Please read Acts 9:32-42 and then pray; “Almighty God, may the power of your Word raise me up to serve you in newness of life for the glory of your Name. Amen
I love the book of Acts. I find it inspiring, challenging, gripping, and at times breath-taking. It traces the growth and expansion of the early Church as the gospel is taken from Jerusalem to the nations. It is a book that deserves to be read in one sitting – all 28 chapters. The mission brief given to the disciples by the risen Jesus is set in place before his ascension at the beginning of the book and here it is;
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
A question that begs to be asked and explored is this; how and why did the Church grow as quickly as it did? What were the key factors that led to the dynamic growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel throughout the Mediterranean world?
Two facts stand out above all the rest. They are;
- The historical reality/fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
- The coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowerment of the apostles and all the believers.
In other words, the Church grew rapidly because of the historical reality of Easter (the resurrection of Jesus) and the historical reality of Pentecost (the powerful coming of the Spirit upon Christ’s disciples). These two things are stressed in Acts chapters 1 and 2 at the beginning of this epic story;
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs (irrefutable proofs) that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
After that period of forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven. Ten days later during the great feast of Pentecost – their relatively short wait for the Holy Spirit came to an end.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
The message of the resurrection – the living reality and power and sovereignty of Jesus occupied centre stage for the apostles and the Church – and this message of cross and resurrection was presented and preached and demonstrated in/with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is built upon this. This is what constantly fires the world-wide growth of the Church. This explains the great story contained within Acts which is sometimes called Acts of the Apostles. So, for example, in Acts 4: 32-37, Luke, our author, gives us a short summary of the life and growth of the Church in Jerusalem, and that summary contains this important fact;
With great power (the power of the Spirit) the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)
This brings us nicely to another crucial point. The apostles. The way Jesus chose to raise up and use these particular individuals is truly amazing. The story of Acts is the story largely of the apostles and their missionary endeavours for their Lord. It is very important to emphasise that many who were not apostles also played a massive part in the spread of the gospel and the building up of the Church. As you read Acts – the notable and outstanding ministries of individuals such as Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Silas, Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla, Timothy and many others shine forth. However, two names rise above all the others and dominate the story of the unstoppable growth and progression of the Church.
Peter and Paul.
Last week we considered again that most remarkable conversion of Saul of Tarsus – the arch persecutor who became the mighty gospel preacher and evangelist. Once you reach the mid-point of Acts, the book is almost entirely focused on the apostle Paul and his missionary endeavours with various companions, including Luke, the author of Acts. Paul leads the march of the gospel across the Gentile world in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We read much more of Peter in the earlier chapters of Acts. He is the preaching phenomenon on the day of Pentecost. Peter, with John alongside him, leads the Church in Jerusalem as it grows rapidly and then faces persecution. They also pastor the new Church as it expands into the whole of Samaria. Peter will lead the Church into the beginnings of mission to the Gentiles as he visits the household of the centurion Cornelius and witnesses another great downfall of the Holy Spirit.
The book of Acts therefore details the story of the extraordinary ministries of Peter and Paul. When I say extraordinary – that is exactly what must to be emphasised. Christ worked in and through their lives in outstanding and miraculous ways. This is shown by Luke in snippets from Acts 5 in the case of Peter and Acts 19 in the case of Paul. Listen to these two eye opening statements by Luke;
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people ….. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. (Acts 5: 12-16)
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. So that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cure and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19: 11-12)
What we have today in our powerful reading from Acts 9 are stories about the ministry of Peter which were clearly significant to the growth of the Church; here we have two noteworthy demonstrations of the power of the risen Christ working through Peter.
After the conversion of Saul in chapter 9, Luke switches his attention to Peter who is now involved in itinerant ministry in the Sharon region which edges out toward the Mediterranean coastal plain and the town of Joppa. The apostle Peter will now feature strongly in Chapters 9 -12 through 3 incredible stories which include;
- A double miracle story (Aeneas and Dorcas in Acts 9:32-42)
- A hugely significant conversion story (Cornelius and his household in Acts 10-11)
- A dramatic and miraculous escape story (Acts 12)
Several factors stand out in this double miracle story involving the ministry of Peter.
