Last week we considered Jesus’ third post-resurrection appearance to his fishermen disciples, noting similarities between one of his final appearances to them after he had died and risen from death with one of his very first appearances to them when he initially called these fishermen to be his disciples. At this third post-resurrection appearance, after feeding his disciples fish and bread, Jesus turned to his beloved Peter and three times asked that he declare his love for him—a love Jesus knew had never waned not even when, out of his fear, Peter earlier had denied his Lord three times prior to his crucifixion. During this post-resurrection interaction with Peter, Jesus told him that the way that Peter should express his love for him was by feeding his lambs; by taking care of his sheep; by feeding his sheep. And our Lord ended by affirming again his initial call to Peter, “Follow me!”

When we consider Peter’s life, we see that from the time he was first called to be Jesus’ disciple, following Jesus was all he had ever wanted to do. What Jesus did, Peter wanted to do. Of all of the disciples, Peter is the only one who asked—and was granted—the ability to walk on water. As Jesus Christ, God of all creation,[1] had walked on water, so had he encouraged Peter, his disciple, to do. And Peter succeeded, if only briefly.[2] Well in our passage this morning we see how Peter took Jesus’ pre- and post-resurrection call to follow him to heart. For here we are provided a glimpse of how Peter loved Jesus—which is simply another way of saying how Peter obeyed Jesus by feeding and caring for Jesus’ flock, his lambs, his sheep. Notice our opening verse (32): “As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda.” By traveling around visiting our Lord’s people, Peter was showing his love for Jesus for in his travels he was checking in on those who belonged to Jesus. He was taking care of Jesus’ sheep just as he had told him to. For as we continue to see time and again in Scripture, one of the ways that we can express our love for Jesus is by caring for those who are his. Because for believers to be “in Christ” in essence means that Christ is in them by the Holy Spirit he sends[3]  to all who follow him. Therefore to love and care for other believers is to love and care for Jesus himself. And so was Peter doing.

Now while in Lydda, a town about 23 miles northwest of Jerusalem,[4] Peter “found a man,” verse 33, “who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years.” In other words, Peter found a man who was and had been suffering for a long time, unable to use his limbs, unable to get around, confined to his bed. This poor man had been in that state for eight years. Finding the man in such adverse circumstances, Peter turned to Jesus that he might do again from heaven what he had seen him do so many times over the course of his three years of ministry on earth—he called upon Jesus to heal the man, verse 34, by commanding, “Aeneas,… Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Again Luke doesn’t say that Peter healed Aeneas. Though Peter was one of Jesus’ chosen twelve apostles, he was but a man. Instead Peter called upon his risen and ascended Master and Lord to heal the man. And Jesus complied for we read how upon hearing Peter’s command, “Immediately Aeneas got up.” Peter’s intimacy with Jesus, even after he had ascended to heaven, continued for he had received Jesus’ Spirit, the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost just as Jesus had promised.[5] This intimacy between Jesus and Peter was so strong that he was now enabled to do many of the same miracles the Gospels record Jesus having done.

For we know that Jesus, too, healed those who were paralyzed. Once he came upon a man who had been an invalid not for eight years but for thirty-eight years,[6] lying by the Sheep Gate pool which some believed could heal those who were suffering.[7] Seeing the man, Jesus asked him a question whose main purpose was clearly to engage him: “Do you want to get well?”[8] The man replied, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”[9] But instead of helping the man into the water Jesus gave the man directly what he sought by simply saying to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”[10] And “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.”[11] No one can resist Jesus’ words, especially when he speaks the words we long to hear, for he was not only human but also God—and who can resist God?

On another occasion, while Jesus was teaching, Luke tells how “18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”[12] Clearly, these men were intent on bringing the man to Jesus for they were convinced that Jesus could heal him. They were right for we read that initially Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”[13] But when the Pharisees and law teachers began thinking to themselves how it was possible for him to do that which only God can do[14]—for these religious leaders didn’t believe Jesus was God—Jesus, knowing their thoughts[15]—for no one had actually spoken what they were thinking—said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”[16] And, not surprisingly, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.”[17] Christ Jesus’ words and actions bore witness to who he was and why he had come.

