"Jesus Christ Heals You!"
32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord. 36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and 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. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. [Pray]
Facing the Broken World Weekly
I received a text message last Sunday—one of our brothers was in the hospital suffering great pain in his stomach. Monday morning—an email from another brother having trouble walking, experiencing great pain in his feet, and seeing a physical therapist to regain stability. Monday afternoon another brother struggling through depression needs help enduring.
On Tuesday I went to the hospital to visit a member. On the elevator down I met a woman quite bitter about her heart problems. Tuesday night my wife and I read articles on whether Baby Powder was causing ovarian cancer. On Wednesday we looked into testing our building for different kinds of mold as a measure of care for a sister. On Thursday it was difficult to scroll through BBC news without a headline involving death. On Friday we learned that a little boy named Ethan was having difficulties again with his already-rebuilt heart.
This is the broken world we live in. It’s a world plagued with disease and death. The Bible is clear that the world wasn’t always like this—God created the world good. But due to our rebellion against him, God broke the world. Romans 8 says that God subjected the world to futility. God cursed the world. Disease and death, cancer and hurricanes, entered the world because of sin. This is the world we’re used to.
What do we make of it, then, when a man like Peter heals the sick and raises the dead? What does this mean for us as individuals and for our world as a whole? What do the healing miracles in the Bible point us to? What kind of hope might God’s word be holding out for us? And if it’s holding out any hope at all, where do we find it? In whom do we trust for it? Will we be delivered and when? This passage has answers for us…
We ended our time last week on the note struck in verse 31: “walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, [the church] multiplied.” Today we encounter two examples where the church multiplies. The multiplication comes on the tail of two healings that Jesus performs through Peter.
Jesus Heals through Peter in Lydda
The first healing occurs in Lydda. Lydda was about 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem. So we’re in the region of Judea where the gospel is still spreading. Peter makes rounds to all the churches, going here and there. Eventually, he visits the saints living in Lydda. Saints aren’t super-Christians. It’s another name describing what Jesus makes all Christians: we’re a people set apart for God as holy.
As Peter visits these saints, he finds a man named Aeneas. Verse 33 says that he was bedridden for eight years. We also learn that he’s paralyzed. We’re not told how his condition came about. But we do know that he’s been paralyzed long enough for many other witnesses to know about it.
Peter then says to him in verse 34, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.” Peter isn’t healing him, but Jesus through Peter. Also, notice that Peter calls Jesus the Christ—Jesus Christ heals you. That’s significant: it gives this healing a context. The Old Testament expected healing during the rule of God’s Messiah: the lame will leap, the blind will see. Peter is identifying Jesus as that Christ, that Messiah. Notice also how the verb is in the present tense: Jesus Christ heals you. Meaning, Jesus is alive. Jesus was crucified, but now risen and actively healing Aeneas.
Knowing this about Jesus, Peter then commands Aeneas to rise and make his bed. And it says, “Immediately he rose.” After eight years lying in bed, needing someone else to change his clothes, needing someone to bathe him and help him to the bathroom. Eight years of feeling like everybody else’s burden. Immediately he gets up. Jesus heals what is broken, restores his health.
Verse 35 then describes the effect of this healing: “All the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.” It’s not always the case that people turn to the Lord after a healing. But very often in Acts a miraculous healing makes the apostles’ testimony all the more compelling.[i] That seems to be happening here.
In fact, the whole point of healings in Jesus’ ministry and now in the apostles’ ministry was to help people turn to the Lord. They weren’t just bare acts of healing. They were healings accompanied by the gospel of the kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom set the framework for understanding the healings. When understood properly in light of the King and his kingdom, they should lead people to repent and place their faith in Jesus.
Jesus Heals through Peter in Joppa
Next is Peter’s healing in Joppa. We’re introduced to a disciple named Tabitha. Remember that Luke is particularly observant of how women were involved in the mission. In a day when society looked down on women, Luke shows how the kingdom of Christ turns the world’s values upside-down. Women play a vital role in the kingdom.
Luke celebrates the fact that Tabitha was “full of good works and acts of charity.” Verse 39 shows that some of her acts of charity involved making tunics and other garments for widows in the church. Tabitha was likely quite wealthy, but used her wealth to bless others in these ways. We can tell how much she meant to the church by the way the people mourn her death. Her faithfulness even heightens the tragedy: why the death of such a faithful servant, such a beloved woman? Why take her, Lord?
