Sermon title:

Tabitha Made Clothing for Widows

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, January 3, 2021

 

 

After Jesus rose from the dead,

and ascended to heaven,

Peter, John and the other Apostles

preached about him boldly in Jerusalem,

and thousands

were baptized and joined them.

 

As the Church grew,

the Church selected and the Apostles appointed

the first deacons

seven men full of the Holy Spirit—

to serve the needs of the Church.

 

Acts tells us how Deacon Stephen was stoned to death

by those who wanted to stop him

from speaking about Jesus.

 

And it tells us how Deacon Phillip shared the Gospel

far and wide—even baptizing an Ethiopian

who took the message of Christ home to Africa.

 

Then Acts introduces us to Saul of Tarsus,

a zealous Jew better known by his Greek name Paul,

who led a wave of anti-Christian persecution

until he had an encounter with the living Christ

that left him temporarily blind,

and turned his life around

and made him into an Apostle.

 

Paul became a powerhouse of Gospel preaching.

 

You might almost think that everyone

in the early Churchwas a preacher.

 

True, everyone did talk about Jesus to friends and neighbors

when they had the opportunity,

but most folks in the early church

used their talents primarily in other ways.

 

For example, we’re told about how 2 of the first 7 deacons—

Phillip and Stephen—were powerful

in sharing the Gospel.

 

But the main job the 7 deacons were appointed to do

was to handle food distribution.

 

A dispute arose in the early Jerusalem Church

when some elderly widows in the congregation

were being neglected

when food aid was given out.

 

Rather than take over the job of food distribution themselves,

to make sure it was done right,

the Apostles called for 7 deacons to be appointed

to handle this assignment.

 

Acts 6:2 says,

2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

 

The term “deacons” doesn’t actually appear here in the text,

but these were the very first deacons—

the very first ever appointed in a church—

even before the title “deacon”

was officially applied to that role.

 

Although ‘serving tables’ might not be considered

a spiritual activity, or a spiritual work,

the qualifications the Apostles set

were that these deacons should be

men of good report,

full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom.

 

So, serving tables and food distribution in the Church

would be handled by individuals who were

full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom.

 

Being men with those spiritual qualifications

would ensure that the deacons would

put their heart into the work,

and would do it fairly and equitably.

Spiritual men would deal kindly

with each of the poor widows,

attentive to their needs.

 

And, as they served the tables,

perhaps they would also speak words of wisdom

and encouragement

to the recipients of the food they distributed.

 

It was in addition to doing this food distribution

that Stephen and Phillip did evangelizing

and defended the faith,

which led to their courageous exploits

detailedin the 6th and 7th Chapters of Acts.

 

As spiritual men, the others who made up

that body of 7 deacons

would also have shared the Gospel

whenever they had opportunity.

 

Actually, everyone in the Church can and should

talk about Jesuswith everyone who will listen.

But not everyone can go on missionary tours

or serve as evangelists in a big way,

as deacons Phillip and Stephen did.

 

Yet the Lord appreciates the work

that he calls each one to do in the church.

 

And that’s regardless of whether the work

a Christian is doing

is serving tables, or mowing the lawn,

or visiting the sick or shut-ins,

or whatever it may be.

 

1 Peter 4:10 says,

10 As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

 

So, Peter encourages everyone in the Church

to use whatever gift or ability God has given them

to serve one another within the Church itself.

 

Speaking or preaching is just one of those gifts.

But all the other forms of service within the church

are also done with

the strength which God supplies

and are done so that

God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

 

Peter’s gifts included preaching, teaching,

and miraculous healings.

 

But he recognized that church members with other gifts

all brought glory to God

when they used their gifts

to bless others in the Church.

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After telling us about the Apostle Paul’s conversion,

the 9th Chapter of Acts relates a couple of the

miraculous healings Peter performed.

 

And the second healing—

actually a resurrection from the dead—

was of a woman in the early Church

who blessed others

 by making articles of clothing for poor widows.

 

So, let’s look at the 9th Chapter of Acts,

where Peter used his miraculous gifts,

and brought back to life this woman

who used her very different gifts

to glorify God in different ways.

 

Beginning at Acts 9:32 we read,

32 As Peter went throughout all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda.

 

Lydda was a town about 30 miles from Jerusalem, by road—

almost directly west of the city,

about half way from Jerusalem

to the Mediterranean Sea.

 

It’s still there today in modern Israel,

just north of the intersection of Rt. 40 & Rt. 44,

only Lydda is now called Lod.

 

Verse 33 continues,

33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years, because he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed!” Immediately he arose. 35 All who lived at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

 

So, this was a powerful healing—

of a man paralyzed and bedridden for 8 years—

and it had a powerful result:

the conversion of pretty much everyone

who lived in that area.

 

But an even more powerful miracle took place

in another town right on the Mediterranean Coast,

about 15 miles NorthWest of Lydda.

 

It’s the town of Joppa.

 

It, too, is still there today in modern Israel,

where it’s now the southern end of the city named

Tel Aviv-Yafo.

 

Tel Aviv is the modern part of the city,toward the north,

which was founded just over 100 years ago

by Jews returning to the Promised Land.

