Dorcas – Dressmaking Made Her Famous – Acts 9:36-43

DORCAS – The Woman Whose Dressmaking Made Her Famous

Acts 9:36-43

Dorcas implies “the female of a roebuck,” “a gazelle”—an emblem of beauty. Dorcas is the first Greek name of a female in the New Testament, its Hebrew equivalent being Tabitha.

The Bible is silent concerning the parentage and genealogy of Dorcas. In the seaport town of Joppa she became known for her acts of charity and is the namesake for a charitable group named the Dorcas Society. Here was a woman “who with her needle embroidered her name into the pages of scripture and whose name lives on by her generous heart of helping others. Where did she learn to sew, make garments for the poor and become notable for her charitable works? It could possibly have been in a godly home that she was taught how to use her fingers and her funds for the comfort and relief of the needy. Dorcas must have been a woman of means to serve humanity as freely as she did. We have five glimpses of her witness and work in the historical account Luke gives us.

She Was a Christian

She is called, “a certain disciple,” and is thus included among the numerous disciples mentioned in the New Testament. Through the Spirit-empowered ministry of Philip the evangelist, a Christian Church was established at Joppa—now known as Jaffa—and from an early date the church was not only a center of fervent evangelism but also of a well-organized social service. Possibly Dorcas came to know Christ as her Saviour in this church, and there caught the vision of how she could serve Christ with her money and her needle. Dorcas knew what it was to have a regenerated heart and this was the source of her unselfish life and charitable acts. Behind her sewing of garments was a saved soul. Giving of alms, and the making of garments in themselves gain no merit with God who, first of all, claims our hearts before our talents. It was only when Mary Magdalene was recovered from her stained past, that Christ accepted her desire to minister to His wants.

In our churches and also in commendable societies there are many public-spirited women who, with humanitarian ideals, are engaged in various relief activities, and whose sole object is to do good. But they are not actuated by Christ. Trying to emulate Dorcas, they lack her Christian discipleship, forgetting that caring for widows and others in need springs from “pure religion” which also reveals itself in keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:26, 27). When Luke says that Dorcas was full of good works, he meant the word “full” to refer primarily to her inward grace, which prompted the outward deeds. “Good works are only genuine and Christian when the soul of the performer is imbued with them.” The cup of cold water to be acceptable must be given in His name. With Dorcas, then, being good meant doing good. Her manifold good works flowed from a heart grateful to God for His saving grace.

Lange the commentator says that “The gazelle is distinguished for its slender and beautiful form, its graceful movements and its soft but brilliant eyes; it is frequently introduced by the Hebrews and other Oriental nations as an image of female loveliness, and the name was often employed as a proper name, in the case of females.” Whether Dorcas, whose name means “gazelle,” was a beautiful woman or not we are not told. She certainly lived a lovely life, and had eyes reflecting the compassion of the Master whom she so faithfully served. All whom she influenced and helped saw in her the beauty of Jesus. As a disciple she certainly had faith in the One who had called her, but she came to see that faith without works is dead. She also knew that works without faith gained no merit with God, and so the hands that gave to the poor  and made garments were inwardly inspired by Him whose hands were nailed to a tree.

She Was a Philanthropist

Dorcas the believer was likewise Dorcas the benefactress. “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” How significant are these last three words! Too many well-meaning people sit around and talk about charitable works they never do. Sometimes they propose these works and leave others to execute them. Dorcas not only thought up ways of relieving the needy, but she also carried out her plans. Which she did! She knew what she could do, and did it.

Among her good works was that of fashioning coats and garments for widows and the needy of her church and community with her own loving hands. The practical, unselfish service of this Christian philanthropist has filled the world with fragrance, for there flowed out of that little city of Joppa a multitude of benevolent and charitable organizations in which women have been prominent. The question came to Dorcas as it did to Moses when he felt he was not the man to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, “What is that in your hand?” And Moses answered, “A rod” (Exodus 4:2). And that rod became the symbol of delegated divine power. “What is that in your hand?” the Lord asked Dorcas. She said, “A needle,” and He took what she had and she stitched for Christ’s sake. All praise, then, to the needle that represented practical benevolence among the needy. The garments Dorcas cut out and sewed represented Christian faith in action. “I was naked and you clothed me,” said Jesus of those who clothed His poor and destitute children.

She Was Mourned and Missed

It was a sad day for the church at Joppa when one of its most beloved and devoted members died in the midst of her works of charity. “Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow,” and death certainly found such a mark in the bountiful Dorcas whose passing was a blow to the community. The vessel containing the costly ointment was broken, and the odor filled the house as never before. Kind hands washed the corpse and placed it in the upper chamber.

While Dorcas doubtless owned her home, she seemed to have no relatives to mourn her going. The widows she had clothed and to whom she had been a friend laid her out; and great grief prevailed. Although so diligent on behalf of others, Dorcas died in the midst of a useful life.  The saying,  “to die with your boots on”  could have applied  to Dorcas.  Is it possible that Dorcas had a sudden call with her needle in hand? What a way to go!

