Does the Holy Spirit still speak today?

In Acts 13:2 we are told “the Holy Spirit said….,” and it’s put in inverted commas as a quote by a voice with specific instructions: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 

So, did the Spirit literally speak to those gathered together at this point? And was it in a voice that everyone could hear? No explanation is given here in how the Spirit spoke, or how they knew it was the Spirit speaking, but there are people today who claim the Spirit speaks to them too. When I’ve asked how they know it’s the Holy Spirit speaking it’s almost taken as an insult, so it’s a touchy subject.   

But it’s also a vital one, because it’s clear in the book of Acts that communication by the Holy Spirit is how God’s will is known in this era of Jesus’ ministry. And, fortunately, it’s this chapter, Acts 13, that gives us clues to help us know if it’s the Holy Spirit speaking, and how the Holy Spirit “speaks.” 

The first clue is in Acts 13:1-2, because “in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers” who, on realizing the gigantic task facing them in Acts 11:18 that “God had granted the Gentiles repentance unto life” too, put all else aside, including food, to seek the Spirit’s help and guidance.  

And when the church did that the Holy Spirit responded. So the first clue in knowing it’s the Spirit speaking is the church’s humble recognition that, in an impossible situation or challenge, trusting the Spirit is the place to start. And it has to be the Spirit inspiring that understanding too, because this is how he makes God’s will known. It’s to those who recognize the only way that we as a church can truly be witnesses to a world that knows little to nothing about Jesus is by the power, wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).    

So that’s where they began in Acts 13: they got together in mutual recognition that only the Spirit could help them. But how did they know when an answer came that it was the Holy Spirit responding? By the second clue: that they all agreed. They all came to the same conclusion that the first step in this massive new mission they’d been faced with was sending out Barnabas and Saul to kick things off. Just like Acts 6:5, “This proposal pleased the whole group.”    

But someone could say, “Yes, but, we did that in our church too and we all agreed, but it all turned out horribly.” 

Which brings us to the third clue, that it’s on looking back that we can say with certainty it was the Holy Spirit speaking. Luke, for instance, was totally confident in Acts 13:2 that “the Holy Spirit said,” because the fruits proved it. Read the rest of Acts 13 and there’s no doubt that sending out Saul and Barnabas was obviously Spirit inspired. 

Which brings us to the fourth clue the Spirit is speaking, because amazing things happen that no one could have foreseen or even guessed at, like what happened next in verses 4 to 12. I doubt any five year plan or conference to exchange ideas would have come up with that. 

But how did the Holy Spirit speak? Was it through a voice? There were “prophets” in the group in verse 1, so did a prophet speak? Prophets speak today too, but how do we know they’re speaking what the Spirit is inspiring? 

That’s answered for us in Acts 13:13 to 48, because what Saul said in those verses tied in totally with being a witness to Jesus, which is what the Holy Spirit had been given to the church for (Acts 1:8). So that’s our fifth clue it’s the Holy Spirit speaking, because what is spoken is absolutely in tune with why God raised up Jesus (Acts 13:30-35).    

So, does the Holy Spirit still speak today? Absolutely, because we depend on him speaking to us just as much as he spoke to them in Acts 13, to know God’s will and be given opportunity to teach it – and be able to look back and know by the fruits that it truly was, and is, the Holy Spirit speaking. 

And what if all five clues operate the same way in our own lives as well, when we’re personally faced with overwhelmingly challenging situations? What if we too put all else aside to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance (the first clue), and the conclusion we come to is obvious (the second clue), and looking back later the fruits are great (the third clue), because amazing things we could never have imagined happen (the fourth clue), and what happens becomes a wonderful witness to Jesus being alive (the fifth clue).  

But that’s life for us now – as groups and as individuals – faced with the daunting task in verse 47 of “being a light for the Gentiles, that you (we) may bring (knowledge and experience of) salvation to the ends of the earth.” According to Acts 13, we can call on the Holy Spirit and he will “speak” to us, and in ways that will give us some great stories to tell too.

When human institutions think they’re God

In Acts 12:23 King Herod (Agrippa the first) was struck down “by an angel of the Lord,” and “he was eaten by worms and died.”  

The reason for his quick and awful death, and why one of God’s angels was directly involved in it as well, is made clear in verse 22. At the end of a rousing speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon (verses 20-21), Herod, all dressed up in his silver robes sparkling in the sunlight and looking very regal on his throne, laps up the grovelling applause of his needy audience and their cries of “This is the voice of a god, not a man.” 

