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AM Bible Study Archives
"Preparation for the Gentiles"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
April 23, 2008
Theme: Peter's ministry in Lydda and Joppa was a part of God's work of opening the way for the gospel to be proclaimed to the Gentiles.
In Acts 9, we read that God affirmed that Paul would be sent to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). And the stories we encounter of Peter serve serve as a “bridge” between the conversion of the apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-31), and the story of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in the rest of the book of Acts.
I. PETER'S MINISTRY IN LYDDA (vv. 32-35).
A. Luke tells us that Peter was going through “all parts of the country”; and given the immediate context of verse 31, we can assume that all parts of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria were what was meant. This was a continuation of the promise of Jesus—that after the Holy Spirit had been given, His apostles would be His witnesses first in Jerusalem, and then in “all Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8). This was initiated by the persecutions that arose after the martyrdom of Stephen (8:1-4).
B. In the course of Peter's travels, he came down to a group of believers who were living in Lydda. Everett Harrison (Interpreting Acts, p. 171) suggests that this community of believers may have been established by some of the Greek-speaking Jews who had to leave Jerusalem because of the persecution. This town—mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:12 as “Lod”—was about forty miles northwest of Jerusalem; and about seven to ten miles east of the Mediterranean coastline; and it was located at the crossing of two major highways—one between Egypt and Babylon, and the other between Jerusalem and Joppa. It would have seen many travelers going to and fro; and it would be a place from which the news of the events described in this passage would have spread to other cities and regions.
C. While in the city, Peter found a man named Aeneas. The fact that his name was given may suggest that his testimony was later well-known to the believers (see verse 35). He is like the man mentioned in Acts 3:2; who had been healed by Peter and John in the name of Jesus. This man had been bed-ridden for eight years; and it was said that he was paralyzed; although we're not told whether his paralysis was a result of the long term of his incapacity, or was the cause of it. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you”; using the present tense to affirm that it was not Peter who was doing the healing (see Peter's encounter with Simon in 8:19); but that it was a testimony of the resurrection and power of Christ Himself (see Acts 3:12-16). The fact that Peter, in the case of the lame man in Acts 3, testified that it was “through faith in His name” that the man was healed (3:16), suggests that this man also had come to believe in the message of Christ that Peter preached.
D. As proof that it truly was the power of Christ that healed the man, Peter commanded him to arise and make his bed; and in response, the man immediately did so. In commanding this, Peter was imitating the Lord (see Luke 5:23-25). The result is that “all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon [the region from Caesarea to Joppa] saw him and turned to the Lord” (v. 35). The spreading of the news of this remarkable miracle—even to Joppa—no doubt led to the appeal that was made to Peter from that city in verse 38. When God does a thing, He often does it so as to pave the way for yet another display of His power!
II. PETER'S MINISTRY IN JOPPA (vv. 36-43).
A. Joppa was the major port city of the region. Goods from other parts of the world were shipped there regularly (2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 3:7); and as a result, many people from many different parts of the world walked along its streets. When called to preach to the Ninevites, the reluctant prophet ran instead to Joppa in order to catch the first boat out of town. In the city lived a woman whose name, in Aramaic was Tabitha; but in Greek, her name was Dorcas. Both names—Tabitha and Dorcas—meant the same thing: Gazelle
1. The gazelle is used symbolically in the Bible in several different ways. For one thing, the gazelle was a symbol of grace. In Proverbs, a husband is encouraged to adore his own wife, “as a loving deer and a graceful doe” (Prov. 5:19). Gazelles are also symbolic of exquisite beauty. The Shulamite woman, in the Song of Solomon, was enthralled at the appearance of her beloved; and said, “My beloved is like a gazelle ...” (Song of Solomon 2:8; cf. also v. 17). Her husband also used the symbol of a gazelle to express his delight in the beauty of his bride (4:5; 7:3). Finally, the gazelle was symbolic of swiftness and speed. 1 Chronicles 12:8 tells us that King David had a band of men that joined themselves around him who where, among other things, “as swift as gazelles on the mountains” (see also 2 Sam. 2:18 and Prov. 6:5).
2. Dorcas’ name, then, brought to mind the image of grace, beauty, and swiftness at a time of need. She was certainly a woman of a “beautiful” and “gracious” spirit; and she was certainly very swift to meet the needs of those around her. She had apparently became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ — a disciple. A woman who is “gazelle-like” in other ways can’t help but be a particular blessing to those around her if Jesus has taken up residence in her!