She Was Raised From the Dead

Her fellow disciples at the church where she had worshiped, learning that Peter was nearby, sent two members to beseech the apostle to visit the grief-stricken company. They knew that he had exercised supernatural power, and doubtless entertained the hope that their greatly-loved benefactress might live again. Like the faithful minister that he was, Peter did not delay in accompanying the two men to the death chamber at Joppa where the weeping widows were assembled. The apostle must have been moved as they reverently exhibited the coats and garments Dorcas had made for them. Then after Christ’s example at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, “Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed” (see John 11:41, 42). When he felt his request had been received, Peter spake the word of power and authority, “Tabitha, arise,” and life returned. Dorcas sat up, and Peter presented her alive to the saints and widows (compare Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:40, 41).

What a moving scene that must have been! What joy must have prevailed among her fellow-saints and the widows, now that their much-loved Dorcas was alive again, and in her resurrected life, with fuller dedication to the service of the Master, was willing to take up her needle again. Her return from death must have been a great gain to her church. Her only pang was that she would have to sicken again and for the second time enter the gates of death.

She Was the Cause of Revival

The resurrection of Dorcas had a twofold effect. First of all, the miracle comforted the mourners for she had returned to her life of good works and almsdeeds. This miracle was thus like our Lord’s miracles—one of mercy. The second effect was to convince all of the truth of the Christian faith attested as it was by miraculous power. Throughout Joppa the message rang, “Dorcas is alive again,” and “many believed in the Lord.” The miracle in that upper chamber, then, was not a miracle for the sake of a miracle. Dorcas raised from physical death became the cause of the resurrection of many from their graves of sin and unbelief. How the church at Joppa must have increased its membership through the many who were saved as the result of the return of Dorcas from the realm of death. After the resurrection of Lazarus we read that many of the Jews believed on Jesus. Is not the same true in a spiritual resurrection? A transformed life attracts others to the Saviour. We read that after the miracle, Peter stayed in Joppa for many days, and we can assume that his ministry greatly helped the church there in the establishment of the new converts. Peter stayed with Simon the tanner, a saint who prepared skins for leather to the glory of God, just as Dorcas made up her garments with consecrated hands.

As we wrap up our look at Dorcas it’s important to remember that although she probably didn’t think that what she was doing was a big deal, but in fact her life, example, and service had a huge impact!  How much of what we think doesn’t matter impacts a lot of people? Dorcas did not aspire to be a leader, but was content to stay in her own home and try to do all she could in all the ways she could. In spite of herself, she became great leader charitable causes.  As you serve others in the ways that God equips you and leads you, please know that you are making a big impact on others!



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Adapted from:

Resources  Lockyer’s All the Women of the Bible  Chapter 2. Alphabetical Exposition of Named Bible Women  D  Dorcas



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Mary the Mother of Jesus – Acts 1:14

I hope that you had a great Mother’s Day. Sunday and Monday got to visit my mom which is always a blessing. To honor mothers and all women on Mother’s Day we looked at a few women mentioned in the book of Acts.   This week, I’m going to make a post of each woman in the book Acts; they all are incredible women and have inspiring lives.  They are all very different but God used them in incredible ways.

We’ll start with Mary, the mother of Jesus found in Acts 1:

14 They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. Acts 1:14 (NLT)

Mary- The Mother of Jesus & Woman Honored Above All Women

No female has been honored as has Mary by millions of peoples in all the world who have named their daughters Mary. This Hebrew name has ever been popular in all countries of the Western world, and has altogether some twenty variations, like Maria, Marie and Miriam.

According to scripture, Mary was a humble village woman who lived in a small town, a place so insignificant as to lead Nathanael to say, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), but out of it, and from the womb of the peasant woman came the greatest Man the world has ever known. Mary was of the tribe of Judah, and the line of David. In the royal genealogy of Matthew and the human genealogy of Luke, Mary became the wife of Joseph, the son of Heli (Luke 3:23). Apart from Jesus, called her “first-born,” a term implying that other children followed after the order of natural generation (Luke 2:7). As a virgin, Mary bore Christ in a miraculous way, and Elisabeth gave her the most honorable of titles, “Mother of the Lord” and praised her, “Blessed among women.” Later Mary was married to Joseph the carpenter and she bore him four sons and several daughters, the former being named—James, Joses, Judas and Simon, and the daughters unnamed (Matthew 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3). During His ministry, none of His brothers believed in Him. In fact, they sneered at Him, and once concluded that He was mad, and wished to arrest Him and take Him away from Capernaum (Mark 3:21, 31; John 7:3-5). But as the result of His death and Resurrection, His brothers became believers, and were among the number gathered in the Upper Room before Pentecost. (Acts 1:13, 14).

Among all the godly Jewish girls of that time in Israel why did God select such a humble peasant young woman as Mary? Mary was selected among the common people who heard Him gladly. The one of whom He was born, the place where he was born were arranged beforehand by God. Centuries before Mary became the mother of the Savior of mankind, it was prophesied that it would be so (Isaiah 7:14-16; 9:6, 7; Micah 5:2, 3). Born of a peasant girl, and having a foster-father who eeked out a frugal living as a carpenter, Jesus was best able to sympathize with man as man, and be regarded by all men as the common property of all.

