Skip Heitzig - Acts 9:20-43
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You know, it's always amazing to me to come to an end of another year, because we all say it every year, and you say it more often the older you get, but boy did this year fly by. Right? It just goes so quickly. So in a few days you will have spent all 365 days, five hours 49 minutes and three seconds, you will have spent it all and another year will begin.
Whenever another year begins or you're looking, like this week and anticipating what's going to happen, everyone has questions, like, what's going to happen next year? What's on the horizon for our country, for our world? Is this the year Jesus is going to return? I'm glad that three, four, five, 10 of you are excited about that idea. Maybe you've just gotten weary because you've waited so long and he hasn't come. But he could come at any moment. But we wonder things like, what's going to happen with our economy? It's getting better. Is it going to continue to get better? Or what's going to happen in the Middle East?
There's problem after problem after problem, news story breaking of what might happen. What's the little guy in North Korea going to be up to in the next few months of the new year? You know, we just don't know. We wonder what a new year is going to bring. And as we wonder, there are certain things we never have to wonder about. And the thing we don't have to wonder about is God's presence. He promised to be with you always, even to the end of the age. So no matter what happens, no matter what tomorrow holds, you know who holds tomorrow. And so that's the confidence we have as we enter into this new year.
Well, for Saul of Tarsus, every thing he had ever known was becoming new. The Bible says, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and everything becomes new. The chapter opens up with Saul of Tarsus breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. And he's on his 150-mile journey from Jerusalem up north to Damascus to imprison any Jewish believers in Jesus that he can possibly round up to incarcerate. He has gotten special permission from the Jewish Sanhedrin, the ruling council in Jerusalem, that has jurisdiction over Judaism worldwide. So they have given him permission to do this.
We know the story well, though we've read it last time we were together to get refreshed. But on his way up, he gets interrupted. He sees a bright light coming out of heaven. He's on his back. He hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him, saying, Saul, it's hard for you to kick against the goads, meaning, you are fighting the piercings of your heart being convicted. You know you're fighting a losing battle. You know your heart is convicted. You've come to see these followers of Jesus, and you're fighting what you're seeing and what you're hearing, the life change you see in them. It's hard for you to do that.
But I'm sure that when Saul of Tarsus was on his back and he was seeing that light and hearing that voice, he immediately thought, man, this is going to be a bad day. But what seemed to him like a bad day was going to turn into a good year, because if you think about it in terms of a new year, for Saul of Tarsus, it was indeed a brand new year of his life. And that is, everything in the past, all of that animosity, all of that antagonism, all of that hatred, all of that vehemence and tumult in his heart was a thing of the past. It was gone. And a new year, a new day, a new era had come for him.
And so he goes into Damascus completely blind. He is unable to see. And a guy named Ananias of Damascus, a believer in Jesus, a Jewish believer who has heard things about Saul of Tarsus is dispatched to speak to Saul of Tarsus to sort of get him on his feet, orient him in the faith, share those first primary things for this man as a young new believer, and then he's off to a running start.
However, now that Saul of Tarsus, AKA Paul the Apostle, has met the Lord, is a new creation. He has to grow. So you're going to see, I hope, I think I'm going to show you, Lord willing, that he had to first go away for a period of time. Now let's begin in verse 20. We kind of ended around verse 22, but let's go back to verse 20, where it says, immediately, he, Saul, preached the Christ, meaning, the Messiah, preach Jesus, in the synagogues that he is the Son of God.
Now that's a marvelous statement. It's an amazing statement. This very man, who swore Jesus was not the Son of God is the very one in the synagogues of Damascus preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. If you were in that synagogue service, you'd be scratching your eyebrows or your cheeks or your knees or whatever, just trying to figure out, is this a fake? Is this guy trying to ingratiate himself to us? Is this a trick? Because they heard of him.
Then all who heard were amazed and said, is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? There's something marvelous about what we just read. Saul begins preaching as soon as he's saved. It's as though, once the realization came to him that all this stuff about Jesus was true, was real, and it was now real for him, it wasn't enough to just be real for him. If it's real for me, the chief of sinners, as Paul called himself, it must also be real for others, and others need to hear it. And so he felt an urgency to immediately tell somebody about it.
