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Author: Rev. Timotius Tjing
Posted on: 2015-012-18 21:45:00

Scripture reading: Acts 9:36-42
Memory verse: Luke 4:18

This is a merry season as we are celebrating Christmas. We sing Christmas songs, decorating Christmas tree, giving and receiving Christmas gifts. This is a time we celebrate and remember the reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God shows His greatest love and care to us, to the world by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Now, if you are asked to identify the most important Jesus Christ ever did. What is your answer?
You might say “Jesus died for me,” “Jesus forgave my sins,” and “Jesus rose from the dead for me,” I am sure most of you would be saying about the same thing. We believe that the most important thing Jesus did for us was to give his life and death as the payment for our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, God declared us “Not guilty,” and he forgave our sins. That’s the Bible truth we put our faith in. It’s the Bible teaching we call the gospel.

If you asked that same question to other people, they might say, “Jesus showed us how to care for the poor and the pitiful”, “Jesus gave us a model of mercy for the oppressed.” These people have a different definition of gospel. They wouldn’t call the gospel good news for sinners like we do. They would call it good news for the sick, the disabled, and disadvantaged people in society. We call this kind of good news, social gospel. Social gospel isn’t the kind of gospel we proclaim and promote.

If you asked any first century follower of Jesus to identify the most important thing their master ever did, their answers would sound pretty much the same as the answers we give. On the Day of Pentecost, when the people were all confused about the tongues of fire and the sound of the wind and when they asked apostle Peter what they should do, Peter pointed straight at Jesus: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” There wasn’t any doubt in Jerusalem about the most important thing Jesus did.

There wasn’t any doubt in Joppa, either. Joppa was a town not very far from Jerusalem. It was Jerusalem’s port on the Mediterranean. A group of Jesus’ followers lived there, and they all knew the most important things Jesus did while He lived on earth. But something happened in Joppa. One of the members of the congregation had died. Her name was Tabitha.

What do we know about Tabitha? She must have been pretty well-known in Joppa, because Luke mentions her Jewish name, Tabitha, and her Greek name, Dorcas. People on both sides of the social groups must have known her. Luke tells us she was a disciple, which means she was a student of Jesus. She was part of that larger group of men and women who often followed Jesus around. She wouldn’t have had all the experiences the 12 apostles had, but she may have witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles and heard a lot of his teachings. But here is what grabs our attention, Luke wrote in v. 36 “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” Literally, “she was filled with good works and acts of love for people who were poor.” Luke gets more specific later in his story.

When apostle Peter arrived and went to the room where Tabitha’s body was lying, Luke says in v.39 All the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. It means that Tabitha as the follower of Jesus made a special effort to take care of the poor. This is a time when most women relied completely on their husbands for support. When their husband died and no one had a Social Security or life insurance, unless she had a wealthy husband or son, a woman who lost her husband was really had nothing. Those were the people Tabitha reached out to. And her compassion wasn’t just in her head or in her heart; with her own two hands she literally gave those women the shirts they needed.

What got Tabitha involved with widows? There were a lot of widows in those days, and she might have known some of the widows in Joppa. But she could have found other things to do. She could have spent more time taking care of her own home, maybe her own husband and family. She could have joined a sport club or a book club. She could have traveled or shopping. There were some business women at that time too; she could be a business woman like Lydia that had sold expensive purple cloth recorded in Acts 16:13-15. What made Tabitha use her time and talents to take of poor widows?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? Tabitha was a disciple. She heard Jesus speak, she watched Jesus work, and she learned from Jesus. She knew what he said about humility and mercy, she watched him care for people who were paralyzed and blind, she saw him heal people who had mental and physical diseases, she heard him invite people who were outsiders and outcasts. And even she knew what Jesus had said to the twelve disciples the night before he died: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

And that’s what Tabitha did. Just as Jesus did, Tabitha went out of her way to care for the poor. And she wasn’t unique. What Tabitha did in Joppa was a way of life in the early church. Luke describes the way the first Christians lived: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
(Acts 2:44-45)
Maybe some of you have heard like the Dorcas Society, a group of ladies who sewed clothes for the poor and blankets for the aged. The Tabitha Association that helps the poor and needy. It seems nobody has time these days. We tend to stay away from volunteering to serve the un-privelage, the homeless, the sick, the needy. Do you know that for these past thirteen years we serve the Innvision homeless shelter in San Jose? We cook, prepare dinner, we talk, we share and we pray for the residents. Have you served there? As I mentioned in the beginning, we don’t promote or teach the social gospel but loving and caring others is part of our faith in Jesus and He shows us too.

Tabitha reminds us that the followers of Jesus not only believed that He gave them the hope of eternal life, they also believed Jesus had given them an example for taking care of the hopeless and the helpless. Those first century Christians didn’t get their priorities mixed up; they knew what was most important, and a lot of them gave up their lives confessing that Jesus was their Savior. But they didn’t put their confession of Jesus and their love for the less fortunate in two different compartments. Faith in Jesus and love for people came from the same heart. For them, faith and love worked together. Faith moved their lips in confession; love moved their hands to action.

When Tabitha died, the church leaders from Joppa knew they had to do something. Peter was nearby in the town of Lydda, 12 miles away. They covered those 12 miles as fast as they can, and then Peter ran back to Joppa just as fast. He knew he had to do something. Once he got to the upstairs room where the body was waiting for burial. Peter sent the people out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. What did Peter pray? Did he say, “Lord Jesus, we need Tabitha; we need her work in this congregation. The widows need her, we all need her. She’s our example; she reminds us how to help others. You have to bring her back to life again.” Did he wait a second to see if Jesus would do something? Did he start begging for help? Did he say “Jesus, give her life.” Did he think, just for a second, “Could I do this?” What was Peter thinking? Then, in verse 40 Luke continue saying:
He knelt down and prayed . And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise .” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive.”

Jesus cares about people who care for the poor. Jesus knew that Tabitha was happy in heaven. But he also knew there was more work for her to do. He cared about Tabitha but he also cared about what she did. She was an extension of his love in her congregation. She showed his love to people he had redeemed. Peter must have felt the same. So Peter prayed and Jesus empowered and Tabitha went back to work again, caring for the poor. Isn’t it wonderful to know that there are people out there who loves Jesus and cares for the people he cares? Are you the one too?
They don’t make much noise or get a lot of intention. They visit those in their jails and sit with the dying at their bedsides. They visit the sick in the middle of the night and take meals to the homebound. They don’t avoid at filth or turn away from poverty. They are many followers of Jesus who care for nameless sinners. And Jesus loves them. He loves them because they show the kind of love he had for people, a love so deep it led him to die for people, not only respectable people or well-off people or people in nice homes and apartments, but all people. And he loves them for more than that. He loves them because every tear they dry and every hand they hold and every smile they share opens up a window so that Jesus can enter with the most important thing he ever did.

Jesus born in Bethlehem, died on the cross for these people, too, those who are not only the last and the least, but also among the lost. He forgave their sins and he rose from the grave to give them an eternal life with God. So it is good for us to remember that we need to care for others, care for the people who care for the poor like Jesus did. More than that, we need take action, showing our love and care, even like Tabitha who was filled with good works and acts of mercy for others. Small think you can do today, grab the care package later outside, pray and meet someone out there, show your love, care and share the gospel. Would you be willing to do that in this Christmas seasons?

God bless you and Merry Christmas!