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Spreading New Life

The miracles recorded in the last section of Acts 9 explain how God is preparing the apostles to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Luke records two miracles, the first of which shows the connection between Christ with His apostles, and the second of which ties that work into the mission of Israel by repeating one of the most upsetting of all the miracles of the Old Testament, and making the same surprising point. Luke’s argument works like this: step one – the apostles continue Jesus’ work. Step two – the apostles follow Jesus’ pattern of ministry, which took Him far beyond Jerusalem. The conclusion that Luke is building towards is that the apostles are being prepared to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

In the first miracle, Luke presents Peter as a new Jesus, continuing the same work by repeating a miracle that Jesus performed in Mark 2:1-12. Leaving Jerusalem for the Judean town of Lydda, Peter finds a man with a Greek name, Aeneas, who is paralyzed, and has been bedridden for eight years. He says to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” Peter provides the hands and feet and lips, but Jesus does the healing.

Notice the result in verse 35: all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. Even though Peter speaks the words, they know right where to turn: to Jesus. Through this miracle, the divine authority of Jesus is seen to be at work in the disciples. The apostles are continuing Jesus’ work. That’s step one in the argument that underlies this section of Acts 9.

Step two involves Dorcas, a well-loved woman from Joppa, who blessed everyone she knew through her love and hard work, but who now has died. Peter performs a miracle and raises her from the dead, but our focus is not on the miracle itself, a dramatic testimony to the power of God to overcome death, but on the meaning of the miracle. Step two in Luke’s argument moves the action even closer to the Gentiles. Lydda is about 25 miles outside of Jerusalem, and Joppa is another 12 miles beyond that, on the Samaritan border.

In 1 Kings 17:17-24, we read of Elijah the prophet raising a boy from the dead at the request of a Samaritan widow. Note the similarities between this passage and the account of the raising of Dorcas in Acts 9: in both events the action occurs on the outskirts of Israel, involving the death of someone deeply beloved. They both take place in an upper room, where the prophet/apostle prays, the person returns to life, they are presented before the crowd of mourners, and God’s truth is established in the mouth of His servant.

And here’s the connection: In Luke 4, Jesus refers to the story in 1 Kings, and makes the point that even though there were many widows in Israel that God could have blessed, He chose a Gentile widow. This enrages the Jews, and they seek to kill Him. Well, here we see Peter, getting farther and farther away from Jerusalem, and extending the new life of the gospel to people less and less Jewish, repeating and continuing the offensive ministry of Jesus through a parallel resurrection. Luke is not simply telling miracle stories for the fun of it. He is using these stories to break down the walls that separate Jew and Gentile, so that the gospel will spread, as it does in verse 42, throughout all Joppa.

And here is how we should let the main lesson from this section of Acts 9 impact us: As I mentioned earlier, we are witnessing new life, church growth, and answered prayer as God continues the work of Christ through us. This should be known throughout Annapolis! Why is it that we so rarely talk about this sort of thing? Luke has recorded these miracles in order to undermine the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, but what are the walls that keep us from spreading new life to others?

Here is the charge: identify these walls, whether ethnic, racial, social, cultural, or even the personal walls of selfishness and cowardice, and break them down. Celebrate the mighty works of God, making them known throughout all of Annapolis, and watch what God will do.

Posted on Thursday, May 15, 2014 by CJ Bowen