Now I don't know what it was like for you, but I had that same feeling of urgency. I couldn't wait after I met the Lord in that little bedroom in my brother's apartment in San Jose. I couldn't wait, as I traveled back down south to Southern Cal to go see my parents and friends. I couldn't wait to tell my parents about Jesus. I couldn't wait to tell my brothers about Jesus.
Now they weren't so excited as I was to hear about Jesus. I thought they would be. I thought they'd be much more excited than they were. But they looked at me like, they, back in Damascus looked at Saul of Tarsus. Is this the same Skip that we knew before? Is this the same guy? And especially my friends, they thought, what is up with Heitzig? Man, what weird stuff has he gotten into? But you feel that urgency. If it's true for you, then it's because it's true for all. And if it's true for all, then all need to hear the truth. And so that urgency compelled him.
But as we noted last time, we have followed the journey of Saul of Tarsus just in this chapter. First he's on his back repenting. Then he's on his knees praying. And now he's on his feet preaching. Remember, he was in Damascus and the Lord said, go find Saul of Tarsus, the Lord said to Ananias, for behold he is praying. So on his back, repenting, on his knees, praying, now he's on his feet in the synagogue preaching. They were skeptical. But it says in verse 22, "But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus proving that this Jesus is the Christ."
He was an astute learner. He knew the Old Testament text. And even though he's a new believer, he had the ability to be very persuasive, even as a young follower of Christ, able to take Jewish people and prove to them, demonstrate to them that Jesus was the Messiah. Then notice the next phrase. "Now after many days were passed, the Jews plotted to kill him."
I believe, and I told you last time, and that was the cliffhanger that we ended with, that between verses 22 and 23, I believe is a gap of three years. I think many days is sort of the understated statement of Luke, the author of the book of Acts. After many days turns out to be about three years, where Saul of Tarsus goes away to a place called Nabataean, Arabia. That's not Arabia like you know Saudi Arabia with Riyadh and Mecca, but Nabataean, Arabia, which is east of Damascus in that upper plateau of Jordan, all the way down to the Sinai desert. That's Nabataean, Arabia.
He went away for three years, and then he returned back to Damascus. And after that, as we'll see, he then went to Jerusalem. How do I know this? How do I figure this? Well turn with me to Galatians chapter one and you will hear and see Paul's own words. If you don't have to turn there, if it's too challenging, I have it already marked, so I'll just read it to you. Galatians chapter one in verse 11, Paul said, "but I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached to me is not according to man, for I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it. But it came true the revelation of Jesus Christ."
What's he referring to? His experience on the road to Damascus when Jesus spoke to him. "For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and I tried to destroy it." That's how chapter nine begins. "And I advanced in Judaism, beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But, when it please God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through his grace to reveal his son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia and returned again to Damascus."
Now he sums that up by saying, "Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and remained with him 15 days." For three years, Saul of Tarsus, after leaving Damascus, went to the wilderness, to Nabataean, Arabia, to the desert. Why the desert? Well, perhaps if he went down south he may have even lodged in the shadow of Mount Sinai, which would be fitting for the man who said about his former life, if you want to look at righteousness which came through the law of Moses, I was blameless.
He was a man of the law, and the law was given at Mount Sinai. And perhaps there, at the foot of Mount Sinai, even camping out, he was considering what the law really meant, what it pointed to, going over familiar texts. He's had a revelation of Jesus Christ. He now has a relationship that's different with God. So he's going back through all of his learning, back through his former training. And for three years, I believe he's being prepared by God for what lies ahead.
God's preparations are very unique. Sometimes he can take a person and give them a formal education. He did that with Saul of Tarsus, though the formal education was in Judaism. There was no formal Christian training as of yet. But rather the Lord took him alone in the desert. And you might say that he had a BSD degree, Back Side of the Desert Degree. Moses had the same degree. Sometimes God has to give you the third degree out in the desert. That's really the degree you graduate with that makes you a value. And so after three years, he returned back again to Damascus, until, as we'll see, he gets kicked out of town quite quickly, and then he makes his way to Jerusalem.
But what he is experiencing, what he is beginning to experience in this new life of his is something that Ananias predicted would mark his life, and that is suffering. You know, if you counseled a new believer in our prayer room after a service, and if you were to put your arm around that new believer and say, let me just tell you, welcome to the family of God. And, by the way, your future life, now that you're a Christian, is going to be marked by suffering, persecution, opposition, oppression. God bless you. That'd be a rough gig. But now think of Ananias, back in Acts chapter nine. Go back a little bit. We started later than this, but go back to verse 15, where the Lord tells Ananias of Damascus to go see Saul.