He didn’t deny it either, which wasn’t a smart move on his part, because he was “immediately” infested by an angel with voracious maggots for not “giving praise to God,” verse 23. And clearly there’s a vital lesson here that the Holy Spirit wants to get across, because it’s placed right after the story of Peter being rescued by an angel in response to “the church earnestly praying to God for him” (verse 5).

It’s quite a contrast between what happened when people recognized their human helplessness and believed that only God could help them, compared to what happened to a man who liked to think he was God and could act as he jolly well pleased. 

It should send shivers up the spine of anyone in power from this point on, whether it be national leaders, corporate bosses, social influencers, billionaires and celebrities, or judges and police chiefs, that God does not take anyone thinking they are gods lightly. He knows exactly what they’re up to, and if it’s not acknowledging their need for his help and guidance then they’d better be prepared for anything to happen, including the direct involvement of angels. 

And if they think that’s all just huff and puff and empty threats, look at what’s happening in our world today. Greedy, deceitful, God-ignoring liars and hypocrites are being exposed at all levels, in nations, world health organizations, pharmaceutical companies, family destroying policy makers, and lobbyists for all sorts of divisive, chaos causing agendas. The awful result is increasing distrust for all our respected institutions, and increasing anger threatening civil wars, humiliation for arrogant leaders, and maybe even the collapse of proud and powerful empires.  

And in all the present chaos of the pandemic, where scientists, medical advisers and politicians are unable to agree on any course of action that doesn’t involve further risk to physical and mental health, or to the global economy present and future, has anyone in leadership acknowledged or even mildly suggested we might need help from God? “Oh no, no no, don’t bring God into the equation; we are gods, we will see this through.” But at what cost and more heartbreaking and unnecessary suffering?   

Acts 12 was put in there for a reason by a loving, merciful God, as both a warning to those who think they’re gods and as reassurance to those who accept their need for God, that God notices, he responds, and he has multiple millions of angels at his command that he can send to aid, encourage and intervene for those who earnestly seek his help, or, as we see in the case of King Herod, cause the cruel and arrogant to fall. 

It is also a great lesson for the church, which has also had its share of arrogant and cruel leaders through the centuries, and in our day as well, where religious people in power have exploited it for their own ends and believe they’re above the law. But in a moment their hypocrisy is exposed, as if God is saying, “That’s enough of that garbage,” and down they fall to become blips in history or referred to forever as fools.

No wonder we’re asked to pray for those in power, because they are under such huge temptation and are easy prey for the “great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour,” 1 Peter 5:8. He’s the enemy, and if only our human institutions recognized that, and how earnestly, therefore, they need the help of God too. 

When shocking things happen…

In Acts 12:1-2 King Herod had James arrested and killed. James was the firebrand brother of John, nicknamed the “sons of thunder” by Jesus in Mark 3:17. James, then, was likely an enthusiastic and much loved leader in the Jerusalem church. 

His arrest, however, didn’t create much of a ripple in the church. There’s no mention by Luke, for instance, that the church put out a request for prayer for James. Maybe that’s because the last time James was arrested and put in jail, along with all the other apostles, an angel had freed them by unlocking the jail door at night (Acts 5:18-19). 

They were in for a horrible shock, then, when James was executed. And things got worse too, because Herod was so pleased by the Jews’ reaction to having James killed, that he had Peter arrested too (Acts 12:3). Herod also wanted to make a spectacle of Peter’s arrest, by waiting until the Jewish Passover season was over and then holding a “public trial” (verse 4). And to make sure the church didn’t try to rescue Peter, Herod assigned sixteen soldiers to guard him.  

This time it did create a ripple in the church. Stunned by the death of James, and now the upcoming trial and probable execution of Peter as well, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him,” verse 5

There was no more taking it for granted that God would simply rescue Peter like he’d rescued him in Acts 5. Instead, the church got seriously involved in seeking God for a solution. And what followed in Acts 12 is a wonderful example of how God responds to that.    

It tied in beautifully with Barnabas in the previous chapter encouraging the Antioch church “to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” in Acts 11:23. And here in a major crisis, when the church in Jerusalem felt utterly powerless, they did just that. They did turn to the Lord with all their hearts. 

And based on the amazing events that followed in Acts 12, it’s clear that God deeply loved and appreciated them for it. He loved them throwing all their eggs into the one basket of trusting him – and for letting him know that’s what they were doing too.  

