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Some time ago, I was called to an assisted living home. The staff wanted me to talk with a guy who was really giving them a hard time and they were at their wit’s end. This 92-year old guy who claimed to be an atheist was struggling because he felt like he might die any day and he didn’t know what would happen after that. So I went to visit him and he immediately began to argue with me …told me all about what he believes. He took me through the whole universe and back to the beginning of time and talked about all these scientific theories. He was very sharp and knew exactly what he was talking about. Eventually, he got to the Bible. And he picked out some obscure detail from the Old Testament and asked me a question about it. He was looking for a loophole and I guess he thought he’d found it. But I’d been there for an hour and frankly, I was kind of “done.” So I said, “You know, you don’t really care about that detail, and I don’t really care about that detail, and I could give you my best answer on it but it wouldn’t change a thing for you. What I want to know is this: What’s your real question? You are ninety-two years old. What do you really want to know?”And this 92-year old guy sat back in his chair, let out a little emotion and said, “What do I really want to know? I want to know how to get Jesus into my heart.”
I believe that’s all any of us really wants to know. I think we are very much the same in that way. Whether we admit or know it or not, most folks want to know this one thing: “How do I get Jesus into my heart?”Because nothing else is working for us. Nothing else is taking away the anger or the pain, fixing our relationships or curing our loneliness. Nothing else seems to be working for us. “So how can I get Jesus into my heart?”
One day on the road he was traveling, God gave Saul the answer to that question. Saul is the guy who would later become Paul —sold out for Jesus, writer of most of the New Testament, first century church-planter.
But when we meet him in Acts, chapter 9, he’s still Saul —angry, self-righteous perfectionist. Breathing threats and murder against the disciples. Somehow he feels morally justified in this behavior. He is so completely blinded by the Spirit-choking letter of the Law that he has completely missed the Messiah, so from his perspective this is just insanity that needs to be squashed. These people who claim to follow this Jesus infuriate him.
And the whole time Saul is breathing out threats and murder, God is preparing a salvation feast for him.
Think about that, the next time you decide you’ve sinned too much for God to forgive you. Think about that, the next time you choose to feel shame over your sinful past. Unless you’ve done something much, much worse than breathing threats and murder against innocent people who follow Jesus, chances are God still has a place and a plan for you.
God came after Saul like a father running out to meet a lost son, out on the road to Damascus, when Saul was on his way to kill people in the name of God. Jesus showed up right in front of him as a vision and said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”And in that moment, Saul was sent to his knees. He was confronted but not crushed. John Stott says the cause of Saul’s conversion was pure grace —a testament to the wideness of God’s grace. Someone as angry, as rigid, as prideful, as self-centered as Saul …even that guy is not beyond the reach of God’s mercy.
C.S. Lewis was one of the best theologians of the 20th century. He came to Christ out of atheism, and here’s what he wrote about his salvation:
“I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fear. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say ‘I chose,’yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives. You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when, instead of producing motives, he could only say, ‘I am what I do.’”
And that is what defined Saul. He was what he did. He went from breathing threats and murder against followers of Jesus to claiming the good news of Jesus as the salvation of the world. “I am what I do.”
Which is why Paul could write later to the Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”(Colossians 1:27).
This is my only hope: I just want to get Jesus into my heart.
The resurrection of Jesus came after three days in the tomb. The resurrection of Paul —from spiritual death to spiritual life —happened this way. He was thrown to the ground by this vision, but Jesus called to him and said (Acts 9:6 …mark this word in your Bible), “Rise and enter the city.”For three days, Paul was blind, much like the three days Jesus spent in a tomb. And then scales feel from his eyes and he could see, and he rose and was baptized.
And that’s the first resurrection story in Acts, chapter nine.
Then the story then shifts to Peter, who is moving among the people with this incredible authority he has found in Christ. This is not the same guy who denied knowing Jesus or who went back to fishing after the crucifixion. This guy is filled with the Holy Spirit and with power. And somehow, on his way to another town, he finds this man named Aeneas, who is paralyzed. And Peter creates a healing miracle by saying, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Rise and make your bed.”
If you have your Bible, underline the word “rise”here in verse 34. We’ve seen that word twice now, so we’re going to remember that and come back to it.
So after Aeneas is healed, somebody in Joppa hears Peter is a town or two away so they call for him. Evidently, there is a woman in Joppa named Tabitha, and she has died.
Look with me at her story in Acts, chapter 9, verse 36. “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.”
The first thing I notice is that Tabitha is called a disciple of Jesus. This is the only time in the whole New Testament anyone is called a disciple. Evidently, Tabitha is pretty special, by “follower of Jesus” standards.
