The Practical Side of Christianity
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Eneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord. Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died, whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, “Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord. And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.” —Acts 9:32-43
We have noticed on an earlier occasion that the title of this book as we have it in our English versions is really a misnomer. The book is entitled here The Acts of the Apostles. Actually we read very little of any of the apostles, save two or three—and two are outstanding. We might say the first twelve chapters of the Book of the Acts are largely occupied with the ministry of the apostle Peter. Therefore, these twelve chapters might be called the Acts of Peter; and then from chapter 13 to 28 the inspired writer deals almost entirely with the ministry of the apostle Paul, so that section might be called the Acts of the apostle Paul. In the first section, Israel is prominent; Israel does not have the full place, but it is very prominent. So the ministry of Peter was mostly to the house of Israel. But from chapter 13 on, we find the grace of God going out in a marvelous way to the Gentiles, but yet not to the exclusion of Israel, for wherever Paul went, he gave the message to Jew and Gentile.
We are coming to the close, then, of Peter’s later Judean ministry; and then in chapters 10 and 11 we see him used of God to open the door to the Gentiles; and in chapter 12 we see his arrest and marvelous deliverance from prison. From this time on, Peter fades into the background and Paul takes the prominent place.
It is very interesting to trace out the ministry of the apostle Peter. It is marvelous to see how God in His grace was exercising people’s hearts into sharing their possessions in supplying others’ temporal needs. Christianity is not a means simply of getting into heaven nor is it only a system of doctrine, but it is a wonderful manifestation of divine life and love in the midst of a world of sin and wretchedness. This comes out here.
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.” I was half asleep on a warm afternoon while we were traveling through Palestine several years ago and suddenly the train stopped with a jerk and as I woke up with a start and looked out the window, I saw the name “Lydda.” It carried me back 2000 years; and you will still find the town there. At this town of Lydda Peter was engaged in ministering the Word, “and there he found a certain man named Eneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.” I think every one of the different diseases mentioned in Scripture was intended by God to illustrate in some way the effects of sin, and undoubtedly palsy was a disease very common in Palestine during the days of our Lord’s sojourn on earth and afterwards. It sets forth the utter lessness of the sinner. So often the Lord Jesus ministered to people of this type. You will remember the palsied man who was let down through the roof by his four friends, and the Lord Jesus gave him not only healing of his body, but forgiveness of his sins. You will recall the poor man by the pool of Bethesda who had lain there 38 years. He was there five years before the Lord came from heaven! Jesus said to this poor helpless man, “Wilt thou be made whole?” The impotent man answered him, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool.” Jesus spoke the life-giving word that gave strength to those palsied limbs and the man sprang to his feet and went away carrying his bed. And here we have this palsied man in all his helplessness—and you know, dear friend, if you have not trusted Christ you are just like him. You have no ability to save yourself; you can’t take one step toward God. If this man is ever to be healed, someone must come to him, and that is just what Christ Jesus does. We read, “When we were yet without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” He comes where we are and speaks the word that gives life to poor helpless sinners.
Peter evidently saw in this man a spirit of expectation. The man may have been a Christian—we do not know. Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; arise, and make thy bed.” And he arose immediately. One may say, Why do we not have many cases like this today? God has never promised in His Word that miracles and signs would remain in the Church to the end of the dispensation. He was speaking to the Twelve when He said, “In My name shall they cast out devils;…if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Many of the apostles who actually believed, found that these signs accompanied their ministry; but we never read that the same power was given to many individual believers. We know that the manifestations of the Spirit are divided to every man severally as God wills; and in the beginning there were far more such evidences of the miracle working power of the Spirit of God in connection with the healing of the body that we perhaps see today; but there was greater reason for it. Men knew less of the human body and its ailments and how to minister to them than they know today. Down through the centuries since, God has given remarkable enlightenment and skill in dealing with physical ailments; and, you know, God doesn’t always do for us what we can do for ourselves. He doesn’t always work miracles—He can bless the medicine and the skill of the physician and surgeon, and these are as much an answer to prayer as if He wrought a miracle—for, after all, every case of healing is from God. The doctor’s ability doesn’t count for anything at all unless God blesses this agency for the building up and renewing of the bodies He made.
