Acts // Part 38 - Dorcas Restored To Life

February 17, 2013 Speaker: Phil Baker Series: Acts

Topic: Book Exposition Passage: Acts 9:36–9:43

Introduction

Last week we looked at Acts 9:32-35. We saw how God used Peter to heal a paralytic man and how God used the miracle to bring the people of Lydda and Sharon to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This morning we will read about an even greater miracle that Peter worked in another town. Take your Bibles and turn to Acts 9:36-42.

Read Acts 9:36-42

Pray

Examine/Apply

Verse

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.

Commentary

Before describing the miracle Luke sets the stage by providing information about the recipient of the miracle. He lists several important characteristics about the person in 36.

Let’s look at each of them.

1. The recipient lived in Joppa.

Joppa was a coastal town on the Mediterranean Sea about 10 miles northwest of Lydda which is where Peter restored Aeneas (9:32-35). Today Joppa is known as Jaffa and is part of the Israeli territory.

2. The recipient was a disciple or follower of Jesus.

Luke used a rare Greek word for disciple here. It is pronounced μαθήτρια ma-they-tree-ah. It only appears one time in the NT and that is here in our text. A ma-they-tree-ah is a female disciple of Jesus Christ or a female Christian. This is not to say that this woman was the only female disciple or Christian in the NT. There are many listed. But this is the only place that this Greek word is used to identify a female disciple. It would appear that Luke used this special word here because this particular gal was very special and unique.

3. The recipient’s name was Tabitha or Dor-kass.

Tabitha is an Aramaic name. Dorcas is the Greek equivalent. Both mean gazelle. Gazelles are known for their graceful movements. The phrase, “Like a gazelle” is often used to describe a woman whose movements are graceful like Grace Kelly or Cate Blanchett. Tabitha lived up to her name. But not by how she moved but by how she gracefully served others.

4. The recipient, Tabitha, was full of good works and acts of charity.

Tabitha was an exemplary disciple of Jesus Christ. Her life was marked by good works and acts of charity. Her personal faith in Jesus Christ was accompanied by action. And her action proved that she was a true disciple of the Lord. It is not enough to testify by mouth that you belong to Jesus. A true disciple shows that they belong to Jesus by what they do (James 2:17). Good works and acts of charity are meant to denote two different things in the text.

Good Works

“Good works” denotes the giving of time. Tabitha gave her time to serve, help, encourage, and build others up.

Acts of Charity

“Acts of charity” denotes the giving of talent and treasure. Tabitha used her talent to make things for others like tunics and garments (verse 39). If someone needed clothes, she made them clothes. Charity is translated alms in Greek. In the NT alms is usually a reference to currency or money. Example, when the lame beggar asked for alms at the Beautiful Gate he asked for silver or gold. But Peter and John said, “We have no silver and gold”. They then gave him what he truly needed, Jesus. Tabitha was generous and gave alms to those in need.

This was due to the gospel. Tabitha’s acceptance, security, value, and identity, were fixed in Christ, not in what she owned, and that freed her to give freely. Because of the gospel Tabitha was generous with her time, talent, and treasure. Incredibly, there are many in the church today that profess Jesus as Lord and Savior but never put their hand to the plow of Christian service or give of their treasure. There are many that prefer to be catered to and served by the minority group that does all the serving and giving. Driscoll identifies some of the main offenders in the Stewardship chapter of his book on Doctrine.

“Young people are generally high on conviction and low on action. They will rant passionately about what the church needs to do, particularly online from the safe confines of their parents’ home, but there is far more smoke than fire. The studies confirm that the most unlikely tithers and servers in churches are people under the age of twenty five, single adults who have never been married, and theological liberals.”

What causes people to behave this way? What drives this wicked behavior and poor stewardship? Five things:

1. Gospel ignorance

2. Selfishness

3. Fear

4. Retribution

5. False faith

We need to be reminded of what Jesus said in Mark 10:45.

“I did not come to be served, but to serve.”

How did Jesus serve people? He fed them. He healed them. He cast out their demons. He taught them the truth, the gospel. He discipled them. He sacrificed Himself for them.

His disciples/servants have been sent to serve as He was sent to serve. Jesus even said that His disciples/servants would do even greater things than Himself! Look, you can’t die for a person’s sins that’s what Jesus did. But there are a zillion other ways you can serve. Tabitha served others by giving her time, talent, and treasure. And the gospel should compel us to do the same. That is what it means to live an incarnational missional life. We have been sent as Jesus was sent, to live as Jesus lived, to serve as Jesus served, and to give as Jesus gave. God has exercised great generosity towards us with His grace, mercy, and provision and we are to respond to Him by being generous towards others. Luther nailed it when he wrote, “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does.”