The second thing I notice is that the writer refers to her by both her Jewish name and her Roman name. That’s significant. It means the good news about Jesus is now more than just a quirky offshoot of the Jewish faith. Now it has its fingers in Roman culture. Disciples of Jesus are now not just Jews with a Messiah. They are world citizens with a savior.
In this woman who is a disciple with a Roman name, God is doing a new thing. The good news is spreading, and in Tabitha we see a new strategy. She sews and she has been making things for widows, doing practical things to connect with people beyond her circle. It is her sewing that opens doors, so in Tabitha we see it maybe for the first time in the Bible, that a person can use something they enjoy doing to earn respect not just for themselves but for the good news of Jesus Christ.
This raising of Tabitha is an evangelism story! In her, God is doing a new thing!
Ray Jackson, our friend and partner with Christian Flights International (a mission to take the good news to Ranquitte, Haiti), has said in their latest newsletter: “I have often thought that the miracles of Jesus were to validate his Sonship or divinity. But now, I also believe they have been preserved for all time to validate his unlimited power to make all things new. And perhaps the obstacles are there to accentuate the power of the miracles.”
This is the power of resurrection. Isaiah says (Isaiah 43:19-21): “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” This is the heart of God for his people. Jesus wants to make a river run through the wasteland of your life, because when the Spirit flows people get raised and get filled and get healed and get sober and get straight and their wastelands get soaked. A new thing!
We’ve seen a physical resurrection in Paul and a “fresh-start”resurrection in Aeneas and now we’re about to see the full power of God come to rest over death.
In Acts 9:37-38 we read, “about that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’”
This scene is as much about Peter as it is about Tabitha. This moment gives Peter the chance to claim the power of resurrection that he couldn’t claim when Jesus died. Peter is about to prove that his is more than passing faith. It is resurrection faith! I mean, what kind of person stands in a room, asks a dead person to stand up and actually expects it to happen? And doesn’t faint when it does? That’s a man with serious faith.
And his example makes me hungry for that kind of faith. It makes me pray for more faith. It ought to make us all pray for greater faith. Do you pray for your faith as if it is a pearl of great price? Do you pray as if nothing you possess —nothing you wield —has more power or value than your faith?
“Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive,” we learn in verses 39-41.
Here it is again —the word “arise.”This is the same Greek word we find in the story of Paul, when he encounters Jesus on the road and falls to his knees. Jesus himself tells Paul to arise. And when Peter finds Aeneas, the paralyzed guy and is moved to heal him, this is the word on which the guy is healed: Arise. The word used in both stories is a form of the Greek word anistemi.
And here, in the raising of Tabitha, the same word is used —arise. This is the same word Paul uses later to describe the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible says it is the word God used! And it is especially common —this word —when the Bible talks about the preparation for a journey.
Which is to say that personal revival—getting up and starting your journey again — can mean anything from getting yourself out of your chair, to going after your own healing, to having your faith or even your life resurrected. All of it is resurrection, and the invitation to this journey requires only faith enough to get up and go after it.
The message of Acts, chapter 9, is possibly the most powerfully relevant message of the Bible: Rise up! Rise up! Rise up! And Tabitha’s story teaches us that the call is to rise up, not just for your own sake, but for the cause of the Kingdom of God.
In verses 42-43 we hear the conclusion: “this became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.”
All three resurrection stories in Acts, chapter 9, end just this way. At the end of Paul’s conversion story, verse 31 says, “The church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
At the end of the story of Aeneas’healing, it says (vv. 34b-35), “And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”
When Tabitha is raised up, her story gets told all over town and many believed in the Lord.
And that ends up being the real power of resurrection faith. When God’s people get serious about their faith and begin acting on it, not only do we get raised up, but other people get raised up, too. People get saved. People get healed. People get called out by God to do great things. People finally figure out how to get Jesus into their heart.
Christ in you, the hope of glory! Just a few lines after Paul writes that beautiful line to the Colossians, he writes (Col. 2:13-15, The Message):“Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.”
He goes on (Colossians 3:1-4): “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.”
The old word for innovation is the word novate. It means the substitution of a new thing for an old one. That’s the root meaning of the word innovation. The substitution of a new thing for an old one. That’s what resurrection faith does in a life. It is innovative faith. It calls us out of the old and into the new. It can mean anything from getting yourself out of your chair, exchanging a passive faith for an active one …to going after your own healing, exchanging bondage to the world for freedom and health. It can mean having your faith resurrected —the exchange of fear and anxiety for faith and power. All of it is resurrection, and the invitation to this journey requires only faith enough to get up and go.
The call this morning is to resurrection faith —innovative faith. The kind of faith that says whatever the issue, our God is bigger. Whatever needs to be put to death in us, we can handle, because Christ in us is our hope of glory.