There is another thing we should think of: When the Church went forth in the beginning, in its purity, “Terrible as an army with banners,” it was the delight of the Lord to allow signs to accompany it; but we must remember we live in a day when we can look back over 1500 years or more of the grave departure from the Word of God, 1500 years in which apostasy has been making tremendous strides in the Christian Church, 1500 years of ever increasing worldliness and corruption; and you know it has been said, and rightly so, that “the corruption of the best thing is the worst corruption”—and we can see why the Lord might withdraw some of the great gifts. Suppose He gave some of these gifts today in abundant measure.—To what section of the Church would He give them? He certainly couldn’t give them to all—and wouldn’t there be a great danger of increase in spiritual pride on the part of any section specially honored? Suppose the word went out that great gifts had been granted to the pastor and elders of The Moody Church and that people might come here and see miracles wrought. I think The Moody Church would be in very great danger of considering itself on a much higher platform than the rest of God’s people.
There are reasons why God withholds certain things. I have sometimes illustrated it like this: Here is a young man who is engaged to a beautiful young woman and has full confidence in her. He delights in lavishing presents on her. He is given a position away across the sea, and so he goes away from his new station sends beautiful gifts and precious memorials to this lady of his heart in America. But then he learns the one he has trusted is proving anything but faithful and constant to him. She is seen with other lovers and found here and there with them in questionable places; and when the heartbreaking news comes to him, don’t you think it would dry up the stream of gifts? He doesn’t feel the same about her. Dear friends, will you look at that as a little parable? When the Church was in its first love, the Lord Jesus delighted to grace her with many gifts; but the Church has been unfaithful. We have drifted far away from the principles of those early days and the Lord has had to deal with us in much more reserve than in the beginning.
There are those who say today that miracles passed away with the apostles. That is not true. Many wonderful miracles have been wrought in answer to prayer during the last 1900 years, and here and there throughout the world today God still acts in wonderful grace. Again and again God puts forth His hand in healing power, and people who have been given up by doctors have been marvelously recovered as God’s people have prayed. Other signs and wonders, too, have accompanied Christianity. It really behooves us to be careful and not go to either of two extremes—let us not insist that the working of the Spirit of God in manifesting His power by miracles and signs is past; and, on the other hand, let us not say that He will always so act if we ask Him to do so. The measure in which He delights to work is left with Him.
Peter could say to this man Eneas, “Arise!” and the man arose immediately. It was a real testimony to the people in the neighborhood. “And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.” God used the miracle of healing to direct the attention of needy souls to Christ himself; and they came not only for physical help but also for spiritual blessing.
We have another delightful story beginning with verse 36. “Now there was at Joppa (Joppa is not far from Lydda, and is on the sea coast where Lydda is inland) a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.” I want to fix your attention on that for a few moments. Do you see, dear friends, this is one of the very real evidences of a truly converted person! She was deeply interested in doing good to others. I am afraid sometimes we forget that side of it—so many professing believers are so terribly self-centered. They seem to be looking constantly for some new religious thrill or new spiritual experience. They are always looking inside and always seeking blessing for themselves, and they throng the inquiry room when the invitation is given for Christians who want a little more than they have. If you gave the invitation 100 times a year, they would come 100 times. That isn’t the ideal Christian at all. The ideal Christian is one who is resting in Christ for his soul’s salvation and now his great concern is not his own salvation but that of others. He is interested in making Christ known and in doing good in a temporal way to others. John insists on this, and James asks, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”
This dear woman loved the Lord and manifested it in a very practical way. If she had been living today and was a member of The Moody Church, if she were a young woman she would belong to the Thimble Club, if she were a little older, she would belong to the Sunshine Sewing Circle. She was that kind of a woman. She wasn’t satisfied with reading her Bible only, but she had a consecrated needle and used it for the blessing of other people; and the Spirit of God has preserved this record that we might learn from it and never forget it. Some of you dear Christian women who are not satisfied with your life, you get busy and try to help and bless other people, and you will be surprised to see how your own spiritual condition will improve. You will get on wonderfully well when you start thinking about others. I don’t go quite so far as a preacher a few years ago, who said, “Anyone who’s chief concern is the salvation of his own soul hasn’t got a soul worth saving.” Every soul is valuable; but I should say this: Anyone constantly occupied with his own spiritual experience and never having any concern about blessing other people will never have an experience worth being occupied with.
