Acts (Part 15) - Lydda and Joppa
Saul has met the Lord. Not only that, but he has meditated on OT Scripture (having taken a trip to Arabia), recognizing its indication of Christ. He has spent almost three years preaching in Damascus. He has made enemies. He fled from Damascus to outpace those who wanted him dead. But after only two weeks in Jerusalem, more enemies were made, and the Jerusalem church told him to run again. He would travel overland to Caesarea, board a ship, and sail to Tarsus.
Saul’s life has spun to a swirl of activity. But since Saul left the warpath, the church (that universal one) has had peace. Acts 9:31 tells us that in this peace, the church was being built up, and “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
Some of us may find concern with that verse. We rejoice that the church had peace and that it multiplied, but…shouldn’t Luke have said, “Walking in the love of the Lord…the church multiplied”? Isn’t fearing God an OT-type concept? After all, John tells us in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
This argument has been made in a recent book by Wayne Jacobsen called “He Loves Me!” The book has some good points. Jacobsen emphasizes that we should realize that God loves us infinitely and that he always loves us infinitely. His love doesn’t drop down to 85% when we do something bad. We must realize he always loves us infinitely. Jacobsen also tells us that God wants relationship with us. Our study has touched on this many times before. In fact, we understand the motive force behind creation and redemption is the establishing of an everlasting love relationship between God and his covenant people.
But despite the good points, Jacobsen also teaches some very bad points in his book. He intimates that not only does God want relationship, but that is all that he wants. We should not be too concerned with doctrine because, according to Jacobsen, reciting creeds doesn’t get us any closer to God.
Jacobsen attempts to separate the ideas of punishment and appeasement from Christ’s work on the cross, choosing rather to say that it was instead a work of endurance destroying the power of sin. After scratching the head a couple times, one may wonder how exactly the power of sin is destroyed without punishment and appeasement. Jacobsen doesn’t tell us.
One other major problem with his book exists, and that is the one that runs alongside our study at this point. Jacobsen says that we are to live in the knowledge of God’s love (…good so far) and NOT in fear of God. Okay…yes, we shouldn’t use fear as a means to try to get people to avoid Hell and accept Heaven. Christ is Savior, yes, but part of our faith in him is in our understanding of him as Lord. Salvation is still primarily about Christ. Focusing on fear changes the primacy to concern for self.
But Jacobsen goes too far. Here’s what he says: “Before the coming of Jesus, God used fear to hold our passions in check, but it never made anyone holy. In Christ, God wanted to win our affection with his own. Thus he needs our fear no longer, knowing we will never love that which we fear” (p.79). Christ “wanted to break the bondage of fear itself—even our fear of God” (p.74). These statements argue that in the old covenant days, fear of the Lord was a good thing to do, but now that we have Christ, we should jettison this OT concept in favor of love of God. In other words, David’s remark, “The fear of the Lord is clean [or pure], enduring forever” (Psalm 19:9) really means “enduring…until Christ comes to accomplish redemption.” This dispensational way of looking at fear of the Lord was actually promoted by Scofield as he commented on this verse saying, “The fear of the Lord is a statement of Old Testament piety.”
Really? Old Testament piety as opposed to New Testament piety?...Really? It would seem that Paul tends to disagree. Second Corinthians 7:1, speaking of the new covenant adoption as sons and daughters, says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul finds that a characteristic of sinners, both Jew and Gentile, is that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). And Mary lends her support in the magnificat as she cries out, “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).
But even though we can show that fear of God is a biblically-sanctioned New Covenant concept, it is still difficult to understand. And when we run up against 1 John 4:18 (“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”), we almost lock it in the closet for a moment lest we become confused. Fear is, however, one of those words that cannot be complete in meaning without adding something to it. Love and faith are of the same type. We are saved not because we have faith, but rather (or more completely) because we have faith in Christ. We have to define what the faith is in. I provide foundation for my marriage not because I love, for I could merely love myself or someone else’s spouse. I provide foundation for my marriage because I love my spouse. Just as with faith and love, fear of what must be identified.
When the children of Israel were gathered round Mt. Sinai, seeing God’s presence in thunder, flashes of lightning, sound of trumpet, and smoke, they were afraid. But Moses stands before them and says, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Uh…what’s that, Moses? You say, “Do not fear because God wants you to fear him?” Does that even make sense? Moses is not speaking double talk here. He is merely telling them not to fear one thing because its purpose is to impress them not to fear another thing. Just so, when we approach the New Testament with its concepts (and verses) of love and fear, we must be careful to distinguish what we are talking about.
