Hard times are nothing new. Hard times, times of trials and tribulations, seem to be as constant as the sunrise. You can watch the news on any given day and hear of the hard times of those around our country. You can read the morning paper and learn of the trials of those in our own community. You can totally avoid the media and still become familiar with hard times simply by listening to the troubles of those around you. Hard times are not simply the possession of others, hard times are experienced by each and every person who lives on planet earth today. You’ve had your difficulties. Hard times have knocked at your door and announced their arrival.

I heard a preacher just last week announce, “The living of life will suck the life out of you.” No truer statement has ever been made. The living of life will lead you through deep, cavernous valleys where it seems that the sun will never shine again. There will be days when it seems like life is caving in around you and as hard as you try to hold up the walls – you can’t seem to do it. Hard times will drain you. Hard times will exhaust you. Hard times will take the enthusiasm and excitement of childhood and transform it into a listless and lifeless existence. Hard times will use you up.

We can try to convince ourselves that this is something new, that we’ve gotten a bum deal, but the fact of the matter is that hard times have occupied our planet almost as long as we have. There are some today that teach the bald-face lie that if you do what God says to the letter then you won’t go through those hard times, but I’ve come to tell you today that nothing could be further from the truth. Living in obedience doesn’t mean that you will never see hard times, but it does mean that you will not go through the hard times of life alone. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

There was a man who lived about three thousand years ago (so much for hard times being something new!). He did just what God commanded him to do and yet it got him knots on his head. On one occasion he opposed the leaders of Israel and their “yes men,” the false prophets. Elijah, the man of God, challenged the “yes men” of Ahab and Jezebel to a showdown at the Carmel Corral. The challenge was quite bold. Elijah and the prophets would each get one bull to sacrifice on an altar located on Mt. Carmel. The god that answered with fire burning up the sacrifice would be recognized as the One True and Living God. There was a huge crowd of onlookers. Elijah had much to lose if God did not show up, but he had much more to lose if he refused to show up for God. To make a long story short – the false prophets danced, chanted, cut themselves with knives trying to arouse their god, Baal, but nothing happened.

When it was finally evident that Baal had no power to do what was being asked, Elijah stepped up to the plate. Remember, the True God would answer with fire. To add insult to injury, Elijah had four large containers filled with water and poured over the sacrifice. Then he had it done again. As if that weren’t enough, Elijah had them do it for a third time. Elijah then lifted his eyes to the heavens and said,

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. {37} Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Ki 18:36-37 NIV)

God answered Elijah’s prayer immediately and the hearts of the people were deceived no more! Elijah did just what he was told. The people turned back to Almighty God. In the very next chapter we hear that Ahab and Jezebel are mad as hornets and coming after Elijah. Elijah runs for his life because he was afraid. We read in 1 Kings 19:3-5,

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, {4} while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” {5} Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” (1 Ki 19:3-5 NIV)

Those who say that hard times are for those who are living in sin need to consider the obedience of Elijah who stood and faced 850 false prophets in the name of Almighty God!

Hard times had convinced Elijah that he was used up, that he couldn’t go on, and that he was finished. Here was a great man of God that was ready to throw in the towel because hard times were pressing him.

Hard times come in many different packages. Sometimes they wrap themselves in a hospital gown and ICU unit. At other times, they take on the countenance of a marriage gone bad, a child gone astray, or a job folding with no prospects. Hard times can manifest themselves as physical limitations, mental constraints, or emotional fragility. A friend moving away, a mate lying down and never getting up, or the dashed hopes of death can usher hard times in.

In our story for today we are going to look two people who knew hard times. Aeneas and Dorcas’ stories are very different, but they are also the same in some ways. Hope had been replaced with hopelessness. Hard times had taken their toll. Trials had trounced them, but God wasn’t finished with them yet. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Acts 9:32-43.

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. {33} There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. {34} “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. {35} All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. {36} In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor. {37} About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. {38} Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” {39} Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. {40} Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. {41} He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. {42} This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. {43} Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon. (Acts 9:32-43 NIV)

Peter was traveling all about the country telling people about the Good News of Jesus Christ. He had no idea what he would run into, but whatever came his way, he was willing to confront it with the power of Almighty God.