Firstly, the two stories of a paralytic named Aeneas being healed, and a well know Christian woman named Dorcas being raised from death to life are remarkably similar to stories we hear recorded about the ministry of Jesus in the gospels. In his gospel Luke writes about the way Jesus healed a paralytic who had been lowered through the roof of a house on a mat by friends. (Luke 5: 17-26). Luke also records the story of the raising of Jairus’s daughter by Jesus. (Luke 8:41-56). It is as if Peter were simply following the example of Jesus, of what he had witnessed Jesus doing in these two gospel miracles. Peter tells Aeneas to “get up and take his mat” which Aeneas does, thus mirroring the story in the gospels. Peter, following his Master’s example, clears the upper room of mourners where Dorcas’s body was laid, as Jesus had done at Jairus’s house, and then, after praying, tells Dorcas to get up, (or to rise up) and he personally helps her to do so, in the same way Jesus had helped Jairus’s daughter. The similarities in the stories are very striking. The main point being emphasised though is that it is the risen Jesus who is doing the healing and the raising. Peter says to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you”. And before he helps Dorcas to her feet, he prays on his knees to Jesus. Jesus heals one and raises the other! The stories are in fact filled with resurrection language. Two individuals are raised up by an apostle who himself rose up to serve!
This all demonstrates clearly that Jesus lives – that Jesus still heals – and that Jesus raises the dead to new life. The resurrection is true. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life – just as he declared himself to be. (John 11:25) Only a living Lord could do these wonderful works. What Peter preaches about the resurrection is demonstrated to be true through these miraculous signs and wonders. And it is Jesus doing the healing, but now he works through Peter his apostle. The work that Jesus began to do before his death, resurrection and ascension – now continues through his chosen and empowered servants. (Acts 1:1) Acts is full of evidence that Jesus lives and reigns and changes lives! And Acts does not really finish at chapter 28 – it carries on – and we are now in the Acts story! The apostles are gone, martyred for Jesus’ sake, but the Church marches on and rises up like an ever-growing Spirit-filled temple, built on the foundation of these apostles and the prophets. (Ephesians 2: 19-22)
Secondly, when lives are impacted by the power of the living Christ, the Church which Christ himself heads and leads, grows significantly. Testimonies are powerful and draw others to Jesus. People put their faith and hope in this living Saviour who saves and heals today. Considerable numbers of people in Sharon who now saw Aeneas walking believed in the Lord and were added to the Church. (v35) When Dorcas was raised to life “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.” (v42) Such clear demonstrations of the power of the living Christ inspired faith and belief. Testimonies of God’s power, like those of Aeneas and Dorcas cause living and saving faith to rise up in the hearts of new believers. We see this again and again all over the book of Acts and in the history of the Church. How did/does the Church grow? Through the living and active message and power of the resurrection, an eternal power that can never be thwarted or held back. This power is victorious!
This is the power that lives and works in all believers. (Ephesians 1: 19-20 3:20). The power that raised Jesus from the dead works mightily in us, and in and through the whole Church which is the body of Christ on earth. We are Easter people. We are the community of the resurrection. Resurrection runs through our spiritual veins. We have and always will have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3). People are “raised up” to new life in Christ. People are “raised up” into new ministries for Christ’s glory and for the blessing and enrichment of their local communities. Dorcas made garments for the poor and needy, the widows and the orphans. Christ raised her up and continued to bless her work and gifts and generosity.
We have people now, here at Christchurch, being raised up by God to serve in the light and power of the resurrection. We have new members on the leadership team. We have new charismatic gifts to help glorify Christ and encourage the Church community and the wider community. Even and especially when we feel weak and washed out, the power of the resurrection working in us gives us hope and strength. There is a never-ending supply of resurrection peace, joy, hope, life and strength. It’s there always – when you need it – as you need it. It’s in Christ’s body. We are part of that body. Christ is the Source, the Eternal Wellspring who refreshes and replenishes his people with resurrection life and power. The resurrection means that all Christian work and ministry is never done in vain! As the apostle Paul writes at the conclusion of his great chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15;
But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15: 57-58)
Does this not encourage you to give yourselves fully to the work of the risen Lord and the cause of his eternal kingdom? I hope and pray that it does!
Revd Peter J Clarkson 8.5.22