The Lord said to him, "go, for he, Saul, is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my sake." Now if you were Ananias and you knew about Saul of Tarsus' reputation to imprison or kill believers, you don't want to tell him that. You don't want to be the guy to give him that news. Hey, by the way, Saul, welcome to God's family. You're in for a lot of suffering. But, those were God's orders. And Ananias told him and he experienced that immediately. Why? Because immediately he started preaching the gospel in the synagogue. And then he goes away for three years, goes back to Damascus, now prepared after being alone with the Lord for three years in Nabataean, Arabia.
It says, "after many days were passed." Now he's back in Damascus, as he said in Galatians one. "The Jews plotted to kill him." So he's experiencing the hardship. "But their plot became known to Saul, and they watched the gates day and night to kill him." It won't be the first time. Or it won't be the last time. "Then the disciples took him by night and led him down through though the wall."
That is the perimeter wall of the city. The cities were walled cities in those days, in a large basket. So evidently a private residence with a window overlooking the outside of the city from the wall in a large basket. They did have large baskets, and many scholars will point to the idea that large baskets able to accommodate a human being, made out of straw or wicker, were typically garbage baskets to let out the refuse outside the city wall. You're dumping it. So just think of Saul of Tarsus. He has entered Damascus blind. He comes back after three years and he's going to leave Damascus as a common criminal in a wastebasket. They're letting him down through the wall in a basket.
And when Saul had come, notice this, to Jerusalem, again like it said in Galatians one. Now he's going to Jerusalem. He tried to join the disciples. Now hold on. If it says he tried to join the disciples, it must mean it was difficult to join the disciples. In fact, it was, because the Greek tense literally would be translated, he kept on trying to join the disciples. So he's not having great luck, and here's why, we're told at the end. "He tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him and did not believe that he was a disciple."
So he's in Damascus. He's saved. He goes to Arabia, comes back. He gets in trouble. He goes to Jerusalem. He's so excited to go to Jerusalem and meet the apostles and hang out and share with them. Nobody in that church group believes that he's a converted man. They think, oh, no, we know about this guy, what he did here with Stephen, consenting unto his death, wreaking havoc in this city and then going from here to Damascus. He's not coming back here. He's not coming to our church.
I feel sorry for Saul of Tarsus at this point. Why? Because he's sort of like a man without a country. He's not welcome in the synagogues. He's not welcome in the temple courts. Anybody who sees him knows that he's the traitor who walked out on Judaism. And now, even God's own people, the early church, won't accept him. He's a man without a country. He has no place of familiarity, no family to embrace him.
Several years ago I had a very interesting experience when I was in New York City. A friend of mine has a church there and I was speaking one evening for him. And I noticed in the back of the room there was a man, gray-haired man, distinguished looking gentleman with a overcoat and a scarf, and he had his Bible and he had a notepad and a pencil. And he was taking notes. His head was down most of the time. He had a little reader glasses and he's taking notes, taking notes, taking notes.
And afterwards I went up to my friend the pastor and I said, hey, I noticed a guy in your congregation in the back, this older gentleman, distinguished gentleman taking notes like I've never seen anybody take notes that much whenever I have spoken anywhere. And Mike smiled and he said, you know who that is? He goes, that's John DeLorean. He's the guy that made the DeLorean car. Remember Back to the Future? And you may remember, if you are this old to remember that John DeLorean was busted for like 55 ounces of cocaine or some kind of a drug deal that went bad and then later acquitted, then got into other legal problems. Well he had been in jail, supposedly had a conversion experience that I had heard about, but everybody doubted.
But he is in this church and he is taking notes. And Mike said, he's here every week. And this guy is growing in his faith. But he said, you know, he's sort of like a man without a country, because most Christians don't want to believe that he's really converted because of his fame. And the world has largely rejected him. So Saul of Tarsus is sort of in that in-between stage. He doesn't fit in the synagogue, and at first, he keeps trying to join the church, but he is unable.
So he's having difficulty in the earliest part of his Christian walk. It's not easy. He is discovering difficulty after difficulty. Why do I bring this up? Because this is the man God is going to use more mightily than perhaps, well, than anybody else in church history, save Jesus Christ himself. He's going to write 13 of the 27 New Testament books. So he's going to be used mightily by God.
