September 11, 2016 “Get Up” – Acts 9:32-43
September 11, 2016 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
[This message was for a bi-lingual service. You will hear the translation on the audio version.]
“Get up, we’re almost there” is what we told Alyssa about 200 yards from the lake on our backpack trip. “Get up, it’s just a little further. You can do it.” Our text today from Acts leaves the newly converted Saul waiting in Tarsus, while we turn our attention back to the apostle Peter. He is telling people to “get up.”
We have two miracle stories at the end of Acts 9, both through Peter. Both heal someone with a Greek name. Both call the church community “the saints.” Both resemble miracles done by Jesus Himself. Both make it clear that the power which heals does not come from Peter, but from God through Jesus Christ. But what I noticed as I read these verses is that to both Aeneas and Tabitha, Peter says the impossible words, “Get up.”
Aeneas was paralyzed. Aeneas did not feel much like the Greek hero, the founder of Roman civilization, after whom he was named. He couldn’t move. He could do nothing for himself. Yet along comes Peter to tell him to get up.
One summer during seminary I was in hospital chaplain training. A young man was brought into the emergency room. Drunk, he had dived off a pier into the shallow Fox River and broken his neck. Now he was paralyzed, a quadriplegic. I visited him every day for a week and prayed for him. But I could not say to him what Peter said to Aeneas. It would have been a cruel joke to say, “Get up.”
Dorcas was dead. She wasn’t just asleep. She wasn’t unconscious. Verse 37 says her body had been washed like Jewish people did for the dead. They knew Tabitha had died. Her name in both Greek and Aramaic means “gazelle.” But she wasn’t going to get up and run and leap like a gazelle anymore. The widows she had helped stood around her weeping. Verse 38 says they wore clothes she sewed for them. They held out their sleeves and hems for Peter to see as he entered. He sent them all out and told Tabitha to get up.
I’ve stood beside many coffins: church people I’ve known well; my own grandmother and mother; a few strangers. People were crying. Sometimes they showed me pictures or medals or a quilt made by their loved one. I’ve said many words over those dead bodies: words of Scripture, prayers, memories, whatever I could to bring Christian hope and peace. But I’ve never had and probably never will have the courage to say to a corpse what Peter said in only one Aramaic word, Koum, “Get up.”
It’s one thing to ask a young girl in good health to get up off a log and walk a little farther. It’s something else entirely to do like Peter and stand before immobile or lifeless flesh and tell it to rise. It’s either ancient history or distant future, something that happened long ago in Bible times or will happen someday when Jesus comes back. We don’t expect it to happen right now, today.
But the saints in Joppa expected it. They knew sweet Tabitha was dead—stone, cold, dead. You don’t wash a body for the grave if you aren’t sure. Yet when they heard Peter was near, a few miles away in Lydda, they sent for him. Not just to pay his respects or offer words of comfort. Verse 38 asks, “Please come at once!” They expected something.
What Christians in Lydda and Joppa expected, what Peter more than anyone expected, was that the very same power by which Jesus raised up a paralyzed man and a dead girl and dead man, the power which raised Jesus Himself from the dead would also raise up this man and this woman. Peter said, “get up” with utter and absolute confidence.
Peter was confident because he believed what he told Aeneas in verse 34, “Jesus Christ heals you.” You and I are here because we too believe in Jesus Christ. We believe that God raised Him from the dead. We believe it, but we’re not very confident about it. We don’t go around telling paralytics and dead people to just get up. We can’t do that.
What shall we do, then? Is our faith any use at all if we haven’t the power of Peter to speak and heal the paralyzed or raise the dead? Shall we just agree that we cannot ever say “get up” and mean it?
Think about it, though. Did Peter heal every paralytic and raise every dead woman in Palestine, even all the Christian ones? I doubt it. This happened 10 years after Jesus. Luke tells us about many miracles. But nowhere are we told these happened every day or every week. These miracles got written down because they were unusual. Miracles are signs, signs of what is coming, not everyday, ordinary events.
Peter’s miracles should not discourage us with our own inability to duplicate them. Peter himself did not work miracles constantly. The Lord did a few miracles through Peter, not to teach us that every Christian should do miracles, but to teach us the power of Jesus. That’s exactly how he put it to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.” Not “Peter heals you,” but “Jesus heals you.”
We may not be able to say “Get up” to many sick people. We certainly cannot say “Get up” to a dead person. But what we do know is that Jesus has the power to get people up out of anything. Paralysis was a symbol of sin. When Jesus healed a paralytic man in the Gospels using almost the same words Peter used, He first forgave the man’s sins. So if sin is what has got us down, we can always confidently say “Get up, Jesus forgives you.”
Jesus may not be ready to heal your legs or your back or your eyes or anything like that, but He is always ready to forgive your sins and get you up out of an evil place into a new and better life. I can say that to you with confidence and we can say it to each other. That’s why Jesus wants us to forgive each other, so that we can be sure that He forgives us, that He will get us up and out of our sins and into His life.
We can also say “get up” to each other when things go bad in our lives. Paul and Amanda and their children came here to live in an RV on our parking lot a few months ago. Paul had complications from surgery, couldn’t work and lost his job. They lost their house. They had nowhere else to go. But some of you welcomed them and helped them and encouraged them. Now they’ve moved out of our parking lot because God gave them an apartment. Paul had more surgery that was successful. Now he’s able to work. Jesus raised him up and raised his family up.
God does not want to leave anyone down. Like our Gospel reading from Luke 15 says, the Good Shepherd comes looking for the lost and fallen sheep. He picks them up and puts them on His shoulders and carries them home. Jesus forgives and heals and raises up anyone who will trust in Him. That’s what we can tell each other. That’s why we can say “Get up” with confidence to all the lost sheep we know.
Peter did miracles like Jesus did. Jesus raised a paralyzed man and told him to pick up his bed. Peter healed a paralyzed man and told him to make his bed. Jesus came to a dead girl and told her talitha koum, “get up.” Peter said to Dorcas, Tabitha koum, just one letter different in the words. Peter did what Jesus did and we can do it too. In the name of Jesus you and I can help people, help each other get up.
In Jesus Christ, in His resurrection power, we have hope to give each other and to give the world. Some people genuinely struggle just to get out of bed because of physical pain or mental illness. Just putting their feet on the floor is a huge struggle. Getting up is painful. You and I can offer them the gracious power of Jesus. We can say—with all love and gentleness and care—“get up” and believe for each other that “Jesus Christ heals you.”
If you are down today, whether it’s down in spirit because of sin or grief or down in body because of physical pain, Jesus wants to help you, to heal you. We say “get up” to you because you are Jesus’ lost sheep, the lamb He wants to lift up and carry home. May you be able to trust Jesus and receive His forgiveness and help today.
If there is someone you know who is down today, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, remember that Jesus wants to help and heal that person, to find and raise up that lost sheep. Jesus may want to use you to help, to be someone like Peter who tells them the good news that “Jesus Christ heals you.” Think about how you can say “get up.”
Like it was for Peter in Aramaic, “Get up” in Spanish is one word, Levántate. It’s the word we all need to hear. You need to hear it when you fail or are afraid. Your friends and family need to hear that word when they are down. Get up because Jesus loves you and will raise you up. And someday Jesus will come back and say “Get up!” to all those who believe in Him. He will raise all the dead, and we will rise to live in His kingdom forever.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj