I said before that Acts is a book of transitions: From the Old Covenant to the New, from Law to the Gospel, from a focus on Israel to the universal scope of the Church. Along with these, there’s another major transition we’re going to find starting at this point. When the Church was born on Pentecost, the spokesman before the world was Peter. His sermon brought 3,000 people to faith in Christ in one day.
But starting with this chapter, we’re going to start transitioning Peter out of the spotlight, to be replaced by Paul. Of course Peter continued to play a huge role in the church (and wrote two epistles for the canon), but Luke quickly shifts the story over to the newest apostle. Chapters 9-12 really are the last hurrah of his preeminence in Scripture.
We start today’s passage with two prominent healings, one of them particularly poignant. The healing of Aenas got a lot of attention from nonbelievers, and the Lord used that incident to bring a lot of people into the Faith.
But the story that really touches me is that of Dorcas/Tabitha. I’m sure the first readers of this book didn’t think anything of it, but quite frankly I like “Tabitha” a lot better than “Dorcas.” Actually I think I might have been called that in elementary school. Both names mean “gazelle,” a creature of beauty and sure-footedness.
We don’t know how old she was or exactly what was the sickness which claimed her life. But here’s what we do know: She was a special jewel in the crown of her Savior. When she departed this dark world for her new home in the presence of her Lord, she left behind a legacy of kindness, service, and practical compassion. One could look at a new robe or other clothing which had been lovingly crafted by skilled hands and given to someone in need, and immediately recognize it as “one of Tabitha’s works.” Lots of people were weeping for their loss of this wonderful woman, as they should have.
Have you ever wondered what went through the mind of the select few in history who've experienced this? I’ve always felt more than a little sorry for people like her or like Lazarus. They'd passed through the veil of tears. They were never again going to have to put up with pain or sorrow or loss or physical ailment or weakness. The people they left behind were crying, but the only tears these departed saints would've cried would be tears of ecstasy.
And they had to give it all up. All the wonderful glories in store for a saint who’s passed on had to be given up. The veil of tears, the barrier between this world and the next one was beckoning, and they had to go back.
This was a horrible loss for those raised from the dead, but the Lord chose to grant mercy to the loved ones who still had to live in this sin-wrecked world. Without people like Lazarus and Tabitha, this world is just a little bit darker than it would be with them. So the Lord, in his wisdom and grace and power, decided to hold off on Tabitha’s final entry into her rest.
So before we get to the second point in the title, let’s ask ourselves: What type of legacy will we leave behind? A string of people blessed for having known us? A heritage to the next generation, an example of a godly life? Or a legacy of having watched as much TV as we can fit into our schedule?
Now as to the crack in the wall, what was I referring to? Ever since the beginning of the nation of Israel, there’s always been a wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. Jesus had predicted that his divided flock would be made one, and it had happened in theory. But in practice, most Jews struggled with allowing Gentiles into the Church, at least without the Gentiles attempting to follow the Law. But here we have a hint that things were changing, and I didn’t even notice it until recently.
Where was Peter staying? At Simon the Tanner. I always just read over that without recognizing the significance. Yes, often people were known by their profession, which is why you have so many people with last names like “Smith.” But a lot of commentators I’ve read make note of the fact that tanners were not considered good Jews. All day every day they worked with animal carcasses, which made them perpetually unclean. Just by staying at a tanner’s house, Peter was indicating that his strict adherence to Jewish tradition was starting to slip. The wall was starting to crack, and the Lord was about to take a sledgehammer to it, starting with the very next chapter.
So Lord Jesus, the question’s pretty obvious. What am I leaving behind? Will I be known as a blessing, or as something less?