Hungry for Healing

Acts 5:12-16

January 18, 2020 | Brian Bill

There’s a lot of hurt and pain in our world, and in our church.  Many of you came in today piled with problems and heavy with hurt.  I don’t know who first said it, but it’s certainly true: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

As a way to get a sense of what people are struggling with our Communications Director compiled a word cloud containing prayer requests submitted by the people of our church for every month of 2019.  Let’s flip through them quickly…

Here are the four most prominent requests from this past year:

  1. Family
  2. Cancer 
  3. Surgery 
  4. Healing

One topic that brings up a lot of pain and hurt today is abortion.  On this Sanctity of Life weekend, we affirm, along with thousands of other churches, that every human being, from conception on, is an image bearer of God, stamped with divine dignity and worthy of protection.  

Listen to Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Before I go further, I recognize some of you may be struggling with the after-effects of abortion.  We hurt with you and want you to know that no one is cut off from the cleansing power of the Cross.  No sin is too big to be forgiven by the grace of God.  We’ll talk more about hope and healing at the end of the message.

Last weekend we tackled a tough text from Acts 5:1-11 and discovered that the fear of God will help us be faithful to God.  Today we’ll see from verses 12-16 how Jesus heals our hurts.  

Listen to Acts 5:12-16: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.  And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.  None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.   And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.  The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”

The Book of Acts gives us various snapshots of the early church that help us see what it was like.  I see six descriptions in this passage.

1. A sense of the miraculous. 

Listen to the first part of verse 12: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles…”  The first thing to notice is this is an answer to the prayer the apostles prayed back in Acts 4:29-30: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

The word for “signs” means a “mark or token” given to point people to God.  The word “wonders” has to do with the response to these signs.  These signs were done by the “hands of the apostles.”  While God’s judgment came out of the mouth of an apostle in the previous passage, now we see how healing and mercy come through the hands of the apostles.  I’m reminded of Habakkuk 3:2: “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.  In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

These miraculous signs were designed to authenticate the authority of the apostles as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:12: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”   Mark 16:20 tells us these signs and wonders also verified the message of the gospel and were not to be sought out for their own sake but rather to point people to Jesus: “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”  I count 17 times in Acts where “signs” led to people getting saved.  This is in line with what our Lord said in John 4:48: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

2. A commitment to gather with each other. 

Check out the last phrase in verse 12: “And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.”  One of the defining characteristics of these first Christians is they were committed to community with each other.  Note they were “all together.”  This was their habit as we saw in Acts 2:1: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” and in Acts 2:46: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.”

as our culture continues to cave and it becomes increasingly difficult to live for Christ, we need to gather more often, not less often

While many have stopped attending church, even evangelicals who say they go to church are attending less often.  According to one study, on average, evangelicals gather for a worship service only 1.8 times a month!  Brothers and sisters, as our culture continues to cave and it becomes increasingly difficult to live for Christ, we need to gather more often, not less often.  

I’ve been challenged by something John Stott wrote:

“An unchurched Christian is a grotesque anomaly.  The New Testament knows nothing of such a person.  For the church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.  It is not a divine afterthought.  It is not an accident of history.  The church is God’s new community.”

These first followers gathered in “Solomon’s Portico,” a covered porch area that ran along the eastern wall of the Temple.  It was where the lame man was healed and where the apostles had been arrested in Acts 4:3 for preaching about Jesus.  Yet, here they are, gathered together in this very public place in the center of the city.  For perspective, this would be like gathering at the Washington Monument, only more so, because the Temple was the religious center of Judaism.

3. A high view of God’s holiness. 

It’s a good reminder that when we join a church, we are gluing ourselves to gather with God’s people

Last weekend we spent a lot of time on the holiness of God and now we see the reaction of unbelievers in verse 13: “None of the rest dared join them…”  The word “none” literally means, “not even one.”  The word “dared” has the idea of “courage.” Interestingly, the word “join” is used seven times in Acts and means, “to cleave or be glued together.”  It’s a good reminder that when we join a church, we are gluing ourselves to gather with God’s people.

After hearing what happened to a couple who wallowed in hollow hypocrisy, many unbelievers were afraid to attend.  In short, they were hesitant to join with believers because of the holiness of God.  I’m reminded of something D.L. Moody often said, “The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

While we want our facility to be user-friendly, we will never water down the gospel or minimize the holiness of God just to make people happy.  In an age of easy believism, superficial spirituality, and cheap grace, we will continue to proclaim that Jesus is the only way, that the way is narrow, and discipleship demands our very lives.  No matter what our society says, marriage is between one man and one woman for life and life begins at conception and must be protected.  There’s a cost to following Christ, isn’t there?