They weren’t just resigning themselves to “Oh well, que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” They wanted God to know they were involved in this up to their eyeballs too. They weren’t sitting back expecting God “to do it all” – they wanted to be part of it, joining in and taking a real interest in what God would do about Peter, and learn how God was now working in this new era of the church. Because it really was new. Why, for instance, had God allowed James to die?

So they turned to the Lord to find out and learn. It’s like the child with a broken bicycle who turns to Dad to repair it, but rather than sitting back and letting Dad “do it all,” the child wants to join in and learn what Dad does and how, and why the bike broke down in the first place.

To me, therefore, this was participatory prayer by the church in Jerusalem, rather than intercessory prayer. They wanted to be part of the process, to tune into God’s thinking, and watch with great interest what God would do, and in their prayers express that to God.  

I take it, then, that this was this kind of relationship with God the Holy Spirit was creating in the church, because it was the Holy Spirit who’d allowed James to die, but this was the result of it. James wasn’t a wasted death at all. It had caused the church to get involved and really turn to the Lord with all their hearts, and discover what happens when you do.   

And here we are now, in the same church with the same Holy Spirit at work, teaching us the same things. And what a delight in Acts 12 to learn that God clearly loves us turning to him and taking an interest in what he does when we feel utterly powerless. Because that’s when he can land all sorts of amazing surprises on us – as Peter is about to find out…. 

Being “full of the Holy Spirit” is easy to recognize

In Acts 11:24 Barnabas is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” Which proved to be jolly useful because he’d just been sent to Antioch by the apostles in Jerusalem to find out if a whole bunch of Gentiles really had been “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (verse 16). 

The apostles figured Barnabas would know, because he was so “full of the Spirit” himself that he’d easily recognize if others were full of the Spirit too. And true to the apostles’ expectations “When Barnabas arrived (in Antioch) he saw the evidence of the grace of God,” verse 23. Meaning that, yes, he could easily see that these Gentiles, and lots of them too, had responded to the “men from Cyprus and Cyrene telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (verse 20).

So out of the blue, with no input or preaching by the apostles themselves, a new church full of Gentiles had sprouted up in Antioch. And they were easily recognizable as being baptized with the Spirit too. It was a shock that “the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45), but the evidence was undeniable: God in his grace (Acts 11:23) had filled these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit too. 

But what made that so recognizable? Well, three times in this chapter the same basic point is repeated, that these Gentiles “believed in the Lord Jesus Christ”  (verse 17), they “believed and turned to the Lord” (verse 21), and they’d been encouraged by Barnabas in verse 23 to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.”   

People who are “full of the Spirit,” therefore, are easily recognized as such by their obvious focus on Jesus being Lord and Christ. But how was their “obvious focus on Jesus” also recognizable too?  

It was in God granting them “repentance unto life,” verse 18. The “repentance” part could easily be seen in the entirely new direction their Gentile lives had taken when they realized that “God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil,” Acts 10:38. What a revelation that was for these Gentiles, that Jesus would now do this for them too, opening up a whole new life to them that would free them of all that junk the devil had filled their heads with.  

Their lives would now be directed “unto life,” the entirely new life Jesus had opened up through his death and resurrection that would change them into people like Barnabas, who was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” And that was now theirs to experience “in full” too.

Imagine having that kind of power flowing through you, where goodness oozes from you wherever you go, all the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 are yours in full all the time, and you have total trust that Jesus will live his life in you all day and every day. And chuck in the gifts of the Spirit Jesus gives us too, that enable us to serve with wisdom, skill and practical healing that reaches right into people’s innermost deepest needs. 

All this makes being “full of the Spirit” easy to recognize. And it was certainly recognizable among those Gentiles in Antioch, because when they heard that “severe famine” had really hit “the brothers living in Judea,” they immediately wanted to help (verses 28-30). 

Imagine that, Gentiles wanting to help Jews. It was a total turnaround, a “repentance unto life,” because instead of sworn enemies hating each other they’re calling each other “brothers.” And instead of being stuck with the devil’s divisive rubbish they’re living a brand new lifestyle that is clear and visible witness to the new life and love that Jesus was now living in those who believed in him.      

Oh yes, being “full of the Holy Spirit” is easy to recognize, and in such obvious and dramatic ways that it’s no wonder “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (verse 21).  

