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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Raising of Dorcas from the Dead: Peter at Joppa

Healing From Death: The Grace of God Encounters Joppa Again
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In the last study we saw that Peter healed a man sick of palsy for years. These healings by Peter are particularly of note because they occur right after a major pivotal event, of the turn of the Gospel to the Gentiles, marked by Cornelius' baptism in the Holy Ghost, and that of his whole household. Both Peter and Paul were eminent emissaries of the Gospel going out to the Gentiles, but both were astounded that Gentiles could receive what they considered a divine right only of the Jews. Peter, a rough, working class fisherman, had nevertheless apparently always observed dietary laws, as he was overwhelmed by the vision of the sheet lowering from heaven with all kinds of animals and creeping things, with the command to take and eat. The vision was not dismissing the law, quite the contrary, it was as always, establishing it, as God's point to Peter was that all things are clean when declared so by God. Peter's adherence though to orthodox Judaism is seen when he confronts God about the fact that he has never eaten anything unclean, although through the baptism of Cornelius, the Roman, he comes to understand in the 'mixed' northern regions, that God did indeed send a light to the Gentiles.

Likewise Saul, (Paul), a student of Gamaliel with a formal higher education , zealous for the Lord and orthodox faith, is appointed not only to his own, but especially to the Gentiles,in what must have been a struggle for a man who did not care even for slight hellenistic influences in the faith.

Here, though, as Peter attends to the baptism of Cornelius, and his household, shortly there follows a move of the Holy Spirit in large numbers of persons coming to the Lord and Savior, often precipitated by an event of healing. In the last study we saw Peter healing Aeneas sick with palsy for 8 years and persons in 2 towns turn to the Lord. Now,an even greater miracle of healing takes place : the raising of Dorcas from the dead. This is the first post-Pentecost miracle of raising a person from the dead. It was no coincidence that Peter was nearby.

Tabitha of Joppa

Peter has just been in Lydda, the next town over, about 11 miles apart. Tabitha (meaning 'gazelle') also called Dorcas (meaning the same), was indeed characterized by grace having been a benevolent person helping many in Joppa. She was known for her good works and alms deeds. (9:36)

Dorcas dies (9:37) and her body is laid in an upper chamber, where many women meet to weep and sorrow over the woman who has aided and even clothed them. The disciples of Joppa, aware that Peter was over in Lydda and had just healed Aeneas, rush to him.

Act 9:38 And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring [him] that he would not delay to come to them.

Peter comes immediately to Lydda, and is confronted by the Widows weeping and showing the garments which Dorcas had made them. Note that the one raising from the dead in the Bible that is different from all others is the raising of Lazarus. Only the Lord could have waited 4 days, beyond when belief held that the soul departed from the body/earth, and called back Lazarus. When the disciples near the event, it is with immediate response. There is no doubt that the woman had truly died, but it left a real gap in the ministry in Joppa: she had cared dearly for those who had no one to rely on.

The Raising of Life

The account of raising Tabitha from the dead is brief:

But Peter put them all forth and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, "Tabitha, Arise". 9:40

The first thing Peter does is:

1. Put them all forth: he creates some space between him , Tabitha and onlookers. Jesus had constant problems with crowds thronging healings and miracles, as though it was entertainment, but it was not, it was holy.
2. Peter kneeled. While there are certainly no 'requisite' positions to heal, do miracles or call out devils, this does show a state of reverance and respect for the work of God.
3. The Command: he turns to the body and says, "Tabitha, Arise".

We spoke before of the command to rise or 'Arise'. It is said often in healings and in most of the times Jesus raised from the dead a child of Israel. It is a command to life, and a command out of a dormant state. The voice of God alone can call forth life, and when the Holy spirit indwelt believers, they could as Jesus, Yshua noted do the same miracles, not because they had become something special or better, but because the Living God dwelt in them. This is no 'trick' or 'ritual' or way one must heal, but an understanding of what the healings meant and were for: they were always to show God's power, to show sovereignty over death , disease and the demonic, and to preach the Gospel, first and foremost.

The Result

There is no detailed or unexpected end here,:

And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. 9:41

When life returned, it was, well, LIFE. He called her to arise, and she opens her eyes and arises. Note sometime the whole phenomena of people being given sight or opening there eyes in the first century in Israel. He makes the blind to see, and so did his disciples, although here, it is sight coming back from death. Strength came back to her to: she did not wallow at death's door for a few days or weeks, but as soon as Peter extends his hand, Tabitha is back. Her ministry can continue.

The Outcome at Joppa: Repentance and Belief

As stated elsewhere healing is for the Love of God making people whole, but it is foremost for preaching the Gospel, and those two things are not separate. The book of Acts states:

And it was known thoughout all Joppa; and many believed in the LORD. 9:42

When Peter healed at Lydda, Saron and Lydda both came to the Lord. The raising of Dorcas causes her town Joppa to believe. Joppa was where Peter had stayed with Simon the Tanner just before being called to Cornelius' house in Caesarea: Israel was beginning to be enlivened by the Holy Spirit of God---eyes opened, raised from the dead, and the dead bones of Ezekiel did indeed begin to knit together flesh and sinew, in the promise of the Savior.

A Footnote: On Raising Souls from the Dead

The question has arisen more than once in considering the many miracles and healings of God why we do not raise from the dead more in Holy Spirit filled congregations and practice. Certainly many have seen real healings, and the assumption is always that we are just not 'prayed up enough' or that it is not God's will, and both of those can be true. There is though a consideration of whether we really should even if we can unless absolutely directed by God in obedience. Since healing is to show God's love for us and preach His Gospel, it would have to be for His purposes and not ours. More than that, when we consider 'love', once a person is gone, if they had faith in the Savior, they would not want to return to such a struggle as this earth: they are held in God's presence and love and it is more than one could want. The desire to have a person return from the dead is to appease our own suffering, despair and longings, and is more to allay pain than other reasons much of the time. Note though that when Jesus raised Lazarus, the widow of Nain's son, and Jairus' daughter, it was to show the glory of God and to testify to His being the Messiah. No raising from the dead, even that of Dorcas, could bring about more that that: it was a testimony and a work of God. The resurrection of Christ, completed the work of the blood atonement and redemption of man from sin, the other times people were raised from the dead it showed the love and power of God but could not ever approach that unique and necessary purpose.

If a person is brought back beyond the time God has for them on this earth, the raising would surely testify to God's power and love, but years lived beyond God's purpose are not often fruitful or rewarding. Interfering with God's wisdom on such things can cause suffering untold. It is not that even that miracle cannot happen today, there are accounts of it. (John Knox is said to have raised a boy from the dead). The biblical accounts were of Children of Israel, coming back to life for more than one purpose. While seeing such a remarkable occurrence would very possibly bring many to the Messiah, the terrifying thought of playing too loose with life and death, has haunted the human race since the garden. Only utter obedience to Yshua through the Holy Spirit, the Ruach Ha'Kodesh, in my opinion, should be the impetus for such a thing, and that to glorify God, or bring many to covenant. Healing, and raising the dead, preaches the Gospel.
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