Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 8, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Acts 9:36-43; Psalms 23 and John 10:22 – 30.
May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. In the name of God the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This morning I want us to see how Christianity in Action is manifested in our reading from Acts 9:36-43, and i will include verse 32-35
Luke shares three great events that can only be explained by God’s power and authority working in the lives of His Disciples. Overall, we see Luke sharing story after story of how the power of the Resurrection is affecting the greater world around Jerusalem. Faith in Jesus is spreading and lives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit in amazing ways. In our particular passage, Luke reveals to us these three great examples of what Spirit-filled Authentic Christianity looks like in action.
This morning, let’s see firsthand how God’s power is being displayed:
- in the sacrificial life of Tabitah/Dorcas,
- in the faith of the disciples at Joppa and
- in the courage of the Apostle Peter.
Let’s understand that the same power and activity that we see here is readily available to us today. In our individual lives and in the life of our church we can experience so many things that can only be attributed to God’s power and authority working within and through us.
I. We see God’s power displayed in the Sacrificial Life of Tabitha
In verse 36, Luke tells us that this amazing lady was known by two distinct names; Tabitha and Dorcas. Those who spoke Aramaic as their native language called her Tabitha, while those who spoke Greek called her Dorcas. Both names mean “gazelle” signifying that she was to be a woman possessing the characteristics of awareness, agility, beauty and grace.
Why two names? While we don’t know for sure, it seems rather obvious that Tabitha was already working with both Jewish and Gentile women in Joppa. Well before the Early Church officially commissioned Paul and Barnabas to evangelize both groups, it seems that Tabitha was already sharing the message of Jesus and meeting the essential needs of both Jews and Gentiles. She had already successfully bridged the gap between the two camps and was well known and loved by both groups. To her Jewish friends she was called Tabitha. To her Gentile friends she was called Dorcas.
Tabitha’s story was a familiar one in the Early Church. She believed that the best way to show her faith in Christ was to put it into action. Jesus had gone about doing good and in like manner, Tabitha devoted her life to taking care of those in need around her. In Tabitha, we find a concrete example of what it means to live out a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life. She bore the fruit of the Holy Spirit through her service to the poor; especially to the Jewish and Gentile widows of Joppa. She sacrificially gave her time, her resources and herself to meet their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
Over the years Tabitha has been given the title of “God’s Dressmaker” or “Queen of the Needle”. For Tabitha being good meant doing good. She knew what she could do and she did it. She would have whole heartedly agreed with the Apostle James when he later wrote to the Jews in Diaspora.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17) or with Apostle John when he wrote the following words to the members of his church at Ephesus:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 2:16-18)
For Tabitha, Easter Faith meant Christian service. For her that meant she would sew clothes and do her best to meet the financial and physical needs of the poor and needy around Joppa. While the Roman Empire was renowned for its ability to create a society of peace, it was not renowned for its abundant social welfare programs. The Empire provided very little material and social help for the aged, the poor, the widowed or the physically disabled. Each person pretty much had to fend for themselves. Coming from Africa, i know what this means.
That meant that a lot of people fell through the cracks. Many had to beg, hire themselves out as servants or even some would turn to prostitution to provide for themselves and their families. Sadly, many died due to starvation, exposure and lack of medical care. That is where Early Church Christians like Tabitha made such a positive impact. Her grace of providing money, food and clothing not only kept many people alive and kept families intact, it greatly promoted the cause of Christ. Around Joppa, Tabitha was known both as a spiritual and physical life saver.
However, we see here in our passage that working with destitute people commonly means that one is also able to be exposed to all kinds of dangers. From what Luke shares here, if it was for example time like this of COVID-19 pandemic I believe that we could say that either through an accident or simply by working around the disadvantaged, Tabitha picked up an illness that led to her abrupt death. I say abrupt because it doesn’t appear that there was much time between her illness and her death or else we would have seen her friends reach out to the Apostle Peter much earlier. If she had been suffering from a long term illness I believe that he would have been summoned much earlier. And it is in speaking of the Apostle Peter that we see the second point
II. We see the Power of God displayed in the Faith of the Disciples of Joppa
Again, I believe that it was a sudden illness that overtook Tabitha. It was only after she passed away that someone made mention that the Apostle Peter was only 11 miles away in the city of Lydda. They had faith that Peter could come to Joppa and do the impossible – raise their friend Tabitha from the dead.
