Monday, July 14, 2008

This week's sermon: Miracles and Growth

Last time we saw Peter he was in Jerusalem with the other Apostles, and before that we see him visiting those who had believed the gospel message that Philip had shared with them. Here Luke focuses our attention back on what Peter is doing in the early church. We find Peter traveling about visiting the saints. He goes to a certain town called Lydda, which is about 11 miles from Joppa, along the sea coast northwest of Jerusalem.

He encounters a man who has been bedridden for eight years. We don’t know if this man was a believer or not. He has a Greek name and scholars have debated as to whether he was even Jewish. Peter comes across this man, and tells him “Jesus Christ heals you.” We have to stop and pay attention here. There are those even today who would tell you that they can heal you. There are even those who will tell you that they can heal you in Jesus name. But that is not what we see here, and in the miracle that follows this one. No, Peter does not say, “I heal you in the name of Jesus,” he says simply that Jesus Christ was healing that man. And he was healing him of something that could not be healed by medical doctors. This man had been paralyzed for eight years. Any number of physicians could have seen him and pronounced him incurable. Peter comes and says, there is one who will heal you in spite of the doctor’s inability. His name is Jesus, the Messiah.

When Aeneas heard Peter’s words, he got up. How simple those words are, and yet how powerful. What else could possibly happen? Jesus Christ healed him, and he got up. Remember the last person we heard about that Peter was involved in their healing? It was the man at the temple, also crippled, also healed by Jesus. In that case, the memorable reaction is from the man who went walking, and leaping and praising God. Here the man simply gets up. It is the reaction of all the people who hear about the healing that is memorable. Everyone living in that area who heard about and saw for themselves the miraculous healing of Aeneas not only believed, but turned to the Lord. So the miracle was to heal Aeneas, but its purpose was to bear witness to the God we serve, and to his Son, the Messiah; to Jesus.

Luke takes us on a little side trip next. In this story it is as if he says, “Meanwhile in a village not too far away…” He points out that in Joppa, only 11 miles away, there is a disciple. Before we did not know whether Aeneas was a believer, but here we have no doubt. There is a disciple named Tabitha—Dorcas, which means Gazelle. And she is a true follower of Jesus, not just in word, but in deed. She is always going about doing good and helping the poor. There are some who will say that if you are a believer, you will never get sick. But what we read here in Acts tells us differently. While Peter is in Lydda, Tabitha, faithful follower of Christ, gets sick and dies.

Her loved ones take her body upstairs to prepare her for burial. Other believers find out that Peter is in Lydda, only 11 miles away, and they send two men to go and get him him. Eleven miles would have been about a five hour walk at a good pace. So it would have been possible for them to send for Peter and have him arrive in the same day. By the time Peter got there the body was washed and prepared for burial.

Whenever Peter arrives, he comes onto the scene of real people suffering real grief: Tabitha, the woman that they loved, and who loved them with more than words, had died. This was no pretend death, or mistaken sickness or coma. She was dead. There were women who knew her in the room. Widows who had been ministered to by Tabitha. They showed Peter the clothing she had made for them and others in need. They grieved for the loss of their friend.

Peter sent them all out of the room, and he did the only thing that he could do, he kneeled down and prayed. Peter did not have the power to raise this woman from the dead. He could not do this in his own power. If it was Jesus Christ who had healed Aeneas from his paralysis, how much more would it take the power of Jesus Christ to raise Tabitha from the dead. After Peter prayed, he turned toward Tabitha and told her to get up. At once she opened her eyes, looked at Peter, and sat up. I want to emphasize something this morning: Peter did not raise Tabitha from the dead. Jesus, the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God did that healing work. Peter simply told her it was time to get up. And she did. He helped her to her feet and presented her alive to her friends and the widows she had helped.

Again, just as with Aeneas, we don’t know how Tabitha reacts. We don’t know if she was disappointed. We don’t know if she was relieved. We don’t know if she was overjoyed. What we do know is that because of her resurrection, because she had been dead and alive again, people heard and believed in Jesus. And Peter decides that he needs to stay in the area for a time, and chooses to stay, Luke tells us with a man named Simon the Tanner, who lived by the sea.

There are some key themes that Luke drives home to us. In both of these accounts, just like in those that have come before the emphasis is on the work of God in the lives of people. Often the book of Acts has been called the Acts of the Apostles, but if you read the book carefully, what you will find instead is that it is a book of the Acts of God in reaching out to people, in healing them, in delivering them, in guiding them, and in building his church. It is all about God at work.

A question we need to ask ourselves this morning is, “Are we seeing God at work or are we only looking at the people he uses?” It is easy to skim over these stories, and attribute the miracles to Peter, but it is Jesus who heals the paralytic, and it is through prayer—seeking God, that Tabitha is raised from the dead. So when something happens in our lives, do we give people all the credit, or are we looking for God at work? When we get a bonus at work, do we think we deserved it, or are we thanking God for his gift. When someone really helps us out, are we only thanking the person, or are we thanking God for bringing them to help us? When we see something miraculous, are we glorifying the person through whom the miracle is delivered, or are we glorifying God whose power is at work performing the miracle?

Another key theme in this passage is God working miracles as a means of testifying to the truth of the gospel to those who are witnesses. In both of these instances, God draws people into his kingdom through the display of his power at work doing the impossible. Many people heard and believed when Tabitha was raised, everyone who saw Aeneas turned to Jesus. God used these miracles to build his church. The question we need to ask here is, “Are we seeking miracles for our benefit alone, or are we seeking God to do the miraculous to build his kingdom?” When we pray for God to deliver, are we just trying to get out of a jam, or do we see a bigger purpose? When we ask for healing, is it just for our own relief, or are we seeking an avenue to testify about God’s power at work? Are we seeking God’s blessings to make us comfortable in our extravagant lifestyles, or do we seek to glorify God and build his kingdom by blessing others with what God has blessed us with?

The larger question behind all of this is: Where is our focus? Is it on the earthly or the eternal? Are we seeking to build an earthly kingdom, or are we seeking the Kingdom of God? Our answers to those two questions will greatly determine how we answer all of life’s questions. If we focus on the earthly, we loose sight of the master plan of the creator of the universe. If we seek an earthly kingdom, we may end up losing the eternal Kingdom of God. I encourage you this morning to do what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first HIS kingdom, and HIS righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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