Sermon (Cromer, 14/5/17)

1) The healing of Aeneas.

Context: After Saul’s conversion the church had a time of peace; strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. We are also living in a time of peace. We can look to be strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, and to grow in numbers as a result of that strengthening and encouragement.

The Holy Spirit uses means to his ends, and one of the ways he strengthened and encouraged the church was through the teaching and activity of the apostles.

Peter’s is seen here travelling around the west of Israel, going towards the coast. Lydda was a village about 22 miles north west of Jerusalem on the road to the coastal town of Joppa, 10 miles away. Peter went to visit the saints – the people of God, in Lydda; presumably they’d gone there from Jerusalem when Saul and others were persecuting the church there, and a visit from one of the apostles would have been very encouraging as he could tell them stories of Jesus and pass on Jesus’ teaching.

There Peter saw Aeneas, lying paralysed; probably one of the saints in Lydda. Note what happens: Peter says, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Messiah heals you. Get up and tidy up.’ See how Peter focusses attention on Jesus: Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah, heals you.

Why did he say that? We can assume that the Holy Spirit prompted him, and he just knew that was what he had to say. But the focus on Jesus showed that he knew the source of healing was Jesus, not Peter. cf Acts 3:12. The Messiah, God’s anointed king of the world, is the world’s Saviour from sin and all the consequences of our fall away from God; the healing is not just an act of kindness Jesus did for Aeneas, but also a sign pointing to who he is, the living Lord who is full of love, forgiveness and power. This was recognised by the people around, and many put their trust in Jesus as their Lord. The church grew, through that healing.

Can we expect similar things to happen today? We’ll come back to that.

First, let’s look at

2) The raising of Tabitha.

Luke gives much more details about this. Tabitha was the Aramaic form of the name – presumably Tabitha spoke Aramaic, which was also Peter’s first language. She died, and her body was washed according to custom. But normally the body was then buried straight away. In this case, the disciples laid her body in an upper room, and sent for Peter. Why? What did they expect? She wasn’t the first Christian to die – Stephen had been stoned, and in the persecution that followed Paul tells us he had voted for the death penalty for many of the Christians who’d been caught. Maybe, despite everything, they hoped that as an apostle Peter would do what he’d seen Jesus do, and raise the dead. Or maybe they wanted him to have the opportunity to pay his respects, and to strengthen and encourage them in their loss. We don’t know.

Why didn’t the disciples try and heal her or raise her from the dead themselves? The same Spirit that was in Peter also was in them! Maybe if Peter had not been around they would have done; maybe they knew the connection between teaching and miracles, and felt they ought to ask an apostle in the first instance. We don’t know. But it was a good thing to send for Peter, and it is a good thing for us to ask our church leaders to come and pray for us. God delights to honour those who honour him.

Peter came, and found all the widows mourning and pointing out all the good Tabitha had done. He then asked them to leave, and when he was alone with the body, he asked God what to do. He prayed first, and acted afterwards – always a good procedure. What he did then was very similar to what he’d seen Jesus do with the dead daughter of Jairus. Remember, Jesus said ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up’ or in Aramaic, ‘Talitha, koum,’ Peter said, ‘Tabitha, get up’ or in Aramaic, ‘Tabitha, koum.’ And the result: life, and church growth. The church grew through a miracle.

Could this happen today?

We don’t have apostles like Peter around, people who had been with Jesus when he made the lame walk and the blind see. The New Testament is clear that the apostles were the means of many amazing miracles – this book is the Acts of the Apostles. The apostle Paul, not one of the original 12, defended the fact that he was an apostle by saying in 2 Cor 12:12, ‘The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders, and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.’ But the apostles weren’t the only ones.

Stephen and Philip were among those chosen to make sure Greek speaking widows got their fair share of help from the church, and both men were recorded as doing miraculous signs as they preached the gospel. 

When Paul wrote the the Galatians, he asked them, ‘Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?’ The Galatians believed the good news of Jesus and his death for them, and received the Holy Spirit and experienced his power to work miracles even when Paul was far away writing a letter to them. These were ordinary Christians.

And James in his letter told Christians who were suffering not to wait for an apostle to come, but to call the church leaders – the elders, overseers, shepherds of the flock – to come and lay hands on them.

Note the connection in all these cases of healing with teaching about Jesus: the apostles and people like Stephen and Philip were telling people about Jesus, making disciples; the Galatians experienced miracles in their group because they believed what they heard about Jesus, the elders of the church are responsible for ensuring the church is teaching the truth about Jesus. The miracles point to Jesus and confirm the message that is being taught about him. Can we expect similar things to happen today? Here? Now?

Why ever not?

It happens elsewhere in the world. Lebanon. Mozambique. China. The church is growing, and miracles help that growth.

Lebanon: Stefan and Camille head a church in Lebanon that runs a centre for Syrian refugees. They are seeing hundreds of muslim refugees coming to faith in Jesus, and marvellous answers to prayer. A mother brought her little boy to the women’s group. He was in a very bad state, with a high fever and a cough. They prayed for him, and he was healed instantly. Another woman was desperate to hear news of her brother, with whom she had lost contact for two years. They prayed she would get news, and all of a sudden she started shouting – she’d just received a text message from him.

Mozambique: the ministry of Rolland and Heidi Baker has resulted in the salvation of hundreds of thousands of people, and is closely associated with the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit healing the lame, opening blind eyes and such-like. A team visited a muslim village for three weekends, and the whole village turned to Christ, including the imam. But if you met the Bakers what would impress you most is their dedication to the poorest of the poor. (Jenny Hodgkinson can tell you more?)

So what about here and now?

In the passage we read 6 things stood out for me:

  1. A passion for spreading the good news of Jesus and building up the church.
  2. A focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is still the saviour, and the Lord of the natural and the supernatural. We have no power or godliness that could enable us to work miracles. He still heals people today, a sign of his power and love, and a pointer to his coming kingdom. He wants us to believe in him, not just in miracles or the power of prayer.
  3. A willingness to step out in faith. When Peter said to Aeneas, ‘Jesus Christ heals you,’ Aeneas was paralysed. What if Peter was mistaken? It was a risk, logically speaking; but Peter acted according to his conviction.
  4. A desire to seek the help of the church leaders.
  5. A prayerful dependence on the Lord’s guidance and power.
  6. An openness to tell people what the Lord has done, without worrying about whether they’ll believe it or not! ‘I can walk!’ ‘I’ve been brought back to life!’

Are these not things we can identify with here and now?

We’re ordinary Christians – just like the believers in Lydda and Joppa, just like the Galatians to whom Paul wrote, ‘Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or use the right techniques, or because you believe what you heard?’ We believe, too! The promise of the Spirit is for us and for our children! And just as the apostles prayed that God would stretch out his hand and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Jesus, so we too can pray and expect God to act. Let’s do that now.

Proposed way:

  • Declaration of faith, using baptism creed (on screen)
  • Declaration of desire to obey, using the 4 commands
  • Prayer for the Holy Spirit to fill us again.
  • Song: Holy Spirit, living breath of God.
  • Prayer for the Lord to stretch out his hand – Acts 4:29b,30
  • Prayer for healing for people in the congregation.