Illustrating the spiritual through the physical

So why did Jesus physically heal “Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years” in Acts 9:32-34? And why at that specific time did Jesus heal him too? 

The timing is a clue, because the first part of Acts 9 tells the vivid story of Saul being miraculously transformed from being an obsessive hunter of Christians to preaching and proving that “Jesus is the Son of God” and “Jesus is the Christ” (verses 20 and 22). 

In the same chapter, therefore, we have the healing of Saul and the healing of Aeneas. For Aeneas it was the healing of his paralyzed body; for Saul it was the healing of his paralyzed mind, obsessed with destroying Christianity and belief in Jesus (Acts 26:11).  

So what we’ve got in Acts 9 are two stories about paralysis being healed, both of which were done by Jesus, but one was physical and the other mental, or spiritual. And we see this same connection between the physical and the spiritual elsewhere in the book of Acts  At the very start of the church in Acts 3, for instance, a man crippled from birth is healed, but at the end of the same chapter Peter talks of Jesus “turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). The first healing was physical, but there’s this other healing in verse 26 about Jesus healing what had crippled the Jews (and all humanity) spiritually. 

So again, a parallel is made between the physical and the spiritual – in this case the healing of a man crippled from birth physically and connecting that a few verses later to Jesus healing us from the junk that has crippled all of us mentally and spiritually since we were born. The physical illustrates the spiritual, in other words, and in Acts the two are tightly connected. 

Going back to Acts 9, then, we can now look at what happened to Tabitha. The healing of Aeneas a few verses earlier was amazing, but Tabitha “became sick and died” and her dead body had been washed already in preparation for burial (Acts 9:37). She was as dead as dead can be. But when Peter arrives he prayed, and then “turning toward the dead woman he said ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes and sat up,” after which Peter presented her very much alive again to the assembled household (verses 40-41).  

So now we have two remarkable stories of healing in Acts 9, the healing of a man paralyzed and the healing of a woman who’d died. Isn’t it interesting, then, that both these healings paralleled and perfectly illustrated what had happened to Saul earlier in the same chapter? He too had been healed of his paralysis, and he too had been raised to new life. The physical healings, therefore, were a wonderful illustration of the much greater spiritual healings Jesus was now doing.  

And how encouraging is that? Because think of all the people today who are just as paralyzed and dead as Saul was. They’re just as turned off Christianity and want nothing to do with it as he was. They don’t want anyone explaining Christianity to them, or hearing about all the good things Christians have done through the centuries, or accepting the logic of Jesus’ teachings. They are so bitterly opposed to Christianity they are mentally paralyzed against it – and there’s no cure, just as there was no cure for Saul’s opposition to Christ and all things Christian.

But in just seconds, minutes and stretching to a maximum of only three days, “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes,” Acts 9:18, and not only could Saul see again after being physically blinded, he could also see and preach to others “that Jesus is the Son of God,” totally supporting the key belief of Christians, and being willing to spread it for the rest of his life. 

It seems impossible that a healing of such magnitude and suddenness could happen to a man so obsessed and paralyzed by his hatred – and it was hard for many people back then to wrap their minds round it too (verse 21). Was this really what Jesus was now capable of and doing?

So Jesus does two remarkable physical healings that illustrate and demonstrate that, yes, this was exactly what he was capable of and now doing. And many people in Acts 9 made the connection too. After the healing of Aeneas “All those who lived in Lydda turned to the Lord,” and after the healing of Tabitha, “many people believed in the Lord” (verse 35 and 42). “The scales fell from their eyes” just as they fell from Saul’s eyes, and they too began to experience the paralysis in their thinking being healed and transformed, and being raised to new life, the same two things that happened to Saul.   

Physical healings, then, served as marvellous illustrations of the much greater healing Jesus was doing through the Holy Spirit. So it’s not physical healing that Acts has us focused on, it’s on the spiritual healing that the physical healings illustrated. And we are now living in the time when we can experience the reality of what those physical healings pictured. And as we experience the spiritual healing Jesus made possible, OUR lives then become illustrations of what Jesus is up to as well. 

