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The Greater Purpose

The Acts of God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction: *announce Phillip and Ellie’s engagement if haven’t yet*.
Good morning brothers and sisters. I truly praise the Lord for His mercy and grace in gathering us here this morning and allowing for me to be in the pulpit to exalt His name in His word. This morning we’re in Acts 9:32-43.
We pick up with a shift in focus from Saul also called Paul, of whom we’ve studied for the past several weeks. Last week we saw how Saul was proven to be a disciple to the other disciples.
He then went on to proclaim the name of Christ boldly, ultimately ending in him needing to be shipped off to Tarsus so that the Hellenists wouldn’t kill him and that he could spread the Gospel there.
Luke, the author of Acts, then shifts from making the reader aware of the comfort and multiplication that was taking place in the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to a focus on the apostle Peter once again.
We haven’t read about him since Acts 8 when he and John were sent by the other apostles in Jerusalem to check on the work being done in Samaria by the Holy Spirit through Philip.
As we dive in this morning looking at how the Spirit of God used Peter, I gotta be honest, I was ecstatic and a bit overwhelmed when I was given this passage to preach. These are some incredibly exciting verses with a lot going on!
Therefore, I want to exhort each one of us to pray, breath, slow down, and ask the Lord to reveal to us what greater, truer purpose is to be found here. This is good practice for us when approaching any passage of Scripture, to avoid any temptation to place us at the center.
Please remember, the Bible is Christo-centric, all about Jesus! Every word from Genesis to Revelation is Christ-centered, not man centered. So please, pray with me as we dive in for the Holy God to reveal to us His meaning and His purpose in the text this morning.
Before we read Acts 9:32-43, I want to encourage all of us to open our Bibles or open a Bible under your seat and follow along with me.
Read Acts 9:32-43
9:32-33- Luke fills us in that Peter has been traveling among all the different saints/churches in the area. Luke focuses on a particular account that Peter is a part of in Lydda and eventually in nearby Joppa, which are primarily Gentile areas.
It’s important to note the cultures that Peter is amongst here. Although he interacts in our text this morning with Jews, it should be noted that Lydda and Joppa are Gentile areas. Luke is definitely prepping us for the Gospel reaching the Gentiles in chapter 10. Praise God!
Peter comes across Aeneas, bedridden due to paralysis for 8 years. Ponder that. 8 years. That’s long enough that everyone in the town would know about it. That’s enough to ruin this mans life. How in the world would he earn a living at that time?
9:34-35- We don’t get in-depth detail as to how exactly this came about, but we see that Peter says to him Acts 9:34 And Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.’ And immediately he rose.
He commands Aeneas to rise, due to Christ healing him! How amazing! An absolute miracle. And “all the residents” (verse 35) of Lydda and Sharon, Sharon being the plain in between Joppa and Caesarea (the news spread far!) turned to the Lord.
We must first look at how Aeneas’ healing came about. Peter PROCLAIMED, in confidence, that JESUS CHRIST heals him. It was Christ’s power, not Peter’s. Peter was used by the Lord as a mere instrument for the Lord’s grace to come forth.
Peter said it, and it happened. This was not unfamiliar to Peter: Acts 3:1-7Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
What do we do with this? As has been preached from this pulpit many times, especially throughout our time in Acts, I don’t believe cessationism, the belief that all or some gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, is an answer to this Scripture.
I’m not convinced, given what I’ve studied in Scripture, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. We see a list of some spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”. And the Lord can give and take these gifts as He pleases.
Also, another list can be found in Romans 12:3-8 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” So, does that mean we can see this (Acts 9:34) replicated today?
Well, its evident that Peter knew the will of the Lord, as he spoke definitively that Jesus Christ healed Aeneas. And we know, according to Scripture, that nothing that happens happens by chance; Ephesians 1:11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”.
Therefore, the answer to this question should be yes, if its the Lord’s will! We should take great excitement and comfort knowing that if our sovereign God wants something like what we’re seeing in Acts 9:34 done today, it WILL happen, and NO ONE can do anything to stop it! And it will be done to serve His greater purpose.
Yet again, it must be HIS will, not our commanding of Him or attempting to twist His arm! Luke doesn’t clue us in as to the how, but Peter evidently knew God’s will for that situation, and spoke accordingly.
