The Way of Faith

Acts 9:32-43          Sermon Resources     |    5 April 2020



Throughout Acts we’ve seen a number of the challenges that the early church faced.   There was the growing threat of persecution which began with the arrest of church leaders and eventually expanded to include the imprisonment of ordinary Christians who were pulled out of the privacy of their own homes.    There were internal threats as well which we saw in the the double living of Ananias and Sapphira.  We’ve seen the unrest in the church over the neglect of the Hellenists’ widows.  This week we see yet another challenge – the challenge of death and disease.  We meet two people, Aeneas and Tabitha, both of whom seem to be connected to the church, and neither of whom are immune from the effects of the broken world in which they lived.

This passage gives us an opportunity to address our own response to the crises we face. When confronted with danger our knee-jerk reaction is usually something along the lines of fight or flight.  Do we impulsively stand to confront the challenge in any way we can, or do we quickly take off running?  Christian psychologist, Henry Cloud, made the case recently in a webinar on the Psychology of a Crisis  that there is a third option: freeze.  We don’t run, we don’t fight, we just become paralyzed.

I want to address in this post yet another option.  Not fight or flight or freeze but faith.  The fourth option is the engaging in our situation through  faith.


#1 Raising Aeneas

Luke shifts the narrative from Saul to Peter who is said to be going here and there among them all (v.38).  It is in this context of itinerant ministry that Peter finds himself amongst the saints who lived at Lydda (v.38).  The saints, of course, being Luke’s way of referring to Christians in general.  The town of Lydda, which is referenced only here in the New Testament, lies west of Jerusalem about 12 miles from the Mediterranean coast.  During this church visit, Peter encounters a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and confined to his bed for eight years (v.33).

Aeneas suffered for a long time.  His situation may have begun as a crisis, but it soon evolved into a way of living.  We are not told what he did during this time but if he was praying, I imagine his prayers shifted from asking for healing to simply calling out in lamentation.  Can you imagine him taking up one of the many Psalms of Lament.  If we were in his situation, we might turn to something like Psalm 13 (ESV):

 1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

2How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

This is one of the ways we enter into difficult situations – like pandemics!  Yes, we certainly pray for healing and for resolution.  But we also put on our proverbial sackcloth and ashes and call out to God in lament.  How long God?  Will you forget us forever? This is a way of allowing our faith to guide our response to difficult situations.

Luke includes sparse details as to what happens next but we know that upon finding Aeneas, Peter said to him “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (v.34).  Note that Peter does not say “I heal you” but that “Jesus Christ heals you.”  This passage and the one after it are primarily concerned with the power and glory of Jesus.  And there are actually two miracles that take place in Lydda.  The second being the more significant one: the residents of Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord (v.35).


#2 Raising Tabitha

Twelve miles away in the port city of Joppa there was a disciple whose Aramaic name Tabitha which translated into Greek was Dorcas and translated into English means gazelle (v.36).  Whereas Aeneas was in a state of helplessness for 8 years, Tabitha was quite productive as we are told she was full of good works and acts of charity (v.36). Her good deeds, however, did not prevent her from falling ill and eventually dying (v.37).

The Christians in Joppa begin funeral preparations as we are told that they washed her and laid her in an upper room (v.37).  It is at this point that someone gets the idea to send for Peter who was in the nearby town of Lydda.  We are not told why they wanted Peter to come; presumably they were looking for a pastor to comfort them and to conduct a funeral.  Peter arrives and he is immediately taken to the upper room where all the widows had gathered weeping and showing him all the tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them (v.39).

Peter wisely instructs everyone to leave the room and go outside (v.40).  In the new-found solitude we are told that Peter knelt down and prayed (v.40).  They sent for Peter and Peter sent for Jesus.  None of Jesus’ disciples had ever raised anyone from the dead.  Presumably if they had the free-wielding power to do so, they would have exercised this gift at the stoning of Stephen.  But Peter had seen Jesus raise the dead before.  And so, he prays apparently asking that Jesus raise Tabitha to life.  He then turns to the body and said, “Tabitha, arise” (v.40).   Remarkably, she opened her eyes and eventually sat up (v.40).  Peter then gave her his hand and raised her up and calling in everyone he presented her alive (v.41).

Once again in Joppa there was a greater miracle performed than even the raising of the dead.  Tabitha’s healing was indeed remarkable but we know it was just temporary.  She would die again.  But there was a permanent miracle performed on this occasion:  as this event was made known around the region we are told that many believed in the Lord (v.42).

The passage ends with Peter staying in the home of one Simon, a tanner (v.43).  This, as we shall see, will be a very important detail as Luke continues tell the story of the early church.


What is the “Christian” response to our current pandemic? 

As we put these two stories together, we can piece together three ways followers of Jesus can respond to the ongoing pandemic which is causing so much suffering around the globe:

-1- Pray.  We enter this crisis as we would enter into any crisis – by praying.  Asking God to heal the sick, strengthen the weak, calm the anxious, employ the jobless, feed the hungry, clothe the poor.  We want to see him redeem this entire situation and bring an end to local and global suffering.

-2- Lament.  There is a reason that nearly one third of psalms in the Bible’s hymn book, The Book of Psalms, are psalms of lament.  We enter into suffering not having all the answers, not knowing how everything will work out.  But we fix our eyes on our Savior and simply call out with those who are suffering: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? This is a response of faith.

-3- Wait. And at the end of the day we wait.  We wait for the hand of God.  To wait on God is put your hope in him.  Waiting and hoping are one and the same activity.  One of our treasured promises is found in Isaiah 40:31 (ESV): “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.”  Interestingly, some versions of the Bible, like the NIV, translate this verse as “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.”  Some say wait, others say hope.  Who is right? They both are!  Because waiting and hoping are the same activity.


Discussion Questions

  1. How do you tend to respond in a crisis: fight, flight, or freeze? Can you give a recent example?
  2. How could Christian friends have encouraged Aeneas during the long time he was bedridden? Do you think lamenting with him would have been an appropriate response?  How so?
  3. What do the residents of Lydda learn about the power of Jesus?
  4. Spend some time comparing and contrasting Aeneas and Tabitha? How are they alike?  How are they different?
  5. Tabitha is not the first Christian to die in the book of Acts – the martyr Stephen is (c.f. Acts 7:6). How would you answer someone who questioned why Tabitha was raised from the dead and Stephen was not?
  6. Do you agree that the greater miracle in Lydda and Joppa was that many people turned to the Lord? Why or why not?
  7. What do you think is the appropriate “Christian” response to our current pandemic?

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