Wednesday Aug 16, 2023

Acts 9:32-43 - Serving Others


     After Saul’s conversion to Christ (Acts 9:1-19), he stopped persecuting the church and began to preach Jesus as “the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). This resulted in peace throughout the region. Luke records, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31). In the following pericope (Acts 9:32-43), Luke records the spreading of the gospel and Peter’s ministry outside of Jerusalem, specifically in the cities of Lydda and Joppa.


     Luke, turning from Saul’s conversion, recounts an event with Peter in the city of Lydda. Luke wrote, “Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32).[1]

     That there were saints (ἅγιος hagios) in Lydda shows that the gospel had been preached there and some had believed in Jesus as Savior. The word saint is a synonym for a believer in Christ, not a description of one’s character. All Christians are saints (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:1-2; 2 Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1). After Peter had arrived in Lydda, Luke tells us, “There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed” (Acts 9:33). That Luke described Aeneas as “a man” (ἄνθρωπος anthropos) and not a saint or disciple might imply he was not a believer. Luke tells us Aeneas had been paralyzed for eight years, which meant he was totally dependent on others for help. Aeneas, being paralyzed, could not sit up, dress, feed, or clean himself. Someone had to care him. If he were transported anywhere, someone had to move him and care for him along the way. Apparently the man had a support structure in place to assist him during his years of paralysis; most likely his family. Caring for others can bring great stress. First, there is the mental and emotional stress of caring for a loved one who is in a declining situation. The caregiver will experience states of mental frustration and emotional exhaustion. In addition, there are the ongoing physical demands of caring for them, a commitment to be physically present, the financial costs, and a loss of independence by the caregiver as he/she surrenders personal interests to care for their loved one.

     Luke recounts Peter’s interaction with Aeneas, informing us, “Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed.’ Immediately he got up” (Acts 9:34). This account is similar to that of the Lord Jesus who had healed a paralytic in Capernaum, telling the man to take up his bed and go home (Matt 9:6; Mark 2:11; Luke 5:24), and also the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8). This healing of Aeneas was done specifically in the name of Jesus Christ, which was intended to draw attention to Jesus as the living One who had authority over physical maladies. This healing was immediate and total, as Luke uses the Greek adjective eutheos (εὐθέως), which, according to Mounce, means “immediately, instantly, at once.”[2] The healing of Aeneas brought instantaneous health to the man, and also brought relief to his caregiver(s) who had provided for him over the eight years. Though this was certainly a blessing to Aeneas and his loved ones, God intended a greater purpose, which was the salvific healing of souls. Luke records, “And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). Lydda was the city, and Sharon was the coastal region where the city was located. All those who knew the paralyzed man now saw him in perfect health. The result was, “they turned to the Lord,” which is theological shorthand meaning they believed in Christ as their personal Savior. It may also connote they were obedient in baptism and became disciples. Thomas Constable notes:

  • The phrase “believed in the Lord” is similar to “turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35; cf. Acts 11:21; 15:19). It is another way of saying that they became Christians, and both phrases emphasize that the Person they believed in was the Lord Jesus. Notice that “turned” is equated with “believed,” and that Luke mentioned no other condition for salvation.[3]

     Sometimes God heals people for His purposes, and sometimes He does not. He is sovereign and “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11). If/when God does not heal someone, it is for His own purposes, and sometimes sickness leads to death, which is the vehicle He uses to bring His children home to heaven (2 Ki 13:14).

     Luke transitions to his next account of Peter’s ministry, saying, “Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (Acts 9:36). Joppa was a coastal town that once had a thriving seaport; however, it lost much of its trade when Herod built the seaport of Caesarea in honor of his friend, Caesar. Of course, Joppa was known in the OT as the place where Jonah fled when disobeying the Lord’s call to preach to Gentiles (Jonah 1:3). Luke tells us about a woman named Tabitha, who also had the Greek name Dorcas (both names mean Gazelle). That Tabitha was a disciple meant she was a believer. This woman was loved and greatly known in her community as Luke tells us she “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did” (Acts 9:36b). Whereas Luke had previously focused on a paralyzed man as one who needed help, here he focuses on a woman who was a caregiver and provided help to others. Her work was not to a family member, but to the community where she lived. This means she had a heart of compassion as well as a sense of responsibility to help meet the physical needs of others. This is true of many healthy Christian ministries which have outreach services for those in the communities around them.

     Luke tells us, “And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room” (Acts 9:37). This was a tragedy for others who lost this gracious woman. But the account is also unusual, as we’re informed after “they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room” (Acts 9:37b). This is unusual as the dead were commonly buried in short time to mitigate the experience of the sights and smells of decaying flesh. It’s possible this was an act of faith by those who cared for her body, as perhaps they’d heard about the miracle in Lydda and thought the Lord may perform a miracle for them as He’d done there. Luke states, “Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, ‘Do not delay in coming to us’” (Acts 9:38).