Returning to our account of Peter healing the paralyzed man in Lydda, we see similar results, verse 35, as “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” By healing this man in and through Jesus Christ, Peter had not only expressed his love for Jesus by taking care of his sheep but also, by way of this miracle, Peter was also fulfilling Jesus’ initial call to his fisherman disciple to be a fisher of men as well for all who were living not only in Lydda—which was about 11 or 12 miles northwest of Joppa[18]—but also Sharon—a coastal plain stretching forty to fifty miles north of Joppa[19]—turned to follow Christ Jesus themselves. When miracles occurred, the good news of God’s physical healing often led to people being spiritually healed as well as they turned in faith to Christ to receive the salvation he so freely offers and bestows.

And so our passage takes us to Joppa for Peter’s following Jesus didn’t end with feeding and caring for Jesus’ sheep—and fishing for men—and healing, by the power of Jesus Christ, one who was paralyzed. No, as we see starting with verse 36, Peter also followed his Master and Lord by being used of God to bring back to life Tabitha, a disciple of Jesus who had died. The name Tabitha, in the Aramaic, or Dorcas, in the Greek, both mean “gazelle” and she lived in Joppa. And around the time Peter was in Lydda, Tabitha, verse 37, “became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.” Since Lydda was near Joppa—again about twelve miles away—the disciples, verse 38, “sent two men to [Peter] and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’” Now the fact that Peter was summoned is unusual for Tabitha had already died, so what could Peter—or anyone—do? But this summoning indicates the esteem in which Peter was held and the unique authority he had as one of Jesus’ initial twelve apostles.[20] Perhaps they had called on Peter hoping for a miracle. Or maybe they sought his wisdom. Or perhaps his comfort. Whatever the reason may have been, Peter heeded their call.

As to Tabitha, though we don’t know much about her but what we do know is extremely positive for we’re told in verse 36 that “she was always doing good and helping the poor”—wouldn’t that be an awesome epitaph?!—and, in verse 39, we’re also told, “All the widows stood around [Peter]” when he was taken upstairs to the room where Tabitha lay. These widows were “crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.” By these brief descriptions alone we know that dear Tabitha, who was apparently a seamstress, was clearly a disciple of Jesus Christ. She’s an example of one who demonstrated her faith by her deeds[21] for she followed the Scriptural teaching of caring for those who are unable to care for themselves, especially the poor and widows. As we read the LORD saying in Deuteronomy,

12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14…I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me.”[22]

From early on, God required that his people care for the poor, for those in need as represented at the time by the foreigner, fatherless, and widows. So, too, James taught, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”[23] By “always doing good and helping the poor” (verse 36) and making “robes and other clothing” for the widows (verse 39), Tabitha had distinguished herself as a follower of our Lord. No wonder all the believers were grieving her loss.

Well once Peter had been brought to the room where Tabitha’s body lay, beginning with verse 40 we see the miracle that occurred as he “sent…out of the room” all who were there and “then…got down on his knees and prayed.” Again, unlike Jesus who was God, Peter had to ask God in prayer for Tabitha’s healing. Having done so, he turned “…toward the dead woman” and said, “Tabitha, get up.” And, lo and behold, “[s]he opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.” And so, verse 41, he “took her by the hand and helped her to her feet.” Having brought Tabitha from death to life by means of his prayer to God, who is life itself,[24] Peter “called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.” And as had occurred when Peter through Jesus Christ brought healing to the man who had been paralyzed in Lydda, this miracle of bringing Tabitha from death back to life “became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.” Peter, the fisher of fish by trade, continued to fish for men. Out of his love for Jesus, he was obeying his command to care for his sheep and, to mix a metaphor, by fishing for men he was adding to Jesus’ flock.