Alan Redpath said, "When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible man and crushes him." Witness with me here, the crushing of Saul of Tarsus, one blow after another blow after another blow. I hope that that doesn't discourage you, but I hope it encourages you. Because if you're going through difficulty, God's up to something.
God never says, oops. He never makes a mistake. If something happens in your life and you go, oh, this is one of those, oops, this shouldn't happen, there's no oops in God's vocabulary. All things are working together for good to you who love the Lord. And so sometimes you're feeling crushed. That's because God is going to do something awesome. You just gotta wait for it, but you'll see it.
The salvation of a soul is the miracle of a moment. The manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime. It takes years, and it's going to take years for Saul. You know, we read of Paul the Apostle, and we think, man, that guy just got saved and he starts writing New Testament books. No. Three years have passed. After three years, he's still not trusted. Verse 27 gets good though. I'm glad that after all this hardship we find a great hinge word in verse seven, "but." "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles."
You know Barnabas. I hope you remember him. We was introduced to us in chapter four. His name, his birth name was Joses, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which means the son of encouragement. And he was wealthy. He had land in Cyprus, the island nation of Cyprus. He sold it later. Laid it at the apostles' feet in that chapter. He encouraged the church financially. His generosity multiplied their capacity. And now he's here again.
He's in Jerusalem, and the son of encouragement is bringing Saul of Tarsus in. He brought him to the apostles and declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going up. Now he's welcome in church. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. So, from bad to worse. From bad to good, because the church accepts him, he's now has a family, to, now they want to kill him. So this is going to sort of mark his whole life as we see it unfold.
But I love Barnabas, don't you? Somebody once said, a friend is one who comes in when the rest of the world goes out. So when you feel like everybody else sort of casts you out and nobody cares, it's the friend who will come in and stay with you and stick by you and be there to nurture you and to keep your feet on solid ground. And let me just say, we need people.
Every church needs people like Barnabas who will put their arm around young, rough around the edges believers, people with a different weird, sordid background, the kind of people that many Christians just don't want to spend the time of day with because they're so messy, and they'll get their hands dirty. And they'll bring them in. They'll encourage them and vouch for them and stand with them and disciple them in the body of Christ. So Paul, Saul, was with him in Jerusalem.
Now, back to verse 29. "And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the," who? Hellenists. Why did he do that? Well, because he was a Hellenistic Jew. That is, he was born outside of Israel in Tarsus of Cilicia, a Roman province in modern day Turkey. It was at one of these synagogues called the Synagogue of the Freed Men where Stephen had been preaching.
Stephen was also a Hellenistic Jew and went to the synagogue in Jerusalem called the Synagogue of the Freed Men and gave this incredible historical witness, and then preached Jesus unto them. Saul was there that day. They stoned Stephen. Laid their clothes, the people who killed Stephen at the feet of Saul. And Saul was consenting unto his death at this very synagogue. So he goes back to the Hellenistic synagogue, disputes with them. Now he's the guy that was egging them on to kill Stephen. And so, true to form, they try to kill him.
"When the brother and found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus." Caesarea's on the coast. It is headquarters for the Romans in that part of the world. It's where the procurator had his headquarters. Pontius Pilate at one time had his headquarters at Caesarea. And the procurator, governor, like Pilot, was only in Jerusalem for feast days.
So Caesarea was sort of like, I mean, when you go to Israel and you see Caesarea, you go, oh, I get it. I mean, Jerusalem's cool, but we're on the Mediterranean, we're on the beach right here. And so there was this beautiful harbor built by the Romans in Caesarea. Saul will be back in Caesarea later on, spending two years there in jail before he gets sent to Rome. But now they just take him to Caesarea, because that's the quickest port. You either go to Joppa or Caesarea. They took him to Caesarea, put him on a boat, sent him back home to Cilicia, back to Tarsus where he is from.
