Date: 17 Apr 2016
Text: Acts 9:32-43
Having looked at Saul’s conversion last week, I want to return this morning to looking at some of the activities of the Apostle Peter. In essence Saul was saved to take the gospel to the Gentiles; something that God had told Ananias when the disciple was asked by God to help Saul by restoring his sight. God said to Ananias on that occasion, “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (9:15). Whilst all this was happening Peter was mainly working amongst the Jews and sharing the good news of Jesus with them. I should point out though that these weren’t exclusive fields of work; they both worked the ‘other’ group as necessary.
It is difficult to work out how much time elapsed between Saul’s conversion story in Acts 9:1-19 and this morning’s passage in Acts 9:32-43 although I suspect that it was probably only a short period.
I’ve always believed that it helps us to understand the context better if we know the geography of the area or areas that are discussed in a passage simply because it gives us a clue as to how far and wide the gospel spread without the aid of what many regard as every day, vital, technological tools; i.e. smart phones, iPads and the Internet!
The first place mentioned is Lydda, 9:32, which was approximately 35 miles North West of Jerusalem. Lydda is now known as Lod and is the site of Ben Gurion airport that serves Tel Aviv.
Later in 9:36, the action then moves to Joppa a town approximately 10 miles further up the road from Lydda when travelling from Jerusalem. Joppa was a seaport that served Jerusalem and the surrounding region and was used as a port to mainly bring in cedar trees from Lebanon. It is also the town from which Jonah embarked for Tarshish something we can read about in Jonah 1:3. The town is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament on a number of occasions and now forms part of Tel Aviv.
When looking at some of these stories of the work of the disciples we should always remember that travelling long distances in those days would have taken a long time and would have been both hot and dusty. We can only wonder at the effort and determination required to make such journeys.
You’ve heard some of this before but I always think it is worth being reminded of just who Peter was and what sort of character he was. He was a fisherman and an early disciple of Jesus having been chosen by the Lord when Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18). He then spent as much time as he possibly could with Jesus, hearing Him preach and teach and also watching Him closely as He healed people. Peter though was always the impetuous one. When Jesus walked on water towards the boat containing the disciples, Peter stepped over the side to walk towards Him; unfortunately when he looked down at his feet he sank! During the Passover meal when Jesus introduced the Lord’s Supper, the Lord spoke of being betrayed and told the disciples that at one time or another they would all fall away. Peter vehemently denied that he would ever do that no matter what the others did. Within a very short space of time he denied knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus had said he would. Later following His resurrection, Jesus was on the beach cooking breakfast for His disciples who had been out fishing. As soon as Peter recognised that it was Jesus on the beach, he put his cloak on and jumped over the side of the boat to wade in to the shore to see Him. Impetuous; always impetuous. But then we come to the Day of Pentecost, the day when everything changed, the day when Jesus fulfilled His promise that “in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). As soon as that happened, just a few days after Jesus promised it would happen, Peter, along with the others, was empowered to serve the Lord like never before. Now he had strength and confidence; now he was filled with the Holy Spirit, the One Who would be with him throughout his ministry, and the One Who enabled Peter to preach boldly wherever he went and to heal people when they needed healing. An earlier story that comes to mind concerns the time when Peter and his colleagues endeavoured to drive an evil spirit out of a young man, but failed miserably. They had had to rely on Jesus to help them. Now that Peter had been baptised by the Holy Spirit there was to be no repeat of that episode; from now on Peter would be given the power to heal someone of whatever ailed them. The Peter before Pentecost and the Peter after Pentecost were two different people such was the transformation brought about by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter and Aeneas
In his new empowered state, Peter had spent a lot of time travelling around the region sharing the good news of Jesus and healing people. By now he was well known and his reputation seems to have spread quite widely. At the time of these two incidents Luke confirms that, “Peter travelled about the country” (9:32) and whilst travelling went to visit the Christians in Lydda. What follows is very short and to the point; Peter “found a man named Aeneas” (9:33). There is no mention of how or where Peter found this man simply that he found him. No doubt some of those whom Peter was visiting would have taken the Apostle to see him given that we then read that he “was paralysed and had been bedridden for eight years” (9:33). Peter simply said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat” (9:34), at which Aeneas immediately got up and, although we aren’t told as such, probably walked away or at least walked around the room. This healing had a major effect on everyone who lived in the town of Lydda and the region of Sharon and as Luke reports, everyone in those places “saw him and turned to the Lord” (9:35).
It seems a fairly simple and straightforward story. However, firstly just notice that Peter said to Aeneas that “Jesus Christ heals you”; he didn’t claim any power or credit for himself. Secondly, news of that healing rapidly spread far and wide as not only did those living in and around Lydda hear about it but also those living in Sharon. Sharon was a huge coastal plain running from the port of Joppa, north towards Mount Carmel, a distance of some 40 miles, and it stretched between 8 and 15 miles wide. It wasn’t a city as such, simply being a huge fertile plain that was very well populated and generally used for grazing animals. We have no idea just now many people lived there but I suspect that there may have been many hundreds. Luke records that “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord” (9:35). That word “all” is actually a bit misleading as it implies that everyone in Lydda and Sharon heard about the healing and subsequently came to faith in Christ. In his commentary on Acts, John Calvin has this to say, “when Scripture mentions all, it is not embracing, to a man, the whole of whatever it is describing, but uses ‘all’ for many, for the majority, or for a crowd of people.” That seems to me to be a much more likely explanation and may well mean that whilst not everyone came to faith, there was a good majority who did hear what had happened and consequently come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
This particularly healing is very reminiscent of something that Jesus had done earlier, something that we can read about in Mark 2:1-12. On this particular occasion Jesus was preaching to a huge crowd in a house. It was so crowded that there was simply no room for anyone else to enter, something which presented a problem to a group of men who wanted to bring their paralysed friend to Jesus to be healed. Seeing that they couldn’t get in through the door, they climbed up on the roof, made a hole through the material forming the roof and lowered their friend down into the middle of the crowd on a mat. Having witnessed this amazing act of friendship, Jesus said to the paralysed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Needless to say this caused some ructions with the teachers of the law, however we’ll brush over that for now. The important thing is that Jesus went on to say to the man “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (Mark 2:11). The young man immediately did as he was told and walked out of the house in full view of everyone who was present. Peter’s healing of Aeneas was very similar; Peter had obviously learned from his Master.
