Acts Lesson Twenty: Acts 9:32-43 – Peter Spreading the Gospel
32 As Peter was traveling from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed,” and immediately he got up. 35 So all who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
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. 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. 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. (HCSB)
Luke now switches the narrative from Paul back to Peter. It is clear from the beginning of this passage that Peter is now on an evangelism trip. This passage will focus on two significant events that occur during the journey. Accordingly, this passage will be split into two sections.
- The healing of Aeneas in verses 32-35.
- The raising of Tabitha in verses 36-43.
The setting for the healing of Aeneas is Lydda. This city, predominately Gentile, was located about twenty-five miles from Jerusalem. Historical records don’t indicate who the first evangelists were who visited the area, but there are several possibilities.
- Believers who were converted at Pentecost and returned to the town.
- Believers who were scattered during the persecution recorded earlier in Acts.
- Philip, as he traveled north from Gaza, Azotus, and Caesarea.
The last possibility, Philip, is the least likely to have first evangelized. However, it is safe to say that he was involved in some type of ministry work as he traveled north.
Even less is known about Aeneas.
- How old was he?
- Was he a believer?
- Was he a Jew or Gentile?
What we do know about Aeneas.
- He had been paralyzed for eight years.
- This meant he was crippled and unable to take care of himself.
- He was a burden to himself and others.
- There wasn’t any prospect of him being healed.
Let’s also make a quick comparison of the ministry of Peter and Paul.
- Both healed crippled people.
- Both were arrested and put in jail.
- Both were delivered by divine intervention.
- Both were treated like gods.
- Peter – Acts 10:25-26.
- Paul – Acts 14:8-18.
- Both gave a bold witness before authorities.
- Both confronted false prophets.
- Peter – Acts 8:9-24.
- Paul – Acts 13:6-12.
- Both conducted their ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The last point is the most important. Outside of the power of the Spirit, ministry is meaningless.
Key points about the healing of Aeneas.
- Aeneas didn’t ask to be healed.
- Aeneas was healed in Jesus’ name.
- It was instantaneous.
- He immediately rose to his feet.
- He made his bed. In the original Greek, this could mean one of two things.
- It simply means that he got up and made his bed.
- It could also mean preparing a meal for Peter.
- In the context, and in comparison where Jesus healed a paralytic, it seems the first possibility is the correct understanding.
- The news of his healing spread rapidly.
- Those who saw Aeneas walking around became believers. A proper understanding of verse 35 is essential.
- It doesn’t mean all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon became believers.
- It does mean that all who saw Aeneas walking became believers. A similar situation occurred in John 12:10-11.
- Aeneas became a walking miracle and a testimony to the healing power of the resurrected Messiah.
- The news of the healing spread to Joppa, where Tabitha died, leading to the residents of that town sending for Peter.
This passage in Acts doesn’t list any further work of Peter. However, from the context of Acts, it is safe to draw the conclusion that Peter was busy. He likely evangelized, taught, and encouraged the members of the church to grow in their faith. Peter was faithful to the commission that Jesus laid upon him in John 21:15-17.
The city of Joppa is where modern-day Jaffa is located. It was on the coast, about ten miles away from Lydda. The city has a connection to the Old Testament. It was where Jonah boarded a boat to escape the call of going to the Gentiles. However, it is here that Peter received his call to go to the Gentiles, a call that he faithfully obeys.
It is clear from the passage that Tabitha was highly regarded in the community. Whether she made the clothes out of charity or if she was particularly skilled in that area and used that to bless others is unknown. We can learn from the context of the passage that she was respected and valued among the widows, a group that was particularly vulnerable in the ancient world.
The believers in Joppa heard that Peter was in the area and swiftly sent for him to come. There is no recorded incident in Acts of any of the Apostles raising the dead, yet their faith in Peter caused them to summon him.
The standard Jewish custom regarding a dead body is the following:
- The body was washed.
- It was anointed with spices.
- It was buried.
There are several events recorded in Scripture of the dead being raised to life.
- Elijah raising the son of the widow Zarephath – 1 Kings 17:17-24.
- Elisha raising the son of the Shunammite woman – 2 Kings 4:32-37.
- Jesus raising the widow’s son – Luke 7:11-17.
However, the closest connection is found in Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:35-43.
- In both cases, the mourners were removed from the room where the dead body was.
- The words spoken were almost identical.
- Mark: talitha cumi – little girl, arise.
- Acts: Tabitha cumi – Tabitha, arise.
- Both touched the body.
- Jesus took the girl’s hand before speaking, not being concerned about becoming ceremonially unclean.
- Peter took Tabitha by the hand after she was raised from the dead.
- In both cases, it was the power of God that raised the dead person.
Just as the healing of Aeneas attracted great attention, there is little doubt that Tabitha rising from the dead would have spread like wildfire throughout the region. We don’t know precisely how long “many days” equaled. We do know that it was long enough for Peter to evangelize the area and to create a firm foundational understanding of following Jesus entailed, as faith built on miracles alone is not a strong faith.
The fact that Peter would stay with Simon, a leather tanner, is in itself quite remarkable. Tanners were considered unclean by rabbinical standards (Leviticus 11:35-40). Here, we see a picture of Peter moving steadily from a Jewish legalistic mindset to one of freedom in God’s grace.
- Do you go/do when the Spirit calls you? In this passage, Peter is obedient several times. He was faithful to take the Gospel to the lost, he healed Aeneas without being asked, and he quickly went to Joppa when called even though the situation would appear hopeless. We need to remember this was the first “raising from the dead” that happened in the new church.
- Are you selfless in serving others? Again, we see Peter in this passage serving others selflessly. He did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done.
- Do you let your cultural norms interfere with your Kingdom work? As a Jewish Christian, one would think that Peter would avoid staying with a tanner. However, Peter placed Kingdom work over cultural norms. Our allegiance should be first and foremost to Jesus. Whenever there is a conflict between Kingdom and worldly expectations, Kingdom expectations must take priority.