Saul’s conversion is a major turning point in the book of Acts. God claimed his primary missionary to the gentiles and suppressed the fires of Saul’s persecutions. That’s why the story in Acts 9:31–43 can begin as it does: Peter was able to go “here and there among them all” (Acts 9:32) because Saul was no longer persecuting the church.
But Luke records Peter’s ministry to Aeneas and Tabitha (or Dorcas) not merely to report ongoing apostolic activity, but also to teach us to trust in the almighty God.
A Story of Two Healings
When we last heard about Peter, he was north of Jerusalem in Samaria dealing with Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8). In his subsequent travels caring for new believers, he came to the saints in Lydda. Saint Aeneas was a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. Any hope of natural healing was long gone. So, Peter’s command is audacious: “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” Anyone can fake a healing. But if a paralyzed man stands up, God is behind it (cf. Mark 2:9–12). Aeneas stood. And news of God’s power spread quickly.
While Peter was in Lydda, disciples from the neighboring town of Joppa sought his immediate help. A female disciple—a student of Jesus—had become ill and died. That’s not unusual. But this woman was special. There was no one like her for generosity. When Peter arrived, he was taken to the upper room where Tabitha had been washed and lain. As Peter viewed the corpse, her friends showed him the clothes she had made for them and wept over their loss.
But Peter wasn’t solely focused on what Tabitha had done; he was also thinking about what God was about to do. Like Jesus, he dismissed the mourners (Mark 5:40). And he prayed. He knew there was no power in him. Only the energy that raised Jesus from the dead could help this woman now. Peter was a mere instrument. But by faith he spoke to Tabitha’s body, commanding it to do something impossible—rise from the dead. Her bones weren’t yet dry like the bones Ezekiel once preached to (Ezek. 37:4). But she was as lifeless as a skeleton. Remarkably, as Peter spoke to Tabitha she heard the enlivening voice of God. So, “She opened her eyes” (Acts 9:40). Her heart started beating. Her chest began to rise and fall. She saw Peter. She sat up. Peter took her hand and helped her stand; he “presented her alive” (Acts 9:41). Put yourself back in time to a sad funeral you once attended and imagine the deceased coming back to life and sitting up in the casket. That happened!
What does God want us to know from these amazing stories?
The Message of Two Healings
The record of how others responded to this miracle is an important clue. For the sake of emphasis, Luke nearly repeats himself. God’s powerful working produced the same reaction in both Lydda and Joppa: people “turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35), and “believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42). We should respond to these miracles in like manner.
You Have Good Reason to Trust in Jesus
These miracles gave many people reason to believe. God verifies his promises by the demonstration of his power in the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 17:31). In a similar way, every miracle of Jesus—even those worked through his apostles—can help convince us that only he has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Christ came to put all his enemies under his feet. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Death couldn’t claim Tabitha because of the power of Jesus’s indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). One day, God will raise you from the dead and you will believe. But the time to believe, be saved, and rest in Jesus’s power is now.
You Have Good Reason to Grow in Jesus
Miracles emphasize the gospel as the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). But the gospel is also the power of God for sanctification—the process of working out your own salvation through God’s energizing grace (Phil. 2:12–13). Remember that Peter is traveling among saints (Acts 9:32), “apparently on a church preaching and visitation tour.” His plan was to help new believers grow in grace. Notably, he followed the same route that the evangelist Phillip had made on his way to Caesarea. Saints are simply “those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2). Saints have been separated from the unbelieving world and empowered to live like Jesus in the world. Saint Tabitha never performed a miracle, but “she was full of good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36). And through her generosity, she changed lives. Tabitha’s funeral challenges us to so strive for holiness that when we die people will have good reason to miss us.
Sanctification will stretch us. God was already expanding Peter’s understanding of ceremonial cleanness related to dead bodies (cf. Lev. 21:11, Num. 6:6, and Acts 9:43). Even bigger changes were coming (see Acts 10). God has new places for you to go, too. The journey is unfamiliar, and it won’t be easy. But God is powerful. You too can learn new ways of faithfulness if God goes with you.
. Darrell Bock, Acts, 376.