As we attempt to understand this, we need to define terms. Love is generally thought of in a couple ways in Scripture. Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” The idea here of love is the desire to give of yourself for the benefit of another. But Scripture also speaks of love in the more common sense of desiring something or embracing something. We see it in a negative context in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” Second Timothy 4:8 gives us a positive context in the promise of a crown of righteousness “to all who have loved his appearing.” So we will understand love as the desire for or embrace of as we study the action.
Fear must also be defined. We usually confuse fear with the cause or our response to it. The child who fears at nighttime being eaten by the monster under the bed may scream and run to her parents. But the screaming and running is not the fear. The fear is not even the monster. The fear is the worry and concern over what might happen to her.
In considering, then, the love of God (God’s love for us) and the judgment of God we can make this statement:
As our love (or embrace of) the love of God increases, our fear (or concern over) the judgment of God decreases.
In other words, as we increase our embrace of one concept, our concern lessens over that concept’s opposite. Let’s look at the conditions again but this time reversing what increases and decreases.
As our concern over the judgment of God increases, our embrace of the love of God decreases.
That statement we find to be true as well. The more we worry and fret and fear God’s judgment, the less we will be loving, desiring, embracing God’s love for us. These two notions are exactly what Wayne Jacobsen was emphasizing in his book. He shouts at us to embrace the love of God more and more, and then we will not live in fear over God’s judgment.
A couple of corollaries exist as well. Instead of applying our love only to the love of God, what about those people (here we are probably talking about those who are not saved) that love or embrace the opposite condition.
As their embrace of the judgment of God increases, their concern over the love of God decreases.
In other words, the more the hater of God embraces the judgment of God, the less s/he will be inclined to worry over or have concern over the application of the love of God to her/himself.
As concern over the love of God increases, the embrace of the judgment of God decreases.
As that one, still unsaved, becomes more concerned over the application of God’s love to him/herself, the embrace (acceptance) of God’s judgment lessens.
Certainly looking at the love and fear of God’s love and judgment, we can conclude for the New Covenant believer that fear of God’s love or judgment should not be in the picture as Wayne Jacobsen says (and as the apostle John tells us). But if we switch from discussing the love and judgment of God to a discussion of God’s virtue and the world’s evil, we see another picture emerge.
As embrace of God’s virtues increases, our fear of the world’s evil decreases.
As concern over the world’s evil increases, embrace of God’s virtues decreases.
Here we can see this played out in the person frustrated with someone’s evil, ignoring God’s virtues and wanting to scratch the eyes out of the evil offender.
But here the corollaries exist as well.
As embrace (love) of the world’s evil increases, concern over (fear of) God’s virtues decreases.
That is exactly Paul’s statement in Romans 3:18, speaking of sinners: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
As concern over (fear of) God’s virtues increases, the embrace (love) of the world’s evil decreases.
This last statement is Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 7:1. We do and ought to fear God regarding who he is, his essence—goodness, justice, mercy, etc. Understanding our fear to be concern over the right standing of those things in relation to our lives is a concern, a worry, and a fear, as we see ourselves constantly stumble. Or, in other words, as we fear those things—as we fear God’s virtues—we will by that fear and concern grow to be more Godlike—just as we read in Acts 9:31 of the church that multiplied while walking in that fear of the Lord.
Jacobsen was right in understanding 1 John 4:18 to tell us that fear of the judgment of God should have no place in our lives as we embrace the love of God. But Jacobsen failed to understand that fear of the Lord is not necessarily always addressed to his judgment. As Paul uses it, fear of the Lord is addressed to who God is in all his glorious virtues. Walking in that fear of the Lord is no Old Testament concept; it is our pattern of growth for today.
Verses 32 through 43 of Acts 9 include two healing stories. But they occur in towns well west of Jerusalem—about 40 and 50 miles west. Luke tells us that Peter happened to be there as he went “here and there among them all.” In other words, it was Peter’s pattern of ministry to go visit new Christian communities throughout Judea (and even Samaria as we saw in Acts 8). But perhaps based on the placement of these stories in Luke’s history, we can come to some kind of conclusion as to why Peter was in Lydda at this time. We had just learned that Saul, after leaving Damascus, spent a short time in Jerusalem. Galatians 1 tells us that he was there only 15 days. But we also learn in Galatians that he was staying with Peter. Back in Acts 9 we learn that Saul must escape from Jerusalem because of his murderous enemies. The road to Caesarea (where Saul was heading –v.30) passes through Lydda. It may very well be that Peter accompanied him as far as Lydda on his trip. Accompanying Saul may simply have been an excuse for Peter who wanted to visit the Christians at Lydda, having heard that a church had been formed there. But how was that church started?
