The sobering account of Stephen’s violent death ends on the surprising note that “he fell asleep.” This brought to mind shackled Peter who slept so soundly the night before his death sentence that the angel had to poke him awake. After Saul of Tarsus, complicit in the stoning, had made a beeline for Damascus and his debut as Apostle Paul, the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria thrived. Peter, we’re told, “went here and there,” winding up in Lydda where he healed a paralyzed man. Instead of partying with his jubilant loved ones, he was forced to quickly depart for Joppa 12 miles away.
Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, rise.” And she opened her eyes. Acts 9:40
Peter is on a roll and we are getting nervous. It is one thing to comfort mourners huddled in the “Slumber Room” of a mortuary, and quite another to plot the funeral director’s imminent job loss. What an eye-opener to watch the corpse stir at the sight of Peter! “And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then calling the saints and widows he presented Tabitha alive.” Do you give the man a hand and say, “Bravo?” He is, after all, the famous disciple whose historic Pentecost sermon changed history. Given our celebrity-driven age, it is interesting to note that no such fuss is being made over Peter. In fact, we are told that in Joppa a notable disciple named Tabitha got sick and died. The shocked and grieving disciples there, the story stresses, sent two men to Lydda to urge him to come quickly to Joppa. Scripture is silent as to the nature of their hopes. Sobbing widows showed Peter the clothing this kind and generous woman had sewn for them. The Bible notes that her Hebrew name was Tabitha, meaning gazelle, the equivalent of Dorcas in Greek. Its designation implied grace and beauty.
Feeling warm ourselves toward this disciple, held both in high esteem and in death’s cold embrace, we long to form a circle with her mourners and prevail upon the eminent visitor to say a solemn prayer. Peter brushes away our sentiments and asks to be left alone with the body. He deliberately faces away from it as he kneels down to pray. Does he now mentally retrace the steps he took with Jesus when Jairus begged him to rush to his dying daughter’s bedside? Jesus had ordered the mourners out of her room, then taken her hand and said, “Talitha, rise.” Gazelle-like, the girl sprang to her feet at once. Is it at this point that Peter turns to the body and says, “Tabitha, rise!”?
In Aramaic Talitha meant damsel. In Peter’s ear the similar names may have echoed with the grace and beauty that was the distinguishing mark of the very young and the older woman. If it is plausible that Jesus prepared Peter for Joppa at the home of Jairus, it is possible that He will not bring us cold to the zenith of our faith. He will glorify Himself with our singled-minded, solitary trust and give us our memorable eye-opener! It is always tailored to our realm of influence in God’s Kingdom and in the “comfort zone” of the Holy Spirit. He brings Christ’s words to life when His voice instructs us, and His grace perfects our weakness with overcoming power.