Because Mary’s divine Child was to be “holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners,” she herself had to be holy unto the Lord. When Gabriel announced to the virgin whose name was Mary that she was to bring forth a Son to be called Jesus, he recognized her spiritual fitness for such an honor when he said, “The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The woman who was to give Him birth, whose breast would be His pillow and who would nurse and care for Him in infancy, who would guide His steps through boyhood years, and surround Him with true motherly attention until His manhood, had to be a godly woman. That Mary excelled in the necessary, spiritual qualities for her sacred task is evident from the record we have of her character.

Taking the Lord at His word, Mary praised Him as if what He had declared had been fully accomplished. What a marvelous song of rejoicing the Magnificat is! It reveals poetic and prophetic genius and a gem of Hebrew poetry. As given by Luke (Luke 1:46-55) this lyric expresses Mary’s inward and deeply personal sacred and unselfish joy, and likewise her faith in Messianic fulfillment. It is also eloquent with her reverential spirit. Her worship was for her Son, for her spirit rejoiced in Him as her own Saviour.

Her “hymn” also spoke of her humility, for she was mindful of the fact that she was but a humble village maiden whose “low estate” the Lord regarded. Mary’s “firstborn” Child was to say of Himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart,” and such poverty of spirit is the first beatitude and the very threshold of the kingdom of heaven. By her “low estate” Mary not only had in mind the material poverty she was accustomed to, but also the sharpest of all poverty, the low estate of one of Royal birth. Mary never claimed anything for herself, but Christendom wrongly selected her as the object of worship and one entitled to a consideration above her Son.

What must not be forgotten is the fact that Mary not only bore Jesus, but also mothered Him for the thirty years He grew up in a modest  Nazareth home. There were some things Mary was not able to give her Son. She could not surround Him with wealth. When she presented the divine Infant in the Temple all she could offer as a gift was a pair of pigeons—the offering of the very poor. But little is much if God is in it! Then she could not introduce Jesus to the culture of the age. Being poor, and enduring an enforced exile in Egypt, she had little of the acquired education of one like Luke who recorded her story. But she gave her Saviour-Son gifts of infinitely more value than secular and material advantages.

When Mary brought her infant Son to be dedicated in the Temple, the aged, godly Simeon, taking the Babe in his arms and blessing Him, said to His mother, “A sword shall pierce through your own soul also.” Mary was to experience sorrow, as well as delight, as her “first-born” went out to fulfill His mission in the world.

Following the records of the gospels concerning the conversations between and about Jesus and Mary, the first event we notice took place in Jerusalem where Mary and her husband, Joseph, and Jesus had gone for the annual Feast of Passover. When the ceremonies were over Joseph and Mary, with their relatives, left for home, lost in animated gossip about each other’s affairs. Mary suddenly realized that Jesus, now twelve years of age, was not near her, and searching for Him among her kinsfolk and acquaintances could not find Him. Retracing her steps to the Temple she found Jesus where He had been left, and came upon Him in conversation with the fathers of the sanctuary.  In a correcting motherly mode , Mary said, “Your father and I have sought you!”

Christ’s reply was like a sword piercing her heart: “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  The mixed feelings in the mother’s heart, and her almost reproachful language as she sought to charge Jesus with having disregarded His mother’s natural feelings, must have been checked by a sort of awe as she looked at Him in the Temple and then heard Him say that His place was in His Father’s house.

We now come to recorded incidents causing Mary to realize that Jesus had severed Himself once and for all from her control. There were to be further sword-thrusts as she understood that her illustrious Son was absolutely independent of her authority and of human relationships. Now the moment of parting comes when Jesus leaves the home that has sheltered Him for so long. And the striking thing is that we do not read of Jesus ever returning to it! In the home Mary had made for her Son, God had been preparing Him (for thirty years) for a brief but dynamic ministry lasting just over three years. As Jesus began His public life, His first miracle gave Him the occasion for impressing His mother with the fact that she must no longer impose her will and wishes upon Him (John 2). There must have been a pang in Mary’s heart the day Jesus left her home for good, and another heart-wound as she encountered the lack of official recognition as His mother. Whenever He met her it seemed as if He repelled her.

At the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, at which Jesus and Mary were guests, a predicament arose when the stock of wine failed, and Mary, who failed to see that the youth had become a man, sought to order her Son to meet the crisis. His mother, conscious of the supernatural power Jesus was to manifest, approached Jesus and said suggestively, “They have no wine.”

Jesus replied abruptly: “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” He was not disrespectful when He used the term “woman,” for it was the common mode of respectful address among the Hebrews.

Although blessed among women, Mary was to learn that she must not be permitted to control the operations of the One sent of the Father. As the Son of Mary, Jesus was willingly subject to her, but now as the Son of God, Mary must endeavor to be subject to Him. The very fact that He addressed her as woman and not as mother probably hurt.

Then after a double circuit of Galilee during which crowds gathered around Jesus for teaching and healing, so much so that He had little time, “to eat bread,” His mother and brothers came to Him.  Had not the men of Nazareth sought to throw Him over the brow of the hill (Luke 4:29)? Now, anxious for His safety and fearing He would destroy Himself by His constant work and lack of food and rest, Mary and her sons “sought to speak with him, and give advice, for they said, “He is beside himself” (Mark 3:21, 31-35). It was natural for a mother to be concerned about her Son wearing Himself out.