Remember that after Philip had baptized the Ethiopian eunuch somewhere along the southern road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he was moved by the Spirit to a city called Azotus, located along the road that runs from Egypt to Syria along the coast. The Bible tells us that starting there, Philip preached Christ at all the cities as he traveled north on that road to Caesarea. Well, Lydda is on that road as well. These converts that Peter wanted to visit were probably converts of Philip’s ministry as he worked his way northward.
What we should be impressed with in this discussion is that Acts is not primarily about the activity of Peter, Paul, Philip, or anybody else. It is about the work of the Holy Spirit. From the Holy Spirit’s entrance in Acts 2 at Pentecost, we see his movement, his direction, his organization, his orchestration in all events so that his purpose is accomplished. All that happened before—from Saul’s Damascus road conversion to Philip’s explanation of Christ to the Ethiopian to Peter’s ministry intent to visit Judean churches to the pursuit of Saul’s would-be murderers—is plainly laid out as the coordinated activity of the Holy Spirit. That, in fact, seems to be Luke’s purpose in showing us these two healings at this moment in his history.
It is interesting to note that Luke tells us that Aeneas had been paralyzed for 8 years. If we back up 8 years from this point, we find ourselves at the point of Christ’s ministry beginning—somewhere around his baptism and his call of Peter to be a disciple. Interestingly, it is also near the time of Christ’s healing of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof. That account is recorded in Luke 5. We learn there that Christ first tells the man his sins are forgiven. When the Pharisees silently question this seemingly blasphemous statement, Jesus proves his ability to forgive sins by saying to the man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” This is almost the same thing Peter says to Aeneas: “Rise and make your bed.”
Go with me on a little imagination journey. (In other words, there is no biblical or historical proof of this, but the conjecture is interesting.) Look at that group of Pharisees observing Christ healing the paralytic. They are “Pharisees and teachers of the law…who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea.” What if a Pharisee from Lydda named Aeneas was among them. Perhaps he sat and watched as Jesus said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Perhaps Aeneas had grumbled to himself, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). Perhaps Jesus turned and looked at Aeneas and that look burned into his heart and memory. Perhaps Jesus was addressing Aeneas as he said, “Why do you question in your hearts?...But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...[then turning to the paralytic] pick up your bed and go home” (Luke 5:22-24).
Remember also that this time period is when Luke says in Acts that Aeneas himself became paralyzed. Perhaps just after that incident with Christ, Aeneas began his journey back to Lydda, encountered some accident, and suffered the same kind of paralysis that he had just seen healed by Jesus. How often over the next several years would those two statements by Christ—‘your sins are forgiven you” and “rise, pick up your bed and go home”—have haunted his mind as he lay there unable to do anything at all? And then Philip comes. Philip sees him and explains to him Christ’s death, resurrection, identity as God, and his power to forgive sins. And Aeneas who had been thinking of those words by Jesus for years, cries out, “Yes! I believe!” And then Peter comes. Peter leans over this one whose bitterness had brought him to this place, but who had been freed by Christ, and Peter says, “Jesus Christ heals you [and then those words emblazoned on his mind]; rise and make your bed.”
No, the Bible doesn’t give us those details. That’s all conjecture. But the incidents do fit with both timetable and location. And isn’t that just something that our God would do? Again, if true, it would even fit with the emphasis of Luke in the telling of these stories: the sovereign Holy Spirit orchestrates it all!
Two men show up in Lydda and tell Peter that a disciple has died, urging him to return with them. The town is within a few hours walk. Peter arrives, and he finds true sorrow by the people mourning her death. Tabitha (Aramaic) also called Dorcas (Greek) had apparently been a kind and generous person. The widows were there mourning her. Widows (with no husband support) were among the poorest of Jewish society. It is to the widows that James urges care. It was the Hellenist widows who were neglected inspiring the call of the first deacons in Acts 6. These widows show Peter the garments that Tabitha had made for them and given to them, thus explaining how she had cared for them. Peter, through the Spirit’s direction and power, tells Tabitha to arise. And when she does he presents her to “the saints and widows.” These are not two groups. Luke’s point was to emphasize the return of this good woman to those she cared for.
The last verse of the chapter provides an interesting look into the Spirit’s preparation for delivering the gospel to the Gentiles. We have been watching the Spirit’s physical preparation: he had been moving Peter from Jerusalem closer to Caesarea and Cornelius. But in this verse we see the beginning of Peter’s psychological preparation by the Spirit. Peter stays with Simon who is a tanner. This tanner spends his days dealing with dead bodies. For a Jew to touch a dead body—even an animal—made him temporarily unclean. The constant reminder of uncleanness must surely have been at the forefront of Peter’s mind as he stayed there with Simon. The Holy Spirit would use that awareness in the vision Peter has in chapter 10.