The third Panel of The Acts of the Apostles begins at 9.32 with Peter visiting Jesus communities in Judea. This section has sometimes been called ‘the Acts of Peter’. After his time in Samaria, Peter returned to Jerusalem to report on what the Holy Spirit had done among the Samaritans as a result of Philip’s mission. We are not told how long has passed before he comes to the crossroads town of Lydda.
Nor do we know how there came to be a Jesus community at Lydda. Perhaps some were converts of Philip who evangelised the coastal plain after the Holy Spirit deposited him in Azotus. Others, no doubt, were fugitives from the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem following Stephen’s martyrdom.
Lydda today bears its ancient biblical name of Lod. It lies at the southern end of the plain of Sharon about 20 km southeast of Tel Aviv and 50 km northwest of Jerusalem. According to legend, it is the place where St George slayed his dragon and later met his martyrdom. Today it is the site of Ben Gurion Airport – Israel’s main international airport.
By including these two miracle stories, Luke probably intends to show that the gospel is expanding beyond Jerusalem. He also illustrates Peter’s growing openness to the new thing that God is doing.
The healing of Aeneas is short (9.33-35). He has been paralysed for eight years. Peter speaks a prayer of command: “Jesus the Messiah heals you; rise and make your bed”. The effect of the healing is immediate. We are reminded of Jesus, who often healed in the same manner.
Luke uses a different word for ‘heals’ (Gk. iatai), which may be a word play on Jesus’ name. The tense of the verb (present aorist) indicates a complete action.
The effect of the healing is also quite immediate. Everyone in Lydda and the surrounding plain ‘turned to the Lord’. We should recognise this as hyperbole. Nonetheless, the community of Jesus followers expands as a result.
In the nearby coastal town of Joppa, a widow and disciple of Jesus named Dorcas became ill and died. Dorcas or Tabitha (her Hebrew name, meaning ‘Gazelle) was beloved by the widows of the town because of her kindness and charity work. Only here in the NT is the feminine form of ‘disciple’ (Gk. mathetria).
The disciples of Joppa send for Peter, though it is not clear what they were expecting him to do. Peter went straight away.
The raising of Tabitha back to life is strongly reminiscent of Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5; Mt 9; Lk 8). When Peter arrived, he no doubt remembered what Jesus had done. He put the mourners outside, knelt to pray and then quietly said, “Tabitha, get up”. In Aramaic, this closely follows Jesus’ command “Talitha koum” or “Little girl, get up”. Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up. A remarkable display of the power of the Holy Spirit and the mercy of God that again resulted in many people believing in the Lord.
Luke intends to remind us that discipleship means that we become like our master. Peter, in these two stories, bears an impressive likeness to Jesus. The follower has become the leader and moves in the same miraculous power and healing.
As disciples of Jesus, both male and female, we are meant to grow in character to be like Jesus. But we are also meant to speak his words and do his works – including his astonishing miracles (Jn 14.12).