3. We’re told that she was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did”. “Good works” is a phrase that speaks of general acts of kindness to people. But “charitable deeds” is more specific, and has to do particularly with acts of mercy that relieve the burdens of the poor and needy. The nature of these good works and charitable deeds can be seen in verse 39; because there, we read of all the widows who were showing the tunics and garments Dorcas had made while she was with them—perhaps “showing” them by the fact that they were wearing them. The Bible uses a tense of the verb that describes them as things “which she did” as a regular pattern of her life.
B. Without giving us any details, we're simply told that “it happened in those days that she became sick and died”. Dorcas didn’t die a natural death; she died before her time as a result of some tragic illness. And we’re told that, according to the custom of the Jewish people, they washed her body as if in preparation for burial. But even though they prepared her body in the traditional way for burial, they didn’t immediately bury her. Instead, we’re told that “they laid her in an upper room”. Given the context of this passage, it would seem that they were holding on to the hope that God could heal her, and even raise her from the dead. Hearing that Peter was staying in the nearby town of Lydda, the grieving disciples sent two men to him, begging him to come to them as quickly as possible. Perhaps their sense of urgency was because of the fact that Dorcas had just died; and that the sooner Peter got to them, the less her body would undergo decay, and the greater the likelihood that Peter could revive her.
C. As soon as the two men came for him, he arose and went with them. When he arrived, they took him to the upper room where Dorcas’ body had been placed. And there, surrounding him, were all the widows—weeping, and showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. In the days in which this story took place, there were few people in culture who were more destitute than widows. They were usually considered the neediest people in society; helpless women who typically had no one in their lives who could care for them. These widows, however, had Dorcas. Special mention is made of the fact that Dorcas didn’t make these things from a distance and send them over. Dorcas herself had been “with them”. Her very life had been intricately woven into their lives.
D. When Peter saw the situation, we can suspect that he knew that God’s mighty hand was at work in all this; and that he saw in all this an opportunity for the advancement of the gospel in Joppa, and for the growth in faith of the new believers who lived there.
1. Peter remembered what He saw His Master do. He remembered how Jesus raised someone else from the dead (see Luke 8:51-56). He took seriously what Jesus had said to His apostles before going to the cross—“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also . . .”
2. Remembering Jesus' previous work of resurrecting the daughter of Jirus, Peter must have looked at Dorcas’ body and understood that, from God’s perspective, “she is not dead, but sleeping”. Putting all of the mourners and weeping widows outside, he prayed; and turning to Dorcas’ body, he followed again the example of his Master and spoke to Dorcas. He even spoke to her in words that were very similar to those spoken by Jesus. Jesus had turned to the little girl and, in Aramaic, said, “Talitha, cumi”—which meant, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). Peter, also speaking in Aramaic, called Dorcas “Tabitha”; and if he used her Aramaic name, it’s very likely that he gave her an Aramaic command; “Tabitha, cumi”—“Dorcas, I say to you, arise.”
3. At this, Dorcas opened her eyes. And upon seeing Peter, she sat up, Peter then remembered that Jesus had taken the young girls hand. And so, the Bible also tells us that, as Dorcas sat up, Peter also gave her his hand and lifted her up. Peter knew the gentlemanly thing to do—even at a time like this. And as Jesus had presented the young girl to her parents, the Bible says that Peter called the saints and widows up to the upper room and presented Dorcas alive to them.
E. It was God’s intention that the power and authority of the gospel, as it was now being preached through the apostles in the new regions of Judea and Samaria, be shown to be same power and authority as it had in Jerusalem. Thus, the Holy Spirit authenticated Peter’s authority in the eyes of all, by granting that the same miracle be performed through him that was performed by Jesus. And the impact was that "it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord."
* * * * * * * * * *
Because of the events described in the latter half of Acts 9, Peter ended up in Joppa. And it was in Joppa that God’s great mercy to the Gentiles was demonstrated conclusively to Peter and to the rest of the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 10-11). It led to a missionary endeavor that eventually opened the door to Paul’s great ministry to the Gentile world (Acts 11:19-30; 12:25-13:3).
Whose to say that some, seemingly insignificant act of obedience that God sets before us may not be the very key that unlocks a great work of God through someone else?
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