We’ve been working our way through the book of Acts for several weeks now. This is, in fact, the 17th study on this book. And, in case there are some who have missed the previous 16 studies, let me summarise briefly what we’ve seen already.
The book began with the Lord instructing his Apostles to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit who would equip them to go to the ends of the earth to bear witness to him and to all that he has done for us. And then, having given them these final instructions, he was taken up into the sky until the clouds hid him from view. Where had he gone? Well, angels appeared and explained that he had been taken into heaven from where he will come again one day. The Apostles then went back into Jerusalem, where they chose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot who had killed himself.
And then we have the remarkable Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on them in tongues of fire and enabled them to praise the Lord in lots of different languages so that all the visitors to Jerusalem, from different countries of the world, could understand what they were saying. What did this mean? Well, Peter stood up and preached. But he preached, not about the Holy Spirit, but about the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus who died, but rose again, was now enthroned in heaven. And from his Father in heaven he has received the promised Holy Spirit. And he has now poured out the Spirit on them. Therefore the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost demonstrates that Jesus, who died but rose again, is both Lord and Christ. That is, he is the Lord on whom we must call for salvation. And he is the Christ, God’s Special Servant sent to save us from our sins. And, after he has finished speaking, the people who heard him were cut to the heart. And they asked, ‘What shall we do?’ And Peter told them: ‘Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’ And about 3,000 believed and were baptised and were added to the church.
And in verses 42 to 47 we have that little snapshot of what life was like in the church in Jerusalem and how they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship and to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. And the Lord, who died, but rose again, and is now exalted in heaven, continued to add to their number. And that’s one of the main points that we’ve been learning. In the Gospel of Luke, Luke told us what the Lord Jesus began to do. In the book of Acts, Luke is telling us what the Lord Jesus continues to do from his throne in heaven. And what we learn is that, from his throne in heaven, he is building his church on the earth.
Summary: In Jerusalem
From the beginning of chapter 3 right through to verse 6 of chapter 8, Luke focusses on what was happening in Jerusalem. First of all, Peter and John healed the crippled beggar at the gate of the temple. And when a crowd gathered, he preached about Jesus Christ.
Then Luke showed us how they faced opposition from without, because not everyone believed in the Lord Jesus. So, we read how Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin who warned them not to speak about Christ again to anyone. But, after they were threatened and released, the believers met together and prayed for boldness. And immediately they were filled with the Holy Spirit so that they were able to carry on preaching with boldness. So, there was trouble from without, but the Lord helped them.
But there was also trouble within. While most of the believers shared with one another so that there was no needy person among them, nevertheless Ananias and Sapphira were tempted to lie to the Holy Spirit. But again, the Lord helped his church. The lie was found out and Ananias and Sapphira died in a way which made it clear that this was the Lord’s doing. And great fear seized the whole church and those who heard about it. So, there was trouble within and without the church. But the Lord continued to help them.
We also read how the Apostles were enabled to heal many. Then the first Congregational Committee was elected to look after the practical needs of the members of the church. And then Stephen was seized and martyred. But as he died, he saw the Exalted Lord Jesus in heaven, waiting to receive him into glory.
Summary: Out of Jerusalem
Following Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem and all, apart from the Apostles, were scattered through Judea and Samaria. And so, the focus moves from Jerusalem to the regions outside Jerusalem. And wherever the believers went, they preached the message of Jesus Christ. And we read how Samaritans heard and believed. And then the Ethiopian Eunuch heard and believed. And then Saul, the great persecutor, met the Risen Lord Jesus, and he too was convinced and converted to faith in Christ. And he was commissioned to go and preach the message of Jesus Christ to Jews and Gentiles.
And last week we read how Saul went up to Jerusalem and, with the help of Barnabas, was accepted by the Apostles. But, because of a plot by some Jews to kill him, he had to go away to Tarsus. Meanwhile, the church enjoyed a time of peace. And it continued to grow. Jesus Christ, from his throne in heaven, was watching over his church, defending it from his enemies, and enabling it to grow.
Verses 32 to 35
A new section begins in verse 32 of chapter 9 and it runs until the end of chapter 12. And the focus of this section is really on Peter and on some of the things he did. And in verse 32 of chapter 9 we read how he travelled about the country and ended up in a place called Lydda which was about 25 miles from Jerusalem. Why had he come to Lydda? Well, it was to visit the saints there. In other words, he came to visit the believers, because as we’ve learned before, believers are saints. The Greek word translated ‘saints’ can also be translated as ‘holy ones’. And we’re holy because through faith in Jesus Christ, we’re justified which means God pardons all our sins forever and he accepts us as righteous in his sight for the sake of the righteousness of Christ which is now regarded as ours. In other words, he regards us as holy. Although we sin all the time, and even our best deeds are spoiled by sin, nevertheless God now regards us and our works as holy in his sight. And we’re holy because God is working in us by his Holy Spirit to sanctify us so that we become more and more willing and able to keep his commandments. So, though we talk about St Patrick and St Peter and St Paul, every believer is a saint. And we’re saints, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done and is doing in us.
While Peter was in Lydda, he met a man called Aeneas. Although we’re not told Aeneas was a believer, we assume that he was because we’ve just been told that Peter was visiting the saints in Lydda. And this Aeneas was a paralytic. He wasn’t able to walk. And he had been bedridden for eight years. Well, in verse 34, we see that Peter takes the initiative and he said to Aeneas:
Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat.
And immediately, immediately, the man got up.
