In the Old Testament, a staff was a symbol of prophetic authority. When Elisha sent his servant Gehazi to resuscitate a dead boy, he equipped him with his staff as the sign that Gehazi was acting in the name and authority of a true prophet. Gehazi had previously observed a healing miracle and had only to do exactly what his master had said.
He did, yet nothing happened. Although he carried the symbol of Elisha’s authority, Gehazi did not have Elisha’s prophetic anointing and had not himself been anointed with the Spirit. Jesus appears to have followed Elisha’s pattern with his disciples.
First, he ensured that they were with him when he healed the sick. Then, after they had spent many months watching him, Jesus invested them with his personal authority to cure the sick. This did not take the form of a wooden staff, instead they were given the right to speak in the power of Christ’s own name. At this point, the disciples shared Jesus’ personal authority, but they did not share his Holy Spirit anointing. Like Gehazi, they themselves had not been anointed with the Spirit.
The first healing missions Luke 8:22-9:6 describes how Jesus’ twelve apostles were sent out on a healing mission after they had observed and experienced the calming of the storm, the deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac, the cure of the haemorrhaging woman, and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. He lists Jesus’ detailed instructions for their mission, they were told where to go, what to do, and how not to finance the trip.
They went healing, casting out demons and preaching the good news about the kingdom.
At the end of their mission the disciples returned to Jesus to give him an account of all that had happened and he withdrew with them to Bethsaida so that they could have time to themselves for prayer, rest and assessment.
Sometime later, Christ expanded his healing ministry to include about another seventy disciples. Again, they were sent out in pairs to definite locations with the instruction to heal and preach the good news. Doubtless they were much encouraged by Jesus’ reassuring message that they would often feel as comfortable as sheep among wolves! The Gospels do not record any specific details from these two trips, but Jesus’ exasperated comment in Luke 9:40-41 comes just after the mission of the twelve apostles.
“How long shall I be with you and bear with you?” surely indicates that the apostles were not always completely successful in everything they attempted on Jesus’ behalf!
We can say that, in his three years of earthly ministry, Jesus modelled and multiplied his healing ministry so that at least eighty people were involved. They healed in pairs, using the delegated authority of the name of Jesus. We read in Acts that, after his death and resurrection, Jesus urged them to stay in Jerusalem until they received the prophets’ anointing with the Holy Spirit. Before Calvary, Jesus’ disciples healed in the same way as Gehazi had tried to heal. After Pentecost, they healed in the same way as Elisha and Jesus – as full members of God’s anointed, prophetic, interceding, healing community.
Filled with Holy Spirit power
Before Pentecost, the anointing with the Holy Spirit was given only to a select few; since Pentecost, the Spirit’s anointing has been freely available to all who are in Christ. The authority that the disciples had in Jesus’ name was the same both before and after Pentecost. The dramatic change from their general ineffectiveness in the Gospels to their startling power in Acts can be put down to only two things: first, the difference made by their anointing with the Spirit at Pentecost and, second, the spiritual consequences of the Son’s death at Calvary.
The great test of any approach to the Christian healing ministry is how well it integrates the atonement and the anointing – Christ’s great works at Calvary and Pentecost. Too many modern leaders stress one and ignore the other, whereas our understanding and practice of healing must surely be rooted in both together. The great healing truth for believers today is that we can enjoy the victory over sin and sickness which was won by Jesus on the cross; that we have been given a share in the risen Christ’s authority over all things; and that we can be anointed with the same Holy Spirit who directed and empowered the Son’s earthy healing ministry. These are three threads of the one divine healing ministry – a ministry which is strongest when the threads are woven tightly together.
We live in and with the Holy Spirit only because of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.
We function as full members of God’s anointed, prophetic, interceding, healing community only because of what Jesus did at Calvary and at Pentecost. We experience forgiveness from sin and victory over sin because of the atoning cross, and we receive power to live and to witness through the Pentecostal anointing.
These are not historical theories or pointless ideas; they are practical realities which can genuinely change our lives and the lives of hurting people around us. We all know people who ache for a healing touch from God.
Please realise that he is willing to touch them, that he longs to touch them, but that he has chosen to touch them through a partner – through someone who has grasped the cross and is open to his Spirit; through someone who listens to God and is willing to face humiliation and rejection, as well as glory.
The stories we read in the Scriptures are not mere reminders of what God has done in the past, they are also signs which point to what he is doing today, and illustrations of what he longs to do through his Church – through you!
