The last several posts have taken us far afield from Luke’s timeline in the book of Acts. We need to begin by regaining the correct historical orientation as we pick up Luke’s story line in Acts 9:32 again. The preceding verses concerning Paul’s earliest efforts to preach Christ in the first months following his conversion launched us into a study that covered not only all three of Paul’s missionary journeys, but his prison years as well. Now we must remember that at this point in Luke’s narrative, nearly all of that is still in the future.
Do you remember the purpose of miracles, and what program (Kingdom or Mystery) they are associated with? That’s right, they are associated with the Kingdom program, and their purpose is to certify that the one who performs the miracle carries God’s authority. Because Israel’s thinking is so caught up in “the law and the prophets”, both of which tell them to watch for miracles as signs of the coming of the Messiah, the Jews are always seeking miraculous signs — and rightly so. Who is in charge of these earthly efforts for the Kingdom? Peter, the one who was given the keys to it by the Lord. So it is natural for Luke to return to the main story line, in a “meanwhile back at the ranch” fashion, with two instances of miracles performed by Peter.
If you have not done so already, please read Acts 9:31-35 (yes, please begin by reviewing v31).
v31 – Note that the “church” (lit. ecclesia, “the called-out ones”) spoken of here is “throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria.” Remember your New Testament geography — Luke has essentially said, “throughout all southern Israel, northern Israel, and central Israel.” This region comprises most of the area covered by David and Solomon’s united kingdom. It is truly “Israel” in the largest sense. No mention is made of Antioch yet (that comes at the end of Chapter 11 although we have already covered it), and it is as if Luke has resumed the story immediately following his description of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:40). His account of Paul’s conversion is a parenthetical passage. As such, we resume the story fully immersed in Israel’s Kingdom program, complete with Gentile proselytes seeking God’s favor by adopting the Jewish religion.
v32 – Peter was travelling throughout the regions described in v31 preaching the good news and encouraging the “saints.” This is only the second use of this word in the New Testament in reference to believers. The first was when Ananias was arguing with the Lord about going to minister to Paul after Paul’s conversion (“I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem”). The Greek word is hagios, meaning sanctified or holy. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew for the “Holy of Holies” (the innermost room of the Tabernacle) as hagia hagion. Literally, Luke refers to the believers in Israel, including Lydda, as “holy ones.”
v33 – Aeneas was a paralytic, bedridden for eight years. We are not told his age, but we assume he was an adult (Greek, just as English, uses different words to describe children and young men). We are not told how he became a paralytic, but it apparently was something that happened in his adulthood. Aeneas, at one time then, was a normal person who had lost his mobility and probably more. He had every reason to be bitter, depressed and hopeless. He no doubt was highly dependent on caregivers, and we don’t know what quality of care he did or didn’t receive. Even in our day and age when we benefit from so much technology and available health care, circumstances like Aeneas’ create immense financial, emotional and social stresses not only on the victim himself but also on his family and caregivers. Luke doesn’t tell us how Peter found him, and doesn’t comment on his living conditions. Was he wallowing in a physical pit as well as an emotional one? If you’ve ever suffered from even mild depression, you know how difficult it can be to just get out of bed in the morning…
v34 – Peter said two things to him, and we often miss the second because of the power of the first. First, Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.” Then he said to him, “Get up and make your bed.” Of course his paralysis was immediately healed, and I don’t want to detract from the power of the miracle that was performed. But the second statement is a bit odd, don’t you think? The “get up” is obvious, but the “make your bed” part?? Shades of my dear mother’s favorite nagging point! The NIV translates this as “take care of your mat, “while the KJV translates it as “make thy bed”. The Greek is strowson seautow, literally “spread yourself.” The word strowson is used in Matthew 21:8 to describe what the people did with their cloaks and the palm branches in Jesus’ pathway as he entered Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday. It is also used when Jesus tells his disciples about where they will eat the Passover together: “…and he will show you a large, furnished, upper room. Prepare it there.” (Luke 22:12) Recall that this room was prepared for group dining, where it was the custom to eat reclining on mats or pillows at a low table. A “furnished” room would have been a room where these mats and pillows, or “couches” would have already been “spread”. Jesus literally described it as a large, spread, upper room. So the use of this word by Peter concerning this paralyzed man most likely indicates a straightening up of his sleeping quarters, whether they were a simple mat or something more elaborate. Interestingly, the word for “bed” isn’t in the verse anywhere — it was inferred by the translators. They may have known this expression as a colloquialism from secular Greek writings, and the inference of “bed” may be perfectly accurate — I don’t know why translators going back to the KJV have inferred it. But its absence leaves the door open for a broader interpretation. If we take a literal interpretation, it says “Arise, and straighten up [something inferred] yourself.” Given what this man’s emotional state might have been (depressed, etc.), it wouldn’t have been out of character for Peter to have said, “Arise and straighten up yourself!” (It’s tempting to translate this verse this way, but I have not done a careful job of “diagramming the sentence”, nor are my Greek skills strong enough to do it well.) Whether or not that’s accurate, I think there’s more to this statement than meets the eye. Peter understood that the miraculous healing that came from the power of Jesus Christ went beyond physical healing. Inherent in the physical healing is also emotional and spiritual healing — it is a healing of body, mind and spirit. Was Peter telling this man that he was not only freed from his physical prison, but also from the prison of depression and hoplessness that was evident in his physical surroundings? What power, joy and liberation are available to those who are healed by Christ! It is as if He says to us, “You are healed. You don’t have to live like this anymore!“ Surely the greater power in this verse is not in the physical healing where we have learned to focus our attention, but in what follows it in the greater power of finally being able to “make your bed.” Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior involves more than simply being rescued from eternity in hell — it involves healing, first of the deadly wound we all inherit from Adam, but also of its ramifications in this life as well as the next. Once we have accepted His free gift, we are also healed of the grip of daily sin. We don’t have to live like that anymore! We are not only enabled to arise, but also to straighen up!!! (Curiously, this verse ends by saying that he arose immediately, but doesn’t say whether or not he “made his bed.”)
