Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr.– No. 26
RESURRECTION IN JOPPA
When persecution struck the church at Jerusalem the disciples were scattered and went everywhere preaching the word. In this way the church began to spread. God can turn even the work of Satan to the advantage of truth. Peter evidently chose to stay in Jerusalem and face the persecution there but the Holy Spirit and the church had other plans for him. It happened that Phillip was conducting a wonderful evangelistic campaign down in Samaria. Many people had been converted to faith in Jesus but had not as yet received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John were sent to Samaria by the church. Here they began at once to pray for the Samaritan converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit.
There was a certain magician in Samaria by the name of Simon who had accepted baptism but was still thinking in carnal ways. When he saw that people were receiving the Holy Spirit after Peter and John prayed and laid hands upon them he offered money for the power of giving the Holy Spirit. It is strange that he would have ignored the fact that the Apostles themselves prayed for these people to receive the Spirit before they laid hands on them. This would indicate that the Holy Spirit was the gift of God and in his power rather than in the hands of the Apostles. Simon was seeking a power and a gift that came from God only and seeking to buy it with money.
He is not a lonesome figure. Many people have seemed to think that they could purchase in some way the gifts of God. To any man then who has thought that he could purchase from God any gift whatsoever Peter’s next words are addressed. “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
May I call your attention to the fact that Peter was not sure whether Simon would be forgiven or not. Not one but two words in the Authorized Version emphasize his indecision in this matter. The “if perhaps” of Acts 8:22 is rather revealing. I have heard people argue that the Apostle Paul was a sterner man than Peter and certainly much sterner than Christ. It just simply is not true. Paul has no doubt that God’s mercy will reach to the worst of sinners. Peter seems at this point in his progress at least to have entertained some doubt about it. Jesus knew of the all encompassing mercy of God and yet all the more terrible warnings of Scripture come from the words of Christ, not of Paul. Peter was in many ways a stern man. In all the New Testament there is no more chilling episode than his handling of Annanias and Sapphira. Here in Samaria his action is not as stern but it is clear that he is not sure whether Simon will be forgiven even if he repents and prays for forgiveness. With all my admiration for Peter, I am still thankful for Paul.
I feel that the foregoing comment is necessary before I go on to the next great episode of Peter’s life in order that we may keep the man in proper focus. This is true because the next great event is such as to produce a feeling concerning Peter that might be altogether too close to worship to be absolutely safe. I have heard a great deal of preaching done concerning Dorcas and it always puzzled me. Dorcas was always the center of this preaching and Peter was almost forgotten. Yet actually the story is one about Peter, not about Dorcas, just as the story about the raising of Lazarus is a story about Jesus rather than Lazarus.
I do not mean to take anything away from Dorcas. The Scripture testifies to the fact that she was full of good works and I admire her. But the actual reason for her being named at all in the book of Acts was the fact that at the time she was also a corpse. Peter was sent for. There must have been some real soul searching on Peter’s part as he made his way to Joppa. What right had he to raise the dead? With Christ it had been different for Christ was the giver of life. But it is appointed unto every man once to die.
I do not think that Peter doubted that God would raise Dorcas if he asked Him to. Jesus had promised that whatever the abiding branch in the vine should ask would be done and Peter believed the promise. But what a terrible responsibility it was for Peter to decide God’s will in this matter. He put everyone out of the room and alone with the body he knelt to pray. I have no doubt that he was seeking the will of God. He was perfectly aware that neither he nor any of the other Apostles would avoid death. He knew that if Dorcas were raised she would still have to die again at some later date. I do not know how his decision was finally made. I believe that he received some revelation from God while he prayed.
However that may be, there seems to be no shred of lingering doubt when at last he rises from his prayers and turns toward the still figure lying there in death. He seems to believe that the work is already done. He recites no incantations and applies no special rites. He utters two simple words as though he were simply calling the woman from a light slumber. “Tabitha, arise.” With all his faith however, and even with his past experience with Jesus, it must have been a strange emotion coursing through him when the dead woman opened her eyes. It was a moment evidently before those once dead eyes focused well, but then she saw Peter and sat up. Calmly Peter offered his hand and helped her to rise and then took her out and presented her alive to her friends. It is little wonder that many in Joppa believed. Peter was not slow to use the advantage this gave to the preaching of the word in Joppa. We read that he tarried there many days. How long he would have stayed is a matter of conjecture for once again the Lord had other plans for him. Down in Caesarea there was need of him and such need that he had not as yet dreamed of though dream of it he must and in a most unusual way.
The next great episode in Peter’s life is one of peculiar significance to you and me. We may have been prone to forget that Peter was a Jew and that at least in a measure he still shaped many of the prejudices of the Jews. God was now ready to attack those prejudices for God is not yet through with Peter. You and I may well be thankful that this was true. The reasons for this will be discussed in our next chapter.