Thinking, perhaps, that she might save Jesus from the effects of overwork, Mary receives another mild rebuke in which He hinted that the blessedness of Mary consisted not in being His mother, but in believing in Him and in His God-given mission, and in obedience to His words. Jesus again denies any authority of earthly relatives, or any privilege from human relationships. “My mother! Who is My mother and My brothers?” Then pointing to those sitting around Him who had believed His word and followed Him, He said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 11:28). In effect Jesus said, “I, in working out the world’s redemption, can acknowledge only spiritual relationships.” So the distance between Mary and her Son widens, and the piercings of the sword, which old Simeon had prophesied, were keenly felt.

Mary’s deepest sword piercing came when in agony she stood beneath that old rugged cross and witnessed the degradation, desolation and death of the One whom she had brought into the world and intensely loved. She heard the blasphemies and revilings of the priests and the people, and saw the lights go out—but her faith did not die.

If the cross was our Lord’s crown of sorrow, it was likewise Mary’s, yet how courageous she was. Should she not have been spared the agony of seeing the Son of her womb die such a despicable death?

How impressed we are with the valor of Mary, as the sword pierces her heart again “now that which she brought forth was dying”! Before He died Jesus recognized His human relationship to Mary, which He had during His ministry put in the background, that His higher relationship must stand out more prominently. Commending Mary to John, Jesus did not address her by name, or as His mother, but as “Woman.” To John He said, “Your mother” (John 19:26, 27). But even then she did not desert her Son. Some of His disciples forsook Him and fled, but her love never surrendered, even though her Son was dying as a criminal between two thieves.

The last glimpse we have of Mary is a heartwarming one. We find her among the group of believers gathered together in the upper chamber. (Acts 1:12-14). Her Son is alive forevermore, and life has changed for her. So she takes her place among those awaiting the coming of the Spirit to equip them for the beginning of the Christian community. Mary was present in that upper room humbly along with the rest, including her sons, who, by this time, were believers. So the last mention of Mary is a happy one. We see her praying, along with her sons whom she had possibly led into a full-orbed faith, as well as the other disciples who had met to pray and await the gift of Pentecost.


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Jesus Changes Prejudices – Acts 10

Prejudice is everywhere in the world—in every nation, state, city, and neighborhood. Prejudice (discrimination) even exists within families between parent and child, brother and sister, family and relatives. Feelings toward and against people are a tragic reality.

There are at least two basic reasons for prejudice.

  • People differ. They differ in nationality, color, beliefs, religion, speech, looks, behavior, ability, energy, position, status, social standing, possessions, wealth, birth, heritage. Prejudice arises when people feel they and their differences make them better than others.
  • Mistreatment causes prejudice, both mistreating others and being mistreated. When a person mistreats others or is mistreated by others his nature is immediately aroused to become prejudicial and judgmental. The mistreatment that gives rise to prejudice covers a wide range of behavior: ignoring, neglecting, joking, gossiping, opposing, cursing, abusing, fighting against, persecuting, passing over, segregating, enslaving.

The present passage strikes a fatal blow against prejudice. It shows forever that Jesus Christ has erased all prejudices and barriers between people. Jew and Gentile are now one in Christ Jesus. This is the subject of the present passage. However, before launching into the passage, some background will be helpful in understanding just what is happening and the significance of it.

The Jews, like all other people of the earth, had developed their own laws and customs; and every Jewish child was born and reared in the environment of those laws and customs. They, like all other people, were steeped in their own nationality and looked upon other people with suspicion. However, there were two factors which made the Jewish prejudice run deeper than most.

  1. The Jewish people had always been mistreated, enslaved, and persecuted much more than the other people of the world. Through the centuries the Jewish people had been conquered by army after army, and by the millions they had been deported and scattered over the world. Even in the day of Jesus they were enslaved by Rome. Their religion was the binding force that kept Jews together, in particular their belief that God had called them to be a distinctive people (who worshipped the only true and living God) and their rules governing…
•  the Sabbath

•  the temple

•  intermarriage

•  worship and cleansing

•  diet, what foods they could and could not eat

Their belief and their rules kept them from alien beliefs and from being swallowed up by other people through intermarriage. Their religion was what maintained their distinctiveness as a people and as a nation.

Jewish leaders knew this. They knew that their religion was the binding force that held their nation together. Therefore, they opposed anyone or anything that threatened or attempted to break the laws of their religion and nation.

  1. The Jews misread and misinterpreted God’s Word and purpose for them. God had called Abraham and given birth to the Jewish nation for one primary purpose—that they might be His people, His witnesses, His missionaries to the rest of the world. God had given the Jews His Word and instructed them to take His Word to the world and tell them about God. They were to bear witness that God is—God does exist—and that men are to worship and serve Him and Him alone.

It was here that Israel failed. Instead of proclaiming God and His Word of righteousness and morality to the world, Israel separated itself from the world, hoarding and claiming that God and His law were theirs and theirs alone. They became separatists, extremely prejudiced, building barriers and partitions between themselves and the other people of the world (Gentiles). Prejudice became so deep-seated that attitudes such as these were adopted:

⇒  They called other people “dogs.”

⇒  They would have no contact with a Gentile unless absolutely necessary, and then after contact, they had to go through a religious ceremony to be cleansed.

⇒  They would not help a Gentile woman who was giving birth lest another Gentile be born into the world.