When Jesus gets personal…

Three things happened to Saul when Jesus got personal with him, starting in Acts 9 when Jesus confronted Saul on his way to Damascus. First on the list was Saul’s mind totally accepting Jesus as LORD, as we see when Saul asked Jesus in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?”  

And when Saul began teaching a few days later in verse 20 it was about Jesus being “the Son of God.” Jesus was no longer a shadowy figure to Saul, or a name to be erased. Jesus was the mighty Son of God, Lord of all. And that was the first great life changing realization Jesus created in Saul’s brain. And it’s the first great life changer for all us humans too, when “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). 

But why is it so important knowing Jesus is Lord? Because in Saul’s life it prepared him for what Jesus had in mind next: Jesus had a job for Saul to do. And again it’s in Acts 9, because Jesus tells “a disciple named Ananias” in verse 10 that Saul, verse 15, “is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel.”

This is now the second thing that happens to Saul when Jesus gets personal with him. Jesus very quickly gets the point across to Saul that his life from this point on would no longer be his own. From now on Saul would become an “instrument” in the mighty Son of God’s hands, so that the name of Jesus would become very familiar to a wide range of people, including “kings.” But for Saul to have that kind of impact on people, he had to know for himself who Jesus was first of all. How could he become a visible witness to others that Jesus was alive, powerful and personal unless he’d experienced Jesus being all those things to him? 

But armed with that understanding now Saul’s immediate reaction is to shoot off to “the Jews living in Damascus” to “prove Jesus is the Christ,” verse 22. He found himself desperately wanting to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus really was the Messiah sent by God to set up his kingdom on earth. To Saul this was all that mattered. He must prove, persuade, and out argue every objection, by using his acute intellect and fluency with words to help people realize who Jesus really was. 

Which is when Jesus gets personal with him again, because everything blows up in Saul’s face. Instead of his fellow Jews responding to his message they “conspired to kill him” in verse 23 (and again in verse 29), causing a humiliating retreat for Saul in a basket at night (verse 25). Worse still, “the brothers” in the church also wanted Saul to stop preaching and go back home to Tarsus (verse 30). And how humiliating that was too, because as soon as Saul was gone “the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace” (verse 31).

It was a strange time of banishment for Saul, because instead of being a powerful witness to Jesus he was now stuck at home in Tarsus twiddling his thumbs and no one hears from him – or about him – for the next six to ten years. But during Saul’s long stay at home Jesus was getting one more vital point across to him, and when he got it that’s when the Spirit sends Barnabas to Tarsus to retrieve Saul and get him back on board again.

So what was it that Saul needed to learn? Well, in his own words he describes it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (or dependence on] the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Galatians 2:20.

Jesus was now very personal to Saul. Jesus was not just a name to be preached in powerful and convincing words. Saul could do that on his own abilities, but to become the effective instrument in Jesus’ hands that Jesus had in mind for him, Saul now realized Jesus wanted to live his own life in him. That way people would have a visible witness of Jesus in Saul himself, that would wonderfully add a visual to his preaching.  

And when Paul understood that he was then ready to become the apostle Paul, who in his own life now – in both power and suffering – would reflect the life and love of Jesus (Philippians 3:10). 

So, is that what Jesus does when he gets personal with us? Does he get the point across to us too, first of all, that he is the mighty Son of God, Lord of all, so that we willingly accept our lives belong to him now as instruments in his hands, and that it doesn’t depend on us and our abilities to do that, but in Jesus living his life and love in us?  

Switching from an impersonal “Way” to a personal Jesus

While amazing things are happening in Samaria in Acts 8, in Acts 9 Saul is still causing havoc among those he dubbed “the Way” (Acts 9:2). To Saul any Jew deserting the teachings of Moses for this other “way” of Jesus, was “speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God” and “against the holy place and the law” (Acts 6:11 and 13).   