Verse 37 says she becomes ill and dies. The people then wash her and lay her in an upper room. The first action was fairly normal for burial customs. Laying her in an upper room is more unusual. This may signal that the people hope Peter might be able to raise her. They’re willing to wait for him to come before burying her.[ii]
Peter ends up coming to Joppa at their request. He enters the upper room. The widows are weeping. Verse 40 says that he puts everybody outside. Now that’s quite interesting in light of what some so-called healing ministries will boast nowadays? You mean he didn’t set up a stage for everybody to see him? He didn’t cram as many people into the place to kick off a healing crusade?
No, quietly he has everyone leave. He humbly gets on his face before the Lord. He kneels down and prays, verse 40 says. Again, this shows us that whatever happens next in the story wasn’t due to Peter ultimately. It’s due to the risen Jesus. He asks. Jesus answers. Jesus hears Peter’s prayer and raises Tabitha.
Peter turns to the body and says, “Tabitha, arise.” “And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.” Now, Tabitha is raised only to die again, much like Tabitha was and Lazarus was. This is a restoration to life. But still, the fact that Jesus raises her from the dead is remarkable. It’s another demonstration Jesus does the impossible. Death has no hold on Jesus Christ. He is more powerful than death. The grave can’t say “No!” to Jesus, if Jesus says, “Arise, Tabitha.”
Verse 42 gives us the result: “It became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” Again, the miracle of healing makes the gospel message all the more compelling, and people believe in the Lord. The church in Joppa multiplies. We basically get the same pattern twice: Peter travels to meet saints; Jesus heals somebody through Peter; and the church continues to multiply.
What, then, do these healings mean?
What, then, should we make of these healings? How do they apply? Are they simply describing what happened then? Or, do they set some kind of normative precedent for the church today? I knew a church where a handful of folks formed a splinter group. They self-identified as “The God Squad.” They claimed that God had given them the gift to heal. They supported their ministry with passages like this one. Is that the sort of conclusions we should draw from these healings?
The New Testament certainly acknowledges gifts of healings—1 Corinthians 12:9. It’s also clear that these gifts weren’t just characteristic of the first-century church, but expected to continue until Jesus returns. Places like 1 Corinthians 12 and James 5:16 show that God may still heal people.
However, that’s not to say we should set up a so-called “healing ministry,” or say that any one person possesses the gift to heal in an abiding sense. The apostles speak of the plural gifts of healings, meaning instances where Jesus gives the ability to heal. We also find examples where those who did heal on some occasions didn’t heal on others. Paul heals a man in Lystra (Acts 14:8-10), but he also leaves Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20). Jesus sometimes gave the gift to heal; at other times he didn’t. So we should be discerning if someone claims the gift of healing, or a church institutionalizes something that only Jesus gifts to whomever he wants whenever he wants…
Should we say that Christians should expect complete liberation from disease now in this life—just “name it and claim it,” as some will say? Two glaring problems with this approach as well. One, it misses the “already-not-yet” dynamic of Jesus’ kingdom—his kingdom is already here; and it’s not yet fully here. Yeah, there’s a sense in which Jesus’ cross secured our ultimate healing—we’ll get to that in a minute. But the full blessings of the final kingdom don’t become ours on demand now. Sins are forgiven now, but we must wait for the full redemption our bodies.
Two, it lacks a sound theology of suffering. In his sovereign wisdom, God leaves many in their sickness to demonstrate his care, glory, sufficiency, and power in other ways. We can think of biblical examples like Job, or like Paul—God’s power was made perfect in his weakness. Or we could think of a modern example like Joni Erickson Tada—paralyzed and bringing God so much glory as she treasures him before a watching world. She thanks God for her wheelchair, and how her condition has been used to know him more deeply and to spread his fame more broadly...
1. They authenticate Peter who soon confirms the Gentile mission.
So what do we make of these healings? I’ve tried to curb some of the errors others have made. But what can we take home from a passage like this one? Number one, ask yourself why they’re placed here in the book of Acts. If we look at the bigger picture, these healings authenticate Peter who soon confirms the Gentile mission.
It’s not all they signal, but one way God used signs like healing was to authenticate his messengers (2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:4). Remember that this is volume two of a much larger work. Luke’s Gospel is volume one. And if you turn back to Luke 5:24, you find Jesus saying to a paralyzed man, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” Peter says here to a paralyzed man, “Rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34). If you turn back to Luke 8:54 you’ll find Jesus saying to a little girl named Talitha who died, “Child, arise,” and she gets up. Peter says here, “Tabitha, arise,” and she gets up (Acts 9:40).