Before Tabitha story Luke in Acts 9:32 – 35 tells us that Peter had been busy evangelizing around the city of Lydda. He also tells us that living there was faithful disciple who had been suffering from palsy for the last eight years named Aeneas. At that time palsy was a debilitating disease that caused a person to suffer from wild tremors and paralysis. Verse 33 tells us that Aeneas was now completely bedridden. It appears that his friends had contacted the Apostle Peter in the hopes that he could come and heal Aeneas in the name of Jesus.
“And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose.”
News of Aneneas’ miraculous healing became the catalyst of an immediate Revival. All around that area, people saw Aeneas and began to believe in power and message of Jesus. The kingdom of God was being advanced.
Luke tells us that news of Aneneas’ miracle had gotten back to Tabitha’s friends in Joppa and we see that it greatly influenced how they handled Tabitha’s dead body. First of all, according to custom, the ladies present washed her body. Then they placed a cloth around it and carefully placed it in an upper room. That way they could both isolate and protect Tabitha’s body.
What is important to realize here is that while they had washed her body, they had not wrapped her body for burial as was the usual custom of that day. Normally, a body was buried within just a few hours of a person’s passing.
In Tabitha’s case however, her family and friends had not began the process of wrapping and places spices all around her. Nor had they made plans for her burial. Everything had been put on hold. They had simply washed her body, placed a cloth around it and placed it in an upper room. They were not ready to bury Tabitha yet.
It is here that it all gets exciting. We know that those disciples loved Tabitha. Her life had meant a great deal to them and her death had meant even more. For with her death there was now a huge void. Who would now take care of the widows? Who would make their clothes and provide for their needs? Tabitha’s sudden death had revealed just how valuable this lady was to both the Jewish and Greek community. Her sudden death was a major blow to everyone. So, they decided that they would go for a miracle beyond imagination. In what looks like impossible faith, they sent two men to go as quickly as they could and get the Apostle Peter. Now, the city of Joppa is located 11 miles north west of Lydda. Round trip would mean a total of 22 miles. That’s a lot of walking.
Depending on what time they started, most likely most of the day was spent getting to Lydda and locating Peter. Travelling at night was extremely dangerous so the men would have had to stay overnight. They would have gotten as early as possible the next morning and started back with the Apostle Peter, if he had agreed to go with them.
What we need to see here is the tremendous love and faith that these Joppa disciples possessed. Some have theorized that they only wanted Peter to come and speak words of comfort but when you look at the whole passage that doesn’t seem to be what Luke is trying to tell us. It seems that Luke wants us to understand that these early Christian disciples of Joppa were praying, hoping and had the faith to believe in the impossible. They had faith that Peter in the name of Jesus could bring Tabitha back from the dead.
They did not have any assurances that Peter could do anything. But, after hearing about Jesus’ resurrection and the miracles that the Apostles were doing they decided to hold on to their faith. They decided that it was at least worth a two day walk to see if Peter could do anything. Their love for Tabitha was so great that if there was a chance for her to be raised from the dead they were going to take it.
This kind of faith that these disciples had in Jesus and in the Apostle Peter sounds crazy and it is. But they were crazy enough to believe in the impossible and God reached down and answered their prayers.
III. Finally, we see the power of God displayed in the tremendous Courage of Peter
How would you have liked if you had been Peter the day those two men showed up? I am sure he was glad to greet some disciples from nearby Joppa. I am sure he was overjoyed to hear about all the good things that were going on in Joppa. I am sure he rejoiced in the truth that the Great Commission of Jesus was coming to reality.
However, once they started sharing what they wanted the Apostle to do, I am sure Peter was taken back. He had to be energized by the healing of Aeneas but bringing someone back from the dead, well that’s another story. It’s one thing to heal someone of a debilitating disease its quite another to bring breath back into a person’s dead body.
There was a great deal at stake in the Apostle Peter going back to Joppa with these men. What would happen if he got there and no miracle happened? What would happen if he got there and attempted to raise Tabitha from the dead and nothing happened? Would the cause of Jesus be harmed and would people think him foolish? Would everything positive that had happened over the last few days be lost?
It is so easy to read these stories and forget that they involve real flesh and blood people. Peter’s pride, his reputation and the ongoing mission of Jesus was at stake. If Peter goes and nothing happens then the whole movement of Jesus might could have been greatly hindered and Peter could have been discredited.
