In the last essay we studied Acts 9:10-31, which tells us about Saul’s early ministry. In this essay we are studying Acts 9:32-43, a section that describes part of Peter’s early ministry. Peter last appeared in the Acts account in 8:25. He and John had been sent by the Jerusalem leadership to check out the movement of the Holy Spirit in Samaria. They learned that it was a legitimate move of God and prayed for the Samaritan believers to receive the Holy Spirit in his fullness, which they did. And we were told back in 8:25 that he and John preached in various Samaritan villages as they returned to Jerusalem.
Now at 9:32 Luke brings Peter’s ministry back to the forefront of his account. As you can see, this is the story of Peter’s healing of a man named Aeneas in the city of Lydda, which was known as Lod in the Old Testament. Lydda was located on the coastal plain of the Mediterranean about 12 miles southeast of Joppa. Joppa was right on the Mediterranean coast a little more than thirty miles south of Caesarea, the Roman headquarters for the province.
We can only guess how the Christian community in Lydda was founded. Refugees from the persecution at Jerusalem could have founded it. Another possibility is the earlier ministry of Philip. You may remember that Philip, after his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (8:40), evangelized this entire coastal area from Azotus to Caesarea, including the Plain of Sharon. Still a third possibility is that the community could have been founded by Philip and then expanded by refugees from Jerusalem. There is no way to know with any certainty.
It appears from verse 32 that Peter had now set out on a traveling ministry. You may recall that during the worst of the persecution, for reasons never explained, the apostles decided to go underground and remain in Jerusalem rather than flee Jerusalem with the other Christians (8:1b). But now that the pressures of the persecution had lifted somewhat, Peter began visiting the various Christian communities in Judea. And that brought him to Lydda.
We are told in verse 33 that Peter found in Lydda a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. The fact that Peter was visiting the Christian communities suggests that Aeneas was a Christian, though it is not specifically stated. At any rate, Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!” And Aeneas immediately did so.
Notice Peter’s words. “Jesus Christ heals you.” Peter knew very well that he didn’t have power to heal anyone. It is God who heals. Even Jesus worked miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by any power in his humanity. I have studied divine healing for nearly fifty years, and it is about as much of a mystery to me now as it was when I started.
The words, “Arise and make your bed” seem a little strange in the context, because the bed probably was some sort of mat, which would simply roll up. F. F. Bruce reports that some scholars believe that there is a play on words in the Greek here, and that Peter meant “Arise and set the table for yourself.” In other words, “get yourself something to eat.”
Notice the response of the people to the miracle: “And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” Of course Luke did not mean that every last resident of Lydda and the Plain of Sharon was converted. When Scripture uses the term all, it generally does not mean every last person or thing. It means many, or the majority, or a crowd of people.
In verse 36 we see that a woman named Tabitha lived at Joppa (modern day Jaffa), about 12 miles northeast of Lydda. Tabitha literally means “gazelle,” which in Greek is Dorcas. So we are given both her Aramaic and Greek names. Tabitha was well known for her acts of charity.
While Peter was at Lydda, Tabitha took sick and died. Her family washed her body and laid her in an upstairs room. The washing of the body of a person who died was customary among both Jews and Greeks. The disciples at Joppa obviously had heard that Peter was at Lydda. It is possible that they had heard about the healing of Aeneas, though we are not told that. At any rate, they sent two men to Lydda to ask Peter to come to Joppa without delay.
Peter responded positively to the request of the two men and went with them to Joppa. As soon as he arrived, he was taken to the upper room where the body of Tabitha lay. The widows of the community were there weeping and they showed Peter some of the garments Tabitha had made. Peter put everyone out of the room, and knelt down to pray. Some readers might not pause to think about that. Peter didn’t command Tabitha to rise up without praying first. Moreover Peter considered it important enough to mention to others. Remember, he was the only one in the room. So this piece of information had to come from him.
After the prayer, Peter said to the woman, “Tabitha, get up.” And she opened her eyes and sat up. He took her by the hand and helped to her feet. And then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive to them. As you can imagine, the word about the miracle quickly spread throughout the city, and Luke tells us that it resulted in many conversions.
Finally, we are told that Peter “stayed in Joppa for some time with a man named Simon, a tanner. This is more significant than you might realize. The occupation of tanner was an unclean occupation to Jews. Tanners had to work with dead animals every day, and contact with dead bodies made Jews ceremonially unclean. The fact that Peter was comfortable living in the house of a tanner indicates that his scruples about the Jewish laws of clean and unclean had broken down. This is significant in respect to his interaction with the Gentile, Cornelius, and his household in chapter ten. The Lord had to break down Peter’s scruples about Gentiles, and the break down in regard to the laws of clean and unclean was a significant intermediate step.
Another matter that draws some attention is the fact that the miracle of Peter’s raising of Tabitha has a similarity to Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:35-43. In the Markan passage Jesus said to the girl, “Talitha qumi,” which means “Little girl, get up.” There is a difference of only one letter from what Peter said and what Jesus said. However not too much should be made of that. The name Tabitha just happens to be only one letter different from the word that means “little girl.”
Now then, John Stott points out that these stories served the important role of confirming that Peter performed the signs (miracles) of a true apostle. And he gives four reasons. First, “both miracles followed the example of Jesus.” The healing of Aeneas was reminiscent of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, where Jesus told the paralytic “stand up, take your mat and go to your house” (Mk. 2:11). Of course we have seen here that Peter told Aeneas, “get up and make your bed” (9:34). In the case of Tabitha, we already mentioned the similarity between what Jesus said and what Peter said. Second, “both miracles were performed by the power of Jesus.” Third, “both miracles were signs of the salvation of Jesus.” And fourth, both miracles redounded to the glory of Jesus. They both led people to turn to the Lord.