You’re supposed to see the parallels and say, “Yep, this is Jesus’ man! He’s preaching like him and he’s suffering like him and he’s even healing just like him.” Even more, the healings gave concrete expression to the gospel Peter was preaching. Remember chapter 3? “Look Israel, God exalted your Messiah; Jesus came to liberate us from all that sin destroyed.”
That’s important because very soon Acts will shift to Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles. The Gentile mission would be hard for Jewish Christians to accept. For centuries Jews separated themselves from Gentiles. To help them embrace the Gentile mission, God authenticates Peter and his message before he confirms the Gentile mission.
Which means that if Jesus has authenticated his apostle, and if that apostle has confirmed the Gentile mission, then what ought our lives be given to? Spreading the gospel to the Gentiles. We received the gospel because the church listened to Jesus working and speaking through his apostles. We’ve become part of the gospel moving to the end of the earth. Let these healings compel you to participate in Jesus’ mission. Let’s announce with Peter that God has exalted Jesus. Let’s point people to healings like this in Scripture and say, “See, look here! He’s exalted! He’s victorious! See, look at how he’s rescuing people even now as the gospel spreads! Believe in him!”
2. They are the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Number two, these healings are the fruit of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Not too long ago, we looked back to Isaiah 35. God promised a day when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…” The broken world will experience wholeness and healing. Isaiah 25 adds to that picture total deliverance from death. God will swallow up death forever; and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces.
However, healing the world couldn’t come without God first dealing with our most fundamental problem, sin. All disease and death is caused by sin, whether directly or indirectly. To redeem the world from disease and death, God must deal with sin.
Isaiah himself links these two things in the redeeming work of the Servant. Isaiah 53:4 says, “Surely he took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” But the way he does that comes in verse 5: “Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
True healing is possible only when God deals with sin. Matthew 8:16-17 uses this passage to connect Jesus’ atoning death with Jesus’ healing ministry. The point is that Jesus’ healing ministry must be viewed with the cross before him. Jesus healed people as a way to identify himself with Isaiah’s Servant, and to point out that he had come to deal with the problem of all problems behind disease and death—sin. Then he actually dealt with that problem by dying in our place.
When Peter heals people, he does it with that cross behind him. Healing the paralyzed man was a concrete expression of the very gospel Peter was preaching: Jesus Christ can heal ultimately, because he came to take away our sin. By dealing with our sin in Christ, God wins for his people forgiven souls and eventually healed bodies.
On top of that, Peter raised a girl from death, and he does this with Jesus’ resurrection behind him as well. Jesus was alive. Jesus heals the man. It’s further proof that the grave has no power over the risen Jesus. People will die, yes, but he has the authority to bring them back to life whenever he wants to. He is the resurrection and the life. He commands, “Tabitha, arise!” The grave says, “Sir, yes sir!”
These healings teach us about Jesus’ mission: by atoning for sin, Jesus secures our total liberation from disease and death; by rising from the dead, Jesus proves his authority over death. There’s great hope in both of those truths. That doesn’t mean we can claim all the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection now on demand. Some benefits only come with Jesus’ return and our resurrection bodies.
But it does give us a sign that Jesus really did take care of our biggest problem, sin. Jesus really can fix our bodies and raise us to life again with just a word. Don’t miss the power of Jesus to do the impossible here. He’s not limited by disease. He’s not limited by death. He’s not limited by anyone or anything; and he hasn’t changed. If he took care of our greatest problem, sin—if he gave his life to give us the greatest gift, God himself—he won’t fail to care for us, to save us.
3. They display several characteristics of God’s kingdom.
Number three, these healings display several characteristics of God’s kingdom. To begin, God’s kingdom is ruled by Jesus. He heals. He raises. He’s in control. He is the Lord to whom the people turn. The kingdom is ruled by Jesus.
God’s kingdom is also one that breaks into the present order. We talked earlier about disease and death characterizing the present world we live in. Sin is awful. Broken is everything. Pain is the norm. Sadness hurts. Cancer spreads. But into this broken world order, Peter says, “Jesus Christ heals you.” The healing is one little manifestation of God’s kingdom breaking into the present age. The future kingdom is forcing its way into the present. These are but little glimpses of what it brings: holistic liberation.