Who was it who healed the man? It wasn’t Peter. It was the Lord Jesus — which reminds us that the book of Acts is the story of all that the Lord Jesus continued to do from his throne in heaven. He’s enthroned in heaven now, where he rules over all things. And from his throne in heaven, he healed this man.
And notice too that Peter doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit. We often think that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives the power to heal. And those people who claim to perform miracles of healing today will often claim it’s the Holy Spirit who has given them the power to heal. And we’ve all met those Christians who are always talking about the Holy Spirit. But in the book of Acts, as we’ve seen, the focus is always on the Lord Jesus and what he has done for us and what he is still doing for us. Of course, the Lord Jesus works by his Spirit. But the Lord Jesus is the one who receives all the attention in the book of Acts. And so, we’re not surprised when Peter declares to this man that Jesus Christ heals you.
And since the Lord Jesus Christ is Mighty God who can do all things in an instant, this man was healed in an instant and he got up immediately. And then in verse 35 we see the result. For the man, of course, the result was that he could walk again — which was great for him. But for all those who lived in Lydda and in Sharon (the area around Lydda), something even greater happened. Having seen what had happened to the man, they turned to the Lord Jesus. And all who turn to the Lord Jesus receive peace of conscience and the hope of everlasting life.
Verses 36 to 43
That took place in Lydda. Joppa was not far from there. And we learn in the next verses that the disciples there were distressed because one of them, named Tabitha or Dorcas, became ill and died. This Tabitha, we’re told, was always doing good and helping the poor.
This reminds us of earlier passages which described how the early Christians cared for one another in practical ways and how those who could were prepared even to sell their own property and to give the proceeds to help the needy members among them. We all know that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. And the best way we can show our love to the Lord is by obeying his commands. And what has he commanded us to do? Well, the second greatest command is to love our neighbour as ourselves. That’s what Tabitha used to do. And hasn’t she left us a marvellous example to follow? We know very little about this woman. But the one thing we know about her is how she endeavoured to keep the Lord’s command to love her neighbours. And this she did by doing good and helping the poor. Well, here’s something for us to strive to do: To live such good lives among one another that when we’re dead and gone, people will say of us how we went about doing good and helping those in need among us.
In verse 37 we read how her body was washed and prepared therefore for burial. But when the believers heard that Peter was nearby, they sent men to go and get him. We don’t know what was in their mind: whether they were hoping for a miracle or whether they merely wanted him to pay his respects. But whatever their intentions, Peter went to Joppa. And when he got there, he shooed all the mourners out of the room. And then he got down on his knees and prayed. And then, very simply, without any fuss, he said to Tabitha: ‘Get up.’ And she opened her eyes. And sat up. And when he called in the believers, he was able to present her to them alive again.
It’s not surprising that news of what had happened spread all over Joppa. And look at the result in verse 42: Many people believed in the Lord. The same thing happened in Lydda as well. Whenever the people learned what had happened to Aeneas, they turned to the Lord.
And this, I think, helps us to understand the purpose of these miracles in the book of Acts. You see, the background to the book of Acts is all that Jesus Christ has done to redeem us. By his life of perfect obedience, by his death on the cross to pay for our sins, by his resurrection afterwards, he has done all things necessary to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us salvation. That’s the background: What Jesus Christ has done for us.
Then, in the book of Acts, he sent out his Apostles and Evangelists to bear witness to what he had done. He sent them out as his witnesses and to declare God’s promise that all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved.
So, there’s the background: what Christ has done for us. Then there’s the message: this is what Christ has done; believe in him.
But, why should the people of Lydda and Joppa listen to Peter and his message? How can they be sure that his message is true and is worth believing? Well, the miracles Peter was able to perform demonstrated that God was with him and had sent him. The miracles confirmed that he really was a preacher sent from God. And so, when people heard what he did, they believed his message and turned with faith to the Saviour. We saw the same thing with Philip in Samaria. Back in chapter 8 verse 6 we read that when the people heard him and saw the miraculous signs he did, they paid close attention to what he said.
And, in fact, that’s the purpose of miracles throughout the Bible. For instance, in 1 Kings 17, after Elijah had raised the widow’s son, she declared:
Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.
In John’s gospel, the Lord Jesus appealed to his miracles to demonstrate that he had come from God so that they should believe in him. So, in John 10, he said:
even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
And on the Day of Pentecost, Peter referred to the Lord’s miracles as the evidence that he had been sent by God. He said:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs….
And in Acts 14:3 we read this:
So they [Paul and Barnabas] remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
By enabling them to perform signs and wonders, the Lord Jesus bore witness to the word they preached. Miracles are signs to demonstrate that the preachers have been sent by God and that their message is true. So, listen to them!
And what was their message? They preached the message of Jesus Christ and all that he has done to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting salvation.
So, in order to persuade sinners to believe in Jesus Christ the Saviour, the Lord Jesus enabled his preachers to perform these great signs.
What signs will the Lord Jesus give us today to persuade people of the truth of the gospel message? Apart from all the miracles contained in the New Testament which still confirm what the Apostles preached, we have two other signs: There’s the water of baptism, a sign which seals, or confirms, God’s promise to wash away our sins. And there’s the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, a sign which seals, or confirms, God’s promise to cover over our sins forever for the sake of Christ whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for us.
We know we’re sinners. We know all that we have done wrong. We know all the ways we have fallen short. Can it be true? Will God really forgive me? Is it true that he won’t hold my sins against me? And then we come to the Lord’s Table, and we see the sign, the broken bread, and the wine poured out, and there it is: God’s confirmation to those who believe: Christ has died for you. And for his sake, I have forgiven you.