32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 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.
There is something in the human condition that simply does not want to acknowledge the miraculous power of God in the world. Some years ago, for instance, I clipped the following article from The Washington Times.
Study: Red Sea parting was possible
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Russian mathematicians have determined the legendary parting of the Red Sea that let the Jews flee Egypt was possible, the Moscow Times reported.
The study, published in the Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, focused on a reef that runs from the documented spot where the Jews escaped Egypt, which in Biblical times, was much closer to the surface, according to Naum Volzinger, a senior researcher at St. Petersburg’s Institute of Oceanology, and a colleague based in Hamburg, Alexei Androsov.
The mathematicians calculated the “strong east wind that blew all that night” mentioned in the Bible needed to blow at a speed of 67 miles per hour to make the reef, said Volzinger, who specializes in ocean phenomena, flooding and tidal waves.
“It would take the Jews — there were 600,000 of them — four hours to cross the 4.2-mile reef that runs from one coast to another. Then, in half an hour, the waters would come back,” he said.
The Egyptian army that followed them drowned in the sea.
“I am convinced that God rules the Earth through the laws of physics,” Volzinger told the Times.[i]
So there you have it! Or consider this article from Live Science.
Jesus Could Have Walked on Ice, Scientist Says
Rare conditions could have conspired to create hard-to-see ice on the Sea of Galilee that a person could have walked on back when Jesus is said to have walked on water, a scientist said today.
The study, which examines a combination of favorable water and environmental conditions, proposes that Jesus could have walked on an isolated patch of floating ice on what is now known as Lake Kinneret in northern Israel.
Looking at temperature records of the Mediterranean Sea surface and using analytical ice and statistical models, scientists considered a small section of the cold freshwater surface of the lake. The area studied, about 10,000 square feet, was near salty springs that empty into it.
The results suggest temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius) during one of the two cold periods 2,500 –1,500 years ago for up to two days, the same decades during which Jesus lived.
With such conditions, a floating patch of ice could develop above the plumes resulting from the salty springs along the lake’s western shore in Tabgha. Tabgha is the town where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been found.
“We simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years,” said Doron Nof, a Florida State University Professor of Oceanography. “We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.”
Nof figures that in the last 120 centuries, the odds of such conditions on the low latitude Lake Kinneret are most likely 1-in-1,000. But during the time period when Jesus lived, such “spring ice” may have formed once every 30 to 60 years.
Such floating ice in the unfrozen waters of the lake would be hard to spot, especially if rain had smoothed its surface.
“In today’s climate, the chance of springs ice forming in northern Israel is effectively zero, or about once in more than 10,000 years,” Nof said.
The findings are detailed in the April 2006 Journal of Paleolimnology.[ii]
Well how about that! Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee by walking on ice patches! Who knew!
Yes, there is something in the human condition that want to explain away the miraculous. This is somewhat understandable. After all, miracles are miracles! By definition, then, they are unusual, strange, and defy explanation. As a result, the human mind desperately wants to figure out some way to make sense of these things, to explain them.
The early Church had a very different approach to the miraculous. They were, no doubt, initially no less shocked by miracles than anybody else was. However, as they grew in their journey with Jesus and came to see just who He is and how powerful He is and all that He can accomplish in the world, they embraced these mighty acts of God for what they are: powerful evidences of the presence of God in the world and powerful tools in the hands of God to advance the Kingdom in the world.
Let us consider the two miracles in the latter half of Acts 9. Let us consider how the Church viewed these miracles. Let us also consider how both miracle accounts having wording connections with Gospel miracle accounts that heighten the reality of what was happening in these two cases.
The early Church saw itself as representing Jesus through works of power.
Somewhat surprisingly, the story now shifts from Paul back to Peter.
32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose.
This is a shorter miracle account, but a profoundly significant one. Peter comes to the town of Lydda and there encounters a paralytic named Aeneas. The poor man had been “bedridden for eight years” as a result of his paralysis. Peter says to Aeneas, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And “immediately” he is healed.
Note first that Peter boldly proclaims to Aeneas that “Jesus Christ heals you.” But was it not Peter who was speaking to him? Yes, it was, but Peter was simply the tool in the hands of God. More than that, though: Peter was a representative of God on earth.
It is a teaching we probably neglect, but it is a crucial teaching: when the Church speaks in harmony with God the Church speaks with the voice of God. The Church is the body of Christ. When Paul was persecuting the Church he was persecuting Christ. When Peter, representing the Church, spoke healing power over the man, it was Christ who was speaking healing power over the man. Let us be clear: the Church is not Christ, but the Church represents Christ in powerful ways.
This reality of the Church’s representation of Christ can help us understand what is happening with the dynamic of “the keys” that Christ spoke of in Matthew 16.
