The miracle that shocked an entire community
In this short text in the book of Acts, Luke reports a miracle. It’s the resurrection of Dorcas, who was part of the Christian community in Joppa, a city that today is part of Tel-Aviv and is one of the oldest city-ports of the eastern Mediterranean world. Dorcas is apparently a well-to-do woman – perhaps even the widow of a sea captain.
We don’t know how Dorcas became a Christian, but we know she was a strong woman. Her name means “gazelle” in Greek. She had a tremendous impact among the poor in her city; and everyone knew Dorcas for her love and her social and humanitarian deeds. When Dorcas saw the needs of the widows around her, she felt responsible to provide for their daily needs, such as clothing. Acts says that Dorcas “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity.”
One day, Dorcas fell ill and died. The Christians in Joppa were deeply affected; they quickly informed Peter and asked him to come to their city. When he arrived at her house, Peter found all the widows of the city grieving. They had just lost Dorcas’ human and spiritual support. They showed Peter the beautiful clothes Dorcas had made for them, and asked him to do something – they had surely heard about this great apostle who was an eyewitness of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter made everyone leave the room where Dorcas’ body lay and fell on his knees to pray. One wonders what he said in his prayer, or how long he prayed, or if he cried out to God like Elijah (1 Kings 17:17–24).
Peter had seen the Lord work many miracles during his three years of ministry and had witnessed three resurrections. Jesus had acted differently every time he performed a miracle. He didn’t apply a standard method, a fixed process for everyone who needed his miraculous touch. Peter had seen the Lord pray before each one of his miracles. He had seen him cry when his friend Lazarus had died. And he knew that the Lord had promised his disciples they would do greater deeds than he.
With this conviction and with the authority of the Lord, Peter turned toward the body of the dead woman and told her, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes and sat up. Incredible!
Calling all the Christians and especially the widows, Peter presented Dorcas alive. This miracle affected not only the Christian community, but the entire city. The news travelled quickly, overwhelming the residents and causing many of them to believe in the Lord. The fact that Dorcas was well-known for her kindness must have made the significance of this miracle felt throughout Joppa. Dorcas glorified God through her life and thus contributed to the progression of the gospel.
Questions about miracles
We can ask many questions about miracles in the Bible or about the ones God still does today. What’s certain is that God performs miracles and that these miracles evoke different attitudes among humans.
In the Gospel of John, miracles helped strengthen the faith of the disciples. Other people rejected the events. Others adopted a shallow belief based on the immediate benefits granted through the miracles and weren’t grounded in God as the source of the blessing. Some even criticized Jesus and tried to analyze his miracles and discover the source of his power. Their hearts weren’t open; their theology was wrong. How often do we take from God what we want and throw out the rest?
Still to this day, some believe in miracles, some choose to reject them entirely, and still others search for them everywhere. There are some who are satisfied with doubt, while others put God in a box and wait for him to act the same way with everyone in all situations. Or they say, “If God works a miracle in this way, in this situation, I will believe.” Many saw miracles in Jesus’ time, but not all believed.
It’s important to note that God doesn’t act only through miracles. For example, there are things for which God has already equipped us, so we mustn’t wait for divine intervention. We also must understand that God acts in mysterious ways according to his plan and his will.
Peter didn’t resurrect all the Christians who died in his time. So, why did God allow the miracle in Joppa? Miracles in the Bible are always for the purpose of manifesting God’s power in order that people might glorify him. In fact, God works many miracles in our lives that are visible to anyone who is willing to observe his deeds. He graciously gives abundantly, without asking for anything in return. He wants his deeds to lead us to open our eyes and turn wholly to him.
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. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. (Acts 9:40–41)