CHRISTLIKENESS, REPENTANCE, AND FAITH
32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 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.” 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 tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
— Acts 9:32-43, ESV
Acts is a historical account of the early church and the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ref. 1:8). Acts offers biographical sketches of key people, especially Simon Peter (chapters 1-11) and Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul (chapters 9, 12-28). Like all of Holy Scripture, Acts it is highly theological, showing us principles and paradigms that pertain to salvation, the miracle by which sinful human beings are reconciled and made right with God. And, Acts is a most practical book, showing us the right ways and means to preach and respond to the gospel.
The ninth chapter of Acts begins with the amazing conversion of Paul and its aftermath (ref. 9:1-31), which we have already analyzed. It concludes with a glimpse of the ministry of Peter and the right response to the gospel, which is the focus of our text today (ref 9:32-43). We will see the Christlikeness of Peter pave the way for his preaching of the gospel. And, we will see the only right responses the New Testament offers as a way of accepting Jesus Christ and Lord and Savior, namely repentance and faith.
The Christlikeness of Simon Peter
They did not have “WWJD” bracelets in Simon Peter’s day, but at any given time you could find Peter following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. He gave faithful oversight to the flock of God. He preached the gospel to unbelievers. He ministered primarily to the Jews. But when the time was at hand for the gospel to go out to the Gentiles, Peter lit the torch, then passed it on to Paul.
In this particular episode of Peter’s life, he was taking advantage of the “peace” (ref. 9:31) afforded by Paul’s conversion. He decided to venture out “among them all” (vs. 32), the churches of Judea, to offer them ministry and help them to grow. He succeeded mightily, as the text tells, because of the essential Christlike qualities we can see in Simon Peter.
Peter showed the love of Christ. Why would anyone leave the safety and privacy of their own home, get involved with a church, with people in it, and even make sacrifices in order to get other people into the church? Why would the Son of God, surrounded by the splendor of Heaven, leave the right hand of the Father to come to earth, live the life of a poor carpenter’s son, engage in public ministry knowing the ridicule and rejection it would bring, then die on a cross and be buried in a borrowed tomb? “Love Lifted Me,” Peter might have sung, as he followed Christ, showing the love of Christ, involving himself in the sweaty affairs of edifying and multiplying Christ’s church.
Peter modeled the obedience of Christ. When we love, we obey, according to Jesus (ref. John 14:15). Peter obeyed the Master’s call, “Follow Me.” Peter obeyed the Master’s commission, “Go … make disciples.” Peter obeyed the Master’s demand for total commitment. He saw his short life as an opportunity to do the most gospel good to the most people, which requires the spiritual integrity and moral fidelity of obedience to God’s word. Hypocrisy doesn’t sell well in any age.
Peter used the gifts Christ gave him. He and his fellow Apostles (with a capital “A”) and a few designates were given the gift of healing on demand and raising the dead. When those men died, those gifts died with them. For that first phase of the church, they were necessary to demonstrate the power of God and authenticate the message of the gospel. Such signs and wonders are not necessary today, and anyone who claims to have those gifts are either abject liars or selfish louts (they should be emptying hospitals, nursing homes, and funeral homes instead of other people’s bank accounts).
Peter looked like Christ. When you love God and people, when you obey the word of God, when you use the gifts God gave you to minister the gospel and grow the church, you look an awful lot like Jesus. People will respond, as they did to Jesus, negatively and positively. The proper positive responses to the gospel are two, and both of them are shown in the places by the people Peter visited in these days.
The Repentance of the People of Lydda and Sharon
As Peter traversed the towns and churches of northwest Judea, he arrived at Lydda and “found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed” (vs. 33). This is familiar territory for the Christlike Peter, who was with the Lord Jesus Christ on several occasions when the Messiah ministered to paralyzed people. Being like Jesus, and empowered by the special gifts the Spirit had given to Peter, the Apostle healed Aeneas, immediately and completely.
You may remember from our studies in the Gospels that every miracle performed by Jesus was a parable preached by Jesus. Peter no doubt copies Jesus here. With compassion for people on earth and compulsion to expand the population of Heaven, Peter explicitly performs a miracle in Jesus’ name and implicitly preaches about Jesus’ person and work, also known as the gospel.
The response is classic. “They turned to the Lord” (vs. 35). Lost people who become saved people are just like this person Aeneas and the other people of Lydda and Sharon. They cannot come to God, paralyzed by sin and unbelief, so God comes to them. They cannot heal themselves by their own power, but are healed by the power of God. They are going in the wrong direction headed for a bad destination, but when the light of the gospel shines upon them to show them the way, they turn to the Lord. There is a wonderful biblical word for this: repentance.
Why do people, like these in Lydda and Sharon, repent to God? Because, like the people in Joppa, they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Faith of the People of Joppa
A little farther up the road towards Caesarea (Peter’s destination for chapters 10-11) is the seacoast town of Joppa (modern Jaffa, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv). There an outstanding Christian lady had just died. Coastal towns are a little more cosmopolitan, even in the first century, so both her Aramaic and Greek names, Tabitha and Dorcas, are mentioned in Scripture.
The church heard Simon Peter was traveling nearby, so they sent two men to fetch him. They hoped Peter would do, as Peter was want to do, what Jesus would do, at least on certain occasions. Again, Simon Peter had been with Jesus when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, when the Lord raised a widow’s only son from the dead, and when He raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. So, Simon Peter knew what the Lord could do.
Mark 5:41, written in accordance with Peter’s eyewitness, quotes Jesus speaking to Jarius’ deceased daughter, “Taking her by the hand He said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’” Peter says almost the same thing to Dorcas, “Tabitha, arise” (vs. 40). The power of God is infinitely more powerful than the power of death.
Once again the miracle becomes a parable and the gospel is demonstrated and orchestrated by the conductor Peter. The witness to the many unbelievers in Joppa resulted in “many believed in the Lord” (vs. 42).
The spiritually dead cannot raise themselves. They are incapable of repentance and faith. But the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ possesses the power of repentance and faith to make a crippled person walk with God and a dead person live for Christ.
Why does a person repent to God? Because they believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What does one do when he or she believes the gospel? They turn from sin and selfishness and turn to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are gifts of God’s grace, they are received through the preaching of the gospel, and they resound in responsive hearts and minds of every person truly born again into the kingdom of God.
Christlikeness, Repentance, and Faith
Simon Peter has done his job. Now is the time for every living Christian to do his or hers. The health and growth of Christ’s church is at stake. Souls hang in the balance.
The work does not begin with pressure packed altar calls, slick witnessing programs that resemble sales presentations, or clever debates waged to embarrass rather than evangelize non-Christians. The work begins inside every Christian who dedicates himself or herself to live the Christlike life. It is not a messiah complex, it is a servant’s commitment. It looks like Simon Peter. It looks like Jesus. It is the determination to love, obey, use the gifts and resources given to us by God, in order to strengthen and enlarge God’s church.
When we venture into marriage, parenting, friendship, neighboring, vocations, and other interactions clothed in Christlikeness, people will take notice. Some, stirred by selfish or evil forces, will repel our overtures and mock the gospel. Others, however, will “turn to the Lord” and “believe” the gospel.