Peter and Dorcas
There was a disciple of Jesus by the name of Tabitha whose Greek name was Dorcas. She appears to have been a lovely lady and faithful disciple who made clothes for the poor and did as much as she could to help them. Sadly she became ill and passed away. The disciples in Joppa had heard that Peter was in Lydda and, feeling that he could help, sent word for him to come to see Dorcas. Whether this was before she died or shortly after isn’t clear. Whilst they waited for Peter to arrive, Dorcas’ friends prepared her body for burial by washing it and placing it in an upstairs room.
Peter travelled from Lydda to Joppa as quickly as he could but Dorcas by the time he got there Dorcas was already dead. He went upstairs to where she lay and was surrounded by weeping and wailing widows whom he politely asked to leave the room. Peter got down on his knees, prayed and then turned towards Dorcas saying to her, “Tabitha, get up” (9:40). She opened her eyes, saw Peter and sat up. Peter helped her up and called for the believers to come back into the room to see for themselves that Dorcas was alive. They were naturally overjoyed and as Luke records, “This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord” (9:42).
Once again the raising of Dorcas is very reminiscent of something that Jesus did when He raised the 12 year old girl from the dead. This was the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue leader, who had asked Jesus to heal his daughter. Sadly before Jesus got there the girl had died. Once again there were plenty of women weeping and wailing and Jesus had to gently ask them to leave Him alone in the room with the little girl; alone that is apart from being joined by Peter, James and John. Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the girl and said, “’Talitha koum”’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’)” (Mark 5:41). The little girl immediately got up and started to walk around. Those words “Talitha koum” are in Aramaic, the language spoken by many people of the day. If Peter spoke to Dorcas in Aramaic he would have used very similar words and may well have said to her, “Tabitha koum”! Once again though, we see an example of Peter having been with the Lord when He performed a miracle and then following Jesus’ example by raising Dorcas from her death bed. On this point of being raised from the dead, many commentators agree that this should be seen as “resuscitation” rather than “resurrection” since Dorcas would die at some stage in the future but be resurrected for all eternity when Jesus returns.
Simon the Tanner
The final verse of this passage is almost what I would call, a throw away verse, just a casual comment at the end of a substantive story. How wrong we can be if we ignore this verse altogether. As with so much of scripture it is all too easy to pass over such verses.
The clue to the importance of this verse comes with the words, “a tanner” (9:43). A tanner was someone who worked with the skins or hides of dead animals. Under the existing Jewish purity laws that I have referred to before, anyone working with dead animals was regarded as impure or unclean, and so unclean was such a person that observant Jews weren’t really allowed to associate with them. Simon was just such a person and so unclean was he seen to be that he was expected to live at least 75 feet outside a village.
Now we know from various passages in Acts that Peter always had problems associating with non-Jews. Peter was very much a Jew despite being an avowed disciple of Jesus. Later in 10:9-23 we read about a vision that Peter had regarding certain foods being regarded as impure or unclean. As a strict Jew Peter would have followed the dietary rules that existed at the time. However, in his vision Peter heard a voice saying to him, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (10:15). Given his attitudes, Peter would have known what Simon did for a living and that he was, therefore, impure or unclean. Despite that he chose to stay with him, a sure sign that Peter had given up on Jewish rules and rituals and confirmation that Jesus died for everyone: Jews, Gentiles, those of other faiths and no faith, regardless of man made rules and regulations.
What a wonderful couple of stories. A paralysed man healed and able to walk and a dead woman brought back to life, both in the name and power of Jesus Christ. These miracles though were performed by the Lord’s disciple, Peter. Peter, the impetuous one who had repeatedly let his Lord down, repeatedly said the wrong thing at the wrong time, and repeatedly done the wrong thing at the wrong time. Peter, who had gone from being a quivering wreck to being an empowered disciple able to perform these amazing miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit given to him by Jesus Christ. As a result of these miracles many came to faith in Jesus and believed in Him as their Lord and Saviour.
Now I’m not saying that when we come to faith in Jesus we will all be empowered to perform the sort of miracles that Peter was able to perform. What I am saying however is that we too will be empowered to serve Jesus in whatever way He calls us. Peter knew that he had the Holy Spirit with him at all times and the same will happen to us when we come to faith and receive the Holy Spirit. We will be enabled to do things that we never thought possible and will be able to serve Jesus as He calls us. Let us all try and follow Peter’s example and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, strengthen us and guide us in all that we do.
 Calvin, John, The Acts of the Apostles - Volume I, (originally 1554; translated into English 1966), ed. D. W. and T. F. Torrance (Oliver and Boyd), page 277