This woman Dorcas must have been a most genial person. I can’t imagine her as one of these “sour pusses” we have today—going around with a long melancholy face and with a “holier than thou” attitude. I think her face gleamed with the love of Christ, I don’t think she had a dainty little handshake, raising her hand almost to the top of her head; but I believe she had a pump handle handshake. She was probably always interested in other people—really a warm hearted Christian.
But this dear woman died. Her spirit went home to be with Christ and her body lay there in an upper room. “And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died.” The Christians felt Dorcas should go to heaven, but they wanted her here. For some of us they wouldn’t worry very much. They would just look pious and say, “The Lord has taken him; he has gone to be with Jesus.” But they wouldn’t be very anxious to have us come back. These dear Christians, however, were sorry to lose this wonderful Christian character. “And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.” They probably thought, “We don’t know what he can do, but we shall send for him.” “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.” Can’t you just see that picture? There is the body of the dear one that is gone, lying upon the couch—dead, and here are all the friends mourning for her. One exclaims, “Look at this garment of mine. I didn’t know where I was going to get a winter coat; but she cut a coat that her grandfather left and made it over for me!” These garments seemed to have a mute voice, and Peter heard their crying and “put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand (perfect gentleman that he was), and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.” And what a rejoicing time they had.
You know, this is one of the special saints of the New Testament. Her name has been enshrined in countless Dorcas Societies all over the world since that time, groups of Christian women who come together to do what she did—to emulate her ministry to the poor and needy.
This is one of the ways the Gospel of Christ commends itself to the needy. Do you realize what we call social service really began, after all, with Christ and His apostles? Many talk today of the social gospel and try to distinguish it from the saving gospel. There is no such distinction, for the Gospel that saves the individual brings blessings to the needy. Did you ever think of this (I am sure some of you have): We have no record in any history (and I am an omnivorous reader and have been for over 50 years) of any hospital for the treatment of the sick being established in the world before Christ came. We have no record of an asylum for the mentally sick people before Jesus came. Before He came the mentally deficient or insane were driven from their homes and were left in the tombs or in desert places. They were looked upon as demoniacs, and people sometimes considered them inspired and listened to their strange ravings for some new revelation. But there was no asylum in which they could be treated and tenderly cared for. There was no such thing as a leprosarium in the world until after Jesus came. The leper was doomed to wander in the wilderness and it was after Christ came that the first home for lepers was ever opened up; and ever since then the Church of God has been ministering to those suffering from that horrible disease. There was no such thing as an orphanage until after Jesus came. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Assyrians with all their boasted civilization never thought of opening an orphanage. Instead, orphan children, unless adopted by some of their relatives, were exposed to the elements and left to die, or else were sold into slavery; and many, many little boys and girls were given over to a fate worse than death—before Jesus came. It was a Christian who started the first orphanage and it is Christian people who have been interested in these things ever since. There was no such thing in all the world as international relief, until Jesus came. You can search all the records and you will never read, for instance, that during the famine in Egypt the people of Rome took up an offering for them; nor during a pestilence in Syria did the people in Greece raise a fund to assist those in distress in Syria. It wasn’t very long after Jesus came until the Christians in Achaia and other parts of the Grecian world were sending to those in need in Judea. The Red Cross would never have come into existence were it not for Jesus; for, after all, what is the Red Cross? It is the blessed red cross of Christ! We need to remember that all these agencies had their birth in the Gospel of the grace of God. Dorcas stands out before us here as a special picture in order that we all may learn to emulate her concern for others. We are told, “Many believed in the Lord.”
The last verse in our chapter introduces us to what will come in the next chapter. “And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner.”