God has worked powerfully in cities. A record of His activity can clearly be seen in the pages of the New Testament. It is most obvious in the ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the sick (Matt. 4:23), delivered the demonized (Matt. 8:16, 28-34) performed miracles (John 2:9-11, 23), and raised the dead (John 11:43-44). He carried out these supernatural ministries in a number of different locations.
The Lord’s power can also be seen as He worked through His servants, both apostles and non-apostles. We see His supernatural power at work in Jerusalem through the apostles (Acts 5:12), in a city in Samaria through Philip (Acts 8:5-7), and a host of places in the Gentile world through Paul (Acts 14:8-10; 19:11-12; 20:9-12). In the remainder of this article I would like to focus on the Lord’s activity in the city of Joppa. This city is not as well-known as some others, such as Bethlehem or Jerusalem, but the Lord did some very important things in this city.
The Lord’s activity in Joppa first appears in the New Testament in Acts 9, in this chapter we learn that the apostle Peter visited the city. He is the key human character with regard to the Lord’s work in Joppa. Peter went to the city because the believers there asked that he came (Acts 9:38). They requested his presence because one of the Christians in the city had died, a woman by the name of Tabitha (Acts 9:36).
It is in one sense interesting that they asked Peter to come. The woman had already died and we don’t have any specific text up to this point that tells us Peter raised anyone from the dead. During His earthly ministry when Jesus sent His disciples out He told them to “raise the dead” (Matt. 10:8 NIV) and they probably did (though we do not have any specific accounts of them doing so). In Acts 5:12 we are told that the apostles “performed many signs and wonders” (NIV). This could have included raising the dead, but again, it is not spelled out for us. Perhaps they were aware of Jesus’ words that His followers would do the works He did and even greater works (John 14:12).
In any event, Peter went and was used to raise her back to life (Acts 9:40). We could say he met a physical need, he brought her body, which was dead, back to life. That was a notable miracle, one we wish we would see more frequently in our own time and ministries. This miracle in Acts 9 also comforted the friends of Tabitha who mourned her death. But this was not the only significant thing that happened in Joppa.
In Acts 9:43, we learn that Peter remained in the city of Joppa after he raised Tabitha from the dead. He stayed at the house of a tanner named Simon (Acts 10:6). While he was in Joppa he had a number of supernatural experiences. First, he had a vision while he was in a trance (Acts 10:10; 11:5). In the vision, God, through the symbol of unclean animals, prepared Peter for what was going to take place shortly (the arrival of the men sent by Cornelius and the subsequent journey to Cornelius’s house). Peter initially resisted the Lord’s instructions in the vision (Acts 10:14), but the Lord persisted in dealing with him (Acts 10:16). Though he was not comfortable with what he saw and heard, Peter gave some thought to the vision’s meaning (Acts 10:17,19). As he was doing this, he had another supernatural experience, the Holy Spirit spoke to him. The Spirit told him that there were some men looking for him (Acts 10:19). He was instructed to go down and meet them and go with them (Acts 10:20). He obeyed.
The result of his obedience was significant. As we read later in Acts 10 Peter left Joppa and went to the house of Cornelius, who was a Gentile, and he and all those gathered with him became believers in Christ as a result of Peter’s ministry there. In this case Peter’s obedience resulted in the meeting of the spiritual needs of a number of people, they received salvation, the gift of eternal life. The results of his ministry in the home of Cornelius were even more significant than his involvement in the raising of Tabitha from the dead. Eternal life is more enduring than earthly life.
God brings His servants to specific places in order to meet needs. This was true in the Bible and it is still true today. Sometimes He uses other people to get us to the place where He wants to use us. He used the believers in Joppa to invite Peter to come to their city to minister to Tabitha. At other times He works more directly. He did this when He gave Peter the vision and had the Holy Spirit speak to him in order to get him to go to the house of Cornelius. God knows what we need for any given assignment.
We must be open to the possibility that He may send people to invite us into the place of ministry that He has for us. We must also be open to the possibility that He may deal with us directly, or through supernatural means. Peter experienced both. It is important for us to be like Peter in two respects, we should be Spirit-Filled (Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31) and obedient. If we have these two characteristics we will be people that He can speak to and work through. When we are Spirit-filled and obedient there is no telling what might happen. We can be vessels who bring forth God’s purposes, ministering to both the physical and spiritual needs of people. The Lord can use us to minister to both His people and unbelievers. As this New Year begins may we purpose to be open and obedient to the Lord.
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.