So in Acts 9:1-2 Saul “went to the high priest (in Jerusalem)” to “ask him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that….he might take them (the Jesus followers) as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was in a rage, that all this stuff about Jesus was a dangerous cult that needed to be stamped out by jailing and killing off its followers, even as far away as Damascus, because to him there was nothing Godly about this “way” at all.  

But Saul’s in for a bit of a surprise, because as “he neared Damascus,” clutching his signed letters from the high priest to drag all Jesus followers to Jerusalem, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him,” Acts 9:3

It was like a near hit by a lightning bolt, because his knees crumpled and down he went. And that’s when “he heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (verse 4). And amazingly, Saul immediately accepts the voice as real and he has no problem replying to it. 

But what made Saul ask in verse 5, “Who are you, Lord?” His first three words are understandable, because the voice had accused him of picking on “me,” and Saul was simply checking out who the “me” was – but why did he follow that up with the word “Lord”? 

Why ask who “me” was if he already knew it was “the Lord”? And what made Saul think it really was the Lord speaking – because what previous experience of the Lord being so personal had Saul had up to this point?   

But go back to the story of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, and it’s not surprising that Saul immediately suspects this is the Lord in person speaking to him. Saul’s experience with Stephen had been surreal, first in Stephen’s amazing wisdom (Acts 6:10), then Stephen crying out in Acts 7:56, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God,” and again in Stephen’s dying words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” in Acts 7:60

What must’ve really rattled Saul, though, was Stephen putting the “Son of Man” and “Lord” together, because that clearly identified Jesus (the Son of Man) as the “Lord.” Stephen had also actually seen Jesus in his lofty position at God’s right hand, so from Stephen Saul learnt for the first time in his life that Jesus was alive still, and he was both powerful and personal.   

It’s not surprising, then, that Saul had no trouble accepting the “me” in verse 4 as the Lord Jesus, because a switch had already been clicked in his head by his experience with Stephen that this new movement of Jesus followers wasn’t just an impersonal “Way,” it was based on Jesus being alive in power and person.

But look what it took to bring Saul to that point. It wasn’t an impersonal “Way” – or a system of beliefs, doctrines, creeds and rituals – that got to Saul; it was the amazing difference that being “full of the Spirit” had made in Stephen: he was full of “God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). And that made Stephen into a wonderful and visible witness to Jesus being alive, which is exactly what Jesus said would happen when his disciples were filled with the Spirit in Acts 1:8. And now in Acts 9 we actually see that witness happening in the impact that Jesus being alive, powerful and personal in Stephen’s life had made on Saul.  

So it’s real; it happens, and amazingly so in the likes of a man like Saul. Does that mean, then, that because of the Spirit in us the same switch is being clicked on in other people’s heads too?   

The unpredictable but timing perfect Holy Spirit….

 Simon Magus’ view of the Holy Spirit in the first half of Acts 8 was pathetically limited and insultingly wrong. To him the Spirit was merely an “ability” (verse 19) he could add to his other magical powers by simply placing his hands on people (verse 18). Imagine the impact that would have, this amazing power being released through his fingers, which he could pull out of his bag of magic tricks to sway people Into believing he truly had “divine power” (verse 10). The Holy Spirit, in other words, was something he could control and use to wow people into believing his ministry was from God (verse 21) – much like so called faith healers do today.   

Peter, however, labelled Simon’s attitude for what it was: “wickedness” (verse 22). But why was it so wicked? 

We’re about to find out in the next half of Acts 8, because there is a massive contrast between the limited, insulting view that Simon had of the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit is really like – the first hint of which occurs in verse 26 when, out of the blue, “an angel of the Lord” arrives on the scene to give Philip his next assignment.  

Imagine being in Philip’s sandals when this happens. In Acts 6 he’d just been chosen by the church as one of seven men to organize the care and feeding of the widows and many others pouring into the church in Jerusalem. That was his job. But in Acts 8:5 we find him on the road to Samaria instead, to “proclaim Christ there,” where he’s doing “miraculous signs” (verse 6), freeing people from evil spirits and healing paralytics and cripples (verse 7). 