And with this miracle as well, we see that Peter was following in the steps of Jesus, his Lord. For recall how on Palm Sunday[25] we saw that when Jesus raised Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, from death, “the crowd that was with [Jesus] when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.”[26] And then, just as occurred here in Joppa, “Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him”[27] to the point that the Pharisees said to one another, no doubt from their exasperation, “Look how the whole world has gone after him!”[28] This was so much the case that when the religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus, they also “made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”[29] There’s nothing like hearing of someone being brought back from death to life to bring people to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life.[30]

And as also noted, in addition to Lazarus the Gospels record at least two other times when Jesus brought back to life those who had died for he raised from death the 12-year old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader. And, again, when he did, “News of this spread through all that region.”[31] This spread of the Good News of the Gospel occurred as well when Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son from death for again we’re told how afterwards the crowd praised God saying with awe, “A great prophet has appeared among us…. God has come to help his people.” And so news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”[32]

These various accounts from Scripture of the performance of miracles resulting in others coming to faith raises some questions for us, doesn’t it? If beholding and hearing about miracles leads people to believe that Jesus Christ is God; that Christ is God who came to earth in human form and lived, died, and rose from death, never to die again, that he might take away our sins by taking them upon himself and thereby do away with all death and suffering and evil, then why can’t we perform miracles as Jesus did? Why can’t we perform miracles as Peter did through Jesus? I mean wouldn’t a “miracle performing ministry” be a wonderful means of reaching those in Ipswich with the good news of who Christ is? By healing those who are suffering in the name and power of Christ, wouldn’t people flock to churches that they might hear more about this wonderful Savior who came to heal their bodies, hearts, and souls? Or, another way of asking this, if Jesus told his disciples that they would do greater works than he,[33] then why aren’t we doing these greater works today?

Well these are all good and difficult questions. But I’ll try to provide what I believe are some possible answers or reasons.

First, when Jesus told his disciples that they would do greater things than he, he said this in the context of encouraging them to believe that he was in the Father and the Father in him, adding that they should “believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”[34] In other words, he was calling them to believe that all he said and did was done by the Father with whom he was one.[35] He then went on to promise that he would ask the Father to send them his Holy Spirit, “another advocate”—like Jesus himself—“to help you and be with you forever”[36] And, finally, he ended by admonishing them to show their love for him by keeping his commands: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”[37] All of this is to say that the “greater works” believers are called to do are intimately tied to our relationship with the Triune God with whom we are now united. This union is what enables us to show our love for Jesus by keeping his commands. And we know that the greatest commands in his eyes are to love him, who is God, with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So I think then that the “greater works” Jesus speaks of are greater not only because since he ascended to heaven he is now known not by sight but by faith[38]—recall Jesus saying to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[39] But the works are “greater” also because when Christ Jesus lived as a man he was limited geographically to loving and caring for others within the confines of the time and place he lived during his Incarnation. But since his ascension and sending of his Spirit, his followers have spread throughout the world and are able to go to places and reach people it would have been physically impossible for him to reach by himself while he lived on earth. So I don’t think that we are called to a “miracle performing ministry” as a means of spreading the Gospel but we are called to a “loving our neighbors as ourselves” ministry which is much harder.

Second, by definition a miracle, as observed by John Stott, is an “abnorm,” not a norm.[40] If a miracle is a suspension of the laws of nature or something that can’t be explained by natural or scientific laws, then miracles can’t be common; they can’t be the norm. In other words, if miracles occurred every day, they would cease to be miracles for they would be unexceptional and ordinary occurrences. So we shouldn’t expect miracles to occur in our day-to-day lives. But this still begs the question: If the occurrence of miracles in both the Old and New Testaments resulted in people coming to a saving faith and knowledge of God, why don’t we see them happen more often today? And the best answer I have for this is that though I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for miracles, we should never presume the answer to them. For, again, what the Lord wants most for us is that we love him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

If I can return to our passage, what we share in common with Peter is that all who bear the name of Christ are called to follow him; to feed and care for his sheep; and to be fishers of men. This is how we, like Peter, can love Jesus. But what we don’t have in common with Peter is that he was an apostle of Christ, one uniquely chosen by him for a unique mission with a unique authority to help establish his church. We, on the other hand, are not apostles but disciples of Jesus. As such, our call is more akin to Tabitha’s than that of Peter:

As Tabitha did, we are called to care for the poor;

as Tabitha did, we are called to care for the widows and the fatherless and for any who, for whatever reason, have difficulty caring for themselves;

We are called to see Christ in one another by the Holy Spirit we’ve been given and thereby please our heavenly Father by the way in which we love and care for him and others, in deed and in truth.

