II. Compassion on the Outcast
This story of Dorcas (or Tabitha) shows us that Jesus has compassion on the outcast. Aeneas was one who was not only weak but an outcast. Dorcas is another example of an outcast to whom Jesus shows compassion. Jesus does the same for us. He makes those of us who were formerly outsider insiders by approving us, and his approval is the only approval that really matters. He says to Tabitha that he is one who brings outsiders back, not only to Tabitha but also to the other widows in this passage as well. Jesus is the lord of life who brings those who are outcast from life into life.
A. From Life (36-42)
One thing we notice from the text is that our Lord Jesus hates death. Death is enemy. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb, not just because his friends were hurting but because he hated what death had done to his father's world. The creation was never intended to host death. Death was an invasion, an aberration. He made all of the world to function on generosity, and death is the end of generosity.
Our savior's hate for death is demonstrated in this passage in the way that Peter, imitating Jesus, deals with this woman who has died as well as her friends who are in anguish. Peter imitates almost to the word the way Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead (Luke 8). Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue and his beloved little girl was deathly ill. He came to Jesus to ask him to heal his daughter, but while he was with Jesus, he received word that it was too late, his daughter had died. However, Jesus comes to Jairus' house anyway. Jesus came into the house where she was, and they told him it was too late. But Jesus tells them she is only sleeping and he will make her well again. They laughed at him, but just like Peter, he dismisses everyone from the room except Peter, James, and John.
So back to Peter. He too dismisses people from the room. Then he turns and says to "the body," "Tabitha arise." He did this to demonstrate that death is an enemy that will someday permanently be vanquished. This is not the way it is supposed to be. Jesus is breaking into our world with these resurrections, and in so doing, he is giving us a foretaste of the final resurrection when we will never die again. Jesus hates death.
Jesus is also sovereign over death. Through Peter, when he says to Tabitha, "arise," she arose. In the same way, if Christ is your savior, he will say to your body wherever it is buried, "arise" and it will obey his command.
Jesus also gives us hope in this life. Here is where we learn of others who were given hope in this life through the resurrection of Tabitha: the widows. Tabitha was quite comfortable where she was, because she was in Heaven. She had seen the face of Christ and been released from her sins and her physical ailments. She was happy! And then she heard the disappointing word from Jesus that he had more work for her to do, so she was sent back. So what is Jesus showing us by doing this? He is showing his love for these widows!
These widows were loved by Tabitha. Both in Aramaic and Greek, Tabitha's name means Gazelle. This is the way she lived her life. She was a voracious servant of others. There is no mention of her husband, so it's possible she was a widow as well. Widows were indicated in that culture by the clothes they wore, but they often weren't very attractive clothes so Tabitha does something about it. She made these widows beautiful tunics, making them feel better and endearing her to the widows. So when Tabitha dies, they are heartbroken, which is why Jesus brings her back. It's his way of providing hope and compassion to the widows. Jesus is aware of your pain too.
Another thing we can see from this passage is that Jesus answers prayers that are made for the kingdom. These widows were asking for her to be raised from the dead, not just for her good. They were appealing to God on the basis of their ministry to widows and her vital part to play in it. Would you raise her up and get a name for yourself, they were praying. Jesus loves to hear and answer that kind of prayer.
B. Outcast from Society (43)
Jesus also demonstrates his compassion to us because of the way he shows compassion to outcasts from society. At the end of this passage, Peter travels to Joppa and stays with Simon the tanner. Everything in the Bible has been put there by God for a reason, so what is the significance of these two details? Joppa is a coastal town and it marks the "jumping off point" of the mission to the Gentiles. The next scene will be Peter taking the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile. However, this isn't the first time God is taking the good news to Gentiles. By taking Peter to Joppa, he is reminding the people of God that he is not starting something new. Salvation was always for the Jews and the Gentiles. Jonah was sent from Joppa to Nineveh as well. Jonah preached and the entire city was saved, indicating that even then God wanted people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to come to salvation. The Jewish people had forgotten that, and Peter is recovering that mission.
Peter not only takes the gospel to the Gentiles, he stays with Simon the tanner. Simon's vocation is included to make us aware that he was an unclean man. He would not have been welcomed at the synagogue or Jewish social circles because he was constantly unclean due to his constantly dealing with dead animals. Peter stayed in his house.
Think for a moment who is "unclean" in your own life:
Simon the Republican.
Simon the Democrat.
Simon the homophobe.
Simon the racist.
Who is it in your life whom you think is not worthy of the same gospel you have. To be Jesus-like and to walk in his steps is to draw near to those with the same gospel you have experienced. Jesus brings outcasts into the people of God.
Let's think about the characteristics of this New Testament church we've been studying throughout the book of Acts:
God makes churches grow in numbers. He adds to their number daily those who are being saved (Acts 2:47). There are some people who think that if your church is growing, you're doing something wrong. That's not the way God operates, however. There is ample evidence throughout the book of acts to support this (2:41, 4:4, 5:14, 6:1, 7, 21:20). We estimate that by chapter 9 the church was 10,000 souls.
So far, we know that members of this church speak Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and a host of African languages.
3) Socially diverse
There are influential people as well as commoners. There are both Jews and Samaritans. There are both rich and poor. There are "unclean" Gentiles, Jews, and Priests.
So what is the application for us? We are called to be this kind of church. We are called to be a church that has compassion on the weak and compassion on the outcast. We are to tell those who are weak and those who are outcast, "you belong here!" This church is for you.
We also need to become socially diverse and multilingual. Multilingual at least in the way we worship. We must learn to speak each other's languages in worship. As long as a church is all white, all black, all Hispanic, or all Asian, it is not fully reflecting the church of Jesus Christ. We must have a sanctified re-imagining of what the church must be. We must learn gradually to speak each other's language of worship. White people need to learn to speak the language of worship that our African-American brothers and sisters appreciate, and vice versa. In this kind of church, no one will ever be completely comfortable all the time. When you come to church, you come as a missionary, as if you're going to a foreign field and have to learn the language of another culture because you love them. That is what our mission must be every Sunday morning.
The Irish talk about "thin places." That is, places where Heaven and Earth seem to merge. A couple years ago, I caught a vision of this re-imagined church. I was standing next to one of our associate pastors during an evening worship service and as I looked out of the congregation, I began to think of the many different backgrounds and stories represented there. I looked out and I saw a family involved in adoption and foster care. Their family was made up of black and white and Hispanic children. On the other side of the sanctuary I saw a woman who loved to worship by doing sign language along with the songs we were singing. I looked up on the stage where the worship was occurring and there was our Scottish friend in his kilt playing an instrument. There was a Mexican playing the drums; there was a black gospel choir; there was western influenced organ music mixed in as well. And we were all singing Tommy Dorsey's "Precious Lord Take My Hand." There were any number of other stories and eccentricities represented in that congregation as well, including our homeless member, the prostitute who would join us with regularity, the homeless couple who had been saved, married, and were living under a roof together. There was story after story after story, including my own. I turned to my associate and said, "are we in a church or a Star Wars bar?" At the end of the service as we were all singing (and fully singing), he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, "we're not in a Star Wars bar. We're in the church, and this looks a lot like Heaven."
Let's allow the Spirit to run wild with our imaginations of what the church should be and may God hasten the day when we see it even more clearly than we do now.