Updated: Aug 3
Our Devotional Life
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, 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. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.
Joppa is northwest of Jerusalem, near the Mediterranean Sea. There, our text says, a woman named Tabitha - a believer in Jesus, became ill and died. She was a person in whom the fruits of faith in Christ were evident. In Paul’s words, she was an imitator of Christ - full of good works and acts of charity - Luke says. What a blessing to all of us when that can be said of someone in our midst. Not only is it a blessing because it is evidence of Christian faith (and that makes us happy), but also, the Spirit’s producing of these godly works in a person is used to better the lives of those around. You and I are blessed constantly by the godly works of others. I can think of many instances of it in this congregation. God gives to a congregation through a person like this. We should be praying that God move all of us to display evident fruits of faith even more.
It’s interesting to see here, that God intends to give even more to this particular congregation in Joppa by means of this person. They can’t see it at first. They’re sad. Her absence has left a hole among these believers. She has made garments for many of them, which they’re showing to Peter as he stands with them in the upper room. Their mourning is sincere and done out of love (not like was heard in some cases from hired mourners). They have prepared her body for burial. They are preparing to go on living in this world without her.
The fact that they call upon St. Peter, who is in an adjacent town deserves a little bit of discussion. We shouldn’t take it as them asking him to come and raise Tabitha from the dead. They never say those words. And we shouldn’t take it that way because it didn’t really work that way. The apostles were working at the pleasure of the Holy Spirit. They would go where He sent them at any moment, and do whatever He - at any moment - should have them do (remember, it was like this when the Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch in a recent text). Most likely Peter doesn’t know he is being sent to Joppa in order to do this; he simply goes where the Spirit sends Him. God takes people from this world every day, after all - sometimes in what seems an untimely fashion - even ones widely considered to be good people. Many of you have experienced this. The reason for it is unknown to us, and known only to Him. The questions that their urging of Peter to come should answer in our minds, are: To whom do we turn when we feel helpless? To whom, when we don’t have any answers? To whom, when our capacities have been exhausted? Their turning to the Lord’s apostle is their turning to the Lord Himself. Come to us, they’re saying. Be with us. Be God’s presence among us in this time in which we are beside ourselves with grief, in this time in which we don’t know what to do. Whether he comes and raises her back to life, or just comforts them in their grief, it is what God has provided out of his mercy for them.
This kind of faith that turns to the Lord in any crisis can be surprisingly fleeting to us no less - ones who are baptized into Christ, who wear His mark on ourselves. One would think such things would be automatic. One would think we would be the last people to look elsewhere for comfort in our sorrows, for solutions in our perplexity. Of course, our first reach would be heavenward, right? Of course, we would be putting ourselves in the sure and certain hands of the Lord. That’s what believers do.
Luther writes in the Large Catechism, that a god is that from which we are to expect all good, and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. But in that section, he is talking about our tendency to expect all good from, and to take refuge in people and things that aren’t the true God. We hear sermons here about casting our cares upon Christ, Who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and coming to Him in our weariness and in our burden so that He might give us rest (Matthew 11:28). But we get deceived sometimes. The world offers us alternatives, and we take them. The Lord seems far away. It’s like our faith is something that only works in theory; but when we experience real crisis, real pain and suffering, we have to chase comfort and calm in the same places and by the same means as unbelievers.
The believers in Joppa have turned to the Lord’s apostle. Look where the apostle turns. He puts the weeping widows outside. Then, he kneels down and prays to the Lord. The apostle doesn’t have power in himself to do anything more than those he has just put outside the door. The Lord wants us to be where the apostle is in this moment. He wants us recognizing Him as our hope in crisis and in sorrow. He’s the One of Whom we can say, there isn’t anything He can’t do! We can’t say it about anyone or anything else. In this case, the Lord empowers the apostle to restore the woman’s life to her body with the words, “Tabitha, arise.”
Certainly, this made a big impact on the believers in Joppa. We talked about the tendency of our sinful nature to expect all good from someone or something other than God, and to take refuge elsewhere in our distress. Miracles like these, done by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles, were done to show us not to do that. They were done to show us that whatever the Lord has in mind is the best thing for us. There isn’t anything He can’t do. Not even death can defy Him. When we put our hope in His care, we put it - like the old hymn says - on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness any alternative of which is sinking sand. He’s the One Who put His hope exclusively in His heavenly Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, while Peter and his fellow disciples slept. That’s a good example of the fact that, while we’re faithful in putting ourselves in the Lord’s hands sometimes (as Peter is in this text), Jesus never failed at it. He didn’t fail in His time in the wilderness - answering every one of Satan’s temptations with God’s sure Word. He didn’t fail in moments in which He was being threatened by unbelievers. He’s the eternal God. He came from heaven. He knew the value of that kingdom in relation to this one. His knowing it, and His seeking it, and the Father’s will above all things, replaces before God our failure to always do that. He did perfectly what we can’t do.
And the death that Tabitha died in our text was always going to be merely a temporal one anyway, even had she not been raised by the Spirit through St. Peter. Every believer’s death is merely a temporal death because Jesus has defeated death for us with His own. It couldn’t hold Him. It couldn’t be an eternal situation for Him, or for those who are connected to Him through faith. As He has risen, all who die in Him will rise.
We said near the beginning, that God intends to give even more to this congregation in Joppa through this person - Tabitha. Of course, her continuing to live among them will be a blessing in the same sorts of ways it was before. But God’s giving through her isn’t going to stop there. He has attached a visible sign connected to His Word that will forever proclaim that Word. It will live in the hearts of these people who have seen the power of God at work.
The testimony of God’s people in that congregation certainly made an impact, as Luke says in our text: And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. The miracle (like all others) is firmly attached to the Scriptures - to the Gospel message of the Christ. It’s like God is saying through it, You know all of that written about the power and the love of God coming to people by means of the Christ? Here’s a display of that power. You know the promise in Him, that those who are His will not remain in death, but rise to life? Here’s something that shows you that it’s all true.
And those signs remain with the text. They are forever connected to it. We don’t need any new ones; the ones that are there have the same impact on us that they had on the people in that time. We have heard the testimony and believed in the Lord. We are His people who live in the joy of hope in Christ. No lesser sign than that is given by the Lord to His church every time we come to His Table and receive From Him His true body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. The Risen One Whom death can’t hold is present there for us according His Word. God be praised. Amen.