It was into such a world that the church was born, a world of prejudice, the prejudice…

  • of Jew against Gentile.
  • of Gentile against Jew.
  • of Gentile against Gentile.

How was God going to overcome and break down the walls and barriers of prejudice that had been built up through the centuries of history? How was He going to get His church, His people to break away from their Jewish roots and reach out to the whole world?

That is the point of the present passage. The doors of God’s salvation are about to be gloriously swung open to the people of the world. Every man will soon have the wonderful privilege of hearing the marvelous message proclaimed: God is love and has sent His dear Son into the world that the world might be saved and not perish. The present passage shows how God broke through the prejudicial environment and customs of his dear servant, Peter, and led him to swing open the door to a Gentile soldier who was desperately crying out to God.

The story is one of the great stories of history, and it should be studied by all people everywhere. A study of this event shows that God has broken down the barrier of prejudice between men racially and religiously, and that He means and intends them to be erased forever—in the name of His dear Son who came to show that God loves all men and wishes all men to be saved.

The subject of the passage can be titled: “The Breakdown of Prejudice” or “The Opening of the Door to the Gentiles.” The door could not be opened until the existing prejudices were dealt with; therefore, the story deals mainly with the breaking down of the prejudices between the Gentile Cornelius and the Jewish minister Simon Peter.

1. (10:1-8) Prejudice— Jew vs. Gentile— Seeking God: the breakdown of prejudice in the Gentile, Cornelius. Note: it is God who breaks down prejudice. Prejudice is so deep-seated in the heart of man, only God can erase it and reconcile man.

Cornelius was a soldier, a military officer, a Centurion in the Roman army. (The Italian band simply means that all the soldiers (100) under his command were from Italy. Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea. This is important to note, for Caesarea was a Gentile city, a place in which strict Jews would never set foot, not if preventable.

Cornelius had an unusual reverence for God. He was…

  • a devout man: one who worshipped the true and living God.
  • a God-fearing man: one who sensed the presence of God in the world and knew he was responsible to God to live righteously, justly, and morally toward all men.
  • a benevolent and charitable man: one who gave to charity, and note he gave “much.”
  • a praying man: the word means that he prayed always.

The point is this: Cornelius was totally unlike most of the Gentiles of his day. He was not worshipping false gods. The Scripture says he worshipped and “prayed to God.” In Greek this means the true God, the only living and true God. Cornelius had done two things.

  1. He had looked at nature and at the world around him and seen that there was bound to be one God who had created all things.
  2. He had looked at Jewish religion (Judaism) and seen that it was head and shoulders above all other religions in…
  • its worship of one God.
  • its teachings of righteousness and justice and morality.
  • its religious practices such as praying three times daily. (Note his praying at the Jewish ninth hour, which today is 3 p.m.)

But note: Cornelius did not become a Jewish worshipper. He was not circumcised (cp. Acts 11:3). He would never consent to becoming a Jewish convert. He could learn from them and their religion, but he would never become one of them. The prejudice existing within his own heart, existing between Gentile and Jew was too great to overcome. (We must always remember, prejudice is too great to overcome in the flesh of natural man.)

Cornelius was given a vision from God. Note five points.

  1. Cornelius was in prayer when the vision came.
  2. The vision involved an angel bringing a message from God.
  3. Cornelius “looked on” that is, fastened his eyes, gazed, focused his attention; he was startled, frightened.
  4. Cornelius realized the angel of God was a messenger from God (Acts 9:30, “bright clothing”). He addressed him as “Lord.”
  5. The message to Cornelius was twofold.

1)  His prayers and charity had come before God as a memorial

2)  He was to send men to Joppa to see Peter and ask him what to do. Now note a critical point: despite Cornelius’ enormous reverence and faithful service for God…

    • he was still not doing enough.
    • something else was missing.
    • one thing was still lacking.

Note another fact as well: Cornelius was aware he still lacked something, very aware of the fact. He had asked God what he still needed. Despite all his reverence and good works, he still felt a lack, an emptiness; and he was begging God to fill that emptiness, to show him what he still had to do.

Cornelius was obedient to the heavenly vision and instructions. He sent two trusted household servants and his most trusted military orderly to find Simon Peter. Cornelius would seek the answer to his heart’s need from a Jew.

2. (10:9-22) Prejudice— Jew vs. Gentile: the breakdown of prejudice in the Jew, Simon Peter. The servants from Cornelius had almost reached the city of Joppa where Peter was. They would be approaching Peter soon with the request to visit and help Cornelius. However, Peter was not ready…

  • to welcome these men.
  • to return with them to visit Cornelius.
  • to stay and share in the home of Cornelius.

Why? Cornelius was a Gentile and Peter was a Jew. There was deep-seated racial discrimination between the two. Welcoming and visiting and sharing in the homes of each other was out of the question. And on top of that, there was a religious difference, a difference that was even more deeply seated in Peter’s mind than the racial difference. Peter was just not ready for these Gentile men to approach him with the request to visit Cornelius the Gentile, not yet.

But God was ready. And it is God who makes the difference. God can break down prejudice. God can reconcile the Jew to the Gentile and the Gentile to the Jew. God can reconcile man to man; He can bring peace to men and between men. Note these facts.

