Aeneas and Dorcas. 9:32-43


Before the book of Acts begins to focus on the ministry of Paul, Luke outlines Peter's ministry among the Jews of Judea, and in particular, his part in the gospel's move toward the Gentiles in the conversion of Cornelius, 10:1-11:18. Our passage for study records two significant healings by Peter, both authenticating his gospel ministry, and by implication, authenticating the baptism of Cornelius.

The passage

v32. Luke now records Peter's itinerant ministry in Judea. Lydda is the Old Testament town of Lod, and obviously there is a community of believers in the village, possibly converts of Philip's evangelistic preaching.

v33-35. Aeneas, paralyzed for eight years (or possibly paralyzed since he was eight years old), is healed with a word of authority and told to "take care of" his "mat" - in plain English, "get up and make your bed" (or possibly, "get up, set your table and get yourself something to eat." Luke often notes the need of nourishment for the sick). News of the healing spreads, opening the gospel to other scattered Jewish communities.

v36-38. The Christian community at Joppa (modern Jaffa), north west of Lydda on the Mediterranean cost, hears of the healing and sends a delegation of two men (delegations tend to be made up of two men) to see whether Peter can come and heal one of their number. Dorcas (Tabitha in Aramaic, meaning Gazelle) had fallen sick and died. She was a person greatly loved for her charitable works.

v39-43. Following the custom of the time, Dorcas is laid out in an upper room and ministered to by mourning friends and relatives. When Peter arrives he finds that she is surrounded by many of the widows she had helped over the years. They proudly show off the clothing Dorcas had made for them, in fact, they are probably wearing the clothing. Peter asks them to leave and raises Dorcas from the dead using much the same words as Jesus used in raising Jairus's daughter - "Talitha qumi" for Peter's "Tabitha qumi." Her eyes open and she sits up. Peter then presents her to the widows, along with the other Jewish believers ("the saints"). The miraculous sign prompts many citizens of Joppa to put their trust in Jesus. Peter stays on in the town, living with Simon the tanner. His religious scruples are obviously fading, given that tanning is by no means a ritually clean profession. It has been suggested that tanning was actually Peter's profession; fishing was a sideline.


1. Identify practical examples of both success and failure in witnessing the miraculous life and the loving life of Christ's kingdom community in your church?

2. How are Christ's people transformed?

Living and loving

The raising of Dorcas parallels the raising of the widow's son by Elijah, 1Ki.17:17-24, and the raising of the Shunemmite woman's son by Elisha, 2Ki.4:8-37. It is a significant sign which authenticates the ministry of Peter and the early church, in much the same way as the raising of Jairus's daughter by Jesus authenticated his messianic ministry. The sign serves as a gospel revelation; it proclaims the realization of Israel's messianic hope of a coming kingdom where the dead find new life and the poor and widowed can rejoice in plenty. Of course, the significance of the sign is only for Jewish eyes. The miracle "becomes known all over Joppa, and many people (most probably Jews) believed in the Lord." When the dead are raised and the widows rejoice, then is the kingdom in our midst.

The reality of the kingdom for the people of Israel was evidenced in God's healing power applied to the poor. When the dead are raised and the widows rejoice, then is the kingdom come. God's miraculous power, evident in the ministry of Peter, authenticates this ministry, and thus authenticates his move toward the Gentiles, encapsulated in the conversion of Cornelius. The kingdom is come, and is come for all humanity.

Our heritage in the Western church derives more from the Gentile mission of Paul than the Jewish mission of Peter. Yet, although messianic signs were for the children of Israel, the evidence of the kingdom for Gentiles is still be found in the life of the living dead and in the joy of the broken and destitute. All God's people should be an enlivened people and a joyously caring people, a people set free. Of course, such transforming power is not ours to create, just as Peter's healing of Dorcas was not of his doing. Only the living God can empower us with new life. It is the indwelling compelling Spirit of Christ that can transform death into life, sadness into joy, carelessness into compassion.

When the church is made up of transformed people, then can the world witness something of the coming day of glory, then is the gospel proclaimed in sign rather than word. Such a transformation is only possible through the Spirit of Christ who inevitably transforms upon request. So again we are reminded of the need to pray the prayer of faith, believing for Christ's renewal (enlivening) of his people before the dawning of the great and terrible day.

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