When Luke sat down to write the history of Jesus, he did this by writing two books. The first, Luke, is the history of the earthly life of Jesus. The second, Acts, is the history of the continuing work of Jesus through his followers.
Acts 1-3 begins with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and then the long promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the disciples became different men and women. Peter and John performed miracles in the name of Jesus and taught in the Temple courtyard with authority.
The Jewish religious leaders were dismayed because they thought they had dealt effectively with Jesus who threatened their religious establishment. They left Jesus dead in the tomb and then to their dismay received reports that the disciples of Jesus were teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So the religious leaders went into action and Acts 4-7 focuses primarily on the persecution of the fledgling church and ends with the stoning of Stephen.
Acts 8 introduces Saul who approved of Stephen’s death and then goes on to talk about the spread of the believers – and the Gospel – into Samaria where many believers went to escape the persecution in Jerusalem.
Acts 9 tells the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and his 180? turn from persecutor of the followers of Jesus to evangelist for Jesus. In the next three years he went into the wilderness of the Arabian Peninsula and then returned to Damascus. As he preached, opposition arose and he had to flee to Jerusalem when his life was threatened. After some time in Jerusalem his life was again threatened and so the disciples sent him off to Tarsus.
Luke leaves Saul in Tarsus and picks up the story of Peter in the middle of Acts 9.
So let me recap Peter’s story in Acts. After the humiliation of denying knowing Jesus, Peter was restored to leadership of the disciples by Jesus. When the larger group of followers of Jesus met to decide who should take Judas’ place as a disciple, Peter led that meeting and discussion. At Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus, it was Peter who stood and preached the first sermon of the church. Peter, along with John, healed the man born lame which caused the Sanhedrin to call them in for questioning. Peter spoke in the Temple to the crowd that gathered to see the miracle that had healed this man. When Ananaias and Sapphira deceived the community about a gift of property they made to the church, it was Peter who discerned their deception and spoke the words of their judgment. Peter and John went down to Samaria to investigate the report Phillip had sent about the Samarians wanting to be followers of Jesus.
Peter was the lead disciple in the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry and he continued to be the leader of the followers of Jesus after Jesus ascended into heaven.
When Saul came to Jerusalem he reports in his Galatians letter that he spent fifteen days with Cephas, the Aramaic name for Peter. This is the name Jesus gave to Peter when Peter made his great confession that Jesus was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:17–18)
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Both Cephas and Peter mean ‘rock’ or ‘stone’.
As Luke is writing an account of the growth of the church for Theophilus, he wants to make sure Theophilus knows the role Peter played in the growth of the church. Saul was introduced in Acts 8 and the first part of Acts 9. The second half of Acts 9, Acts 10 & 11, and the first half of Acts 12 focus on Peter – and then Luke’s account moves on to Paul and his ministry to the Gentile world. Peter recedes in his leadership role and by the time that Paul comes to Jerusalem with a collection to support the community of followers of Jesus, it is James, the half-brother of Jesus, who is the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
What happened to the leadership role of Peter in the church?
As the church grew, it quickly became dominated by Gentiles who became followers of Jesus with the Jewish followers of Jesus becoming an increasingly small minority in the church. Paul wrote eight brilliant chapters of theology in his Romans letter and then paused to consider what had happened to his fellow Jews. Why were they so resistant to what God had done for them though Jesus the Messiah? This is the focus of Romans 9-11.
So as Luke wrote an account of the growth of the church, he focused his account by moving from Peter to Paul. But before Luke does this, he leaves Saul in Tarsus and talks more about Peter’s leadership in the church.
As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Peter was the leader of the church but he did not have the personality of someone who runs things by sitting in an office. Peter was a man of action, jumping out of a boat to go to Jesus, walking on water in a storm, the first of the disciples to make a declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, something the other disciples were thinking but afraid to say.
