The knock at the door startled him.
Peter turned inquisitively. The noise was harsh and deliberate as if the person on the other side needed his guidance right this instance.
He opened the door to find two men standing there; each with a look of concern. “Peter, we’re glad to see you. Something awful has happened. Tabitha is dead. Please come at once!” (V.38)
Peter’s face faded. He had heard about Tabitha. She lived in Joppa. Joppa was kind of a rough place. It was well known its history of pirates, the repeated reconstructions from various city wide fires, and being nothing more than a pawn whose people were thrown back and forth between political dynasties. It wasn’t a huge city. A fishing port. A place with plenty of trouble.
Tabitha had tried to fix that. In Joppa she did what she could to help. Scripture says, “She was always doing good and helping the poor." I imagine that was a host of things – Picking up day old bread from the local bakery to distributed to the poor. Cooking up a pot of soup to deliver to the sick. Taking up a collection to help those who could barely afford to pay rent. Tabitha loved her Lord and she loved the people of Joppa with heart full of love. In fact, her name – Tabitha – and its Greek translation “Dorcas” – both meant “gazelle” -- an excellent description of one who bounding with gazelle like
Unfortunately Joppa was about 12 miles away from where Peter was staying in Lydda. That’s why the disciples were so frantic. There weren’t any local pastors around yet. They couldn’t just text message for some help. No one could Facebook status Peter updates on how she was doing. Peter wasn’t able to Skype in with a last second devotion before she had passed away.
It was all too late.
But because this woman was so loved, the people needed him. They needed Peter to comfort them. They needed Peter to remind them of their faith. They knew Peter had so many words of Jesus committed to his heart and they wanted to hear those words as they ready for what would be a rather large funeral.
As they traveled to Joppa, I imagine that Peter was a bit nervous. This wasn’t some bit player in the Joppa church. She was very well known. She had had an impact on so many lives. What could he say to comfort them? How could he assure them it was ok? What words of Jesus would he use for his sermon – he didn’t even have the New Testament yet to review what Jesus had said!
They arrived at the house. Tabitha’s body had been already washed and placed in an upstairs room. (37) She was attended to by the widows that she had once herself attended. Her dear friends whom she had helped through rough times. The poor widow who depended on Tabitha to help feed her family. The elderly widow who depended on Tabitha for some kind of social interaction. The now healthy widow whose bed Tabitha spent long hours besides reading Psalms in order to comfort her.
By the way, this is proof that she had really died. The people working with her body hadn’t felt a pulse. They didn’t stop because her lungs were moving. As they put on one of her prettiest dresses, their hands brushed against the cold texture of her skin. As nicely as they did her, ordained her neck with jewels, and put makeup on her face, they couldn’t hide the fact that this life filled woman was now nothing more than a sack of dead bones.
As Peter walked up the stairs, he was by a blur of emotions. There was wailing. Cries of “Why did God let this happen Peter?” Hands from the left and the right were reaching out to receive a hug. Woman after woman shoved blankets in his face – they hysterically rushed through their stories of how Tabitha had helped them, of how they would miss her, of how this was such a terrible thing to have happen.
As Peter took it all in – I imagine his stomach churned. (I know that’s what happened to me the first time I was in the room while someone had died.) And as a Pastor -- Peter needed to have all the answers and he needed them quick. There wasn’t time for him to heal, he needed to provide words of healing so he could remove the pain that the hearts of all of these women were feeling.
Peter needed a moment. He had the two men clear the widows from the room. He was left alone with the lifeless body of this dear woman.
What would Jesus do? He always had known what to say. He always had known how to help. In fact – Peter had seen him handle similar situations before. In Jairus’ bedroom – as emotions were even higher of the death of a young girl – Jesus reached out his hand and opened her eyelids. In Nain – hordes of people had gathered to mourn the burial of a young man – Jesus had stopped the procession to give the man his life back. At Mary and Martha’s house, the funeral was already over – and only the bitterness at God was left. 4 days Lazarus had been in the tomb – when Jesus opened the tomb and Lazarus came walking out.
This situation was so similar. Pain. Sadness. Mourning. It was similar and yet – different.
There was no Jesus.
...Or was there?
“Surely, Peter, I will be with you always to the very end of the Age.” (Mt. 28:21)
Peter knelt to the ground and prayed.
“O dearest master, my Lord, Jesus. You promised to be with me. I believe it. You have power over death. I have seen it. You are always merciful. I know it. Be with me now. Be powerful now. Be merciful now. Give Tabitha her life back. Amen.”
Slowly Peter blinked. He took a deep breath. He went up to Tabitha’s bed. He looked into her peacefully closed eyelids.
“Tabitha,” he said, “Get up.” (v.40)
No matter how long it was in actual seconds and minutes, I imagine it seemed like an eternity for Peter. His words hung there like a puff of smoke – slowly dissipating into the air.
Then, Tabitha opened her eyes. She was alive.
Next it says, Seeing Peter she sat up. I imagine it was kind of quickly too. “Hey wait a second, Peter!?! I thought you were still on earth? Where’s Jesus? Where’s the angels? Where’s the glorious heavenly music? I don’t see the streets of gold – this is…this is my bedroom? I’m back on earth. God has given me my life back. God isn’t done with me yet. God has a plan for me to serve him. Oh how thrilling. Here, come and give me a hug now Peter. And reach over and grab my sewing set will you? I want to make you a nice a new tunic for all your trouble – a servant of God can’t do his preaching without a nice tunic, don’t you agree?”
