As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 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!”
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, get up.” 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. 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.
In both Lydda and again in Joppa, Lord, you demonstrate your power over the realm of disease and death. You continue to roll back the kingdom of Satan, through the instrumentality of your servant Simon Peter. As a result, in Lydda and Sharon, “all… turned to the Lord” and in Joppa “many people believed in the Lord.”
It’s an instinctive reaction to think that the primary purpose of these events was to bring people to faith in Christ. Certainly that is a good thing, and we ought to rejoice. But the text does not grant such a hierarchy. I need to remove my evangelical-bias spectacles for a moment. This means deliberately releasing the notion of a “higher” purpose. The point of the healings was, in fact, to heal. To flesh out this idea a bit more, the purpose of the Church in this age, as expressed later by Paul, is this:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
By directly challenging Satan on his own turf, the church stands against the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” putting them into a state of retreat. The church is expected – it is the “intent” – to push back the boundaries of the evil one’s dominion — and this process includes the defeat of disease and death as well as unbelief and rebellion.
The New Testament often uses language that equates your work on earth, O Lord, with the work of your church, as though they were the same thing. Your purpose is our purpose:
The reason the Son of God appeared is to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8
Your work is our work. Your reason for appearing is our reason for continuing: to destroy the devil’s work. To reclaim the lost ground. To push back the darkness. The healing, the raising of the dead, and the preaching of the gospel are all part of this work — one does not exist for the sake of the other; they are interwoven parts of a seamless whole. When John’s disciples came to Jesus asking about his messianic status, he demurred. He evaded the question that went to the “higher purpose” and instead gave them a more journalistic, current-events take on his ministry:
So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
The kingdom of God had arrived, and it is still arriving. You have taught me something here, Lord.