Now, get this. He's been in Arabia already for three years. He gets sort of out of exile, comes to Jerusalem, gets in trouble again, gets sent out of Jerusalem back home. And he doesn't show up again for seven years, seven years. Now when he shows up again, he will not show up again in Jerusalem. He shows up again in Antioch of Syria, because a church is starting to grow there. And Barnabas will be the guy to bring him from Tarsus in Cilicia down to Antioch to help him. That's really where he's going to get his ministry experience, is in this Gentile region of Syria, Antioch of Syria. But why I'm bringing that up is because three plus seven is 10. So it took a decade of isolation and preparation before Saul of Tarsus was ready for the operation of ministry. So don't get discouraged. Man, I've been waiting on the Lord for six months and he hasn't used me yet.
And I remember thinking that. I was driving down the 405 freeway and I remember, I was mad at the Lord. I said, Lord, I'm getting old. I'm 23-years-old. I thought I would have started a church by now. Why are you using me, Lord? And the Lord used the 10-year preparation of Saul of Tarsus to speak to my heart. Three plus seven. Now he's back up after this at his hometown going through probably all, spending all the time, no doubt, going through the scriptures and getting really ready, as we'll see when he comes on the scene again. But notice verse 31. "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. They were multiplied."
Now there is a little bit of information that we don't get until we get to Acts 22. So since it could be a while, or the Lord could come back before we even get there, I'm just going to look at Acts 22 for just a moment and listen to Saul of Tarsus. Let me just set the story. In Acts 22 he's back in Jerusalem. This time he's in the temple. The Jews see him in the temple, throw a hissy fit, because they think that he has brought Gentiles into the temple courts of the Jews. He gets arrested. He is brought before a Roman soldier, and Saul of Tarsus, now Paul the Apostle, speaks to his Jewish brethren, who are in the courts of the temple, and he's giving his own background and testimony.
And he says to them, this Acts 22. I'm reading from verse 17. "Now it happened, says, Paul the Apostle. Now it happened. When I returned to Jerusalem," that's after three years in Nabataean, Arabia, "and was praying in the temple that I was in a trance." Now we don't get this back in Acts chapter 9. "And I saw him," Jesus, "saying to me, make haste," which means, hurry it up, "and get out of town." Get out of Dodge, get out of Jerusalem quickly. "For they will not receive your testimony concerning me.
So I said, Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him. And then he said to me, depart," or, I'm done talking. Just go. You know, he's trying to argue with the Lord, but Lord, they know who I am. Surely they're going to listen to me eventually. Jesus says, get out, depart, "for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles."
So he leaves. Seven years pass. We will not see him again until we get to Antioch, chapter 13 of the book of Acts. For the next few chapters, and you'll notice it now in the next verse, there's a shift back to Peter. See we have seen the flow of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and then we saw the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. But we're still going to deal now for the next three chapters with Peter and Peter's ministry. And then beginning in chapter 13, Saul of Tarsus, becoming Paul the Apostle, dominates the rest of the story. He's the guy that dominates the rest of the book.
So, verse 32, "It came to pass, as Peter went through all the parts of the country that he also came down to the saints who dwell at Lydda. There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed."
Luke was an interesting character. He tells us about Aeneas, but he gives us no background information except to say he was paralyzed. Now Luke was a doctor, so he's just sort of giving us the clinical rundown of the disease this man has. But doesn't tell us if he's a Jew or a Gentile, how old he is, how long he lived there, if he was a believer or not, just, he had this disease. He's a doctor. He's given us the medical facts.
Now it says he came to Lydda in a verse 32. Let me just say, if you've ever, anybody here ever been to Israel? Raise your hand. OK, so you've been to Lydda. You go, I don't remember Lydda. Well, when your plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport, you've touched down in Lydda. The airport is located on the site called Lydda or Lod, L-O-D, and that is the ancient place, or that's the modern place of the ancient place of Lod or Lydda. Lod it was called in the Old Testament. Lydda it was called in the New Testament.
Now the Lord's going to speak to Peter and use Peter. Interesting that Peter is not in Jerusalem. He's traveling. He's now become an itinerant preacher, so to speak. He's kind of moving around Judea, which he didn't have to do because back in Acts chapter eight there was a persecution that came on the church. And it says, the Church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Peter is an apostle. Peter didn't have to go. He could have stayed in Jerusalem, but he felt the need, the desire, the call of God perhaps to go out and do ministry in an itinerant way. So he's moving. And the Lord will use Peter while he's on the move.