v35 – This verse says that this man’s healing caused many to “turn to the Lord” in Lidda and nearby Sharon. It may be that his physical healing was sufficient to cause this, but I suspect his change in attitude that accompanied his physical healing may have done more. Surely many people would have asked him about it, and in visiting with him discovered that he had been freed from more than his physical paralysis.
vv36-37 – The stage is set in these two verses for Peter’s second miracle. Tabitha (alias Dorcas) lived and worked in Joppa, a beloved woman because of kindness toward others. During Peter’s stay at Lydda, she fell ill and died. Note that they “had washed her body,” a process that certainly would have verified that she was really dead, and not just in a coma.
v38 – Joppa is about 10 miles north-northwest of Lydda. The disciples in Joppa knew Peter was in Lydda. How long did it take to prepare her body? How long did it take the believers in Joppa to hatch this plan to send for Peter? How long did it take the two men to travel to Lydda, and then for Peter and them to return to Joppa, probably on foot? They didn’t remain at Lydda overnight and then travel to Joppa in the morning, for the passage says in the next verse that Peter went with them immediately. The travel time alone would have taken about seven hours at a brisk walking pace, and I suspect that Tabitha would have been dead for at least 10 hours, and maybe as long as 24 hours, time enough for rigor mortis to occur.
v39 – When Peter arrived, he was ushered into the upper room where Tabitha’s body lay. He was surrounded by all of her friends, who were doing two things. Together, these two things must have made it an extremely distracting, noisy scene. First, they were “weeping”. This is not the quiet sobbing or silent shedding of a tear we associate with the loss of a loved one in our 21st-century western culture. It was wailing! Second, every time Peter turned around he found himself looking at another piece of Tabitha’s handiwork. I’m sure Peter was appreciative and kind to them all, but ultimately…
v40 – Peter sent them all out of the room. Now surrounded by quiet, Peter knelt down and prayed. When he finished praying, he turned to the body (for it was just a body at that point), and spoke to it. “Tabitha, arise.” Notice there’s no shouting, no laying on of hands, no flashing lights — just a quiet “Tabitha, anistaymi.“ This Greek word implies much more than just “standing up”. John records a conversation (Jn 11:21-27) between Jesus and Martha concerning the death of her brother Lazarus. She says that if He had been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Jesus replies, “Your brother shall anastaysetai.“ She says she knows he will rise again in the great resurrection on the last day, and Jesus tells her, “I am the anastasis and the life.” At that point Martha realizes what Jesus is about to do, and runs to find her sister Mary. Peter didn’t say to Tabitha merely “get up” or “wake up” — he said, “Tabitha, resurrect.” (without an exclamation point!) And she did!
vv41-43 – Peter assisted her in physically sitting up (you’d be a bit wobbly yourself after being mostly dead all day, and Tabitha had been all dead all day). Then he called the others back into the room and handed her over to them. Can you imagine what went through their minds and hearts? No wonder it became known everywhere in Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Luke’s last statement in this chapter is a seque into Peter’s next major experience, and informs us that he decided to stay in Joppa, taking up residence in the home of one Simon, a tanner.
While we are still viewing the outworking of Israel’s program in Peter’s hands, and the Age of Grace is still primarily a mystery waiting to be revealed later through Paul, there is much to be learned from this passage. What is most interesting to me is how passages like this one come to life when they are considered in their proper context, having been rightly divided. No longer do we have to struggle theologically over why we seem unable today to raise the dead or heal the sick, especially with no more action than a few simply-spoken words. We understand that these miracles were part of God’s authentication of Peter to Israel, not an example for us to attempt to follow today. And understanding this enables us to appreciate even more how the blessings we do rightfully enjoy in this Age of Grace came into being. No, we do not discard any part of the Bible in favor of Paul’s letters exclusively. If anything, rightly dividing the Word of God magnifies the rest of the Bible, putting it into proper perspective and increasing its overall cohesiveness and clarity!