Peter prayed often every day. This is seen in the fact that he was praying about the sixth hour (12 noon Jewish time). This was one of the three prayer hours practiced by Jews. Peter got alone and prayed at least three times daily.

Peter was such a man of prayer that God could intervene in his life and direct him, give him specific instructions. It was while he was praying that God spoke to Peter.

Peter was a mere man, very human. Despite his being the leader of Jesus’ apostles—the great apostle to the Jews, a man of great spiritual maturity and depth, a great servant of the Lord, a minister highly esteemed—Peter was still just a man, a man who hungered and thirsted, ached and hurt, was weak and frail, prejudiced and too often wrong just like the rest of us.

The point is this: being saved and spiritually mature and called to serve God did not make Peter perfect. It did not free him from need and lack, nor from sin. Peter as a mere man was subject to hunger just as all men, and subject to the prejudices of his environment just as all men—subject to the prejudices until God changed him. And praise God, He was about to change Peter’s prejudice against us, the Gentiles! If God had not changed him and his prejudices, we would still be lost and without Christ in this world.

Peter experienced a trance. The Greek says that “a trance [an ecstasy] came upon him”; that is, he was transported out of himself. His mind was so concentrated, so focused that Peter lost all sense of the world around him. He was swallowed up in the thoughts of God, transported mentally out of this world. It is something like a daydream, but a daydream so concentrated and focused that all contact with one’s surroundings is completely lost. It is a time of ecstacy in the presence of the Lord, receiving His Word, whatever He has to say to one’s heart.

The trance (ecstacy) was of heaven. Peter saw heaven open. Peter’s prejudice was encrusted and hardened. He had never known anything but prejudice within his environment except what Christ had demonstrated. Peter did not think or know that he was prejudiced. He thought he was only standing against the unrighteousness and injustices of men, that he was to ignore and have nothing to do with ungodly and unjust men. If Peter was to change and begin to reach out to the heathen, the ungodly and unjust, he had to know that the instructions were from heaven, from God Himself.

The vessel or platter (plate) upon which a meal was served was huge.

⇒  It was a large receptacle, so large it looked like a large sheet (othonen), which in the Greek means linen cloth. This probably means it was white.

⇒  The huge vessel or platter had four corners that were knit, that is, that were held by four ropes and let down from heaven, descending to earth and being sat before Peter.

⇒  The vessel or platter contained all manner of animals.

  • The instruction to Peter was, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.”
  • Peter refused, for the animals were common and unclean according to the laws of Jewish religion. Note the enormous spiritual struggle Peter was going through.
  • Peter was clearly corrected: “What God has cleansed, that call not unclean.”
  • Peter experienced the event three times and then the trance ended with the platter being received up into heaven.
  • Peter was perplexed. While Peter was thinking about the trance and wondering what it meant, the men arrived downstairs and asked for him.
  • Peter’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leadership is clearly seen from this point on. Note: it was the Holy Spirit who…
    • told him the men were downstairs.
    • told him to go “with them” (Peter did not yet know they were Gentiles).
    • told him to “doubt nothing”: do not waver, wonder, hesitate, question the thing to be done.
    • told him that He, the Holy Spirit, had sent the men after him.

Note: Peter did not yet know the men were Gentiles. But the Holy Spirit had just told Peter exactly what to do. Peter could not question this fact. Peter was now ready to have his prejudice against Gentiles erased. Note also: Peter did not yet know the meaning of the trance. This would be made clear later.

Peter received the Gentile servants. He obeyed the Holy Spirit, did exactly what the Spirit said. Peter even lodged them, an unheard of thing. (As a point of humor, imagine the kosher food they had that evening.)

3. (10:23-33) Lessons Learned by the Jew and the Gentile, the prejudiced of the world.

  1. The preparation by Peter. He took six Jewish believers, orthodox Jews, with him (Acts 10:45; Acts 11:12). Peter knew he was treading troubled waters by associating with Gentiles; he sensed he would need witnesses to what he was doing. Therefore, he was preparing himself against attack (cp. Acts 11:1f).
  2. The preparation by Cornelius. Note…
  • He was expectant, excited, eagerly waiting for their arrival.
  • He had “called together his kinsmen and close friends.” There were many present.

Note also the faith of Cornelius. He knew Peter would be coming, that God would fulfill His Word (Acts 10:6) and do what He had promised.

Cornelius was already witnessing by bringing people to hear the messenger from God.

The confrontation of the Jew and the Gentile, two men humbled by God.

  • Cornelius had been humbled by the vision from God. He had been mulling over the experience for four days now, being humbled and prepared more and more to receive the Jewish messenger. When he confronted Peter, he was so humbled he prostrated himself before Peter in an act of deep reverence.
  • Peter demonstrated humility as well. It was the custom to bow before men of high honor, showing reverence and respect for them. But God had humbled Peter too. Peter forbade the act, disallowed it. No man is to be idolized or reverenced in the sense of being held in awe. Peter rebuked Cornelius: “I myself also am a man.”
  •  Peter now knew that no man was common or unclean. He now knew…
    • that Christ had abolished the distinction between Jew and Gentile.
    • that Christ had abolished the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile
    • that Christ had abolished all distinctions between men, whether racial, social, or some caste system.