That is a potential answer. I want to also give us another answer to supplement. We can tend to lean or give hyper focus to healing (or a lack thereof) in the church or in our individual lives.
But, according to the will of God and His providence, sometimes, someone needs to see you suffer well! Theres an article from that breaks this idea down well. And within this article, they share a bit of the life of a sister in the faith, missionary and author Elizabeth Elliot.
“She and her husband, Jim, married on the mission field in Ecuador in 1953. Just three years later, Jim was speared to death, along with four other men, by the Huaorani tribe he was trying to reach with the gospel. Elisabeth received the news while caring for their 10-month-old daughter, Valerie. She writes, ‘God’s presence with me was not Jim’s presence. That was a terrible fact. God’s presence did not change the terrible fact that I was a widow. . . . Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God, my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is. Who he is in a way I could never have known otherwise.’ (Suffering Is Never for Nothing, 15). She married again after sixteen years, only to lose her second husband, Addison, less than four years later, to cancer. After all Elisabeth Elliot lost and endured, she could say, ‘The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.’ (Suffering Is Never for Nothing, 9)”.
Elizabeth Elliot has spurred on countless of brothers and sisters in the faith through her own suffering. She was used as a light to point people to the faithfulness of her God.
I know for me, seeing brother/pastor Ali suffer with excruciating sciatica pain for at least a year but brutally for several months encouraged me deeply. God used Ali’s suffering to draw me nearer to Himself.
I’ve only known Peter and Briane Polis for a short time, but seeing how well they’ve suffered and continued to suffer has inspired me to pursue and lean on Christ all the more.
The apostle Paul wrote about this several times: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”. The God of all comfort will comfort you in your affliction, to comfort others in their own!
We see Paul writes something similar in Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”. Although you are not an apostle of the church of Jesus Christ, I believe the principal is the same. You are going through this not in vain, the Lord will use your pain for His glory!
Look also with me in James 1:2-4Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”. Perhaps it would do more harm than good for the Lord to heal you right now, for then YOUR OWN faith wouldn’t be tested, producing steadfastness, which then produces maturity in Christ! As we read, Elizabeth Elliot was a wonderful example of this; “The deepest things that I have learned in my own life have come from the deepest suffering. And out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires have come the deepest things that I know about God.”.
Beloved, whatever you’re going through, if you’re going through it and wondering when God will deliver/heal you, someone needs to see you suffer well in it, that they would be encouraged to draw nearer to the Lord. Rejoice that no pain is wasted and God is moving, He is refining you. Romans 8:28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
All in all, please note, this passage of Scripture is not meant to give us a formula for us to go and practice healing. The meaning here is for us to MARVEL at all the Lord has done in His early church and PRAISE Him for doing so, which ultimately lead to many people turning to Him!
Is there a greater purpose being driven forward by the hand of God in the healing of Aeneas? YES! Acts 9:35And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” So that many (all not most likely meaning many, not literally “all”, given the context of the Greek word “pas”) would turn to Christ.
If our desire to see something this miraculous is not motivated by our desire to see God glorified and the Gospel go forth, then we have no business desiring it at all!
Please hear me beloved, wanting to see our friends, family, or even ourselves healed from certain sicknesses and afflictions is not a bad thing. But it CAN easily turn into an unholy desire, if its rooted in selfishness rather than exaltation of the Lord.
What good is it if someone is healed physically but still dead spiritually? The highlighting of the Gospel and the uplifting of the church is the only biblical motivation to see the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit in action.
God, please forbid this to happen, but you can absolutely be assured I will ask the Lord to heal my wife or daughter completely if they were to get sick. However, by His grace and His grace alone, I will caveat my prayers with “Lord, only heal them if it will bring them closer to you. Do whatever you see fit for their salvation and sanctification”. Not out of a lack of faith, but wanting MY will to bend to HIS!
That is the greater purpose for this life.
9:36-38- Moving forward in our text this morning, Luke records the passing away of a beloved disciple in the nearby town of Joppa (near modern day Tel Aviv). Her Aramaic name was Tabitha and translated to Greek is Dorcas.
She is addressed in this text as “Tabitha” twice and “Dorcas” twice. The significance yet again may be that Luke is trying to prime the reader for the Gentiles to receive the Gospel!