And Philip wasn’t even an apostle, but here he was doing apostle level miracles. It meant leaving his carer’s job in Jerusalem to go to Samaria and now he’s being told by an angel to leave Samaria and head south on a “desert road” (verse 26) with no idea or explanation where he was going or what for. It was all completely and totally unexpected. And it probably didn’t make much sense to Philip either, because why was he being asked to leave Samaria when all the action was happening back there (verse 25)?

But here he is, walking along an empty desert road with not a soul, house or village in sight, and no clue what he’s there for – when a chariot appears, and the Spirit tells him, “Go to the chariot and stay near it” (verse 29).  

The timing is exquisite, because the man in the chariot is reading aloud from Isaiah 53. Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading, the man wants to know and Philip explains how those verses tie in with “the good news about Jesus” (verses 30-35). It’s exactly what the man needs to hear, because he stops the chariot a few miles down the road and wants to be baptized where water just happens to be (verses 36 and 38). That job done “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,” verse 39.

How wicked it was of Simon, therefore, to think the Holy Spirit was merely a power he could control for his own ends and agenda. Because look at the massive contrast between Simon’s pathetic and insulting view of the Spirit to this exquisitely choreographed story of the Ethiopian Secretary of the Treasury on his way home from Jerusalem on this totally deserted road reading aloud from Isaiah 53, wondering who it’s referring to, and alongside his chariot appears Philip, who is able to tie in Isaiah 53 with what Jesus was all about. 

No one else is there to witness it either. It’s just between these two men, one who’s willing to go wherever the Spirit blows, and the other at that specific time being ready for hearing the gospel. No one had set this up or planned it in their five year church plan for missions. It was all the Spirit’s doing. 

But the Spirit knew Philip, that Philip would accept receiving instructions from an angel and being spoken to by the Spirit, and finding himself on an empty desert road with no idea why.    

Imagine, then, what could have happened if Simon Magus had been like Philip. What incredibly unexpected things would the Spirit have done through him that would have shown Simon’s many followers how wonderfully unpredictable but timing perfect the Spirit truly is? 

Simon never got to know the Spirit was like that. But for those who see in this story in Acts 8 that this is what life with the Holy Spirit is like, it spells a life of adventure, challenge and a Philip-like trust that what happens in our lives is being directed by a power that knows us well and knows exactly what to gift us with and when, so that we can have a “share in Jesus’ ministry” too (verse 21).  

Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?….

In Acts 8:9 “a man named Simon….amazed all the people of Samaria,” creating  a huge following dazzled by “his magic,” verse 11. His magic was so impressive it looked like he had “divine power,” verse 10. To the Samaritans there was something definitely supernatural going on, the source of which they believed to be “the Great Power.” (verse 10). But the very real presence of “evil spirits” in verse 7 hints strongly as to who or what that “Great Power” was. It certainly wasn’t God. 

It looked like Simon was well and truly wired up to evil forces, therefore, so he must’ve really surprised his followers when Philip turned up in verse 12 “preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and Simon believed it too. He was even baptized along with many of his countrymen (verse 13). So here we have a man who’d been “boasting that he was someone great” (verse 9) – because of the huge following he had – now humbly “following Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and wonders” Philip was doing. 

Not only, then, did Simon believe the gospel message, he was also  “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (verse 16) and he became one of Philip’s most ardent supporters. These were all clear signs that Simon had become a Christian. His conversion from a satanic flunkey to Christian disciple was nothing short of amazing, especially when he himself had been such a celebrity with his own adoring crowd of disciples. 

So far in Acts 8, therefore, it’s not surprising if we, like Philip, accepted Simon Magus as a fully fledged, enthusiastic Christian, and the kind of chap you’d welcome in church. Philip had no doubts about him either, because when news got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans “had accepted the word of God” (verse 14), there was no added warning in the report to “watch out for Simon, who looks like a Christian but he’s a fraud.”  

No one would have been any wiser about Simon, then, had not Peter and John arrived from Jerusalem and started praying for the Samaritan disciples “that they might receive the Holy Spirit,” verse 15, “because,” verse 16, “the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them.” 