     When Peter received word from the disciples in Joppa, we’re told, “So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them” (Acts 9:39). Here we observe Peter as a leader who was willing to serve others and responded quickly to their call for help. Those who are not willing to serve are not qualified to lead (see Matt 23:11; Luke 22:26; John 13:14-15; 1 Pet 4:10). This is true today, as the church has an obligation to help the needy, as “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans: and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jam 1:27). And, “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal 6:10).

     After Peter arrived, we’re told, “But Peter sent them all out 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; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive” (Acts 9:40-41). This account is parallel to Mark’s account of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37-43). Regarding the similarity of these two events, Warren Wiersbe notes, “In both cases, the mourning people were put out of the room; and the words spoken are almost identical: “talitha cumi: little girl, arise; Tabitha cumi: Tabitha, arise.”…In both instances, it was the power of God that raised the person from the dead, for the dead person certainly could not exercise faith.”[4]

     Furthermore, we’re told that after Tabitha had been resuscitated, that Peter called “the saints and widows” back into the room and there “he presented her alive” (Acts 9:41). This is similar to the account where Elijah resuscitated the son of the widow of Zarephath and then afterwards gave “him to his mother” (1 Ki 17:23), and Jesus, after resuscitating the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-14), “gave him back to his mother” (Luke 7:15). The restoration of a deceased child to a widow mother was a blessing, and here, Peter’s restoration of Tabitha was a blessing to the widows of Joppa. Luke tells us the outcome of the miracle, that “It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). Though these poor widows were blessed to have their friend and provider back, the greater blessing was that others came to believe in the Lord, and as a result, came to have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

     Though the Bible presents many miracles, historically they are rare and usually mark a historical shift where God is grabbing the attention of His people to let them know He’s doing something new. This was true during the Exodus, wilderness wanderings, and the time of conquest under Joshua. It was also true during the time of ministry for Elijah and Elisha when God was turning the nation from egregious idolatry. And also during the time of Jesus and His apostles to mark the coming of the Messiah as well as the shift from Law to Grace. God still continues to act supernaturally in people’s lives, but often behind the scenes in ways that people often do not detect, or detect later in their lives when hindsight is clearer. John Walvoord states:

  • With the completion of the New Testament, and its almost universal acceptance by those true to God, the need for further unusual display of miraculous works ceased. The preacher of today does not need the outward evidence of ability to heal or speak with tongues to substantiate the validity of his gospel. Rather, the written Word speaks for itself, and is attended by the convicting power of the Spirit.[5] 

     Luke closes out this pericope, saying, “And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon” (Acts 9:43). Peter’s staying with a tanner would have been regarded as scandalous by many of the religious Jews who considered the practice unclean (Lev 11:35-40). This might also express a shift in Peter’s theology and practices as he was moving from the dispensation of Law to Grace. Thomas Constable notes:

  • Evidently Peter remained in Joppa for quite some time (“many days”) in order to confirm these new converts and to help the church in that town. His willingness to stay with a tanner shows that Peter was more broad-minded in his fellowship than many other Jews. Many Jews thought that tanners practiced an unclean trade because they worked with the skins of dead animals, so they would have nothing to do with them.[6]


     The Central Idea of the Text is that Peter traveled to Lydda and Joppa and performed miracles in order to draw attention to Christ so others might believe in Him and be saved. 

Personal Application:

Below are a few principles of ministry extrapolated from the Tabitha narrative:

  1. Tabitha was a believer who was marked by acts of kindness and charity towards others.
  2. Though some ministries are corporate in nature, Tabith’s appears to be singular and personal, as she actively sought to meet the needs of those near her, displaying compassion and generosity in tangible ways.
  3. Tabitha’s work revealed a heart of love and sacrifice as she gave of her resources, talents, and time to make clothing that blessed others.
  4. The display of Tabith’s tunics and garments by the widows reveals how deeply they were impacted by her kindness. This shows that a ministry’s impact can partly be measured in the lives of people who have been impacted.
  5. Tabitha also displayed a sense of personal responsibility and leadership, as she did not wait for others to act, but took it upon herself to meet the needs of those around her.
  6. When God resuscitated Tabitha as a result of Peter’s prayer, it is assumed she restarted her ministry to others.
  7. No ministry lasts forever; and a ministry that has diminished or died can be revived if the Lord wills it.

The Gospel

     If you are here this morning without Christ, without hope, and without eternal life, I want you to know that when Jesus was on the cross, He had you personally in mind as He bore your sin and paid the price for it. He died and paid the penalty for your sins so that you would not have to. Scripture reveals, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), and “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). The good news for us is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4), and if we place our faith in Him as the only Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), we are promised forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), eternal life (John 10:28), and place in heaven forever (John 14:1-3). I “beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).



[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Acts, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2016), 183.

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 1159.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Acts 9:42.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 444.

[5] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publishing, 1965), 174.

[6] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Acts 9:43.

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