”You will be saved” – meaning what, exactly?

In Acts 11:14 Peter recaps what an angel had told Cornelius, that Peter “will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” 

But in the previous chapter Cornelius was described as a “devout and God-fearing” man, who “prayed to God regularly,” “gave generously to those in need,” and was “respected by all the Jewish people,” so what salvation did Cornelius yet need, or need to know about, when he was already a good man in God’s eyes (Acts 10:4)?    

Well, Acts 11 is a great chapter for anyone wondering what salvation means, because the gospel message is being introduced to Gentiles who had no clue as yet what salvation was, or the need for it. So the Holy Spirit sets up this episode with Peter and Cornelius to boil it down for them, that salvation was about “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 17.   

So when the angel told Cornelius that “you and all your household will be saved,” Peter understood that to mean the Holy Spirit was about to give these Gentiles the same gift the Jews had received (verse 17). From now on, therefore, Gentiles could experience “belief in the Lord Jesus Christ” too.

But why was it so important to believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ? Because, as Peter explained back in Acts 10:38, the reason Jesus was both Lord and Christ was to save and rescue humanity from “the power of the devil.”  

And that was the message the Holy Spirit wanted Cornelius to know, that life was more than being a good man, because humans being good, or human goodness at its best, had never been enough to combat the devil’s power. The Old Testament made that clear, because it’s the long and sad story of Israel never being able to resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions – and the terrible damage it had done to their hearts, minds and motives.   

Gentile history had been no different either, of course, because it too was a horrible mess. So both Jews and Gentiles shared the same helpless inability to combat and heal the damage the devil’s rule had done to them. And nothing has changed in our day either, because here we are now, still facing the same devilish deceptions and distractions. Confusion about what’s right and wrong is rampant, and solutions either fall totally flat or make things worse, like dividing people into camps so we war against each other. Never in my lifetime have I felt such intense pressure from the world squeezing the life out of me, and weighing me down. 

But Acts 11 has good news for us, because verse 20 tells us that “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” had already been explaining to the Gentile Greeks in Antioch “the good news about the Lord Jesus.” The Holy Spirit, in other words, was very much at work behind the scenes providing people with the key message of salvation, that the greater power of the “Lord Jesus” was now available to them to heal, see through, and resist the devil’s deceptions and distractions. 

What a promise it was, then, when Cornelius heard that he and his household “will be saved,” because it meant they too would experience “the Lord’s hand being with them,” verse 21, in whatever overwhelming pressures and temptations they would be facing in their devilish world. 

And when that message was preached “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord,” verse 21, because who else could they turn to for relief and hope? And we’re facing the same helplessness in our world too. We’re being shown again and again, as we humans careen from one crisis to another with no solutions agreed to by all, that we’re being swayed and controlled by powers way more powerful than us. 

Paul agrees, because he wrote in Ephesians 6:12 thatour “struggle is not against flesh and blood,” it’s against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But the good news is, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work,” 1 John 3:8. And ironically the Holy Spirit chose a powerful Gentile soldier brought up in the evil ways of Rome to get that point across to us, because if a man like that can be saved from the devil’s work, so can we.  

Evil really can be overcome

In Acts 10:38 Peter explains to Cornelius the Roman soldier “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” and “how Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” 

So the reason for Jesus being given the Holy Spirit and power, and for God being with him, was to enable him to heal people who’d been “beaten down by the devil” (The Message). 

Wherever Jesus went, then, he was visibly demonstrating what God had sent him for. And it was soon obvious what that was: Jesus had come to heal people, which he made very noticeable through amazing physical healings, like restoring eyesight and shrivelled limbs. But even more remarkable than that was Jesus’ power to confront spirit evil and free people from that too. 

So in our terms today Jesus was into “cancel culture,” cancelling out the physical and spiritual effects of evil in his culture. And he made it visible too, because it needed to be visible, to show the despairing people of his day, who were filled with hopelessness because of all the horrible things going on in their lives and in the world around them, that there was another much greater power in operation that could confront evil head on and put it to flight. 

And ironically Peter is telling all this to a Roman soldier, the most evil of men in Jewish eyes, a man whose Roman upbringing and soldier training should have made him despise all Jews. But instead of being a rabid racist, Cornelius was “respected by all the Jewish people” (verse 22) for his generosity to them and his devotion to God (verse 3). 