 

It drew its name from “Tel Abib” in Ezekiel 3:15,

where Jewish exiles lived in Babylonian captivity.

 

But the south end of Tel Aviv-Yafo in Israel today

is the part called “Yafo” in Hebrew

or “Yafa” in Arabic—

the Joppa named here in Acts Chapter 9. 

 

Joppa is the ancient port city

mentioned in the Old Testament book of Jonah,

as the place where Jonah boarded the ship

that took him out to sea,

before he was swallowed by the whale.

 

Legend has it that Joppa

was originally named after Japheth,

one of the sons of Noah,

who built the city after the Flood.

 

Even secular archaeologists admit that the city

was already there in 1800 B.C.,

and is mentioned in histories written

by the ancient Egyptians.

 

It is also the port where ships landed

bringing cedars from Lebanon

for the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

 

After spending some time in Lydda where he healed Aeneas,

Peter’s next stop was this seacoast city of Joppa.

 

The Christians in Joppa called the Apostle to come there,

after the death of a beloved sister in Christ.

 

We read about it at Acts 9:36.

36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which when translated, means Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and acts of mercy which she did. 37 In those days, she became sick, and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 As Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. 39 Peter got up and went with them. When he had come, they brought him into the upper room. All the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.

 

Since the account describes Tabitha as being

full of good works and acts of mercy

which she did,

we can only assume that she made

these coats and garments, and gave them

to people in need.

 

Those in the upper room who showed Peter the garments

which she had made for them

are called “widows”—and widows in those days,

didn’t have 401-k’s or Social Security

to provide for them.

 

But Tabitha provided for them

by making these coats and other garments,

and giving them to the poor widows.

 

Her good works were appreciated.

 

The widows who received her gifts appreciated them,

and God appreciated what Tabitha did.

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When those widows—

and perhaps others in the Joppa church—

sent for Peter to come to them from nearby Lydda,

we don’t know their intent.

 

Were they hoping Peter could comfort them in their loss?

 

Or, were they hoping Peter would perform a miracle?

 

If the latter was the case,

Peter certainly didn’t disappoint them.

 

We read,

40 Peter sent them all out, and knelt down and prayed. Turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand, and raised her up. Calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 He stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon.

 

Of course, it was not Peter’s power

that raised Tabitha from the dead.

 

It was the power of Almighty God,

responding to Peter’s prayer.

 

And the result was that many people in Joppa

accepted the Gospel of Christ

and became believers.

 

And the “saints”—or holy men and women in that Church

rejoiced to have back with them

their sister Tabitha,

who did so many good works

to bless fellow believers.

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Tabitha’s good works serve as an example

of the good things Christians today can do

with their God-given talents and abilities.

 

Being a Christian isn’t just all about sharing the Gospel—

although that is something we should all do

whenever the opportunity presents itself.

 

But God also calls us to do good works—

like the work Tabitha did in making articles of clothing

for those poor widows.

Ephesians 2:10 says,

God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.

 

Here at Immanuel Baptist Church, I won’t name names,

but there are some who give of their time and talent

to prepare food, to make tasty meals,

to put on church dinners,

and to serve the tables at those dinners.

 

There are some who give of their time and talent

to care for the church building,

cleaning and decorating it

with flowers for Sunday services

and with seasonal decorations,

as well as decorations for

special occasions.

 

There are some who prepare the bread and juice

for the Lord’s Supper,

and clean up afterwards.

 

There are some who make improvements

to the kitchen facilities in the fellowship hall.

There are some who mow the lawn,

and some who trim shrubbery and

care for the parking lot.

 

There are some who visit shut-ins

and visit the sick.

 

There are some who make special efforts to greet visitors

and make them feel welcome.

 

There are some who do the necessary work

of maintaining financial records

and handling donations and expenses.

 

There are some who record and maintain notes

of church business meetings.

 

There are some who play musical instruments, sing,

or arrange for music to be played.

 

And there are some who share

words of encouragement.

I could go on and on about how

different individuals in the church body

put their God-given talents to work

as the Holy Spirit leads them.

 

But the Apostle Paul already expressed the thought

where he said at Romans 12:6,

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

 

Tabitha was exercising her gift from God

when she made those articles of clothing

and gave them to those poor widows.

 

And Peter was exercising his gift from God

when he performed miracles—including the miracle

of raising Tabitha from the dead—

and when he preached the Gospel

to the audience he drew.

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What are your gifts, and how do you use them?

 

That’s between you and God.

 

But, be assured that the Lord is honored

when we use our gifts to bless others,

even in what might seem to be small ways

by this world’s standards.

 

And he appreciates what we do to honor him.

 

Hebrews 6:10 says,

God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers.

 

A woman who sews coats and other garments

for poor widows

does not make the cover of TIME Magazine.

 

But Tabitha’s good works were rewarded

with a permanent place in the pages of the Bible,

and with a resurrection from the dead

at the hands of the Apostle Peter.

Our Lord Jesus notices what you do, too,

in sharing his Gospel

and in caring for the needs of others.

 

And he will bless you, too, in turn.