But what noticeable difference would that have made? 

Well, when “Peter and John placed their hands on people and they received the Holy Spirit,” verse 17, something extra happened to those people. There is no indication what it was in the text, but the obvious sign of people receiving the Spirit up to this point in Acts was them becoming a united family who cared for each other (Acts 2:44-46, 4:32-37, 6:1-6). The Holy Spirit also equipped them with the heart and skills (or gifts) for taking care of each other too (like Stephen in Acts 7).    

But even if Simon had known that’s what receiving the Spirit would do for him, he wouldn’t have been interested, because his attention was totally on the Holy Spirit being an extra power he could get by the placing of his hands on people too, and he wanted it so much for himself he was willing to pay whatever it cost to get it (Acts 8:18-19). 

And that gave the game away to Peter, because he could see what really drove Simon, and how bitter Simon would become if he didn’t get what he wanted (verse 23). So he let Simon know he could see right through him, but instead of Simon seeking the help he so desperately needed with his utterly selfish attitude his only interest was in Peter praying for him “that nothing you have said may happen to me,” verse 24. His interest was still only in himself. 

And that’s why the title of this article, “Was Simon Magus a Christian because he was baptized?” – because part of his mind accepted Philip’s message about Jesus, and especially when it was backed up by some really impressive healing miracles. But there was another part of his mind that wasn’t interested in anything more than that. He wasn’t interested in becoming part of a caring family, or being healed of his selfishness and bitterness when it was pointed out to him. He wanted in for himself, much like any one of us joining the church today to get ourselves saved and into heaven, rather than becoming a loving family of disciples caring for each other and seeking healing of all that’s rotten and bad in us (Acts 3:26 and 5:31). 

”Known to be full of the Spirit”

In Acts 6:1 Grecian Jews “complained against those of the (local Jewish) Aramaic-speaking community because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” And clearly it was a problem because “the Twelve (apostles) gathered all the disciples together” to talk about it. 

The solution they came up with was the church “choosing seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them,” verse 3.

So it was over to the church to decide who the seven men would be. But how could they tell who was (or wasn’t) “full of the Spirit”? Surely, they all were, or were some noticeably “more” full of the Spirit than others? But how could people with “less” Holy Spirit know who was full of the Spirit, or that other people had more of the Spirit than them? And surely they’d have to know what being full of the Spirit was like in themselves too, to be able to recognize it in others. 

But there’s no ignoring the apostles telling the church to go find seven men who were “KNOWN to be full of the Spirit,” so these men must have stood out in some way to make everyone aware of who they were, And in an obvious way too, because “This proposal pleased the whole group,” verse 5. So no one had any trouble with this solution, because it was known who was full of the Spirit. It was blatantly apparent to everyone. They could all tell. 

So they must have known each other really well, and so well that identifying seven men among the “increasing number of disciples” (verse 1) who were joining them was easy. But the question still remains as to what it was that stood out in these seven men that clearly identified them as full of the Spirit. 

Well, what was the situation that triggered the search for these men in the first place? It was an immediate and pressing need. Grecian Jews were complaining that their widows were being neglected “in the daily distribution of food.” It sounds like there was a communal dining hall where they all ate together, because the apostles were racing round like waiters (verse 2), and with possibly thousands of people to feed every day it must have been hectic. And in all that racing around, perhaps the local Aramaic-speaking Jewish widows were being served first because they could communicate their needs in the local language, and their needs would more likely have been known by the locals too. 

Whatever the reason, what was needed was men who were known for their organizational ability, and for being really good at calming people down and resolving conflicts. Those were the two main needs, and the people knew each other well enough to know who was best suited to meet those needs.

But the one who knew best of all was the Holy Spirit, because he was the one bringing all these people into the church, including needy widows, and was fully aware that such problems would arise. And this is where we see the Holy Spirit being way ahead of the game, because he also had people who could take care of the needs too. It was he who was making it obvious who the right men were, probably because he was also equipping and gifting them for the jobs needed, just like he’d equipped and gifted the apostles for the “ministry of the word” (verses 2 and 4). 