Wow, you mean this could happen to such a man as that? Yes, as evidence that this was what the Holy Spirit was doing as witness to Jesus’ ministry of healing still being real – and expanding that ministry to Gentiles too. Cornelius was just the first, but the first of millions more Gentiles in the future who would be healed of despising people of other races or condemning people for their weird ideas about gender and sexual preference. Instead, we Gentiles would experience a total healing of our attitudes to such people, and find ourselves loving them, as evidence that such a miracle can happen. 

And that really is “counter culture,” but it’s exactly what our world needs to see right now; it needs to see that systemic hatred can be overcome. It shocked Peter that such a thing could happen to a man like Cornelius, but he realized it was the Holy Spirit’s doing (verse 47), and this was now the direction the Spirit was taking them. It resulted in the most incredible miracle, the healing of the unsolvable racial hatred between Jews and Gentiles. And how visible it was in the church too, as Jews and Gentiles happily accepted each other as brothers and sisters in the same family. It was wonderful evidence of the greater power of the Spirit filling people’s hearts with love, and putting systemic evil to flight. 

And now it’s our turn. This is what we’ve been given the Holy Spirit and power for as well, to be witnesses to Jesus – who “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” – continuing that same ministry today. We are witnesses to that, just as Cornelius was, to give people today reason for hope too, that the evils that divide us and cause so much hatred really can be overcome. 

“God does not show favouritism”

The above statement in Acts 10:34 was spoken by Peter when it dawned on him what God was teaching him through a Roman soldier. It was shocking to Peter to discover that this non-Jew and despised Gentile enemy of the Jews was in fact “a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people,” verse 22.   

It told Peter in no uncertain terms that he, Peter, was a systemic racist – a hard pill to swallow when you’re an apostle and supposedly filled with the Holy Spirit. But Peter was still a prejudiced, bigoted snob. Blame it on his background, yes, because from a burbling baby he’d grown up being told the Jews were God’s chosen people, but, unfortunately, the word “chosen” had translated in their Jewish minds as “superior.” Gentiles were sub human.   

And this same poison had infected Peter’s mind too. So how on earth could Peter be a visible witness to Jesus’ love for all peoples in all nations, or act as evidence that the promise God made to Abraham to bless all nations was now at full throttle through the church? 

The answer to that was a vision (verse 10), in which Peter was told to eat “reptiles” and various other animals that to Jews were “impure” (verse 14). And when Peter resisted eating them he was thoroughly told off for calling something “impure that God has made clean,” verse 15.  

What turmoil that must have created in Peter’s mind, but after meeting Cornelius the soldier in person and how eager the man was “to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (verse 33), Peter realized the purpose of the vision, that “God accepts people from every nation who fear  (deeply respect) God and do what is right,” verse 35.

This was shocking news to Peter because he’d been taught that God only accepted Jews who obeyed all the laws given to Israel in the Old Testament. In other words, God did have favourites. But no longer, because anyone wanting to “do right” with God in mind was fully accepted by him. 

And the proof of it was Cornelius, who was doing right with God in mind, which God had taken note of (verses 2-6), and then through an angel got the point across to Peter that he was establishing a different definition of “good and acceptable,” which didn’t involve anything religious at all, other than a deep respect for God. 

Well, that made me think, because there are probably thousands of people where I live who fit that definition, who may not be labelled as “Christians” or do what identifies Christians, like meeting in a church building or obeying church rituals. But they’re good people. They want to do what’s right, whether it’s supporting their family, being a hard working, honest employee, fighting for justice, helping the poor, trying not to pollute the planet, or restoring the soil etc., and all because they believe these things are right and good in God’s eyes.  

And shock upon shock for many Christians, perhaps, that’s good enough for God. And he sent Jesus to prove it, which is what Peter also realized in verse 38 when he tells Cornelius, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around DOING GOOD….”  

And that’s what defined Jesus. It’s why he was given the Holy Spirit and power. It wasn’t going to church or sounding religious. It was his desire to do good. And how encouraging is that when you realize anyone doing good is actively and effectively continuing Jesus’ ministry on this planet and being a visible witness to Jesus and his heart and mind. 

And the Holy Spirit landed that on Peter by putting him in contact with Cornelius. Peter would never have known this about Cornelius, that in God’s eyes he was such a good man, despite not being a religious Jew. And by ignoring this “sub human” Gentile Peter would never have known that such good people were now wonderfully accepted in God’s eyes too.

