Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. – Acts 9:32-35
With all the healings that were performed through Peter, it is strange that we remember him less as a great healer and more for his take-charge attitude. Upon reflection, however, no one in the New Testament is particularly heralded as a healer, other than perhaps Jesus Himself. I find this odd… very odd, for at least two specific reasons.
First of all, one of the longer gospels and the book of Acts were written by Luke, a man who is a doctor himself and should be able to appreciate the healings that take place better than most. Indeed, Luke generally takes more healings into account than the other gospel writers. However, he gives very little credit to the Christian ministers through whom these miraculous works were done. The typical pattern of healings in Luke’s works are: a disciple (or Jesus Himself) meets someone who is sick or grievously injured, Luke gives an account of the injury – often telling how long the person has suffered, the healer tells them they are healed (in some cases touching them), the victim realizes they are healed, and finally, many of the witnesses of this miracle turn to God. We often get more information about the particular illness or injury than the person performing the healing. Perhaps it is Luke who is more fascinated with what is being healed than in who is performing it. Perhaps as a doctor, he wants us to understand the varieties and depths of healing that can come through the power of the Holy Spirit…
However, my second question is: why the crowds do not celebrate Peter and the disciples more as healers? Jesus picked up a reputation as a healer, and there was at least one instance shortly after Pentecost where the crowds tried to worship Peter and John for their healing abilities… but both were short-lived. Certainly Peter addressed that false belief in Jerusalem, but what about in Samaria or in the surrounding villages where he, as well as the other Apostles, and even believers like Philip performed healings. Knowing that the early church still had a lot to figure out about the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the miracles that were performed in Christ’s name – I find it hard to believe that the crowds did not look to them often for healing.
What about those who came for healing but did not receive it? The New Testament is largely silent regarding such people, nor does it claim that every person was healed either. Several specific individuals were raised from the dead. Many, many more were not. Why would God demonstrate such awesome power in some cases and not in others?
There are no easy answers when it comes to understanding the ways of God. There are, however, some landmarks, milestones upon the road to knowing our Lord that point us further on the way. I believe it was just last week that one of our members at bible study noted that God seemed to reserve healing for times when onlookers will see and turn their hearts back to God… and there may be some insight in that. Almost all of the healing miracles happen out in public, and the few that happen indoors usually involved a crowd waiting there at hand or just outside. However, not all are. The shadows of Peter and John appear to bring healing to the people in Jerusalem, perhaps with or without their own volition or conscious involvement. Jesus Himself once heals ten lepers and only one of the ten returns as His disciple and there are no onlookers besides His disciples traveling with Him. Maybe the healings are reserved for those who have been suffering unjustly… Yet, what do we do with the man who is brought back from the dead after falling out of a window because he fell asleep during Paul’s sermon?
I think we need to remember that this healing power comes to us through the Holy Spirit, not primarily from us, nor from those early disciples and apostles of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, whose Hebrew name means both breath and wind is no more under our control than the wind that blows outside our windows. The wind blows where it will; we can only hear, feel, and respond to it. Nevertheless, we do know that the wind blows out of areas of high pressure and into areas of low resistance… and perhaps, as Bob Tuttle used to tell me, God’s Spirit too moves into the places, the communities, the homes, and the hearts of least resistance. Does that mean that we need only open ourselves to God to receive the healing we seek? No. It means, by opening ourselves to God we will receive His Spirit, and whatever blessings God chooses to send to manifest in us. For some it is healing. For some it is an ability to preach courageously in the face of persecution. For yet others, it may be the ability to make the meager supplies of 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread feed 5,000 people. Whatever form the blessing takes, you can be sure there will be a calling that comes with it… for regardless of whether God only brings healing when there is a sizeable audience or not, His blessings are given to be shared – we are blessed that we might become blessings ourselves.
Perhaps it is Paul, one who knows both healing and suffering that shows us the closest understanding of God’s intentions in healing. Upon Paul’s conversion, God told Ananias (a believer sent to care for him), “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:11-15) So even in his call to ministry, even as his blindness will be healed, God calls Paul to “suffer for the sake of my name.”
Later, a more mature Paul would write this to the Church at Corinth:
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Perhaps Luke, no stranger to sickness, injury, and suffering, understood as well or better than us, that there are things greater than healing, and that maybe the greatest miracle comes in the Name given Jesus in the beginning of Luke’s gospel: Immanuel, which means God with us, for if God is with us, what in all creation can stand against us?