Maybe you’ve never heard this before but your time, talent, and treasure actually belong to the Lord, not you. Acts 17:24 says, “God made the world and everything in it.” This is God’s world, everything in it belongs to Him. It’s not your world. Jesus said, “All who have been given to Me have been given to Me by My Father” (John 6:37). If you’re a Christian, you do not belong to you, and your time, talent, and treasure do not belong to you. Those things have been entrusted to your care and stewardship by God. They have been loaned to you and God expects a good return. We’ve been taught repeatedly that we are to give God a percentage of what we have. But the truth is He owns it all. When you hold back your time, talent, and treasure you are saying to God, “These things are mine; I own them; keep your hands off”.

Question, what kind of steward are you? Are you like Tabitha? Are you generous with your time, talent, and treasure? Are you like the Lord Jesus Christ, an incarnational missional steward? Or are you part of the 80% that enjoys the hard work and treasure giving of the 20%?

Estimates show that if the 80% group stepped up and gave 10% of their income “after taxes”, $46 billion dollars would be raised each year!

After the Move

After we move to our new location we will need participation from everyone who calls RHC their church home. There are going to be many more things to do and areas to serve in. Our financial responsibilities will dramatically increase. There will be things that we’ll need to buy or have donated.

We’re all going to be encouraged and challenged to give our time, talent, and treasure. I’m excited about the opportunities. Let’s look at what happened next with Tabitha. Look at verse 36.

Verse

37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.

Commentary

The text say’s, Tabitha got sick and died. Luke didn’t list her illness and as a doctor that’s interesting. However, diseases like Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Polio, and Smallpox were rampant during the first century especially in Roman towns and cities. Joppa would’ve been plagued by these illnesses.

After Tabitha died her friends and/or family prepared her body for burial by washing it. This was customary. Only women prepared women’s bodies for burial. Men were not part of that. And then rather than laying her in a tomb they placed her on a bed or platform in an upper room. This was not the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place or where the church gathered for prayer, teaching, and fellowship. That Upper Room was in a house in Jerusalem. This upper room was 50 miles west in Joppa.

Why did Tabitha’s friends and family put her in an upper room rather than in a tomb after the ceremonial washing? They did so because they were holding out hope for her. They believed that if God was willing to do it He could bring her back to life. That is what they wanted more than anything else at that moment. That’s the kind of impact Tabitha had on the lives of those who had been loved and served by her.

How will people respond to your passing? Will they say to others, “We’ve lost an exemplary saint who loved God and others; whose life was marked by good deeds and acts of charity.” Will people stand by your bedside wishing you were still with them and even praying for your return? How you steward your time, talent, and treasure will greatly determine the level of impact you have on others. If you steward well you will have great impact. If you steward according to the patterns of this world you will have no impact. You will also be held responsible for your actions (Matt 25:26). Piper warns against this in his book entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Life”. It’s a great read. It’s a sobering read. Tabitha didn’t waste her life and the people she served were at her bedside hoping and praying for a miracle.

Look at 38:

Verse

38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.”

Commentary

The mourners heard that Peter was in Lydda and then sent two men to retrieve him. The journey there took between 3-4 hours. When they found Peter they said to him, “Please come without delay.” Why did they ask Peter to hurry? Because of a time limit. According to the law dead bodies were required to be buried before sunset (Deut 21:23). To let a body decay above ground where vultures and dogs could eat it was considered a serious dishonor. Tabitha apparently died during late morning or early afternoon which left just enough time for the men to travel to Lydda, retrieve Peter, and make the journey back.

The round trip probably took 6-7 hours. Peter would have to perform the miracle before sunset in order to meet the requirements of the law. Or, if Peter was unable to restore Tabitha the men still needed enough time to bury her before sunset so they could meet the requirements of the law. This is why they urged Peter to “come without delay”. How did Peter respond?

Look at 39:

Verse

39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunicsand other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.

Commentary

Peter stopped what he was doing and immediately went with the two men. When they arrived at the house the men led him up the stairs into the upper room. When Peter entered he basically walked right into a funeral. Tabitha’s body, now cold and grey, was lying on a platform or bed and when Peter approached her all the widows of Joppa stood beside him. They were (klaio) which means weeping out loud and they were holding up the clothes Tabitha had made for them. Look at 40:

Verse

40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.”

Commentary

Why did Peter put everyone outside? Probably because they were loud! They were weeping at 90db. Peter then knelt or prostrated himself and began to pray. Who did he pray to? He prayed to the First Born of all Creation, the Resurrected One, our Great High Prophet, Priest, and King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t say in the text but I do not doubt that he invoked the name of the Lord in his prayer. Why, because of what Jesus said in John 14:13-14.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask meanything in my name, I will do it.

