Our Risen Savior Still Acts:
He Still Raises the Dead
A sermon based on Acts 9:36-42
Sunday, May 13, 2012 – Easter 6B
I'd like to begin this Mother's Day sermon by sharing with you one of my earliest memories of my mom. I must have been 3 or 4. It wasn't long after I was potty trained. I know that. And my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Now, I have no idea what planted the thought in my head, but I was absolutely certain that the one thing in the world that would truly make me happy was… ready for it? Pink and purple underpants. J Seriously. I wish it were something else. But my mom won't let me forget it.
So mom, loving mother that she was, desirous to see her little baby happy, scoured the stores. She searched high and low… to no avail. The only underpants that had either color weren't made for little boys. J But mom wouldn't give up. She enlisted help. And my request became well known.
And soon one of ladies at church, a dear friend of the family, volunteered to make a pair of pink and purple underpants. You may know her, actually, since after she left Renton, WA, Darlene Zolldan moved with her husband, Jerry, and their kids to Anchorage where they attended Faith for a number of years.
But I tell this story, not just to embarrass myself, but to demonstrate the love of a mother for her son, and the love of a dear Christian woman for some weird little boy in the congregation, each showing their faith in a small way. That's the kind of lady that mom is. That's the kind of lady Darlene Zolldan was. You see, on July 9, 2009 Darlene went to be with Jesus. But not before making a baby blanket for Josiah and making a big impact on me by living out her faith each day in little ways.
This morning we hear of another lady, named Tabitha, who lived out her faith in the seemingly little things she did—making clothes for other people in the congregation (though I doubt she made pink and purple underpants). J She did this act of kindness out of love for her Savior who brought her to life… a couple of times!
And so do we. Out of thanks to our Risen Savior who still acts by raising the dead, we too live out our faith in whatever calling we've received. Listen now to Acts 9:36-42 and be encouraged to live out your faith in your living Savior…
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 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!"
39 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.
40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
I. He Raises Us to Life in Him
What an introduction Tabitha receives! "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha… who was always doing good and helping the poor." With an intro like that, you'd think she was a huge philanthropist, giving away thousands of dollars every day. Or maybe a miracle worker, healing the sick and curing the diseased. Or maybe a great teacher, explaining the truths of God's Word to others. But she wasn't a wealthy benefactor like Lydia, or a healer like Peter, or an apostle like Paul. She was a seamstress. In fact, the Greek word translated as "robes" in the NIV is usually used to describe a linen garment worn next to the skin. In other words, she may have made underwear for those in need of new underpants. J She may not have been what most would consider a super-Christian, but Tabitha used the gifts that God had given her to serve to God's glory to the best of her ability. And she's described with a beautiful epitaph: "Tabitha… was always doing good and helping the poor."
But what do you think caused her to serve in this way? What kept her going as she continued to use her skill to carefully craft garments for those in need? What motivated her to continue to do what might have at times seemed mundane? It's because God raised her from the dead.
"Wait a second!" you might object, "Tabitha made all those clothes before she died!" Well… before she died physically, yes. But you see, Tabitha, like every other person born in the natural way was born dead—dead in her trespasses and sins. But by his grace, God made her alive in Christ. He created faith in her heart—faith in Jesus as her Savior from sin. And through that faith he forgave her every sin, made her perfect and holy in his sight, and gave her spiritual life. All of that is indicated by the short phrase, "In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha…" Her works in making clothes for others were fruits of her faith.
And friends, you know that God has done the same for you. You see death literally means "separation." We usually mean the separation of body and soul when we talk about death, but God's Word talks about death in a number of other ways as well. Death can mean a separation of the soul from God.
This is how his Word describes us by nature in Ephesians 2:1-12: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…" (Ephesians 2:1-2) Our spiritual death was evidenced by our actions. We didn't do the mundane gladly, but with much grumbling and griping. We didn't give glory to God in what we did, but served ourselves.
And if left in our natural condition of spiritual death, we would have died not just physically with a separation of body and soul, but we would have died eternally—forever separated from God and his blessing in an endless hell. That's the kind of death the Bible speaks of in Ezekiel 18:20: "The soul who sins is the one who will die," and in Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death."
But that's not the end of the story for us. Paul went on in Ephesians 2:4-5: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…"
Do you think Tabitha being raised from the dead (physical death, I mean) is a spectacular miracle? Well, no doubt, it is. It's not every day that dead people come back to life. But it pales in comparison to the real miracle of God bringing spiritually dead people to life through the Gospel! He did that for Tabitha—that's her first resurrection. And through her second resurrection, he did it for countless others. (Luke reports: "This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.") And by God's grace, he did it for you!
God has brought you to faith in his Son, crucified and died—body and soul separated on the cross, and soul separated from God the Father and forsaken by him—to pay for your sins. You believe in Jesus Christ, raised to life—physically alive again—to guarantee your victory over sin and even death! For one day soon you will die—your body and soul will separate—unless Judgment Day comes first. But you will not stay dead. Jesus promised, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) Even if your body and soul are separated, your soul will never again be separated from God! For our Risen Savior still acts! He still raises the dead! And God has brought you to life!
But the life he gave to Tabitha and the life that he gave to you aren't meant to be used to serve oneself. But Jesus brings the dead to life that they might live for him. And that's just what Tabitha did…
II. He Raises Us to Live for Him
Now, isn't it interesting who God chose to raise from the dead? He didn't raise James from the dead when Herod killed him. He didn't raise Peter from the dead when he was crucified. He didn't raise Paul from the dead when he was executed. Instead he raised a seamstress that has received no mention before or after our text for this morning. She didn't do anything particularly heroic. She just made clothes for the poor.
But that's exactly how God operates—through the ordinary, the plain, the seemingly mundane. He operates through ordinary bread and wine, through plain old water, through regular ink on paper and through vibrations in the air that hit the eardrum. And God doesn't use the wise man, the scholar, or the philosopher of this age. He doesn't just use celebrities and professional athletes and famous politicians. He uses schmucks like me and ordinary people like you. He uses seamstresses like Tabitha and women of faith like Darlene Zolldan.
And don't think we have to do giant things in the kingdom to make a giant impact. Changing a diaper and bathing the baby, preparing a meal and cleaning the dishes, tucking in the kids at night, and all the normal, ordinary, mundane things moms do, are wonderful fruits of faith when they're done in thanks to Jesus for giving new life.
Attending meetings regularly, working faithfully, giving generously, studying dutifully, serving selflessly… in whatever your calling in life—whether as mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, student, employee, or employer—as you do whatever it is that you do to the glory of God—even if's nothing more glorious that making a pair of pink and purple underpants—you will be making an impact in the kingdom—an impact that will last for eternity.
And you know that someday soon God who has raised you from the dead to a new, spiritual life in him, will raise you from the dead physically, and give you eternal life in him. So, in thanks to him for that incomparable gift, keep living for him. As the apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15(:58), "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
And through the seemingly ordinary and mundane tasks that you do in thanks to him, God will continue to work the miraculous. Your works of service will become known—maybe not all over Joppa or all over the Peninsula, but maybe all over your family or all over your work place. And maybe some will wonder what makes you tick? What makes you serve others so selflessly? And maybe they'll come to know that you serve out of love for your Savior and out of thanks to him. And maybe someday it will be said of you that your resurrection has become known all over and, as a result, many people believed in the Lord. For through us, our Risen Savior still acts. He still raises the dead. In his name, dear friends, amen.