Verse 39 tells us that Peter filled with faith ( and no doubt some anxiety) goes back with these two men to Joppa. I wonder what they talked about during that five hour walk back. I imagine those men did their best to tell Peter all about Tabitha and how much she meant to both the Jewish and Greek communities. I am also sure that Peter did a lot of praying and seeking God’s will as they walked along. This was no time to be putting God to the test.
Once they got to Joppa and dispensed with all the nice things, they all settled down to the real issue at hand. Taking Peter upstairs they showed Peter some of the clothes that Tabitha had made them. The room was filled with people grieving over the loss of their friend.
It is here that we see the Apostle’s courage and genius in action. He takes a page of out Jesus’ miracle book. Back in Luke 8:49 – 56, Luke records the story of Jesus’ raising Jarius’ daughter back to life. Luke tells us that when Jesus got there no one believed that He could raise the girl from the dead. Luke tells us that Jesus put everyone out except for Peter, James and John and the parents. Jesus then takes the little girl by the hand and raises her from the dead.
In very much the same way, Peter puts everyone out of the upper room. He wants some time alone with the LORD. He kneels and down and begins to pray. How wonderful it would be to have those words that he spoke that day. Peter is then given permission and is led to speak to the body of Tabitha. He only says two words, but they are powerful words – TABITHA ARISE.
Immediately Tabitha begins to open her eyes and when she sees Peter she sits up. The Apostle then helps her off the table and calls for friends to come and take care of her. Suddenly, instead of weeping and sorrow the house was full of surprise, joy and praising the name of Jesus.
All over the city the news of Tabitha being raised from the dead quickly spread. And just like the miracle of Aeneas, the miracle of Tabitha was the catalyst for a mighty Revival. People hearing and seeing Tabitha understood the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. They began to believe in the LORD.
Does God still raise people from the dead today like we see in our passage? Are there miracles happening today that we can only attribute to the power and authority of God? In all that happens as we do what we do as Christians the focus is on what God does in and through his people.
Focusing on Jesus and bringing people to faith was the reason the LORD allowed Peter to bring back Tabitha. Bringing her back to life was the start of a Revival all around Joppa. It was not a miracle for the sake of a miracle. We read that after the miracle, the Apostle Peter stays around the city of Joppa for awhile.
- I believe that the LORD is calling us to experience the same Holy Spirit power that we see present in the lives of Tabitha, the disciples of Joppa and in the Apostle Peter.
- I believe that many of us are called to serve those who are less fortunate. The LORD has given us the necessary time and resources to reach out to them in the name of Jesus. The LORD has called us to impact the lives of these individuals materialistically and spiritually.
- I believe that the LORD has called many of us to possess deep faith. Faith that will pray and fast for the impossible. Faith that can lead to great miracles along with people coming to Jesus. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Today, we need people who possess and practice faith like these disciples of Joppa.
- I believe many have been called to possess great spiritual courage. Peter went to Joppa with a lot of faith and courage. It took courage to go to that upper room and pray for a miracle. It took great faith and courage to believe that the LORD would work through him, a man who had once denied Jesus.
Our churches and our communities desperately need people like Tabitha, like the disciples at Joppa and like the Apostle Peter. We need people who are willing and ready for something to happen around them that they can only be attributed to the power and authority of the LORD. We need people who have completely surrendered and are willing to accomplish the impossible for cause of Jesus. We need people who will courageous seek God’s Holy Spirit anointing and to then go in that anointing and share the message of Jesus at work, at home and everywhere.
This morning, as we come to a close let’s ask ourselves some questions:
- Are we willing and ready to sacrifice like Tabitha? Will we obey the call to give of the time and resources the LORD has placed in our hands?
- Are we willing and ready to possess the faith like the faith of those disciples of Joppa? Are we willing to believe in the impossible and then set out to make it happen?
- Are we willing to be filled with the Holy Spirit’s anointing and courage that we see being displayed in the life of the Apostle Peter?
More than ever today we need God’s power and authority unleashed in our lives and in the life of our churches. We need to see things happening that can only be attributed to the LORD.
This morning as we close let us open up our hearts to the LORD committing to Him that we will take up the mantle of Tabitha, the disciples of Joppa and the Apostle Peter. Let us surrender to the Father the son and the Holy Spirit and be the catalysts God needs to bring about a Revival here in our church and in our community.
In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.