God’s Word for You
Acts 9:37-38 The death of a Christian woman
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, February 19, 2020
37 At that time she became sick and died. After they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him asking, “Please come to us without delay.”
These two verses relate actions that took place at the same time. While Peter was in nearby Lydda, the woman Tabitha became sick and died. We don’t know how long this sickness lasted; perhaps it came on her quickly, but she breathed her last and died. It was the custom to wash and anoint the body for burial; in the case of Jesus, this was hurried because of the approach of the Sabbath. Of all the 168 hours in a week, only the few leading up to the sundown before the Sabbath would require such haste. For anyone who died during the Sabbath, the family would simply have waited (in most cases) for Saturday’s sundown, and then proceeded as usual. Here, they washed Tabitha and then, rather than taking her directly to her burial, they took her to the upper room of a house. This was not the usual procedure, but two men had been sent over to Lydda to beg Peter to come.
Even as we begin to form the question, “What did they expect Peter to do?” we know that there is only one answer. The people who knew and loved Tabitha wanted Peter to come and do for them what they knew Jesus had sometimes done. They fully expected that it was possible for her to be brought back from death. So they sent a delegation, took care of their dear friend’s body, and they waited. There is no reason to ask why they had not sent for the apostle (whom they knew was nearby) when her sickness came on. The fact is, no matter what our speculation (it happened too suddenly; she was under the care of a physician; someone else had recovered from a similar illness, etc., etc.), we are left with the general fact that they didn’t think of it until she had died.
Peter could be brought back in a matter of hours (Lenski says five or six, which matches the details on our maps). By asking Peter to hurry (“without delay”), they could wait to bury her. They made no request for him to perform a miracle. All they did was send for the apostle, and then they could leave everything to the working of the Holy Spirit. Whatever happened next would be God’s will.
There comes a time in every illness when we must do the same thing that these Christians were able to do even after Tabitha died. We might pray for medicine or miracle to rescue our loved one or friend from the illness or accident that threatens them, but finally we have to leave everything in the hands of God. He has his divine reasons for calling any one of us home through death, and when he calls one of us home he is gathering that person into his eternal kingdom. We may cry the tears of separation, but we have two facts that must live side-by-side in our hearts: Our loved one is in heaven, and we will miss her dearly here on earth while our time remains. We can state some things as reasons why we think that the Almighty has allowed this to happen:
a, She was being spared more suffering
b, She was being spared some great physical or spiritual trial in the future
c, She was used by God as an example for someone else who needed it
d, Her task on earth was completed
e, Her loss will bring about great good from many other people
f, Her loss will bring about great good on behalf of many other people
g, Her loss prepares others for some similar trial yet to come
Any or all of these might be the case, and there might be still more, but there is no reason to speculate among ourselves as to which one was the case unless God gives clear proof of his main reasons. In Tabitha’s case, we can say with certainty that “Her loss brought about great good on behalf of others.” This is plainly seen in the miracle that follows.
Tabitha’s death also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the loss of a friend. If you cannot fathom God’s infinite wisdom, do not despair. Trust that he works out everything for the good of his people; even you. The death of any human is a sermon on the law that condemns all sin in all mankind. But the death of a Christian is also a sermon on the gospel, that Christ has promised to bring his children home through the glory of the resurrection. Keep that before your mind’s eye at all times. The grave is only a brief resting place, but the day is coming when our graves will fly open and we will emerge healthy, whole, and immortal, and we will step together into everlasting delight.
Pastor Timothy Smith