Luke writes that after Saul was sent to Tarsus the church experienced a period of peace and in this time Peter did what Jesus had done. He traveled around the country visiting the followers of Jesus. In Arabic a pastor is called “a shepherd of the sheep” and Peter was a pastor. He viewed the church as his flock and traveled around to encourage his flock in their following of Jesus.
Next week we will come to the story of Peter and Cornelius, the first Gentile convert recorded in Acts. I will say more about this next week, but Peter Wagner has pointed out that there are three Pentecosts in Acts. The first was when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jewish followers of Jesus. The second was when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Samaritan followers of Jesus. And the third was when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Cornelius, a Gentile believer.
Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, (Acts 1:7–8)
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In the fulfillment of what Jesus said, these three Pentecosts expanded the scope of the church from Jerusalem, to Samaria, and out into the Gentile world and Peter led the way.
At this stage in the growth of the church, Peter is the clear leader of the church.
Luke picks up the story of Peter by talking about his experiences in Lydda, a town west of Jerusalem, about 20 kilometers inland from the port city of Joppa on the Mediterranean Sea and then in Joppa itself.
Luke tells of two miracles in Lydda and in Joppa. Were these the only two miracles in Peter’s ministry? Not at all. Acts 3 recorded the healing of the man born lame and in Acts 5 Luke records that
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people… people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
Peter had a powerful healing ministry but Luke wanted to highlight these two miracles as an introduction to Peter’s acceptance of Cornelius as a brother in Christ.
The first miracle was to Aeneas,
a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.
Now, when you hear this, doesn’t this sound familiar? Doesn’t it seem that you have read this somewhere else?
Do you remember the story, recorded in all three synoptic gospels, of a man who was paralyzed being lowered through a hole in the roof made by his four friends? Do you remember what it is Jesus said to him? (Luke 5:24-25)
He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
Two men were paralyzed. Each was told to get up and take his mat. That is the detail that tells me Peter is copying Jesus. Why tell someone to take their mat? It is not something I would think of if I were praying for the healing of someone. But Peter, just like Jesus, told the paralyzed man to “get up and don’t forget to take your mat.”
If this seems to be a coincidence, take a look at the second miracle Luke records.
In the port city of Joppa there was a woman who was much loved because she
was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
Does this remind you of one of the miracles of Jesus? In Mark 5 Jesus was on his way to the home of Jairus the synagogue ruler to help his sick daughter when he was interrupted by the woman who touched his robe to be healed of her bleeding. At this point men came from the house of Jairus with the news that his daughter had died.
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.
Notice that Peter was an eyewitness to what happened next.
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.
There are so many similarities between these two accounts: Messengers came to Jesus and messengers came to Peter bringing news of a death; Jesus and Peter arrived with the funeral in progress with the mourners weeping and crying; Jesus and Peter sent everyone out of the room, although Jesus kept Peter, James and John and the girl’s parents with him. But the point is both sent all the mourners out of the room.
What did Jesus say? “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!
What did Peter say? Tabitha, get up. Or in Aramaic, Tabitha koum!
If Peter spoke to her in Aramaic, there was only one consonant different, a b rather than a l. Tabitha koum rather than Talitha koum.
There is one more detail in Luke’s account that reminds me of the miracles of Jesus. When Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead, the focus was on the widow, not on the son. The text shows that it was out of compassion for the widow whose only son was now dead. Without a husband or a son, she was destitute. She would be dependent on the generosity of people who were not her family for her survival.
Jesus looked at the funeral procession, saw what was happening, had compassion for the widow, and then acted, raising her son from the dead.
In this morning’s account of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead Luke writes that after Peter told Tabitha to get up,
He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.
Peter presented Tabitha to the believers and especially the widows. Peter knew the ministry Tabitha had to the widows of Joppa and had compassion for the widows who would be left without Tabitha to care for them. Jesus had compassion for the widow who had lost her son. Peter had compassion for the widows who had lost the woman who helped and encouraged them.
Of all the miracles that could have been recorded, why did Luke record these two miracles that seem to be copies of miracles of Jesus? It seems to me that Luke wanted to make clear that Peter was the leader appointed by Jesus to lead his church and these miracles were offered to his readers as proof that Peter was the leader appointed by Jesus. Peter was able to do what Jesus had done because Jesus was now working through him.
When Jesus sent out his twelve disciples and then seventy-two of his disciples on short-term mission trips, he gave them the power to heal and cast out demons. This power was given to them for the duration of these trips. But when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost, this power to heal and cast out demons was given to them for their ongoing ministry.
Luke makes it clear that the ministry of Jesus continued after Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus now worked through his disciples.
Luke continues to make this clear when he records dramatic miracles in the ministry of Paul that will come later in Acts.
On Paul’s first missionary journey he passed through Lystra where he first met Timothy who joined Paul’s team when Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary journey.
A dramatic miracle sparked interest in Paul’s preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus. (Acts 14:8–10)
In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Jesus healed the lame. Peter and John healed a man who was lame from birth. And now Paul healed a man who was born lame.
Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain. He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Peter raised Tabitha from the dead and in Acts 20:7–12 Paul raised Eutychus from the dead.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
(If Peter were to indulge in a bit of trash talking, he could point out that the difference between Paul and Jesus and Peter is that Paul caused Eutychus to fall to his death by putting him to sleep with his teaching.)
Luke wants Theophilus and all who read his books that the ministry of Jesus continued through Peter, Paul, and all those who follow Jesus.
Miracles are acts of compassion. Over and over again the Gospels record that Jesus had compassion and then healed or fed the people. Miracles are an indication that God loves us and is active in the world.
But miracles also serve a strategic purpose. Miracles offer proof of the truth about God. Jesus said in John 10:38
even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
Miracles were proof that Jesus was the Messiah. When the disciples of John the Baptist came to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, Jesus told them (Luke 7:22)
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
“Do you want to know if I am the Messiah? Then look at my miracles,” Jesus said.
“Do you want to know if Peter and Paul were chosen by Jesus to lead the church?” Luke asks, “Then look at their miracles, the same as those of Jesus.”
The miracles Peter and Paul performed in the name of Jesus served the strategic purpose of demonstrating that the ministry of Jesus was continuing through his disciples. Peter and Paul preached the good news of Jesus and people listened because the miracles got their attention.
What are your thoughts about this passage from Acts? My first thought is, why doesn’t this happen today? I am not denying that there is healing that takes place but the dramatic healings Luke writes about in his gospel and in Acts are hard to find. We read about dramatic healings from time to time but they are rare and then, at least for me, there is also the question if they are true reports of what happened.
In my experience in Morocco I have heard reports of people being healed of headaches, back pain, and things like that. Elliot experienced a more dramatic healing in December 2019, but even though it was a powerful experience, it lacked the dramatic effect of the lame walking, the blind seeing, the dead being raised to life.
If the miracles of healing in the ministry of Jesus had been limited to healing headaches and back pain, there would not have been the crowds coming to him wherever he went.
So I will modify my question, why do we not see undisputed miracles today? When people have watched a man sit and beg for money every day of the week for years and years and they know he was born without being able to walk – and then one day there he is jumping and leaping, that miracle cannot be disputed.
When people watched a man with a withered arm grow a new arm right in front of their eyes, that miracle could not be ignored. The Pharisees did not dispute that the miracle happened, they questioned the source of the power that healed the arm.
When someone who has been blind for years is suddenly able to see, how can you deny that a miracle took place? When a dead body is raised to life, it is clear that a miracle happened.
So here are some thoughts I have about this question.
- The focus for Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of God had come. The focus was not the miracles that accompanied his preaching. When people requested a miracle or demanded a miracle, he pointed them to the miracle of Jonah, that on the third day he would be raised to life. He refused to honor Herod with a miracle when he was brought to his palace.
Our focus needs to be proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come and not to advertise, as some do, “Come See A Miracle.”
- Peter Wagner writes in his Acts Commentary that miracles build the quantity of the church, not the quality of the church.