God’s kingdom is also powerful to transform. These healings remind us that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Jesus’ kingdom isn’t limited by our problems. Sometimes we get so used to the way things are, it shapes our view of God. We begin to think that God can’t work in this situation, or God can’t overcome that sin, or God won’t change our church, or God can’t rescue that neighborhood, or God can’t save. He raises the dead, folks! He’s able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think.
Pray he would work powerfully through our church. Pray for him to manifest his power in ways that will draw others to Christ. Pray for him to work powerfully in your life. Sometimes the gospel was compelling not because of the miracle of healing but because of the miracle of perseverance—Christians treasuring Jesus in the face of suffering. The church itself manifests God’s power when we walk together in love; we’re God’s visible confirmation of the gospel’s power to save us and heal relationships.
Something else is that God’s kingdom brings total restoration for male and female alike. Peter heals Aeneas; then he raises Tabitha. God’s kingdom doesn’t favor male over female or vice versa. It’s a kingdom where the Lord saves men and women alike. That should affect the way we treat people of the opposite sex, and how we serve alongside one another in God’s kingdom. Both men and women can enjoy his grace and spread his glory together.
One further characteristic of God’s kingdom is that it’s a kingdom free from all brokenness and death. These healings prefigure the state of our humanity in the kingdom to come; and that leads us to consider a further point…
4. They point to a kingdom free from all brokenness and death.
Number four, these healings point to a kingdom free from all brokenness and death. Our bodies are wasting away. But not all of our bodies experience the effects of the fall the same way. Some suffer more than others. Some of you may be suffering from a chronic illness—you’re tired of going from one doctor to another; you’re tired of medical bills; you’re tired of not knowing; you’re simply tired.
Maybe you look at a passage like this one, and you’d really like to experience healing. Maybe you’ve even prayed for it or had others pray for it—and we should pray for it according to James 5, and we will pray for you if you want. But let’s say the healing doesn’t come. What then? Does a sort of fatalism ever settle in: “It will always be this way…My spouse will always be this way…I will always be this way…”
Listen, I don’t pretend to have the answers for why the Lord gives long health to some and not to others, why he chooses to heal some and not others. I am certain, though, that the Lord does nothing in vain. He is wise. He is good. He is purposeful. I don’t even want to pretend like I know what it’s like for some of you. I don’t (at least yet). But it’s good to be reminded of God’s truth.
John 9 teaches that suffering is opportunity to glorify God. Romans 8 says that God uses our sufferings to conform us to Christ’s image. 2 Corinthians 1 says that sufferings come so we can experience God’s comfort and then comfort others with the grace we received. 2 Corinthians 5 says that present suffering is storing up for us an eternal weight of glory. Hebrews 12 says that suffering serves as the discipline of a loving father. James 1 says that suffering builds endurance. 1 Peter 1 says that suffering refines us like silver. Revelation 21 says that suffering will end.
And you know why all that is true? Jesus is alive. Look at his victory over sin. Look at his authority over death. Christian, he will say over your dead body, “Becky, arise…Adrian, arise…Meg, arise…Sherry, arise…Paul, arise…Dale, arise…Gary, arise…Destin, arise…Mardochée and Valerie, arise…all my children, arise” and we will rise. No brokenness will slow him and no grave will stop him; we will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come out of our graves to a resurrection of life.
For those of you in Christ, he has not forgotten you. He’s not ignoring your prayers for healing. Every one of them will be answered on that day when he brings you into a kingdom free from all brokenness and death. You won’t always be this way. We know we won’t always be this way, because God took care of our greatest problem already, sin. If he took away our sins and raised Jesus, God will bring our body ultimate healing at Jesus’ return.
No fatigue. No headaches. No back problems. No death. Revelation 21 says no crying or pain anymore for those in Christ. For those without Christ, their suffering will only get worse in the Lake of Fire. But for those in Christ, all suffering will disappear instantly. We will play with new bodies and serve with strength and zeal like we’ve never known before. Until then, we can trust that all his purposes are for our good and for his glory.
[i]Acts 2:43; 3:5-11; 4:4, 30; 5:12-16; 8:5-8.
[ii]This isn’t the first time in Scripture where the Lord’s messenger enters an upper room in order to raise someone. Both Elijah and Elisha raise a boy to life on separate occasions in an upper room (1 Kgs 17:19, 23; 2 Kgs 4:10-11, 32); and very similar parallels exist between those stories in 1-2 Kings and this one. The idea is that God is authenticating Peter as his messenger just like he did Elijah and Elisha.