Our Christian history has produced so many great hymns and songs with so many lines that just capture us. A man by the name of Augustus Toplady, an Anglican minister from the 1700’s who lived to be only 37 years old, wrote a number of hymns—but none rose to the popularity of Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. The title of this sermon is taken from the first stanza of that hymn:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
Isn’t that a beautiful text? I especially like those last phrases, petitioning the crucified and risen Savior who bled and died to “be of the sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure.”
One of the great tragedies that has come along in American Christianity is the notion of just simply being “saved from wrath,” which is what justification is, where the penalty of our sin was paid for by our Savior’s atoning work on the cross. He took our sin that leads us to heaven and made us righteous and ready for heaven.
And that’s where we tend to stop! Yet, that’s not what God has called us to by any stretch of the imagination! He hasn’t simply called us to use Christ to get to heaven—if that’s as far as we go, that’s selfishly using Christ for our own benefit. He saved us so we may grow, mature and become pure before Him to bring glory to Him. And what could bring more glory to the work of Christ than taking selfish sinners and turning them and changing them into God-honoring, Christ-exalted, Word-driven, and Spirit-filled creatures?
As we look at Acts 9:32-43, we are reintroduced to the Apostle Peter after spending a good deal of time with Saul of Tarsus. As we find out later, Saul/Paul would spend the next eight years in his hometown of Tarsus, while Luke brings to our attention the most significant turning point in the ministry of the church with Peter and the Roman centurion Cornelius. In the meantime, we see Peter’s ministry along the coastline that’s following up Philip’s ministry to verify that the Spirit was truly taking hold.
First, we see that God saved us to sanctify us. Look at Acts 9:32: “Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda.” Luke usually describes the followers of Christ as “disciples.” But in this passage, he uses a word twice to describe believers, and that word is ‘saint.’
When we use the word ‘saint,’ it’s usually personal: “Oh, that person is such a saint—what a good guy.” Others use the word as something far beyond their level of spirituality. Roman Catholics use the term for a very few select, canonized people. Both are incorrect. Being a saint is not simply personal. It’s about position, pursuit, and passion. Position in that Christians are set apart from the rest of the world as holy witnesses in the world. We are atoned for, redeemed, purchased out of this world. We are also holy in our desire to pursue holiness. In Hebrews 12:14, Scripture says, “Strive for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Christians show they are Christians by their desire to pursue all things godly, and to be godly themselves—to kill sin in their lives! They long to be, as Romans 6:13 says, “slave to righteousness” rather than “slaves to sin.”
But with this comes a passion! We know about passion in this world. We have passion for our spouse, passion for our ball team with thousands of screaming fans, passion for all sorts of things that get our emotional blood boiling. Passion is seldom missing in our world—except in many of our churches.
But look at the passage here beginning in verse 33:
There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord (Acts 9:33-35).
Aeneas was a Christian (“saint”) who had a significant physical issue. Paralyzed and bedridden for reasons we do not know, we do know that Peter came on a pastoral visitation and looked at Aeneas, saying, “Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” In the Greek, we actually see that it can say, “Jesus Christ is healing you.” This is sanctification—where Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin (justification), but for Christians he is healing us from the power of sin (sanctification). Peter made it clear who was and is responsible for the healing—Jesus Christ!
There is a great picture here. This man had been paralyzed for eight years! Doesn’t sin often paralyze us? We make progress, then we step into sin and we become stuck, discouraged, and thinking we can never escape it. Some people seem to shake off their sin soon after they are saved, while others struggle with certain sins for longer periods of time.
Christ has not forgotten about us—in fact, he’s still working on us. There’s an old song that I remember from when I was a child by Joel Hemphill:
He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He’s still working on me.
But Jesus told him to ‘rise and make his bed.’ That bed was his dwelling for eight years. Sproul reminds us that beds are simply utilities—we don’t use them all the time, just for bedtime. So, we make them up (at least most of us do)! By him making up his bed, Jesus is saying, “Aeneas, that won’t be your primary dwelling anymore.”
Is this not the way it must be with our sin? As Christians, we don’t dwell under sin’s penalty, and we mustn’t dwell under sin’s power! Make up your bed, dear Christian! Move on from those things that sap the power of God out of you and feeds the power of sin and the flesh! If you give a bear honey, what will that bear want? More honey! If you give the flesh what it wants, it’ll want more. Feed the Spirit, and starve the flesh.
God saves us to glorify us!
Now, Peter has his attention turned to Tabitha, also known as Dorcas which means ‘gazelle.’ He comes to Joppa where she fell ill and died. In those days, they did not have Kerr Brothers or Betts and West funeral homes to take care of the dead like we have now. Funerals and viewings took place in the home. In this case, Tabitha was washed and taken up to the upper room of her house. Some men travelled about 10 miles to fetch Peter—word had gotten around about Peter’s endowment of the Holy Spirit!
Also, Tabitha’s death was devastating. We don’t know how she died, but we do know from the text that she ministered greatly to widows—widows in that time were those who were not only without spouses but also without immediate family! They had no social connections or recourse in any matter in that culture—so Christians came along to fill the gap in taking care of them. Tabitha’s name fits her passion: she was full of charity and good works, moving out quickly and efficiently in taking care of the widows. Her loss was devastating to that Christian community.
Some may ask, “Did they expect Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead?” The likely answer would be ‘no.’ Only five people had been raised from the dead from Spirit-filled men: three by Jesus, one by Paul, and here with Peter. It was a miracle then just like it would be now.
The question is, “Did Peter expect Peter to raise Tabitha from the dead?” He had never done that before—so he asked everyone to leave that room so he could concentrate and focus on the true task at hand—prayer.
Have you noticed how much of a role prayer and ministry of the Word takes in the book of Acts? In fact, if you were to shake everything out to its basic core, it’s this. And yet, for so many churches, prayer and the Word are either taken for granted or, worse, relegated to it being shortened. And with so many things clamoring for our time, the shorter the better!
Peter understood there is power in prayer! In 1 Peter 4:7, he writes, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” What Peter meant was that everything that needed to be accomplished for our salvation, everything promised in the Old Testament had come to pass in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus! So we are not asking Jesus to be of sin the single cure (simply saving us so we can wait for his return), but of the double cure (make us pure). In that, we are called to be sober-minded and self-controlled, letting nothing distract us from what our pursuit of holiness and our passion for Christ!
He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, arise!” At first, she opened her eyes! What does verse 41 say, “And he gave her his hand [a true gentleman] and raised her up.” The word for ‘raised her up’ is the same word used for Jesus’ resurrection. You see, the picture of this miracle shows the real thing—we will be raised up in Christ and, as Peter presented her to the widows and saints, so will we be presented to the bridegroom, our Savior Jesus Christ!