Miracles draw attention, but then what happens? I mentioned a week or two ago that when Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower, I think he was speaking out of his own experience. He cast seed to all those who came to him and then observed that some were excited for a bit and then when it became too difficult to follow him, they faded away. Some saw his miracles and heard his preaching and then plotted to kill him. Some experienced a miracle themselves but then became caught up in the worries of life and lost their enthusiasm.
Jesus knew that what people needed was a transformation of the heart and that is what he preached and taught. Jesus knew that the miracles he performed were only temporary. Lepers were cleansed but then later they died. The blind could see and the lame could walk but then they would die and what then? The widow’s son and the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus were raised to life, only to die again.
When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at the well, he told her, (John 4:13–14)
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus healed the paralytic who was lowered through the room by his four friends and we focus on the miracle. But the first action of Jesus was to forgive the paralytic his sins. When Jesus saw the Pharisees questioning his right to forgive sins, he healed the paralytic as proof that he had the right to forgive sins.
Jesus offers what is eternal and we focus on what is temporal.
Miracles get the attention of people but what is needed is a heart transformation, growing in faith and trust so that even when persecution comes, even when there are trials and tribulations, faith endures.
- This is a continuation of the last point but it is so important it deserves some emphasis. Miracles do not produce faith. Miracles get our attention. It is when we go on from the miracle that took place and face trials and temptations, difficulties and persecution, that faith grows.
This is why I think there are not many undisputed miracles in the church today. It is not that we lack faith; it is that Jesus is focused on growing our faith. Miracles of healing will be left behind, turning into dust. It is the miracle of growing faith that we will take with us into eternity. Faith grows in the midst of uncertainty and doubt, not in the midst of miracles and certainty.
When Jesus has our attention, whether through miracles or otherwise, he says, “Now let’s begin walking together along the path of joy and sorrow and grow your faith.
- A preoccupation with miracles builds kingdoms on earth but not the kingdom of God. There is a business of healing accompanied by self-promotion and marketing schemes. People leading these ministries use Jesus to build their personal kingdoms. Simon Magus in Acts 8 wanted to do this and after he was chastised by Peter he went away and created a cult centered around him that lasted for three hundred years. The super-apostles in Corinth who challenged Paul’s leadership used charisma and enthusiasm to promote themselves. This has been going on for the past two thousand years.
This is what happened in the Second Great Awakening (1785-1835) when revivalists began to promote revival, sending out brochures declaring that if people did the things they told them to do, they guaranteed revival. Techniques were developed that were designed to put maximum psychological pressure on people to respond to the invitations of the revivalists.
The revivalists created what seemed to be revival but was often nothing more than religious enthusiasm.
Revivalists made a living doing this. Some revivalists made more money than others, but I’m not sure how much the kingdom of God benefitted from all their efforts. If the kingdom of God grew, it is only because of the power of God that can take the scraps of self-centered ministry and use them for his own purposes.
- I want the real thing. I have prayed for twenty-one years that revival would come to Morocco and that there would be men and women with the gift of healing who would draw the attention of people to the love and power of Jesus. I have prayed for these people to have the humility necessary to allow their work to bring glory to God, not to themselves.
I have a deep longing for this.
In the Second Great Awakening revivalists said, “We can cause God to act by the things we do.” This theology is what led to the revivalists and their brochures guaranteeing revival. Forty-five years earlier in the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards said that God acts when he chooses to act. Edwards wanted us to be ready to respond to what God was doing.
Pray for revival. Pray for an awakening that will shake religion from one end of the world to the other and bring an awareness of the deep and passionate love of Jesus for us. God created humans to be in fellowship with him in heaven. This is why we were created. Jesus works without ceasing to encourage every person on the planet to surrender and become his follower.
If it were up to me, revival would have come long ago, but fortunately for you and for me, it is not up to me. In God’s time revival will come. Pray for that time to come. Prepare for that time so you are ready when it does come.