So these seven men were full of the Spirit in the sense that they were fully equipped by the Spirii for the needs at the time. And so well had the Spirit equipped them that everyone could see they were the right men for the job. Stephen, for instance, in verse 5, was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,” but in the context of being filled with trust in the Spirit to help them out in such practical things as organizing food for the needy. And that was Stephen’s focus, and so much so it was obvious to those who knew him well. 

Stephen was clearly aware of just how intimately involved the Spirit was in every aspect of the growing church, from “the word of God spreading” (verse 7) to making sure neglected widows got enough food. It was in that context that he was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” He simply trusted the Spirit to meet their needs, whatever those needs were. 

“He must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”

So said Jesus to a crowd of people, including his disciples, in Mark 8:34. It must have sounded odd, though, because what did “taking up a cross” mean? Jesus obviously knew what it meant because a couple of verses earlier he’d told his disciples he’d be killed, so he knew that taking up a cross was in his near future, but did it mean his disciples would need to be killed on crosses too?

History indicates that some of the disciples may have been killed on crosses, but not all of them, so going literally to one’s death on a cross wasn’t what Jesus was getting at, and even if it was how could his disciples “follow” him if they were dead? Taking up a cross had to mean some action while they were still alive, therefore, which is what it means to us today too. To take up one’s cross is associated with an unpleasant task or person we have to put up with: “It’s a cross I have to bear,” we say, when we’re lumped with a physical handicap, or a neighbour’s dog that never stops barking. 

So in our culture we associate taking up a cross with something negative, but that couldn’t be what Jesus meant either, because why would anyone want to “follow” him if it means having even more crosses to bear? 

Jesus also made it clear in his ministry that he’d come to heal people, so all three of those statements he made – denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following him – would have to tie in with that, as essential to our healing. But how can a cross tie in with healing when it pictures severe pain and public humiliation?  

But in Jesus’ case it worked wonderfully, because the pain and public humiliation he suffered on the cross was totally tied in with our healing. In his death he “condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3). In HIS cross, therefore, he put to death the junk that kills us as humans, the kind of junk he talked about in Mark 7, like weird ideas about sex, jealousy, lying, destructive gossip, hating people enough to want to kill them, obsession with our self-image, and stupid, inconsiderate words and actions that destroy relationships. To be free of all that rubbish is the best thing that can happen to us. Well, in taking up his cross Jesus got that process started, so that one day we could all be free of that destructive nonsense forever. No wonder Jesus went to the cross with joy (Hebrews 12:2). 

So now we have a very positive reason for taking up a cross, when it’s tied in with killing off what’s killing us. Does that positive reason then spill over into why Jesus wanted us to take up a cross as well? 

It’s going to mean we’re in for pain and humiliation like he went through, because that’s what being hung up on a cross includes. It’s not pleasant, for instance, having to admit we’ve got many of the same problems Jesus listed in Mark 7, and even more unpleasant having some of them exposed for all to see as well. 

But the purpose of exposing what’s inside us (and the humiliation that may go along with it), is to experience becoming the lovely human Jesus died to make us into. This is what Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit for too, to help us become visible witnesses to Jesus making awful people into good ones. He went to the cross for that reason, to kickstart that healing for all humanity, and to make his disciples the best living proof of it.

So, yes, taking up our cross may be painful and humiliating, just as Jesus taking up his cross was for him, but when we know the purpose of it, to heal us by cleaning out our hearts and cleaning up our minds from all that’s killing us and our planet, then that surely explains why Jesus has disciples who not only take up their crosses willingly, they also willingly follow him. 

Righteousness – what does it mean and why is it so important?

 Righteousness is important because it would create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen. That’s because of what righteousness is: according to 1 John 3:7, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he (Jesus) is righteous.” Simply put, then, righteousness means doing what’s right just as Jesus does.  

