It would be easy to assume that Peter’s success in this story was solely due to his special calling as an apostle. There is no doubt that his role as an apostle did result in him doing great things for his Master. Yet we are also aware that there were times in Peter’s life when he was not so devoted and when he was not used by Jesus in his service. So are there any features from his life at that time which Luke highlights for us? There are four, at least.
First, note how Luke describes how Peter came into contact with Aeneas. Peter found him, which suggests that he sought him out. We are not told why he did so or how he did so. Probably the believers in Lydda told him about Aeneas. Peter could have said to himself, ‘I will wait until somehow Aeneas comes to me and then I will speak to him.’ Given the problem that Aeneas had, Peter would have had to wait a long time. It was good for Aeneas that Peter took the initiative. In this regard, Aeneas is a picture of all the people out there who are spiritually unable to take a step in the right direction. They have to be sought out with the gospel.
Second, we should observe Peter’s response to the death of Tabitha. Luke stresses that Peter prayed about the situation. The account is not suggesting that sometimes Peter did not pray about an activity. Rather it points to the fact that there will be situations that require special prayer. Peter had to do something that he knew he could not do and which he had never done before. But he did not focus on his own inability, instead he turned to the Lord for help. He asked the Lord to do what only he could do, which was to give life to the dead. The Lord heard his cry and power was sent from heaven. What was true of Tabitha physically is true of everyone spiritually. They will not be raised through our efforts unless we pray for divine power.
Third, we can see clearly Peter’s humility in Luke’s account. There was nobody present when Peter raised Tabitha. He could have presented the story in a way that would have brought great credit to himself. It would have been easy for him to omit the details about the praying and for him to say, ‘I commanded Tabitha to rise, and she did!’ Nobody would know otherwise. Yet he was determined to ensure that he did not give the impression that he contributed more than he did. In his telling of what happened, he ensured that everyone knew it was the Lord who did it. We live in a day where people ensure that they are recognised, whether or not they deserve it. Perhaps we have heard the words of James Denney: ‘No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.’ Humility is an essential mark of a Christian disciple.
Fourth, Luke mentions an interesting aspect of Peter’s behaviour when he mentions that the apostle stayed ‘in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner.’ Peter would never have done that in the past because to stay with a person who worked with dead carcases would have rendered him ceremoniously unclean. In this decision of Peter, we see his willingness to identify with an individual whom others would not want to be seen with. Sadly Peter would later be inconsistent with regard to ignoring the ceremonial law such as when he refused to eat with Gentiles in Antioch. Yet here in Joppa he put aside his previous scruples because they hindered the gospel.