by Roger McCay
6 October 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 9:32-43
Link to Audio Version
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes:
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”
The Lord calls us to do many things as we follow him. Every believer has a calling, and we follow Jesus in harmony with the rest of the body of Christ. Sometimes our calls are difficult. Sometimes they require great courage to overcome. As a result, we can come up with all sorts of reasons as to why we “cannot” do what the Lord has made clear to us is his will, but that “cannot” is really a “will not.” So, we tend to let “barriers that are not barriers” for the Lord keep us from obeying the Lord.
I say this inclusively, as this, among other things, is at the core of disobedience, and we all sin. And, a perceived “barrier that is not a barrier” is really just an excuse. For when the Lord commands us, he provides the means for our obedience. 1 Cor. 10:13: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Phil. 2:13: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
In my studies of Acts 9, what has jumped out at me is that a bunch of broken people are called to arise, and from a secular standpoint, there was no-way they ever could. Peter was a hard-case, Aeneas was paralyzed, and Tabitha was dead. But they were all told to arise. And they each did. So, a point is made. The Lord is going to accomplish his mission. Broken people are a part of his plan. And he doesn’t let a person’s brokenness get in the way.
The first case in this passage is Peter. Here he is following in the Lord’s footsteps proclaiming the Word and doing great deeds.
Yet, remember back. Here, in Acts, Peter is shown as a tireless, faithful apostle, facing down the Sanhedrin, boldly proclaiming Christ, backing up the message with miracles, travelling from town to town proclaiming Christ, teaching the Word, and pastoring believers. But, remember Peter’s journey. There was a process of sanctification as the Lord worked on him to get him to this point. Peter had come a long way: a modest background as a fisherman (Mark 1:16); arguing with Jesus over Jesus’ mission, who then called Peter Satan (Mark 8:33); displaying extreme overconfidence (pride) by saying he would never deny Jesus and would die for him even if everyone else left him (Mark 14:31); acting in a rash violence by cutting off that guy’s ear (John 18); then denying Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72).
Despite all this, the Lord was patient. He worked in Peter’s life, forgiving him, empowering him with the Holy Spirit, and bringing him to the point we see him now. Peter was not a great apostle because of something intrinsically great. He was a humbled apostle doing great things because the Lord of all creation was working in him and through him.
Luke makes a point of this in a couple of ways here. First, Peter’s words and actions point to Jesus as the power behind the miracles. Second, Peter’s words and actions are almost identical to Jesus’ in similar situations. Acts 9:34: “And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose.” Similarly, in Luke 5:24-25: “Jesus said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose.” In both cases a paralyzed man was told: “Rise, take care of your bed.” And each man complied, by rising. Also, in both cases, Jesus was the one who healed.
Then, in Acts 9:38, some disciples came the 12 miles from Joppa to Lydda to fetch Peter because a wonderful Christian lady full of good works and charity had died. They came to get Peter in the hope he could do something about it, as Peter was an apostle of Jesus. And what did Peter do? Verse 39: “So Peter rose and went with them.”
Can you imagine that conversation?
“Hey Peter, please come resurrect this dead lady?”
“Sure, why not?”
Well, having witnessed Jesus’ actions in a similar situation, on arrival, like Jesus, Peter cleared the room of mourners and began to follow Jesus’ lead. Verse 40: “But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Again, there is a remarkable similarity here with what Jesus had done. Mark 5:41: “Taking her by the hand Jesus said to her, ‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’” Notice how the commands are nearly identical. It is likely that Peter, like Jesus, was speaking in Aramaic. Jesus said, “Talitha cumi” in Aramaic. Peter would have said “Tabitha cumi.” There is only one letters difference.
So, we see that in both cases a dead female was told to arise. And they did. Also, in both cases, it was Jesus who raised them. We see this, in Peter’s case, by his kneeling and praying.
I hope these accounts give you hope and encouragement. Just consider the transformative power of the Lord and how Peter had become so like Christ in his words and deeds—sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Peter had gone from “I’m, I’m, I’m” to “Him, Him, Him.” He was no longer focused on himself. He was focused on Christ. He had come to truly understand and embody what it meant to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus.
Something, too, that Luke is really highlighting here in these passages, is that the Lord seems to delight in overcoming our issues in order to accomplish his purposes. Just in Acts 9, Jesus told Saul to arise and go into the city, when he was blind. Jesus told Ananias to arise and go to Saul, when he was terrified of Saul. Peter, on behalf of the Lord, tells a paralytic to arise and do, when he was paralyzed. Peter, through the Lord’s power, tells Tabitha to arise, when she was dead! This will continue into Acts 10, with the Lord telling Peter to arise, kill and eat, which included animals that were considered unclean (Peter was troubled with this). And also, in Acts 10:20, where the Lord tells Peter to arise and go to a Gentiles house (which a good Jew just didn’t do).
The Holy Spirit accomplished the Lord’s will in every case, as the called person obeyed in the Lord’s power—even the dead. Despite handicaps, fears, uncomfortableness, prejudices, even death, these folks were enabled by the power of the Lord to obey. And if the dead can obey the call to arise … Well, we just don’t have any excuse. For, if death is not a barrier to obedience, then nothing is a barrier to obedience.
Now, we might think, “Yeah, but people aren’t raising people from the dead or healing paralytics with a word these days.” True. The apostolic times are long gone. They were signs and wonders the Lord granted at very particular points in history for a very specific purpose. In the NT, other than the Lord, it was only the apostles Peter and Paul who raised folks from the dead. In the OT, it was the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Yet, the principle behind these acts of the apostles is the same for us. The Lord calls his people, across all our individual callings and giftings, to follow him in denial of self, taking up one’s cross (Mark 8:34). Further, he doesn’t leave it up to us. The Holy Spirit is actively at work. The Lord empowers us by his grace to live for him in obedience of faith (Romans 1:15).