After praying he turned to Tabitha’s body and spoke. He said, “Tabitha, arise.” Arise comes from the same Greet root word Peter used when he told Aeneas to rise. This word is often associated with resurrection. But it’s important for us to know that Tabitha was not about to be resurrected. Resurrection means to be raised incorruptible. It means to be raised and never again experience death. Only one person in all of history experienced resurrection, and that’s Jesus. This is why He is called the “First Born of all Creation”. He is the first person in history to be resurrected into a glorified incorruptible body. So Tabitha wasn’t about to experience resurrection. She was about to experience what is known as resuscitation or restoration. This is why the section title in your Bible reads, “Dorcas Restored to Life” rather than “Dorcas Resurrected to Life”. Resurrection is everlasting, resuscitation is not.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He did not resurrect him. He resuscitated him. Lazarus experienced death again later on and so did Tabitha. The Bible teaches that all people will experience resurrection. The saints who have passed away will experience it at the Lord’s return. They will be resurrected into incorruptible perfect bodies that will be fashioned for unspeakable everlasting joy and elation. The dead or those who rejected Christ will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment to face the justice and wrath of God. Their bodies will be fashioned for eternal punishment, torment, and damnation. All the more reason to proclaim the gospel and see people get saved and rescued from what’s to come!

Again, Peter spoke to Tabitha. How did she respond to his words? Look at the rest of verse 40.

Verse

40 And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.

Commentary

Her eyes sort of popped open. And when she saw Peter standing there she sat up. Question: Whose faith was at work in the resuscitation of Tabitha? Was it Tabitha’s or Peter’s? It certainly wasn’t Tabitha’s because she was dead. She was in the presence of Jesus. She was in Paradise. So it was Peter’s faith that the Lord worked through. This illustrates how a person’s faith can have a profound impact on those around us.

God can and does work through our faith. Through our faith He can bring spiritual, emotional, and physical healing to others. Through our faith He can build up other believers. Through our faith He can reach those who do not yet love, worship, and serve Him. Through our faith He can fight against the tide of injustice and immorality in our culture. Through our faith He can care for the downtrodden. Through our faith He can instruct and encourage our friends, loved ones, and spouses.

One of the things that caused people to be attracted to Peter was that God was working through his faith. God was blessing people through his faith. Why did Tabitha’s mourners send two men to retrieve Peter? Because they knew that God was blessing others through his faith! Question: Are people attracted or drawn to you because of your faith?

Are you exposing them to a faith that makes the presence of a loving, gracious, merciful, and generous God real, and even tangible? That’s attractive faith. That’s the kind of faith that creates curiosity and draws people. Before scattering, the Christians at Jerusalem were known for that kind of faith. And the outsiders favored them, they esteemed them. Those Jerusalem Christians abounded with love. Love for each other and others. Jesus said,

“Your love for one another will show others that you belong to me.”

And yet we attempt to make our belonging to Jesus known to others in a lot of ways that tend to not be very loving.

-We think that pushing our points of Arminianism or Calvinism will show others that we belong Jesus.

-We think that pushing our view of election will show others that we belong to Jesus.

-We think that voting Republican will show others that we belong to Jesus.

-Jesus said, “It’s by your love that others will know.”

We all desire to have attractive faith; faith that impacts others for good. Love is the key. We need to remember that the purpose of theology is to produce doxology and love for others. By faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter commanded Tabitha to arise. She then opened her eyes and sat up. Look at 41.

Verse
41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.

Commentary

Peter took her by the hand and raised her up. He then presented her to the saints and widows. According to Scripture it was customary to present a resuscitated person to his or her family and friends.

In 1 Kings 17:23 Elijah raised a boy from Zarephath and presented him to his mother.In 2 Kings 4:36 Elisha raised a Shunammite boy and presented him to his mother.Luke 7:15 Jesus raised a young man from Nain and presented him to his mother.

So Peter did what others had already done, with the exception that he raised a female. That’s interesting, maybe even significant. The Jewish and Greek communities were primarily man-centered. Jesus however honored women. He treated them with dignity and respect. The apostles did the same. Luke may have included the story of Tabitha in Acts to illustrate the importance of women in the church.

Why else did he include so many details about her faith? Now there was larger purpose behind the restoration of Tabitha. God planned to use the miracle to achieve greater things, to make a bigger impact just as He had done through Aeneas. Look at 42.

Verse

42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Commentary

What was the greater purpose? It was to bring many to repentance and faith in the Lord. And why does God bring people to repentance and faith in the Lord? He does it for His name sake and for His glory. In two weeks we have seen how God brought many people to salvation in 3 towns, Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa, through two miracles, the healing of Aeneas and the restoration of Tabitha. Awesome! Let’s look at our last verse, verse 43.

Verse

43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.

Commentary

Luke tells us that Peter remained in Joppa for many days. You might say that Peter decided to hang around and enjoy the fruit that God was bringing through the gospel and miracle. Luke tells us that Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner. What is a tanner? What does a tanner do? A Tanner is a craftsman who tans skins and hides. Why did Luke give us Simon’s occupation? Because he wants his readers to know that the church in Joppa was comprised of common ordinary people; regular blue collar folks. Why is this important?

Because God has chosen to use the foolish to confound the wise, the weak to shame the strong, and the low and despised to bring to nothing the things that are. Why, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (Cor 1:27-29).

As Calvin put it,

“The Lord gathered in Joppa, as everywhere, a church of common sort of men, that He might throw down the pride of the flesh.”