And would that create the greatest revolution this world has ever seen? Yes, because righteousness by John’s definition has never been done by humanity as a whole. Instead we’ve “all sinned” (Romans 3:23), and according to 1 John 3:4, “sin is lawlessness.” So, instead of all us humans doing what is right, we fell short of that and became lawless. Whereas in Jesus, verse 5, there “is no sin.” If we were all like Jesus, then, we wouldn’t be lawless, and what would the world be like then?

Well, that’s what Jesus is bringing about, because there’s no way we can do it. Our inability to even do what WE define as right is clearly demonstrated in the mess we and our planet are in. “But,” verse 5, “he (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins.” So Jesus came to do away with our lawlessness and our inability “to do what’s right.” And this is how he turns our world right side up, which we’ve never been able to do. 

But how does he deal with our inability to do what is right? Again, John explains, in verse 6: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” The key to solving our inability to do what is right, then, is us “living in Jesus,” so what does that mean?  

Fortunately, John takes the time to explain that too, starting in verse 9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” In other words, it’s possible for us to be righteous like Jesus is, with the same desire and ability to do what’s right that he has, because God made us his children too. We have the same “God-seed” in us, therefore, that Jesus has, so that we can live how Jesus lives.

John is thrilled by this, as we see in verse 1, when he writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God,” because “that is what we are.” And being God’s children, born of his seed, we are now in the same marvellous position as Jesus is, being able to think and do what’s right just as he does.  

That’s what God has made possible, so that whatever Jesus taught and how Jesus lived we can live those things too. And by living as he did, or “obeying his commands,” as John put it in 1 John 2:3, “This is how we know we are in himverse 5

John spells it out so clearly in verse 6, that  “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” – but in recognition now that we CAN now walk like Jesus because, like him, we are God’s children too. Or as John puts it in verse 29, “everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” 

It goes both ways, then: if we’re born of him we can do what is right, and if we do what is right it’s proof we are born of him. Either way it means righteousness is within our grasp, which has to be thrilling, because it’s through righteousness that Jesus is bringing about the greatest revolution this world has ever seen.

Repent

“Repent” said on its own like that can sound blunt, especially when yelled as a threat by fire-breathing preachers, that we’d better repent, or else – the “or else” usually meaning a fearsome future in an ever-burning hell. 

Can these preachers be blamed – or even criticized – though, for being so blunt, when Paul was just as blunt in Acts 17:30-31? “In the past,” Paul told the Athenians, “God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For,” take note, “he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”  

Paul was just as blunt in Romans 2:5 too, when he writes to his fellow Jews, “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,” because that’s when “God will give to each person according to what he has done,” verse 6

It’s not surprising, then, that repentance is associated with severe warning of judgment by an angry God if one’s behaviour doesn’t improve. The Pharisees and Sadducees would certainly have heard it that way when John the Baptist yells at them, “You gang of snakes; who gave you the idea you could escape the coming wrath?” No way will they escape God’s wrath unless they “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” because, like an unfruitful tree if “you don’t produce good fruit you’ll be cut down and burnt” (Matthew 3:7-8, 10). 

Add to that Hebrews 10:31, that “It’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” and we get the picture – that God is not to be messed with.  

But there’s another side to repentance that reveals God in a different light. It’s first seen in the book of Job, where we see God letting all sorts of horrible things happen to Job, but the result is Job saying, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42:6.  

It dawns on Job how arrogant he’d been in challenging the great God himself. He even thought he could ask God questions that God couldn’t answer. How on earth could he think such a thing? Because of his pride, that’s how. But on seeing it Job repented, because he suddenly realized it was in his own head where the problem lay, not in God’s. 

And it set the scene for what God is bringing every human to see eventually, that pride in our own abilities, opinions and judgments makes us think we have within us whatever it takes to handle any problem we face, and we don’t need God. And clearly, based on what God allowed Job to go through, it’s the toughest lesson we have to learn. How many of us, for instance, based our lifelong thinking on what Jesus said, that the truly blessed in life are those who are “poor in spirit,” who realize they’re just as ignorant and limited in their understanding as Job was, and like Job desperately need God to strip away their blindness so they see the damage their thinking has done to them?  