My point being this, it's easier to work with a moving object. It's easier to do ministry when somebody is not just sitting back going, well, Lord, you know where I live, and you know my phone number, and you know my address. So if you ever want to use me, just, I don't know, send a vision from heaven or something. Get my attention. But people who are on the move, it's easier to direct a moving object. It's easier to control a moving bicycle. It's easier to direct a moving person, a person looking for opportunities. A busy person will find many opportunities to serve the Lord when they're looking for and engaging in and getting involved in God's work. So he is on the move.
So there's a certain man, verse 33, who had been bedridden for eight years. And he's paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, heals you. Arise, make your bed." And when he said, make your bed, it's not like what your mom used to say to you when you were a kid, make your bed that way. Clean up your room and make your bed, it's just, take your bed roll and pick it up and go. Make your bed. Forget the bed and start walking. "Then he arose immediately, so all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon", that's the Sharon Plain, the, it is called, topographically, "saw him and turned to the Lord."
Aeneas is healed and becomes a walking testimony. The result of the walking testimony is the salvation of those who knew him and saw him and came in contact with him. Now I suppose it would be tempting to say, the greatest miracle in the world is healing a sick body, a paralyzed person. That's the greatest miracle ever. I would argue it is not the greatest miracle. And I'm not saying this to sound super-spiritual, but the greatest miracle in the world is the salvation of a soul, not the healing of a body. In fact, the first miracle enabled the second miracle. The miracle of healing this man enabled and brought what you see in verse 35. "Those who dwelt in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord."
That was the purpose of the healing, to bring a greater miracle. You say, well why is that a greater miracle? Why is salvation a greater miracle? It's easy. It costs more. It costs the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross to save people from sin. It brought the greatest results, the salvation of a soul for all of eternity. It brought the greatest glory to God, as they'll be with him in heaven and have the capacity to do the same with others. So it costs the greatest price, it brought the greatest glory to God, and it brought the greatest results.
Now it says, at Joppa, that's down by the seacoast, "There was a certain disciple named Tabitha," which is translated Dorcas. Tabitha is the Hebrew word and the Aramaic word that means, gazelle, like the animal, the gazelle. The Greek word is Dorcas, so, same meaning, just two different languages. One is Aramaic and Hebrew, and the other is Greek. I'd rather be called by the Aramaic or Hebrew, wouldn't you? I wouldn't like to, hey, dork. So it's not a great name, but it's a beautiful meaning name. So Tabitha, Dorcas, she is called. One is an Aramaic term and the other is her Greek term.
"This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds, which she did, but it happened in those days that she became sick and died. And when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda," or Lod, about 10 miles away from Joppa, "was near Joppa, that the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him imploring him to not to delay in coming to them. Peter arose and went with them. And when he had come, they brought him to the upper room, and all the windows stood", all the widows, excuse me. "All the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics in the garments which Dorcas had made while she was with him."
Tabitha was a Proverbs 31 lady. She extends her hands to the poor and she spreads out her arms to the needy, it says in Proverbs. She was that kind of a person. She saw the need that people had and she went to minister to that need. And so when you have a person like that in a church who dies, who goes to be with the Lord. It's wonderful for that person, but it's sad for that church. When you get somebody that lovely and that needed to leave your midst, it brings this kind of weeping. And they're not weeping for her, they're weeping for themselves and the fact that there is that huge vacancy that is left now in that church.
So, they did something. They did what was customary to do. You take the dead body. You usually take it to a room. You wash the body and you anoint the body, and then you quickly bury the body. So they had already followed the custom of washing the corpse, anointing the corpse with all that was needed for burial. And they were about to bury her.
But it was as if somebody says, well, hold on just a minute. I know we've washed the body and I know we've anointed the corpse, but before we actually stick her in the ground, I hear Peter's in the area. We've got nothing to lose. She's dead. So let's ask Peter to come in. Because they are already making the burial preparations, but somebody had the presence of thought to go, go get Peter. So Peter comes, goes up to the upper room. And then verse 40, "But Peter put them all out." Get out of the room, he said. And he knelt down and he prayed. "And turning to the body, he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes. And when she saw Peter, she sat up."
