Summary: The grace of God continues for those who are already demonstrating the fruits of grace in their life.
GRACE FOR THE GRACEFUL
I am sometimes at pains to emphasise how God’s grace abounds for sinners (cf. Romans 5:20), but in the instance before us we see how God’s grace also continues to abound for a woman who is already a “disciple”. Doctor Luke, the author of Acts, is at pains to make sure that his Hebrew and Greek readers all understand the meaning of the patient’s name: “Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas” - which we in our turn may translate as “Gazelle”: a graceful kind of antelope. This name fits, because the fruit of God’s grace was seen in her “good works and charitable deeds which she did” (Acts 9:36; cf. Ephesians 2:10).
Now this woman lived - and died - at Joppa, the only truly Jewish seaport in the Roman province of Judaea. Joppa was where Jonah had fled from his mission, with a view to catching a ship to Tarshish (cf. Jonah 1:3). Joppa was about 11 miles north-west of Lydda, where the Apostle Peter was to be found: the same ‘Simon surnamed Peter’ (Acts 10:5) whom Jesus once addressed as ‘Simon son of Jonah’ (Matthew 16:17).
Tabitha’s case history is briefly summarised: “she became sick and died” (Acts 9:37). Nothing unusual about that: but evidently the disciples in that place expected something else. They washed her and laid her in an upper room (a prayer room, perhaps?); then they sent two men to fetch Peter (Acts 9:38).
Now this particular ‘son of Jonah’ was not about to miss out on his commission. The scene that met him must have been somewhat reminiscent of the scene at the house after the death of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:38): except that there it was probably professional mourners, whereas here it was more likely to be genuinely grieving beneficiaries of Tabitha’s good works who were doing all the wailing (Acts 9:39). One can almost visualise the widows showing off the clothes which their benefactor provided for them, perhaps even wearing them for Peter to see: ‘Look, she made me this!’
As Jesus had done on that occasion, so did Peter on this: he put them all outside (Mark 5:40; Acts 9:40). The obvious difference is that Jesus had brought Peter, James and John, and the girl’s parents with him; whereas in this instance Peter was alone with the deceased - perhaps a bit more like Elijah (1 Kings 17:19-22) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-33) in this detail. However, in all these instances, Jesus was never more than a prayer away!
There is a similarity, too in the Aramaic expression used by Jesus, ‘Talitha koum’ which is translated ‘Little girl, I say unto you, arise’ (Mark 5:41); and what Peter reportedly said to Dorcas, “Tabitha, arise” (Acts 9:40) which if spoken in Aramaic would have been ‘Tabitha koum’. The result was the same: she opened her eyes and sat up. Peter took Dorcas by the hand, just as he had seen Jesus do with Jairus’ daughter - and just as Elijah and Elisha had done, he presented the hitherto dead person alive (Acts 9:41).
When Peter and John had spoken to the crippled man at the gate beautiful, they had loudly invoked the name of Jesus: ‘in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk’ (Acts 3:6)! The Apostles twice had their authority challenged by the Sanhedrin following this miracle (Acts 4:7; Acts 5:28) - but Peter, as their spokesman, twice had a ready response (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). We ought to obey God rather than any mere man!
Peter’s authority derives from his commissioning by Jesus (Matthew 16:19). Jesus had given the twelve power and authority over the forces of evil (Luke 9:1), and the seventy-two likewise (Luke 10:19). That Jesus is the source of this authority is restated in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18).
In the instance of the raising of Tabitha (Acts 9:40), there is no record of Peter invoking the name of Jesus, loudly or otherwise: but death still fled at his word. Peter had nothing to prove to those who were believers long before he had arrived on the scene, and he seems to have demonstrated a calm authority and an almost uncharacteristic composure. We see from Peter’s conduct in that upper room that there is also a place for quiet private prayer in our armoury.
Not that these things were done in a corner, as the Apostle Paul would later remind King Agrippa (cf. Acts 26:26). The fame of this miracle was broadcast abroad, and many believed in the Lord (Acts 9:42). Meantime Peter remained in Joppa (Acts 9:43), until such time as he would be summoned on another unexpected mission (Acts 10:5-6).