The curve’s of Peter’s smile must have connected with the tears falling from his eyes. God did it. God had raised her from the dead!
Peter took Tabitha downstairs and the gasps between cries turned into gasps of amazement. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The wailing turned to laughter. Jesus had done it again. He had destroyed death. He had brought Tabitha back to life. And many heard these news and many believed in the Lord.
This story is amazing isn’t it? It takes one of the saddest things that happens on earth and totally turns it around. But here’s the deal: This isn’t Pinocchio where Geppetto’s love miraculously gives Pinocchio life and turns him into a real boy only because the original author thought it’d be a really neat twist--a commentary on how people live forever through memories.
This story is real. This resurrection is real. This resurrection is joyous. There’s two important things for you to remember from it:
What was the first thing that Peter did when he was faced with the terrors of death? He didn’t whip out his travelling medical kit. He didn’t frantically search the room for a defibrillator. He didn’t get out his phone and WebMD a cure for death. He didn’t start crying hysterically because he knew there was nothing he could do. Check out verse 40. He got down on his knees and prayed. He postured himself before his all powerful and merciful Lord.
Our world is scared of death. Thousands of dollars are spent on healthy eating programs, organic foods, exercise programs, and doctor visits. We want to live. We don’t want to die.
Sometimes it gets personal. Someone you love gets sick. A friend gets into a car accident. The news reports a string of murders. You get a bad report from the doctor. Everywhere you go you are reminded of death.
When that happens posture yourself in front of the cross. Bow before your Savior. Get on your hands and knees and pray to your Lord. Pray confidently like you're talking to your old friend – because you are! Surely he is with you always to the very end of the age.
Be confident that he will be able to save you from death. Because he has already destroyed it!
Julianna, my sweet wife, hates spiders. Actually bugs of all kinds, but especially spiders. The other day one of them had made its way into the home. She screamed, but then she gathered her senses, picked up a shoe, and she fought that spider in Mortal Kombat. She smacked him again and again and again and again and again. I think she killed him about sixteen times.
That’s how Jesus killed death. It’s exactly how Jesus killed your sins which would have caused your eternal death. He squashed Death like a bug. He destroyed it.
It’s amazing how that’s not what it looked like would happen. He hung on the cross and breathed his last. His heart stopped beating. His brain stopped shooting nervous throughout his system.
But three days later – his lungs breathed again. His heart beat with a purpose. His brain was on eternal hyperdrive!
Jesus defeated death. He said ENOUGH OF IT! He says the same for you too.
It’s why the Bible says what it does about death. We read it as our verse of the day from 1 Corinthians 15:55-56: "Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Posture yourself at the feet of the cross and you will find comfort. You will find life.
Does it ever happen to you that the first time you read a story, you totally miss something? Then the second time you see it something jump out at you before that wasn’t there before? Ever seen the movie Inception? I’ve seen it about 5 times and I’m still not sure I totally know what’s going on.
Take a look at our story again. Did you notice that Tabitha wasn’t the only one who came back to life that day? That’s a pretty big miss isn’t it? Look at the story again. Look at verse 42 says that This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. The message that Peter taught – about Jesus Christ, our Savior who died to save us from our sins – was yet against substantiated by a fantastic miracle – and many put their faith in Him. Their spiritually dead souls had come to life!
Have you heard of Isagenix? It’s some kind of meal replacement system that apparently does wonders for your body. Sometimes on Facebook five out of the first ten story updates are nothing but pictures and testimonials from my friends about how this product saved their life. I can understand why they are so excited! Isagenix may cause them to live longer.
But eventually they’ll die.
You have someone way more powerful than Isagenix – someone who has power not just over fat and cholesterol – someone who has power over death itself.
Isn’t that a good enough reason to pass on the message of your Savior? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.”
How can your friend believe if you don’t tell him? How will your kids know if you don’t teach them? How will your husband know if you don’t insist on bringing him to church?
But they might get annoyed with me!
I’ll tell you what - it’s worth them getting annoyed. “Yes, I’m insisting on you coming to hear the message of Jesus. You getting annoyed at me right now is totally worth having you rejoicing with me in heaven.”
I know that’s what Georg thought.
I’ve told you about Georg before. He was a friend of mine down at a nearby retirement home. He was 98 years old. For three years he came very faithfully to our Friday morning Bible studies. He answered questions. He listened and slept sometimes – but he loved hearing about Jesus. It was what gave him strength. He loved to tell me stories about growing up in Austria. He told me funny anecdotes about immigrating to America. He told me stories of bravery during WWII. He told me tear jerkers about his wife who had passed on.
One weekend, Georg didn’t come to Bible study. I thought he might just be sick, so I didn’t think anything of it. The next week he wasn’t there either so I went to his room to look for him. The third week I asked the director – she passed on the word that Georg had died.
I teared up. But I also smiled. Because as nice as it was for Georg and I to spend time together on earth – now he was spending eternity--eternity together with his wife and Jesus in heaven.
Jesus is "the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.” Posture yourself before his cross. Present his message to the world.