Peter’s travels carried him to Lydda. The city was called Lod in 1 Chronicles 8:12. It was a town in the Old Testament that was inhabited by the Benjaminites and it was located near the Plain of Sharon. Lydda was at a crossroads, located at the intersection of the caravan routes from Egypt to Babylon and the road from Joppa to Jerusalem. It was a town that knew hardship, but had been resettled after the Exile according to Ezra 2:33. Later on, it became the capital of Samaria. The Good News of Jesus spread to Lydda early probably because it was located only about 30 miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel didn’t insulate Lydda from hard times as the town was burned in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Lydda was rebuilt, trusting in God and as a result, Christianity became a strong influence in Lydda by the second century.

When Peter arrived in Lydda there were already followers of Jesus in the city as we read in Acts 9:32 – Peter traveled there to visit the “saints.” There in Lydda, Peter met a man named Aeneas. Aeneas had been bedridden for eight years as a paralytic. Take a look at Acts 9:32-35,

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. {33} There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. {34} “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. {35} All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

I can only imagine, because it’s not stated in the Scripture, that Aeneas felt his best days were behind him. You have to recognize that Aeneas didn’t ask Peter to be healed. He didn’t say, “Peter, if you will pray for me, anoint me with oil, and lay your hands on me – then I will be healed.” Luke tells us that Peter found Aeneas. Peter was the aggressor, not Aeneas.

Luke doesn’t tell us much about Aeneas. Was he a follower of Jesus? Was he depressed about his present condition? Was he a young man? An old man? Did he have a family? Did he wonder if he would really be healed when Peter told him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up”? And the answer to all of those is…nobody knows.

There is no way to know what was going on in Aeneas’ mind, but I can tell you that he did lay in bed and dream of those days when he wrestled with the other boys in the town. He would remember the times he had won races against his buddies. I’m sure he longed to walk along the seashore and see the beauty of God’s creation. You may ask, “How do you know that?” I know that because every person I’ve ever known who has lost the ability to walk, run, and go where they wanted to go of their own accord has continued to have dreams of doing what they once did.

I’m not so sure that Aeneas is the focus of the story. Luke ends his little four verse, six sentence story of Aeneas with these words, “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” I’m convinced that “all those” are the ones Luke really wants us to take notice of in this little story. God used the healing of Aeneas to bring “all those” to the knowledge of the power of Almighty God. It’s not that God didn’t care about Aeneas, but rather it was that God also cared about “all those” who were wandering around like a sheep without a shepherd. God used the healing of Aeneas to bring the entire city to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

I’m convinced that we miss the Good News in the midst of our hard times because we are looking for the wrong answers. We are looking for relief from our distress rather than looking for the hand of God to move in the midst of our difficulties. I was never more aware of this than when I spent some time with a lady named Joni Erickson-Tada in the family room of First Christian Church during the days and weeks following the bombing of the Murrah Building.

I had been working with the families who were waiting for news of their missing loved ones for about one week when Joni came to visit. During the first week there had been NFL stars like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and Hollywood stars like Kirstie Alley who had stopped by to visit those who were waiting. The people were appreciative, but they were preoccupied with other things. When Joni arrived, everything stopped as this lady, who is a quadriplegic, rolled into the room. They hung a microphone around her neck and she introduced herself. She told them how she had been injured in a diving accident when she was young and how she had been a quadriplegic ever since. She also told the people that God had shown her that her wheelchair was a pulpit that she was supposed to use to tell others about the love of God found in Jesus. I can’t tell you what the room was like at that moment, but I will never forget the feeling. The people wiped tear after tear from their cheeks.

Joni then sang a song about the pain of this life and how she was looking forward to dancing with Jesus in Heaven. When she finished the people swarmed her. They hugged her neck, kissed her, and thanked her for taking the time to fly to Oklahoma City to share the hope of God with them. It was an experience I will never forget and it taught me a great lesson. The lesson is this, “We need to ask the right questions instead of looking for easy answers.” Joni could have shook her fist at the Heavens, but instead she was willing to lift her voice on behalf of Almighty God. As a result, so many people have come to know the love of Jesus because of the testimony of Joni.

There is Good News for hard times, my friend, and it this – God’s love demonstrated to us in Jesus.

I want to tell you another story about Good News for hard times. Just twelve miles from Lydda was another town called Joppa. The town is still around today and is a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel. There was a beautiful woman who was busy doing good in her own town. She became ill and eventually died. The people heard that Peter was just down the road and sent some men to get him. Peter made the twelve mile walk to Joppa and found the house where Dorcas had died. Listen to the story told by Luke.

Good News For Hard Times!
Acts 9:32-43