and prayed), turned to Tabitha, and told her to get up. She did. Peter helped her to her feet, called the believers, and presented her to them alive. This was the first bodily resurrection since that of Jesus. It was big news.
Faithful Disciples Get Stretched
Acts 9:42, 43
No doubt this word traveled fast. It became known all over the town. Luke used one of his summary phrases for conversions by saying, “Many people believed in the Lord.” This was shorthand for church growth (see Acts 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 13:12, 48; 14:21; 16:5).
But something more was getting ready to happen. Three times in our text Luke reminded us that this all took place in Joppa. This town had some important biblical history attached to it (2 Chronicles 2:16; Joshua 19:40, 46). But more to the point is that this is where Jonah ran to escape God’s call to take the message to Nineveh. Peter’s father’s name is Jonah (Matthew 16:17), and Peter was staying in the home of a man who bore his name, Simon. By the way, Simon was a tanner (one who deals with animal hides). When disciples are faithful it ultimately leads to a wider embrace of the gospel by every tribe, people, tongue, and nation.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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