It took a while for this to sink into Peter’s racist mind, so the Holy Spirit jumped in half way through Peter’s speech to Cornelius in verse 44, inspired all those in the house with Cornelius with a clear understanding of who Jesus was and what he’d come for, which caused Peter to blurt out,”Wow, these people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” In other words, these supposedly “sub human” Gentiles were just as “Christian,” just as godly, just as acceptable and just as loved by God as they were. And all because they “went around doing good.” 

And since I don’t know who those people are in my neighbourhood, I can’t play favourites either, because any one of them may be another Cornelius. They may not look or sound good enough in my eyes, but in their desire to do what’s good and right in God’s eyes, that’s good enough for him.  

“Jesus Christ heals you”

Those four words were spoken by Peter to a bedridden paralytic in Acts 9:34. And “immediately Aeneas got up” and started walking around after being incurably paralyzed for eight years.  

But why this one paralytic in particular when there were probably many others who were in need of healing too?  

Was there some deeper spiritual meaning in this one healing? And I ask that, because there are three remarkable healings in Acts 9 and 10 that all have strong hints of a deeper side to them.   

When Peter told the paralytic Aeneas that “Jesus Christ heals you,” for instance, it’s connected in the same chapter with Saul’s insatiable obsession with hunting down Christians and wiping out anything to do with Jesus. In Saul’s case it was his mind that was paralyzed. But when Jesus confronts him personally it only took three days for that paralysis in Saul’s mind to be completely healed. 

Both stories in the same chapter are about the same thing, the healing of paralysis. And I like the sound of that, because there are tons of people today whose minds are just as paralyzed as Saul’s was against Jesus and all things Christian. And no matter hard we try or how clever we may be in trying to change their minds, they remain adamantly closed to any other belief than their own. 

But if I can’t get through to them I know that Jesus can, and wants to, from what he did for Saul. I can look at anybody, therefore, and say to myself, “Jesus Christ can heal your closed, paralyzed mind any time he chooses,” and especially having experienced Jesus doing that for me. I now have that vital personal proof too, that Jesus is still in the business of miracles that are just as great and real as the miracle Jesus did in Saul. 

Which takes us to the second great miracle Jesus did in Acts 9, this time in the life of Tabitha.

When Peter was introduced to Tabitha she was a lifeless body on a bed. So here was another incident that Peter was faced with out of the blue, and this time requiring an even greater miracle. But again he had total confidence that Jesus would heal Tabitha and raise her back to life again. But why did this incident happen in the first place, and was there some deeper meaning to it as well? 

Well, yes, because earlier on in the same chapter Saul had also been dead – dead to who Jesus was, dead to Jesus being the Messiah, dead to any possibility that Jesus was alive, and dead to Christianity being a wonderfully visible witness to what Jesus was up to. 

But in the space of three days he was transformed. From being totally dead to Jesus Saul is raised to a brand new life of knowing, trusting, loving and dedicating his life in service to him. He was as much raised from the dead as Tabitha was. And isn’t that what Jesus has done to billions of people ever since too – clearly illustrating through both Tabitha and Saul that he loves raising us poor, dead humans to a brand new life. 

But don’t stop there because in Acts 10 Peter is now faced with Cornelius, a dreaded Roman centurion, and a despised Gentile. Was there some deeper meaning intended in this incident as well, then?

Well, yes again, because one of the biggest problems we humans have is our inability to get along with people who are different to us, and especially with people our culture has taught us to despise. But Jesus healed that in Peter. His attitude totally changed to a Gentile Roman soldier, the worst possible person for a Jew to accept as a brother. Jesus also healed it in Saul, who had his attitude totally healed toward the Christians he’d hated before.

All three examples in Acts 9 and 10, then, picture the healing work of Jesus, of healing paralyzed minds, healing lives dead to trust in and love for him, and healing attitudes to those hated and despised. And how encouraging is that, knowing that Jesus can open closed minds, raise us to a whole new life of loving relationship with him, and have our attitude toward those the culture has poisoned our minds against totally changed so that we come to love people like Jesus does?  It happened to Saul and it happened to Peter, so why not to us too, when it’s the same Spirit working in our lives, and for the same purpose, to be visible witnesses to Jesus and his great desire to heal.  

And what confidence that is meant to give us – just like the confidence Peter had – that we too can say of anyone struggling in any one of these three areas, or all three, that “Jesus Christ heals you,” because in one way or another, and at some time or other, he will.  

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?