The Book of ‘the Acts of the Apostles’
Who was Tabitha in the Bible? Her story is found in the book of Acts, at the time when persecution had caused the early church to scatter out from Jerusalem into the surrounding areas. The persecution had not silenced the gospel, but had inadvertently caused the message to spread!
Peter’s plan to visit Lydda
Peter was travelling, about the countryside, visiting the scattered believers in the different towns and villages to encourage them in the faith. He went to Lydda, and there he met a man named Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years. Peter prayed for him, in Jesus name, he commanded him to ‘Get up and roll up your mat.’ The man was immediately healed. This miraculous healing pointed many people in that area to Jesus, and they turned in faith to the Lord.
Tabitha of Joppa, Acts 9:32-43
In Joppa, a coastal town which was about twelve miles from Lydda, there was a disciple called Tabitha. At the time of Peter’s visit to Lydda, she became ill and died. Her story is told in a few simple verses, but even from those few lines, we can gain a picture of Tabitha as an inspirational woman:
- Firstly she was a ‘disciple’ – which meant she was a committed follower of Jesus.
- An Israelite – Tabitha is a Hebrew name, meaning ‘gazelle’ and a symbol of gracefulness.
- A godly woman. This is observed by her lifestyle. Tabitha’s life demonstrated her faith and good works in harmony, being gracious to those around her.
- She was a seamstress or dressmaker. Scripture tells us that she made clothes, sewing by hand – a tiring, and demanding task.
- Kindhearted – From the text, we learn, that she gave away the clothes that she made.
- Loved by many – Friends had gathered and were mourning for Tabitha, they were visibly upset, crying at the news of her death.
- Valued by her community. The disciples in Joppa thought highly of Tabitha, and were prepared, to put themselves out, to make a real effort to seek a miracle on her behalf!
There must have been a great atmosphere of faith and expectancy among the disciples in Joppa! They had heard that Peter was in Lydda. Quite possibly, they had heard that Aeneas had been healed. They send two men to walk the twelve miles, each way, to Lydda to urge Peter to come back with them to Joppa.
Peter diverts to Joppa
Because Peter had gone to Lydda, he was within ‘helping’ distance of Joppa. If he had still been in Jerusalem, which was 38 miles away, it would have been too far to try and summon his help. Peter responded to the men’s request and set off with them for Joppa.
When Peter arrives, he is met by the distress of Tabitha’s friends, those that she has helped. He sends everyone out of the room and gets down on his knees to pray. After praying, he speaks to the dead woman with a simple command to ‘get up’. A miracle occurs and Tabitha is restored to life, to her friends and community. As word spreads of this miraculous healing, many more people believe in the Lord.
Peter then stayed in Joppa for some time, with Simon the Tanner.
God the Master Weaver
In this story we can see the mystery of God working ‘all things together’ for His purpose.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28
God was at work weaving the threads of His eternal design and plan. Tabitha would have understood how simple strands of cotton, when interlinked and woven together, produce material. Then out of the cloth there comes an opportunity to create something functional, and even beautiful.
Building the Church
Peter made plans and he was diverted from his plans – to leave Lydda and go to Joppa. Sometimes, what we think is a diversion, takes us exactly where God wants us to be.
The miracles pointed to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and spread the good news! Even more people heard, and responded, and came to believe in Jesus.
God’s purposes for the church were being fulfilled, they were growing stronger, in numbers.
Peter exercised his faith from his own experience. If you reflect on the miracles, you will see that Peter followed in Jesus’ footsteps. He did, what he had seen Jesus doing. His faith had grown and being strengthened when he was with Jesus, and now he was putting into practice what he had seen and believed.
Our faith does not grow in storage – it will only grow when we step out and start using it! The small steps of exercising our faith, develop and build our faith, in God’s faithfulness.
The disciples in Joppa were the ones with ‘great faith.’ The ones who were prepared to walk a long way, to seek help for their friend. Great faith is when we go beyond our own experience. When we are willing to take a big step, and to seek God ‘for the immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.’
God’s purposes for the church were being fulfilled, they were growing stronger, in faith.
Building a Doorway
We can see a progression in the life of the early church, change was occurring. In Acts chapter eight we read of Peter and John visiting believers in Samaria. Then on their return journey to Jerusalem they preach in a number of Samaritan villages. In one sense astounding, due to the long held animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. God was working on cultural prejudices.
God’s purposes for the church were being fulfilled, they were becoming more diverse!
For now the story in Joppa ends with the statement that Peter stayed there for some time with ‘Simon, the tanner.’ A ‘tanner’ was someone who worked with the skins of dead animals, to produce a useable ‘leather’ material. This meant that, as far as the Jewish law was concerned, Simon was constantly in contact with the ‘unclean.’ He would have been despised by many people. Peter’s willingness to stay with him, showed an openness to reject prejudice. God was preparing Peter to receive a vision – and for his next journey to Caesarea to visit Cornelius.
God’s purposes for the church were being fulfilled, the door was about to be opened to the Gentiles!
Building Hope and Expectancy in Us
We are able to look back and see God’s hand at work in this story. It reveals to us, His care and attentiveness to individuals, woven into His eternal plans and purposes for communities, for nations and for all mankind. God does not change, so we can be encouraged to trust in Him for the moments of our daily lives.
When we are walking in faith with the Lord Jesus, there are no diversions or delays, He has got this! God is attentive to us, and we are where we are for a reason. We can trust in His sovereignty. There are times, when we look carefully, that we can see His hand at work, weaving all things together for our good. But not always, there may be instances when we will not understand, the reasons for the trials and struggles that we are going through. Times when we are called to trust in Him. It may be many years before we get a glimpse that what the enemy intended to harm us, God allowed for our good.
When we are intentional in living to the fullness of this moment, and trusting the future to God, our faith is built and strengthened, for God’s plans and purposes to be fulfilled in us!
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