My Life Group lesson for May 15, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
This weekend we started off with a couple of duels featuring weapons that weren’t exactly fair for a fight, kind of like Indiana Jones taking down the swordsman with a pistol in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
We're much more confident when we know we have the weapons we need.
Knowing we have the power of God behind us can make us bold when it comes to sharing the gospel. It can help us to push aside a culture that is negative towards Christianity.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** We last saw Peter in Acts 8 when he was in Samaria with Philip. Peter then moved to the coastal towns, including Lydda, the district capital of Samaria.
*** In 9:32-35 Luke records Peter healing a paralyzed man in the name of Jesus, bringing glory and attention to the gospel.
*** Peter then moves to Joppa, where a cherished disciple had died. Another miracle was on the way!
THE FINAL REST (Acts 9:36-39)
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. She was always doing good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became sick and died. After washing her, they placed her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples heard that Peter was there and sent two men to him who begged him, “Don’t delay in coming with us.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they led him to the room upstairs. And all the widows approached him, weeping and showing him the robes and clothes that Dorcas had made while she was with them.
*** A graceful gazelle.
--- You might recognize Joppa as the port on the Mediterranean Sea from which Jonah sailed while running away from God. (Jonah 1:3)
--- Her name Tabitha in Aramaic is translated as "Dorcas" in Greek, and both mean "gazelle."
--- She was a female disciple known for "always" doing "good works" and "acts of charity."
--- That's a great way to be described as being bold in your Christian life.
--- Showing acts of grace by meeting the needs of others is just as important as proclaiming the message we speak.
--- She notable for helping widows, such as making clothes. (v. 39)
*** Tabitha's appointed time.
--- Unfortunately we see in verse 37 that Tabitha died after an unknown illness. (Living a godly life is no guarantee of a long life.)
--- Instead of moving her body for burial, her household placed her on the second floor.
--- The washing of the body was not unusual, but the delay in preparing the body for burial was. Typically the body would be prepared with spices, wrapped in a burial shroud, and taken to the place of burial within 24 hours to avoid the odor of decomposition.
--- The death of this outstanding Christian woman must have brought tremendous grief to the church in Joppa. So much so that they delayed her burial and ran to find Peter miles away, having faith for a miracle.
*** Peter comes as called.
--- Peter was in Lydda, ten miles from Joppa, when he got word of Tabitha's death.
--- Peter responds immediately, surely praying along the way for God's will to be done.
--- The disciples were willing to be used at any time in any place. (Remember a couple of weeks ago Philip had the same reaction when an angel told him to head south on a mystery mission.)
--- When Peter arrived in Joppa he was taken to see Tabitha and the widows testified to her ministry.
--- We don't know if they expected her to be raised from the dead or just wanted comfort from the leader of the church.
*** Question - Why is it important for believers to be willing to adjust their lives, as Peter did, to help others in Jesus’ name? What can hinder one’s willingness?
THE RESTORATION (Acts 9:40-41)
40 Then Peter sent them all out of the room. He knelt down, prayed, and turning toward the body said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her stand up. Then he called the saints and widows and presented her alive.
*** The power of God.
--- Peter asks everyone to clear out. (Surely with all those widows there was a lot of crying and sniffling, and Peter wanted to focus.)
--- Sound familiar? All of this parallels Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead in Luke 8:40-56, including someone dear passing, being told of it from afar, rushing to the scene to perform a miracle in God's glory.
--- Also in a similar way Jesus sent mourners from the room of Jairus’s daughter, allowing only the parents and select disciples to remain (Mark 5:40; Luke 8:51).
*** Praying Peter.
--- Peter kneels in prayer before turning to Tabitha.
--- This is important. Peter didn’t raise her from the dead. God did. If Peter hadn’t prayed first, do you think she would have popped up?
--- The temptation would be for Peter to think that he's doing these miracles and getting pats on the back and feeling important. But he knows it's not him. It's Jesus.
*** Question – Why do people sometimes confuse miracles with something else that eliminates God from the equation?
THE RESULTS (Acts 9:42-43)
42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And Peter stayed on many days in Joppa with Simon, a leather tanner.
*** Do you believe in miracles?
--- What's your favorite miracle in the Bible? (Parting of the Red Sea, burning bush, raising of the dead, sun stays up longer, etc.)
--- Has anyone wondered why miracles don't seem as obvious or frequent as in Acts?
--- Nowadays we call anything a miracle. Maybe that's because we don't seem to see it as much as during the early church. Or we credit ourselves, our scientists, our doctors, for God's miracles.
--- Of course, many saw Jesus perform miracle after miracle and still weren't convinced.
--- God still does miracles today.
--- If we only see the miracle then we miss half the message. We have to see the purpose behind the miracle.
--- The Lord used this miracle to open a door for Peter to share the gospel.
--- Just as Tabitha’s life pointed others to Jesus, her resurrection prompted many to believe.
--- In our studies of the book of Acts we've seen numerous examples of how the numbers of believers grew after each instance that God's glory is shown through miracles, signs and adversity.
--- The faith of current believers would be strengthened, too, and Tabitha's testimony would be incredible.
*** Simon the tanner.
--- By staying with Simon Peter would have to be in the same household as unclean animals.
--- Jews believed tanning to be an unclean profession because it involved contact with dead animals (Lev. 5:2).
--- The gospel was breaking down barriers between people.
--- In a vision in Acts 10 Peter is told by God that the ritual laws of Judaism no longer apply.
*** Question - Where have you seen barriers broken down to share Jesus' message?
When Peter got to Tabitha’s home the first thing he did was pray before going to her. There was probably a lot of prayer going on in the household as well.
This week at work we had a news story about a report in which peopled were polled about prayer and health.
It found that 80 percent of people surveyed have prayed for their own healing. And 90 percent say they’ve prayed for someone else’s health.
The author of the report said he expected high numbers but the results still blew him away.
I was a little shocked that the professor was shocked. It’s not like people haven’t been praying for the sick for thousands of years.
So does this mean people think prayer works? Or it couldn’t hurt? Or just makes everyone feel better?
Of course, when God chooses not to use his power to heal our bodies, we must still trust in His will. And like Tabitha, the death of our loved ones also presents opportunities to share the gospel.
*** Boldness in life and the power of God work to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
*** Boldness is often frowned upon in our culture, but it shows that we are confident in the truth.
*** Miracles are awesome, but we don't need them to share Jesus as much as how we live our lives testifies to the power of the Holy Spirit.