No man was to treat any other man with anything but love and care, mercy and forgiveness, concern and compassion. Peter’s prejudice was wiped out, erased, and overcome. It had been overcome by God. The door of salvation was about to be thrown open to the Gentiles forever.

Note Peter’s reference to how it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with a Gentile (Acts 10:28). This law was not in the Scripture. It came from the Scribal law

The lesson learned by Cornelius was threefold.

  • The man who truly seeks God moves God. Cornelius declared that God answered his prayer.
  • The man who seeks God must listen to God and obey God. Cornelius declared that he listened and did exactly what God said, and that he did it immediately (Acts 10:33)
  • The man who seeks God must be receptive to the Word of God.


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Source: The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – Acts, (Chattanooga: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “C. A World-Wide Ministry–In Caesarea (Part I): Breaking Down Prejudice, 10:1-33”.

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Jesus Changes People – Acts 9

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the leading persecutor of the Christians, was perhaps the greatest event in church history after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The next great event would be the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 10), and Saul (Paul) would become the apostle to the Gentiles. God was continuing to work out His plan to bring the Gospel to the whole world.

“Paul was a great man,” said Charles Spurgeon, “and I have no doubt that on the way to Damascus he rode a very high horse. But a few seconds sufficed to alter the man. How soon God brought him down!”

The account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is given three times in Acts, in chapters 9, 22, and 26.

Jesus Changes Paul (Acts 9:1-9)

When you look at Saul on the road (Acts 9:1-2), you see a very zealous man who actually thought he was doing God a service by persecuting the church. Had you stopped him and asked for his reasons, he might have said something like this:

“Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Do you expect me to believe that a crucified nobody is the promised Messiah? According to our Law, anybody who is hung on a tree is cursed [Deut. 21:23]. Would God take a cursed false prophet and make him the Messiah? No! His followers are preaching that Jesus is both alive and doing miracles through them. But their power comes from Satan, not God. This is a dangerous sect, and I intend to eliminate it before it destroys our historic Jewish faith!”

In spite of his great learning (Acts 26:24), Saul was spiritually blind (2 Cor. 3:12-18) and did not understand what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah. Like many others of his countrymen, he stumbled over the Cross (1 Cor. 1:23) because he depended on his own righteousness and not on the righteousness of God (Rom. 9:30-10:13; Phil. 3:1-10). Many self-righteous religious people today do not see their need for a Saviour and resent it if you tell them they are sinners.

Saul’s attitude was that of an angry animal whose very breath was dangerous! (see Acts 8:3) Like many other rabbis, he believed that the Law had to be obeyed before Messiah could come; and yet these “heretics” were preaching against the Law, the temple, and the traditions of the fathers (Acts 6:11-13). Saul wasted the churches in Judea (Gal. 1:23) and then got authority from the high priest to go as far as Damascus to hunt down the disciples of Jesus. This was no insignificant enterprise, for the authority of the highest Jewish council was behind him (Acts 22:5).

Damascus had a large Jewish population, and it has been estimated that there could well have been thirty to forty synagogues in the city. The fact that there were already believers there indicates how effective the church had been in getting out the message. Some of the believers may have fled the persecution in Jerusalem, which explains why Saul wanted authority to bring them back. Believers were still identified with the Jewish synagogues, for the break with Judaism would not come for a few years. (See James 2:2, where “assembly” is “synagogue” in the original Greek.)

Saul suddenly found himself on the ground! (Acts 9:4) It was not a heat stroke or an attack of epilepsy that put him there, but a personal meeting with Jesus Christ. At midday (Acts 22:6), he saw a bright light from heaven and heard a voice speaking his name (Acts 22:6-11). The men with him also fell to the earth (Acts 26:14) and heard the sound, but they could not understand the words spoken from heaven. They stood to their feet in bewilderment (Acts 9:7), hearing Saul address someone, but not knowing what was happening.

Saul of Tarsus made some wonderful discoveries that day. To begin with, he discovered to his surprise that Jesus of Nazareth was actually alive! Of course, the believers had been constantly affirming this (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:30-32), but Saul had refused to accept their testimony. If Jesus was alive, then Saul had to change his mind about Jesus and His message. He had to repent, a difficult thing for a self-righteous Pharisee to do.

Saul also discovered that he was a lost sinner who was in danger of the judgment of God. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5, NKJV). Saul thought he had been serving God, when in reality he had been persecuting the Messiah! When measured by the holiness of Jesus Christ, Saul’s good works and legalistic self-righteousness looked like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:6-8). All of his values changed. He was a new person because he trusted Jesus Christ. Saul thought he was pursuing heretics, but he was persecuting Jesus himself. Anyone who persecutes believers today is also guilty of persecuting Jesus (see Matthew 25:40, 45) because believers are the body of Christ on earth.

The Lord had a special work for Saul to do (Acts 26:16-18). The Hebrew of the Hebrews would become the apostle to the Gentiles; the persecutor would become a preacher; and the legalistic Pharisee would become the great proclaimer of the grace of God.

