We live in a culture that worships the bigger, faster, and easier. Add the entertainment component to any of those, and you’ll have a best-selling product in no time. Interestingly enough, a good portion of church leaders have tried to tap into these qualities to try to create an experience resembling worship. Certainly this effort is well-intended. We are competing for people’s time and commitment, so we feel the need to make a worship service worthwhile. We look for the best instrumentalists and vocalists so our music is appealing, we purchase sound and light systems and try to use the most up-to-date technology so our worship service will be interesting and exciting.
Perhaps this passage in Acts would be appealing to our culture. The narrative of Acts has been full of big and exciting events. Flame-topped disciples speaking in tongues, a dramatic stoning, blinding light that strikes sight from a villain who then becomes a hero. And now Peter—one of the stars of the early church—re-enters the scene with the incredible healing preceding our passage. Then the story comes to a climax in the present passage when Peter raises a woman from the dead.
Even our contemporary culture is not unfamiliar with fantastic healings. This is the kind of draw that might be appealing to a culture that seeks entertainment. So this isn’t too far of a jump for a preacher who wants to be appealing to listeners: “See what amazing things can be accomplished in the power of God?” “Do you want to experience this kind of healing in your life?” Most likely though, this isn’t the most faithful way to engage with the text.
This isn’t because God’s power cannot accomplish such incredible healings. But Luke’s objective here isn’t to appeal to a culture looking for big things. The healing described in the previous passage, coupled with this miracle, could be intended to remind the reader of Jesus’ own life of miraculous healings reflected in the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 5:18-26 and Luke 8:41-42, 49-56, respectively). The followers of Christ in the early church are continuing the ministry of Christ. The Kingdom of God continues to come to earth through the power of the Holy Spirit!
If we want to look even deeper, perhaps we’ll encounter Peter on a more vulnerable level. Certainly even a strong and (seemingly) charismatic leader of the Church would experience struggles in the middle of incredible ministry. Is this a place we could relate to Peter?
What would it have been like to accomplish such amazing healings? Tabitha was not the first person healed by God’s power through Peter. In the chapters leading up to this one, Peter performed several incredible acts (see 2:4, 3:6, 5:9, 9:34). Could it have been a temptation for him to begin thinking he could actually do this on his own? Who among us doesn’t struggle with the temptation of self-sufficiency? It’s looked at as a good thing, even, for us to be accomplished leaders or self-made entrepreneurs. Self-sufficient people are admired and praised. We read books about them so we can learn how to become more like them. Could Peter have been tempted to think that way? Might he have thought, “It’s okay God, I have this. I’ll call you if I need you.” Is it too far out to imagine a church leader would have such a thought? If the actual thoughts don’t enter the minds of us or of our parishioners, then certainly our lives reflect it from time to time. We think we are good enough at our job that we don’t really need God’s help. We can produce the report on our own just fine… or make the sale, or watch the children, or write the sermon, or repair the break. Perhaps our marriage is strong enough that there’s nothing to worry about…nothing that would compel us to call on God. The temptation of self-sufficiency can take many forms.
The opening verses of the passage reveal that Peter had developed a reputation. People heard about what he had done. They went looking for him when their friend became ill and died. And then when he came, they took him upstairs to Tabitha’s body and the widows stood with him, weeping and showing him items Tabitha had made during her time of ministry. I wonder if it was tempting for him to just listen to them for a while? Could he have been compelled to offer words of encouragement? Would that have been bad? How frequently do we (especially those of us in pastoral ministry!) allow ourselves to be distracted by the good things other people need us to do? There always seems to be something else we should be doing, other good ways we could be helping people. And sometimes that is what God calls us to do. But frequently, as was the case for Peter in this passage, good things can become distractions from the more important work we are called to. What was that work for Peter? We see it in v.40: “Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed.”
Is there any work from which we are more distracted? How many ways is our attention drawn away by good things? We work so hard to pay the bills. Our jobs are very demanding. Our kids have endless extracurricular activities, some of which are necessary to qualify for those much-needed scholarships. There are so many good, necessary things needing our time and energy. Who has the ability to put away all the distractions? But that is sometimes the most important thing we can do: put them all outside, kneel down and pray. What do we need to put outside? How will we make space to do the work of prayer, to pay attention to the nurturing of our soul?
Apparently, Peter had decided he couldn’t do it on his own. He also realized he needed to put away the distractions. Because of this, the resurrecting power of Christ was seen and glory was given to God. Perhaps this is what it means to see the resurrection power of God at work in our lives. Souls can be remade; relationships can be transformed. The power of God—the Kingdom of God—isn’t meant to be accomplished through showy miracles or entertaining worship. It is accomplished through our willingness to move beyond the distractions of accomplishment and self-sufficiency. It is accomplished when we will make space to do the work of prayer and then allow God to raise new life in us. That is the resurrection power of God. That is a life resurrected.