What we learn from these examples in Acts is that when the Lord calls one to arise, it doesn’t matter what your situation might be, the Holy Spirit empowers you to follow Christ (1 Cor. 10:13, Phil. 2:13). It doesn’t matter if you are a hard-case prideful coward like Peter, a blind murderer like Paul, terrified like Ananias, paralyzed like Aeneas, or even dead like Tabitha. If the Lord would call them to arise (so that they might go and do), then he can empower you. So many of those things we see as barriers to obedience are not barriers. They are excuses.
When Christ tells you or me, through whatever means, to arise, go, and do, we have no recourse but to execute the mission.
How do we know what to do? In so many ways that answer involves many other lessons. But in a nutshell, we know what to do through study of the Scriptures; the apostolic witness and instruction found there; the authoritative preaching and teaching of the Word; through the Spirit speaking to you, in his quiet voice; and the Lord’s confirming his direction with the providential arranging of events. Paul neatly sums up this process in Romans 12:1-2:
12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So, what results from our selfless obedience? Well, among many things, like the wonder of following in the footsteps of our Lord to his glory, our passage today highlights the impact it has on those who witness our lives of faith. People see and believe. This is why Jesus calls us the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). People see us live for Christ—arising, going, and doing. They recognize the Lord’s work in our lives, in the obedience of our words and deeds, and in our overcoming barriers in his power through faith. They see the Lord in us, and people are then drawn to the Lord.
Notice the selfless aspect of this. It is not about us. It is not about our glory. When the Lord works through us, it is for his glory. This is critical to witness. It is important to ascribe the Lord’s work to the Lord, and not take glory for ourselves. We are called to rise, go, and do. And, when, in obedience, we do, and the Lord works through us, we give him credit. Psalm 115:1: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”
My friends, how we are now (despite how much or how little the Lord has progressively sanctified us), the Lord, if he wills, can make us so much more. Yes, we perceive or come up against barriers all the time:
– personal limitations – perceived and real
– the excuse that “It’s our heritage” – although it puts up a barrier to the gospel
– religious quirks – man’s rules not God’s rules (no drinking, for example)
– social conventions – e.g. “proper” dress
– social barriers – economic, education, hygiene, criminals
– peer pressure
– societal pressure
From the Scriptures, Moses, for example, gave a gambit of excuses, things he thought were barriers, to not go to Pharaoh when God told him to go. As one man lists them:
I’m afraid (Ex. 3:11)
I might get pushback (Ex. 3:13)
People are the problem (Ex. 4:1)
I’m not talented enough (Ex. 4:10)
And finally, stubborn refusal (Ex. 4:13)
In every case, God basically answered, “I got this; don’t worry; get busy.” In the final case, God got angry, and sent Aaron to handle the speaking. The call was not about Moses’ talent. It was about what God would do through him.
Look, we do this too. We have some very creative barriers that have been pushed on us that we’ve passively accepted. We have barriers that we have erected ourselves. We even have barriers that seem insurmountable, like age limitations, health limitations, or financial limitations. But the thing is, even if you are comatose in the hospital, and the doctors do not think you will live through the night, if the Lord wants you to go to the Sudan and be a missionary, what do you think will happen?
And please know. I am not speaking to you from an ivory tower. I’m speaking to you as one who has labored in the trenches alongside fellow believers for many years. I absolutely know what it means, due to traumatic experiences, to have to utterly rely on the Lord’s power to, quite literally, just turn the knob on a door to go out and do.
Brothers and sisters, there are no real barriers to obedience—not fear, not anything. The thrust of Joshua 1:9 is repeated a many times, in various ways, through the Scriptures to believers of all sorts: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Even more (and praise the Lord for this) if we refuse to be obedient, God will get it done anyway. It’s like Mordecai’s words to Esther when she was afraid (Esther 4:14): “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” But, do you really want to look at Jesus face to face come judgment and have that conversation? “Lord, here are my excuses, I’m sure you understand.” Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to fly.
Francis Schaeffer, in his book True Spirituality wrote:
We would be less than truthful, I think, if we failed to acknowledge that often we are afraid to offer ourselves for God’s use, for fear of what will come. But fear falls to the ground when we see before whom we are standing. We are standing in a living relationship with a living God who loves us and has shown His love for us to such an extent that Jesus died on the cross. Fear falls, and we have the courage to give ourselves for His use without being afraid when we see we are not giving ourselves in the teeth of an impersonal situation, or of a world that hates us, or an inhuman world of men. We are offering ourselves before the God who loves us; and He is not a monster, but our Heavenly Father.
My friends, think things through. Recognize when a perceived barrier is really an excuse. Let us, in faith, and in the Lord’s strength, cast down barriers that are not barriers as we follow the Lord.
Take courage. Pray for his strength. Our Lord is always with you, and he loves you. In your obedience, the Lord will help you utilize your gifts for him (sometimes, perhaps, in wonderful ways that will blow your mind). Unbelievers will be drawn to him through us. Eternal lives will be saved. Disciples of Christ will multiply. And our Lord and Savior will be glorified in you.
Because the Lord works through his people, we must courageously push beyond excuses.
 Mike Query, “5 Excuses We Make for Not Following God,” BACC, https://bacc.cc/5-excuses-we-make-for-not-following-god/.
 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 3 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 339.