Whenever we read a healing story in the Scriptures we should remind ourselves that it typifies what God wants to do through us to some of the hurting people we meet.
The book of Acts records eight incidents of healing:
• The lame man at the temple gate (3:1-10)
• Blind Saul (9:8-19)
• Paralysed Aeneas (9:32-35)
• Dead Tabitha (9:36-43)
• The cripple at Lystra (14:8-10)
• Stoned Paul (14:19-20)
• Eutychus (20:7-12)
• Publius’ father (28:7-8).
The people who were healed in Acts were a collection of beggars, social outcasts, opponents of the gospel, friends, and one elderly relative of the wealthy Prefect of Malta. Most of these people were healed of longstanding, serious, socially disruptive and economically disabling diseases – dysentery, death, paralysis, blindness and so on.
The healings took place in a wide variety of locations. One occurred on the way to a prayer meeting, three took place in a private house, one during an informal open-air meeting and one in a field after violent persecution.
The only healing to take place at a prearranged, regular meeting of the church was the recovery of Eutychus at the breaking of bread in Troas on the first day of the week.
Other general statements about healing in Acts suggest that, like Jesus, the apostles and other isciples of Christ ministered to all those who came to them requesting healing. They demonstrate how the believers in the early Church were ready to minister when they recognised the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
The middle-aged man of Acts 3, who had been lame since birth, always begged at the same temple gate. Peter and John must have passed him dozens of times, as must Jesus, yet the man was still paralysed. I am sure we can assume that he had never asked Jesus or any of his followers to heal him – all he wanted was money; he had no higher expectation. We cannot know precisely how Peter was prompted to say what he said, but in some way the Holy Spirit informed him that the lame man was to be healed and that Peter was to speak the words.
Obeying God’s voice
I do not think that Peter and John had left home that morning intending to heal anybody; they were simply going to a prayer meeting. But when they walked past the sick man, they somehow sensed that they had to announce God’s healing to him. They felt or heard the Spirit’s prompting; they recognised that it was the Spirit and not their imagination or a demonic distraction; they obeyed God’s voice –and God did the rest.
It is similar today. During meetings I am always straining to pick up the quietest whispers of the Spirit about any people or ailments that the Father wants to heal. Sometimes I sense a word or name, at other times I feel a warmth or discomfort in a part of my body. I now understand that these feelings are God’s way of showing me what he wants to do.
One Wednesday evening meeting, for example, I sensed that God wanted to heal someone who had suffered an electric shock. I did not know the person’s name, age, nationality, gender, or where or when the injury had occurred. God simply flashed the words “electric shock” through my mind. So I announced that there was someone present at the meeting who had suffered an electric shock either here or abroad – and that God was going to heal that person.
There were only about six hundred people present, but unknown to me a lady was there who had just returned from Ghana where she had suffered a shock in her right foot as a result of treading on the exposed wires of an iron. She still had a continuous burning sensation in her right leg and foot. That very afternoon a friend had insisted that she seek urgent medical help and she had promised to visit a doctor the following morning.
Amazingly, that night, God chose to reveal her predicament to me and to heal her himself. From that evening, she had no more pain or discomfort in her leg.
Reading Acts 9 we see that God does not work in healing only through church leaders like Peter, but also through ordinary ‘unknown’ disciples like Ananias. He is an enigmatic figure, a local believer living in Damascus who was undoubtedly expecting to be arrested quite soon. We do not know if he had ever been God’s partner in healing before meeting Saul, but it seems unlikely.
I think that the Holy Spirit has recorded Ananias’ involvement to illustrate how God frequently uses even the most frightened and inexperienced disciples in wonderful healing. If, like God, we had known the possibilities of Saul’s future and the extraordinary significance of this miracle, how many of us would have trusted such an inexperienced disciple?
Most of us would have wanted to use Peter or one of the apostles. Instead, God chose an apparently unknown novice as his partner – a pattern which he still commonly follows today.
I think that it is easy to understand why God uses men and women like Ananias. People have a tendency to want to follow and worship what they can see and can focus too much on God’s anointed healing partners and too little on the invisible, all-powerful God. When God works mainly through one or two gifted leaders, people tend – wrongly – to applaud and acclaim the man or woman of God. But when he works through a novice, it is obvious to everyone that it is God himself who is at work.