As we’ve considered this morning how Peter loved Jesus—caring for his sheep, spreading news of him far and wide; and how Tabitha loved Jesus, doing good and helping the poor and widows by using her gifts as a seamstress; our passage this morning presents us with some challenges:

How can we love Jesus in the way we live our lives?

How can we better care for one another?

How can we better share the good news of his salvation to others?

How can we, in word and deed, love Jesus?

If we consider—and act—on these questions, we, like Peter and Tabitha, can demonstrate how we love Jesus by loving and caring for those whom he’s placed in our lives.

Let us pray.

[1] 1 Corinthians 8:6:  yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.; Colossians 1:15–17: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

[2] Matthew 14:28–31: 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Mark 6:45–56 and John 6:16–24 record Jesus’ walking on water but omit Peter’s.

[3] Romans 8:9–11, 15:You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you…. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

[4] According to the Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Acts 9:32, “Lydda is the OT [sic] Lod, 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Jerusalem on the road to Joppa. Lydda served as a regional administrative town (toparchy) for Judea, and was on an important trade route.”

[5] See, for example, John 14:15–18: 15 If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 15:26–27:26 When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” John 16:13–15: 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” All of these passages—along with Joel 2—are fulfilled beginning in Acts 2:1–4: 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

[6] John 5:5.

[7] Some manuscripts include John 5:4: From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.

[8] John 5:6.

[9] John 5:7.

[10] John 5:8.

[11] John 5:9. This time the Jewish leaders criticized the man who had been healed for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, John 5:9b–10: The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

[12] Luke 5:18–19.

[13] Luke 5:20.

[14] Luke 5:21: The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

[15] Luke 5:22–24: 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

[16] Luke 5:24.

[17] Luke 5:26. Parallels may be found in Matthew 9:1–8 and Mark 1:1–12.

[18] Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Acts 9:32 states 11 miles; Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Acts 9:36 states 12 miles northwest. According to the Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Acts 9:36, Joppa was “An ancient seaport (modern Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv), about thirty-eight miles northwest of Jerusalem, the port from which Jonah sailed (Jon. 1:3).”

[19] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Acts 9:36.

[20] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Romans 1:1 observes that the word apostle (as opposed to disciple) “emphasizes that Paul’s authority is equal to that of the 12 apostles chosen by Christ. The apostles were specifically called by Christ (Matt. 10:1–7; Acts 1:24–26; Gal. 1:1) and had seen the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7–9). They established and governed the whole church, under Jesus Christ, and they had authority to speak and write the words of God, equal in authority to the OT Scriptures (1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:3; Gal. 1:8–9; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15; 2 Pet. 3:2, 15–16).”

[21] James 2:18:Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

[22] Excerpts from Deuteronomy 26:12–14.

[23] James 1:27. See sermon preached on September 9, 2018, Reflecting God’s Word, on James 1:17–27.

[24] John 1:3–4: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.; Luke 20:37–38: 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” And parallel in Mark 12:26–27: 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

[25] Sermon preached on April 14, 2019, King of Creation and King of Our Lives! on Luke 19:28–40.

[26] John 12:17.

[27] John 12:18

[28] John 12:19.

[29] John 12:10–11.

[30] John 11:25–26: 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

[31] Matthew 9:26. See parallels in Mark 5:21–43 and Luke 8:40–56.

[32] Luke 7:16–17.

[33] John 14:12–14: 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

[34] John 14:11b.

[35] John 14:10: Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

[36] John 14:16.

[37] John 14:21.

[38] 2 Corinthians 5:7: For we live by faith, not by sight.

[39] John 20:29b.

[40] I believe he makes this distinction in his Baptism and Fulness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.