The last verse before today’s passage finishes with the words ‘the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.’ However, Luke isn’t content with just giving us a summary of what’s going on – in today’s passage he expands on what he means. What a church living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit looks like. And it is good news.
We’ve been following the story of Saul for a few days now, but here the camera pans back to Peter as he’s travelling around the surrounding area around Jerusalem to visit the scattered church after the persecution starting a few chapters earlier. We follow along, expectant to see what God might do.
It becomes obvious from the very start that God is powerfully at work among these communities. We focus in on two miracles in the two cities Peter visits – Aeneas, the paralysed man walking again in Lydda, and Tabitha brought back to life in the town of Joppa.
Let’s look at these two examples. Was there something special about them? Or why did the miracles happen to these two people in particular?
The story of Aeneas healing is short and without a lot of detail. We only know he had been paralysed for 8 years and after an encounter with the power of God he can now stand again. He is ‘found’ by Peter in a seemingly random encounter. In contrast we learn a lot about the life of Tabitha. She has lived a life full of good works and been a blessing to the community around her, especially to the widows it would seem since they are there by her deathbed mourning, showing Peter all the beautiful tunics and other garments she had made. Beside her, Aeneas is looking very ordinary.
If we wanted a pattern to know who will receive a miracle, we’re not going to find it in today’s text. Maybe Luke is being deliberate in telling these stories back to back to rock us out of that assumption.
So what unites them then? Aeneas and Tabitha are both part of the community of the believers – or ‘saints’ as Luke calls them. Peter even addresses them both by name, indicating that they are known by the community of believers. Another thing that is similar is the emphasis on this being the work of God. Neither time does Peter take nor is given the credit. To Aeneas he says ‘Jesus Christ heals you!’ – not Peter – Jesus heals you. And Peter never touches Tabitha but falls on his knees and prays before calling to her, ‘Tabitha, get up’. There’s nothing special about Peter, only that he knows the power of the name of Jesus, because he has seen it again and again. Lastly, both of these miracles result in people turning to the Lord. The rumours of Aeneas, the paralysed man, being restored to health makes the whole village and surrounding area turn to God, and likewise, because of Tabitha, many people in Joppa become believers.
Can you see the footsteps of God at work? If we zoom out a little, what has just happened? Aeneas and Tabitha’s lives have been radically transformed, yes, but if we retrace Peter’s steps we see the transforming power of the Spirit powerfully at work everywhere in these newfound communities. And people are turning to him in faith.
So is there a pattern of miracles? Yes, but it’s not about who gets healed. It’s a pattern of miracles that seem to follow the early church around wherever they go – of God’s abundant goodness. We have seen earlier in Acts this pattern of miracles surrounding the newfound church. And here at the first mention of a church outside of the city of Jerusalem, we see it again. God is on the move.
Can you see the footsteps of God at work in our midst as you look back on the last couple of days, weeks or years? I’m not saying everything is always easy with God on our side, but I have seen the all-transforming power of God’s Spirit at work turning seekers into followers and changing situations for good that looked hopeless. I believe that the same God at work in the early church still moves among us. Let’s look to Him in anticipation even this day.
Lord, thank you that you dwell among us. Help us to look to you in hope of your transforming power to be at work among us, even today. We know nothing is impossible for you. Increase our faith we pray.