Ananias’ vision was startling in its clarity and detail. He did not like what he thought he saw and he told God so. In my experience, God rarely lets us know what will happen if we obey him. I have found that he normally expects us to obey him regardless of the consequences. Ananias, however, was a beginner, and God gave him an insight into what could happen through his unconditional obedience.
What a struggle it must have been for Ananias to leave his home and walk to Straight Street to restore the sight of the man who held a warrant for his arrest!
Ananias was not a puppet. God did not make him visit Saul. Once Ananias recognised that the thoughts he sensed were God’s voice, it was a straightforward matter of obedience.
God would not work without his partner Ananias and Ananias could not work independently of God. It is astonishing to contemplate the immense, eternal matters which hinged on whether or not Ananias would obey what was for him such an unprecedented order.
Partnership with God
Most of us rarely grasp the extent to and we seldom so much as glimpse the considerable consequences of our obedience. Aeneas had been bedridden with paralysis for eight years when he was visited by Peter.
Their encounter does not appear to be anything other than part of Peter’s regular pastoral visitation of the disciples and it is impossible to tell from the Scriptures whether there had been any previous healings in Lydda – though I doubt it. Peter stood over Aeneas and sensed that God was about to cure this particular paralytic.
Peter had been anointed with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and this inner sensing or prompting was merely God keeping his Amos 3:7 promise. So Peter prophetically announced what he had just sensed from the Spirit.
Peter did not heal Aeneas or even hint that he had healed him. Peter’s part in the healing process was simply to announce the wonderful news to Aeneas: “Jesus Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.”
Within a few days, two visitors arrived from Joppa, some twelve miles away on the coast. They brought news that a beloved saint had died and many were greatly distressed. And they begged for a pastoral visit as quickly as possible. Returning immediately with them, Peter was taken straight to Tabitha’s body. Coming as it did, so soon after the miracle at Lydda, it is surely likely that Tabitha’s death would have caused Peter to turn over in his mind the possibility of Tabitha being raised from the dead. The first thing that Peter did was to kneel and pray in privacy. The Scriptures do not record whether his prayer was a petition for guidance, boldness or a miracle. But whatever he prayed, when Peter rose from his knees he knew what he had to do.
A man who had a lifelong disability in his legs sat in a crowd listening to Paul preach the good news. Somehow the Holy Spirit so worked in the man during Paul’s sermon that he had the faith to be healed. We do not know quite what happened – perhaps Paul was preaching about Jesus the healer – but somehow Paul’s attention was drawn to the disabled man. He watched him closely. Paul could see ‘faith’ written all over the man’s face and broke off in mid-sermon to call out a healing command.
As a result of the miracle, Paul first received acclamation and then persecution. The crowd hurled boulders at him and dragged his unconscious body out of Lystra towards the town cemetery. Yet within a short while Paul was striding back to town and the next day he was well enough to walk thirty miles to Derbe.
The book of Acts glosses over what happened. It mentions that disciples gathered round the body, but does not say whether they prayed, announced healing, touched the body, or whether God worked sovereignly without any particular involvement of human partners. We miss the point if we are concerned to establish a technique which we then hope to copy. Doubtless the disciples’ faith would have been high because of the earlier miracle and many would have prayed enthusiastically – but the miracle occurred because of God’s power and compassion, not because the disciples passed some sort of healing examination.
The impact of healing miracles Acts reports that the healing miracles played a significant role in evangelism and early church growth, even though many of them occurred in a pastoral context. After healing the lame man, Peter and John were arrested, imprisoned and reprimanded by the rulers. But many of those who heard Peter’s explanation of the miracle became believers.
Not all the incidents, however, had a great evangelistic impact. The healing of the cripple in Lystra led to misunderstanding and persecution.
The people were “greatly encouraged” by Eutychus’ recovery, but nobody is reported as being saved. And though many requested healing after the healing of Publius’ father, Acts does not mention any conversions.
I am sure that we have much to learn from the healing Church in the book of Acts, but attempts just to implement the pattern and technique of the first Christians are surely inadequate. It is vital that we receive, as they received, the prophets’ anointing with the Spirit, without which we are as impotent as Gehazi.
Yet there are many modern believers – leaders even – who have received that anointing but who do not see God endorse their words with healing miracles. Perhaps we also need to examine the two main contexts within which Jesus and the early Church functioned as God’s healing partners, and ask ourselves whether our healing ministry would benefit from being set against a similar background.