But this is the point God brings us to, where it dawns on us what our brains and attitudes have made us think and do, and we just sit there, stunned, wondering “Now what?” Which is exactly what happened to the Jews in Acts 2, when Peter revealed the astoundingly embarrassing and horrifying news that they’d just killed the Messiah they’d so much been looking forward to, because of their pride and ignorance. It knocked the wind right out of them, verse 37; “they were cut to the heart and said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” 

Peter’s immediate reply of “Repent” in verse 38 was good news, because there WAS something they could do. They could admit how blind, helpless and stupid they’d been, just like Job, because this was exactly the raw material needed for God to rewire their brains. It’s what God had allowed the horrible mess they’d made to bring them to, so now he could heal and bless them, just as he promised in Acts 3:26.   

It may seem, then, that God is being harsh and cruel allowing us to reach that point though suffering, but in reality it’s love, because only he can heal a pride driven brain, and only he who can help us see it. And once that’s done he does for us what he did for Job; he fills our lives with new attitudes that bring us blessings we never knew existed. 

“And all of them were healed”

In Acts 5:16 ”crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their  sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Not one of the many thousands who turned up for healing was turned away. And no matter how serious or terminal an illness or disease, it was guaranteed a healing. 

So if mass healings like this aren’t happening in the church today, why aren’t they? Is it because we aren’t praying like they did in Acts 4:30, for God to “stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders”? 

But take into account that those doing all the healings in Acts 5 were the apostles (verse 12). And the apostles were the ones the church was praying for in Acts 4:30 too. It was also to the apostles that Jesus talked about “confirming the message by the signs that attended it,” like “laying hands on the sick and the sick recovering” (Mark 16:17-18). Paul also talked about “the signs of an apostle” in 2 Corinthians 12:12, that set the apostles aside as special, because they were the ones God had chosen to lay the foundations of the New Testament church (Ephesians 2:20). So this great power to heal was specifically given to the apostles.  

But once that confirmation of the apostles had been done by healings and other miraculous signs and wonders, did that mean the healings and miracles would end? No, because Jesus said the future church would be doing “greater” miracles than even he’d done (John 14:12). 

But what could be “greater” than all those who went to Jesus for healing being healed? Even saying “all of them were healed” in Acts 5:16 isn’t greater than what Jesus did. So what “greater things” could Jesus possibly be referring to? 

Well, healing a person completely from all his sicknesses isn’t a cure for selfishness or greed, nor does it heal bitterness following a broken relationship or a thwarted dream. It doesn’t cure racism, bullying, a bloated ego, road rage, or frustration at injustice, unfairness and favouritism. And think of all the tragic mental aberrations that lead to war, murder and revenge, that once started cannot be stopped. 

In other words, it’s what’s tucked away inside us causing our problems that desperately needs the “greater” healing promised by Jesus – just like a good Doctor gets at the causes of our illnesses, rather than just treating the symptoms. And getting at the causes is why “God raised up his servant, Jesus” in Acts 3:26 too. Jesus came to “bless us by turning each of us from our wicked ways.” Not turn us from what’s bothering us physically; it’s turning us from the curse of the monsters inside us that are making us do awful things to ourselves and to other people.   

Like the monsters inside the heads of the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem, in reaction to the apostles’ amazing healings in Acts 5:16. Because instead of applauding what the apostles were doing, “the high priest and all his associates….were filled with jealousy,” verse 17. How sick is that? But that’s why sick minds are far worse than sick bodies, because sick minds wreck other people’s lives too. 

The big question has to be, then, “Does Jesus heal all those with sick minds who recognize their need for healing and come to him for it?” 

The answer from Jesus is a resounding “Yes, of course,” because in Matthew 11:28 he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” and by “rest” he meant “rest for your souls,” verse 29, not bodies. He wants to heal what’s churning away deep inside our very soul, because that’s where the greatest cure is needed. 

That’s his “greater” healing and greater goal, so that one day he can say of everyone’s heart, soul and mind – that “all of them are healed.”