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. 

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