We’re told that Dorcas was “full of good works and charity”, a servant for Christ because Luke includes that she was a disciple, and that she has passed away and her body was cleaned and placed in an upper room.
Given the widespread news of Aeneas’ healing, some in the town of Joppa knew Peter was near by and sent for him. Perhaps Peter was sent for because the disciples in Joppa expected him to raise Dorcas from the dead, given he’d just healed a paralytic.
9:39-41- Peter goes and enters the room where Dorcas’ body lays. Widows are there weeping and actually showing off the different garments Dorcas had made for them, revealing to us what kind of good works and acts of charity she partook in. She had a heart for some of the most vulnerable women of the time.
I want us to read what happens next and compare it to an account in the Gospel of Mark involving Jesus Christ Himself.
*Read Acts 9:39-41*
Now turn with me to Mark 5:35-42While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 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. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.
The Greek words used are different for “arise” in both accounts, however, the similarity shows us Christ was simply following in His Saviors footsteps! Peter of course differs in that he spent time in prayer first before commanding her to awake. Each account showing Peter’s appeal to the power of God.
Perhaps the same questions as earlier can be presented here: What do we do with this? Can we see this today?
I believe Stephen Tan in an article for The Gospel Coalition gives us a great answer: “We need an inaugurated eschatology (of course, let us approach eschatology with caution). The kingdom of God was inaugurated in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, but it will only be consummated when he returns. His kingdom is both present and future—and resurrection is a future kingdom element. On rare occasion, could God give a foretaste, a glimpse, a preview of our future resurrection, when he miraculously raises a dead person in response to faith-filled prayers? Perhaps. Should we expect it as a normative part of the Christian experience? No. How, then, ought we live in the ‘now and not yet’ of Christ’s inaugurated kingdom? Though faithful Christians will disagree, there’s no reason why God couldn’t raise the dead today, and it wouldn’t be wrong for us to pray to that end. However, that is by no means God’s normative way of working. The miracle was rare in the New Testament, and it’s been even rarer in church history.”.
Church, we’re in the already and the not yet. If we’re born-again in Christ, we’re currently in the Kingdom of God, right now! But what that truth also entails is that we look forward, and long for, the day where the Kingdom of God will be consummated and we enjoy Christ fully, forevermore!
Tan answers his own question this way: “(We ought to live in the ‘now and not yet’ of Christ’s inaugurated kingdom) By looking forward to our resurrection when Christ returns, and leaving room for his miraculous intervention as we wait.”. Colossians 1:15-18He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”. May we fix our eyes on the firstborn from the dead and proclaim His Good News.
Let us rest and trust in the sovereign will of our God, who only does righteous works, when and how He wants to. The power to raise the dead was not Peter’s, but Christ’s, through Peter.
Another good question to ask in this account may be “Why raise Dorcas back to life? If she was a disciple, wasn’t she already better off, at home with her Savior?”. We’re of course not given any clues as to what happened later in Dorcas’ life, but we can perhaps draw truth from the apostle Paul that there was more work for her to do. Philippians 1:21-26For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”.
9:42-43- I propose to you again the question, is there a far greater purpose at hand in the raising of Dorcas? Something far more edifying, Christ exalting, joy producing, and God glorifying than someone being brought back to life who once was dead? YES!
This greater purpose is seen in spiritually dead in Joppa coming to life in Christ as a result of Dorcas coming to life physically. Both magnificent accounts this morning culminate in more souls coming to the Messiah! This is the greater purpose.
Peter, after some intense days of ministry, ends up residing in Joppa many days with Simon the tanner. This is HUGE because a tanner was one who worked with the skins of dead animals. This is breaking a cultural barrier given the Jews practice of distancing themselves from animal carcasses; Leviticus 5:2or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt;”.
Luke once more here sets the stage for the vision Peter is about to receive, on the roof of Simon the tanner’s house, and the beginning of the Gospel going forth to the Gentiles, in chapter 10.
As we close, beloved, may we be lead by the Lord to pursue the greater purpose in life. We should make room, biblically, for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, miracles, and healings. But, more importantly, we must desire God’s glory, the building up of the body, and the Gospel going forth all the more. The prior serves the purpose of the latter.
We don’t worship the gifts, we worship the gift Giver. And we ask for Him to move in our lives, individually and collectively, as He sees fit, for HIS greater purpose.
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