18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This binding and loosing power only exists because God is present in and with His Church. It does not render the Church infallible and the keys are not detached from the One who grants them. Rather, it is a powerful reminder of an essential truth: the Church represents her Lord when the Church is faithful to her Lord.
There is a second component in this brief miracle account that should not be missed, and that is Peter’s concluding wording, “rise and make your bed.” Jesus heals the paralytic through Peter and Peter tells him to “rise and make your bed.” Perhaps this sounds familiar to you. Listen to the following story from Mark 2 of Jesus healing a paralyzed man.
1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Did you see that? “Rise, pick up your bed,” Jesus says. “Rise and make your bed,” Peter says. We have seen before, in the martyrdom of Stephen, that the people of God so identified with Christ that they began to speak His words and live His life. They began, in other words, to look like Jesus.
Here we see it again. Peter is essentially replicating an earlier miracle of Jesus, right down to the words Jesus used. This is neither accidental or coincidental. It is utterly predictable. As Peter associates with Christ more and more, Peter looks and sounds like Christ. Seen from the other side, as Christ works through His Church, the Church takes on the actions and words of Christ.
These works of power with evidence of Christ’s presence in His Church.
The early Church spread the gospel through works of power.
The same dynamic can be seen in Joppa in even more dramatic fashion.
35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 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.
What an utterly dumbfounding story! Dorcas had died. Peter comes and speaks to her. Now Dorcas lived. There is an unsettling simplicity about all of this. Will Willimon said it well:
Luke explains nothing in these stories, nor can you or I as interpreters. How God’s agents wrench life from death is not something so trivial as to be explained. The stories can only be told and heard, asserted, inserted into life as they are thrust into the flow of Acts. It is not Peter who turns our history inside out but the story, the story which proclaims that our history is not closed and that there is someone, some subversive reality, there for the widows of this world.[iii]
The resurrected Christ is Lord over even death. As death could not hold Jesus, neither can it hold whomever Jesus touches. What is an occasion of great grief for Dorcas’ friends is simply an opportunity for Kingdom expansion and life transformation for Jesus.
This Dorcas was a godly lady and a good lady. She worked great works of charity. She made clothes and blessed others through the industrious and loving use of her talents. This is no small thing. She did this for the glory of God and the building up of the Church. She was a servant and a hard worker and she was held in high esteem by the people of the Church.
Her loss was a great loss for the Church, but the Lord decided that it would not be a loss. Peter comes in gospel power and the dead live again! As a result, “many believed in the Lord.”
Let us recognize in this that the miraculous works of power in the life of the early Church were not miracles for miracles’ sake. They were, instead, miracles for the sake of the harvest. Unlike some modern TV alleged miracle workers, Peter did not pass an offering plate after working works of power. He did not work this to his own advantage. He did not use this to get a name for himself.
On the contrary, the only name Peter wanted to get more attention was Jesus’ name. The only payment Peter wanted was to see more people come to Christ. “Many believed in the Lord.” Not in Peter. In the Lord. And the Church grew through these divine manifestations of power.
Just as in the healing of Aeneas in Lydda, there is a connecting point in this account with one of Jesus’ miracles in the gospels. In Mark 5 we find the amazing account of Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter. Listen carefully.
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Here we have a similar story. Word is sent to Jesus that somebody is dying. Jesus comes. The child is dead. Jesus speaks to her and she rises.
In addition to the similarities of the stories, there is a particular phonetic similarity that is likely intended to connect the two. Jarsolav Pelikan points out the phonetic similarities between the Aramaic pronouncement of Jesus over the daughter of Jairus – talitha – and Peter’s usage of Dorcas’ name, Tabitha, to suggest that it is “possible that Luke was engaging wordplay” to highlight the Church’s carrying on of the work of Christ in the world.[iv]
“Talitha, cumi!” Jesus commands.
“Tabitha, arise!” Peter commands.
Once again, the Church looks and sounds like Jesus…and so it should! Christ is Lord of His Church. As the Church walks with Jesus the Church looks more and more like Jesus. The result? Men and women are called to Jesus through various means and ways, not the least of which are dynamic works of miraculous power.
There is controversy surrounding this today. Have these works of power ceased? For myself, I can see no scriptural warrant to suggest that we must say answer that in the affirmative. At the very least, even if a person leans towards believing that miracles have ceased, can we not affirm that God is still God and that if works of power were used in the first century to demonstrate God’s presence with and through His Church and to reach the lost for Christ that they might just be used by God in a similar fashion today as well?
Behold the wonder working God, who invades our bleak existence with love, and peace, and joy, and astonishing works of life-changing power
[i] The Washington Times. Category: Category 1 Date: 5/02/04 Time: 09:53:56 Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
[iii] Quoted in William H. Willimon, Acts. Interpretation. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1988), p.85.
[iv] Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), p.127.