4. A good reputation in the community. 

Even though there was a hesitancy to join the First Church of Jerusalem, Christ followers were thought of highly according to the last part of verse 13: “…but the people held them in high esteem.”  The phrase “high esteem” comes from the word to mean, “enlarge.”  Christians were considered favorably because of how they cared for the little, the least and the lost.

It’s helpful to know the cultural setting in which this passage was written.  Rome had a law called patria potestas, which meant “the father’s power.”  By law, children were regarded as the patriarch’s personal property, and he could do with them what he wished.  A displeased dad could disown his kids, sell them into slavery, or even kill them with no consequences.

When a child was born, the newborn was placed between the father’s feet.  If the father picked up the baby, the child stayed in the home.  If he turned and walked away, the child was either left to die or sold at auction into slavery. 

This week I read an article called, “How Christianity Invented Children” by Pascal Gobry.

“We have forgotten just how deep a cultural revolution Christianity wrought.  In fact, we forget about it precisely because of how deep it was: There are many ideas that we simply take for granted as natural and obvious, when in fact they didn’t exist until the arrival of Christianity changed things completely.  Take, for instance, the idea of children.

One of the most notorious ancient practices that Christianity rebelled against was the frequent practice of “expositio,” basically the abandonment of unwanted infants. But really, Christianity’s invention of children — that is, its invention of the cultural idea of children as treasured human beings — was really an outgrowth of its most stupendous and revolutionary idea: the radical equality, and the infinite value, of every single human being as [made in the image of God].”

5. People were getting saved all the time. 

While some people stayed away, others were drawn to Christ as we see in verse 14: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”  While following Christ was alarming to some, many others found Christ to be extremely appealing.  The word “added” means, “kept on being added,” showing this happened all the time.  The word “multitudes” refers to “a great many, a throng of people.”  

Let’s review the explosive growth of Christianity in the book of Acts so far…

2:41: “there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

2:47: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 4:4: “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.”

By A.D. 300, there were millions of believers scattered throughout the Roman empire.

In a culture which looked down on women, don’t miss how Luke mentions both “men and women” were getting saved.  There are a dozen other references to women coming to Christ in Acts. 

6. Hurting people were being healed. 

Notice the first two words of verse 15: “So that…” Because there was a sense of the miraculous, a commitment to gather with each other, a high view of God’s holiness, believers had a good reputation in the community and people were getting saved all the time, those who were hurting were hungry for healing.  Verse 15 paints a picture of the streets filled with the sick and the suffering: “So that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.”

It’s quite a picture isn’t it?  Those who were sick were taken outside into the streets.  The word “sick,” doesn’t just refer to physical illnesses, though it certainly does include physical ailments; it also describes those who are “vacillating in faith, doubting, weak, powerless and without strength.”  

The use of “cots” and “mats” helps us see that Christianity is not only for all genders but for all classes of people as “cots” were soft couches used by the wealthy and “mats” were used by the poor.  

People esteemed the apostles so much they felt if they could just get in Peter’s shadow they would be healed of their sickness.  There was a belief in that culture that a shadow had power – they would flee from an evil man’s shadow but would seek to come into the shadow of a good man.  There’s no evidence that Peter’s shadow had any power but it does remind us of Psalm 121:5: “the Lord is your shade on your right hand” and Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Verse 16 shows how badly the hurting wanted to be healed.  These people were not only from all classes and genders, but they came from all places: “The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.”  

This parallels what Jesus did in Matthew 4:24: “So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them.”  This makes sense because Jesus said in John 14:12: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

The word “afflicted” means to be harassed and helpless and the word for “healed” also means to serve.  Once people were set free, they were able to serve others.  We’re reminded we are saved to serve.  2 Corinthians 1:4 says God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

One of the unseen results of abortion in our country is the affliction this has caused women who have had an abortion, as well as the men who who’ve encouraged them.

Are you aware that abortion is the leading cause of death in the world today?  In 2019, there were 42.4 million lives lost from abortion, which is approximately 125,000 each day.  This is twice the number of all deaths caused by cancer, smoking, alcohol, traffic accidents, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined!  

In the US, there have been over 61 million deaths since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.  That’s the population of 26 states, or to bring it closer to home, it would be like losing all the people in the Midwest states of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Along with all this death has come despair, regret, guilt and shame. 

Let me come back to a common prayer request submitted by the people of Edgewood.  Every week people pray that God would bring salvation to family members, neighbors, co-workers and classmates.

The greatest miracle of all is when God extends His mercy to sinners like you and like me.  Whatever you’ve done, you can be forgiven.  You can be saved by repenting of your sins and by receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior.  He will forgive you and set you free from your sin and your shame, your guilt and your grievances.

Indeed, Jesus is the ultimate sign and the ultimate wonder and when you are born again, you will become a miracle of mercy!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?