I have a question. Peter put everybody out. Why? Well I don't know, but I have a guess. My guess is, when he saw her lying on that, he remembered something that happened in Jesus' own ministry when he and James and John were with Jesus on a special occasion in Mark chapter five, when a little girl had died and everybody was gathered in a room around the body, and Jesus said, get 'em all out. She's only sleeping. And Jesus turned to that little girl and said, "Talitha kumi," which means, the little girl arrives. Now I think he said, I know what to do, I've seen it done. Get everybody out. And the similarity is remarkable. He didn't say, talitha kumi, but he said, Tabitha kumi, in Aramaic. Very similar, but calling her by name, gazelle. Tabitha kumi, arise. "And she opened her eyes. And when she saw Peter, she sat up."
So everybody leaves her room. Peter kneels before he says to the dead woman, arise, and he gets down and he prays. Here's what I want you to notice. There is going to be, you know the story because you've read it. She gets up from the dead. So there's an enormous, there's a power encounter that happens. But before the power comes the prayer. If you want the power, you start with prayer. Because once you pray, you can expect power. But don't expect power until you pray. So get everybody out and just get down and start praying. And once you have the prayer, now you can be open and expect the power. But one will bring the other, and you can't reverse that.
One of my favorite stories about the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London that Charles Haddon Spurgeon pastored is that visitors heard of him and they wanted to come and see it. They came to the tabernacle. The doors were locked. It was a weekday. They wanted to see the preacher. They wanted to see the great tabernacle in London, that huge multi-thousand seat auditorium where Spurgeon preached every week. They got there and the place was shut up. They were sitting on the steps. A man came. Some stories even say it was Charles Spurgeon, and he said to the visitors, do you want to see the heating apparatus of the tabernacle? And they thought, you know, they're thinking, not really. I mean, I want to see the tabernacle. I don't care about the heating apparatus. That's a strange thing to be asked.
But they said, OK, sure. So they got in. They walked down a flight of stairs, went down a long hallway. A door opened up where there were hundreds of people praying in the room. And the man said, there is the heating apparatus of this church. The reason this church is so powerful is because these people gather and they seek the Lord in prayer, and the prayer is what produces the power. So Peter gets everybody out, prays, speaks to the woman, Tabitha kumi, and she gets up.
Then he gave her his hand. So practical. What do you do to a dead person who just gets alive again? Give him a hand. And he lifted her up. And when he had called the saints and the widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa and many believed on the Lord. So again, one miracle leads to the greater miracle, and that is the salvation of many. So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner. Luke doesn't put that in just because. He puts it in because it's leading somewhere. Where it's leading is chapter 10, and we'll have to wait until we get to chapter 10, but let me just give you a little teaser.
A tanner was an unclean profession among the Jews. Tanners were not regarded. They were looked upon with distaste because they handled the skins of dead animals. And so they became ceremonially defiled all day long, all the time. Besides that, if you've ever been around a tannery, it stinks to high heaven. So it's just like, unclean. Peter goes and hangs out.
And why is this important? Because in the next chapter he's going to get a vision from God about unclean animals. And God's going to say, whatever I've cleansed, don't you call unclean. So it's like the Lord is giving him, one step at a time to loose the baggage of religion and legalism so he can be open to the salvation of anyone who would call upon the name of the Lord.
So Saul of Tarsus had a hard year behind him, breathing out anger and threats against the disciples. He has a whole wonderful year ahead of him, fraught with some challenges, but a whole new life because he's in Christ. Peter sees miracles by his hand, though he's going to experience persecution. So the year ahead of him looks like a mixed bag, good and bad. And that's probably what it's going to be like for us. As you look back over this year, and if I were to ask you, how was your year? You'd say, some good, some bad. And that's probably what your year is going to be like, some good, some bad. But the Lord will be with you through it all. There won't be one time, one day, one instance, one dark moment that he won't be with you.
So, it's been said that an optimist stays up on New Year's Eve and waits for midnight to welcome the new year in. A pessimist will stay awake on New Year's Eve to make sure the old year goes out. But let me just say, a biblicists goes to sleep and rests because he or she knows God is in control of it all. So as Corrie TNE Boom said, never be afraid to trust an unknown future into the hands of a known God. You know your Lord, and you're going to be just fine. We'll meet again in another year. Well, before then, but when we do you'll see. We'll see how faithful the Lord was. As I pray, the communion board is going to come forward and we're going to distribute the elements.
Father, we thank you for the time we had in your word, being able to close out the book of Acts, to look back briefly over our own year and just consider in our minds some of the things that have happened. But we realize, Lord, you were faithful through it all. And we thank you for that. In Jesus' name, Amen.