Some thirty years later, Paul wrote that Christ had “apprehended him” on the Damascus road (Phil. 3:12). Saul was out to arrest others when the Lord arrested him. He had to lose his religion before he could gain the righteousness of Christ. His conversion experience is unique, because sinners today certainly do not hear God’s voice or see blinding heavenly lights. However, Paul’s experience is an example of how Israel will be saved when Jesus Christ returns and reveals Himself to them (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 24:29ff; 1 Tim. 1:12-16). His salvation is certainly a great encouragement to any lost sinner, for if “the chief of sinners” could be saved, surely anybody can be saved!

It is worth noting that the men who were with Saul saw the light, but did not see the Lord; and they heard the sound, but did not hear the voice speaking the words (note John 12:27-29). We wonder if any of them later trusted in Christ because of Saul’s testimony. He definitely saw the glorified Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:7-10).

The men led Saul into the city (Acts 9:8-9), for the angry bull (Acts 9:1) had now become a docile lamb! The leader had to be led because the vision had left him blind. His spiritual eyes had been opened, but his physical eyes were closed. God was thoroughly humbling Saul and preparing him for the ministry of Ananias. He fasted and prayed (Acts 9:11) for three days, during which time he no doubt started to “sort out” what he believed. He had been saved by grace, not by Law, through faith in the living Christ. God began to instruct Saul and show him the relationship between the Gospel of the grace of God and the traditional Mosaic religion that he had practiced all his life.

Jesus Changes Our Plans  (Acts 9:10-19)

Ananias was a devout Jew (Acts 22:12) who was a believer in Jesus Christ. He knew what kind of reputation Saul had and that he was coming to Damascus to arrest believers. It was up to a week’s journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, but some of the Jerusalem Christians had gotten to the city first in order to warn the saints. It is interesting to note in Acts 9 the different names used for God’s people: disciples (Acts 9:1, 10, 19, 25-26, 36, 38), those of the way (Acts 9:2), saints (Acts 9:13, 32, 41), all that call on God’s name (Acts 9:14, 21), and brethren (Acts 9:17, 30). We use the word Christian most frequently, and yet that name did not appear on the scene until later (Acts 11:26). “Disciples” is the name that is used most in the Book of Acts, but you do not find it used in the epistles. There the name “saints” is the most frequently used title for God’s people.

Ananias was available to do God’s will, but he certainly was not anxious to obey! The fact that Saul was “praying” instead of “preying” should have encouraged Ananias. “Prayer is the autograph of the Holy Ghost upon the renewed heart,” said Charles Spurgeon (Rom. 8:9, 14-16). Instead of trusting himself, Saul was now trusting the Lord and waiting for Him to show him what to do. In fact, Saul had already seen a vision of a man named Ananias (Hananiah = “the Lord is gracious”) coming to minister to him; so, how could Ananias refuse to obey?

Acts 9:15 is a good summary of Paul’s life and ministry. It was all of grace, for he did not choose God; it was God who chose him (1 Tim. 1:14). He was God’s vessel (2 Tim. 2:20-21), and God would work in and through him to accomplish His purposes (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-13). God’s name would be glorified as His servant would take the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles, kings and commoners, and as he would suffer for Christ’s sake. This is the first reference in the Book of Acts to the Gospel going to the Gentiles (see also Acts 22:21; 26:17).

Once convinced, Ananias lost no time going to the house of Judas and ministering to waiting Saul. The fact that he called him “brother” must have brought joy to the heart of the blinded Pharisee. Saul not only heard Ananias’ voice, but he felt his hands (Acts 9:12, 17). By the power of God, his eyes were opened and he could see! He was also filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized, and then he ate some food.

Saul remained with the believers in Damascus and no doubt learned from them. Imagine what it would be like to disciple the great Apostle Paul! He discovered that they were loving people, undeserving of the persecution he had inflicted on them; and that they knew the truth of God’s Word and only wanted to share it with others.

Here are some exciting things we can learn from God changing Ananias’ plans:

  • God can use even the most obscure saint. Were it not for the conversion of Saul, we would never have heard of Ananias; and yet Ananias had an important part to play in the ongoing work of the church. Behind many well-known servants of God are lesser-known believers who have influenced them. God keeps the books and will see to it that each servant will get a just reward. The important thing is not fame but faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1-5).
  • The experience of Ananias also reminds us that we should never be afraid to obey God’s will. Ananias at first argued with the Lord and gave some good reasons why he should not visit Saul. But the Lord had everything under control, and Ananias obeyed by faith. When God commands, we must remember that He is working “at both ends of the line,” and that His perfect will is always the best.
  • God’s works are always balanced. God balanced a great public miracle with a quiet meeting in the house of Judas. The bright light and the voice from heaven were dramatic events, but the visit of Ananias was somewhat ordinary. The hand of God pushed Saul from his “high horse,” but God used the hand of a man to bring Saul what he most needed. God spoke from heaven, but He also spoke through an obedient disciple who gave the message to Saul. The “ordinary” events were just as much a part of the miracle as were the extraordinary.
  • Finally, we must never underestimate the value of one person brought to Christ. Peter was ministering to thousands in Jerusalem, and Philip had seen a great harvest among the Samaritan people, but Ananias was sent to only one man. Yet what a man! Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle, and his life and ministry have influenced people and nations ever since. Even secular historians confess that Paul is one of the significant figures in world history.

Our task is to lead men and women to Christ; God’s task is to use them for His purposes; and every person is important to God.


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Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 438-441.

Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1835.


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