Should we try to heal people today the way the apostles did?

Q. I passed a man in a wheelchair begging on the sidewalk one day and I wanted to say, as Peter did to the beggar at the temple, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” But I didn’t know whether that impulse came from God or from myself, and of course one doesn’t want to just say these things! How do you think the apostles knew it would work? Was it because they’d already done miracles earlier? But what about the first time? And since then, without Jesus here to actually say the words, “I give you the power to do miracles,” how does anyone know now if God is calling them to be used in that way?

St. Peter Healing the Crippled Beggar, H. H. Ambrose c. 1530

As I wrote in my last post, even Jesus’ own miracles depended on “the mysterious interaction between God’s sovereign disposition to act supernaturally at specific times and human receptivity to that disposition.”  In other words, I don’t believe that if we just have the right amount and kind of faith, or the right understanding of how miracles work, or something along those lines, we can do miracles every time.

Healing of the sick is one sign of the kingdom, a proclamation that it is breaking into this present age, and God does sovereignly intend in certain situations to heal people as such a proclamation. But not everyone is healed.  Even in the New Testament, Paul had to explain to Timothy, “I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.”  So even members of the apostolic ministry team were sometimes not healed!

Instead, while healing of the sick is a sign of the kingdom, caring for the sick is part of the work of the kingdom.  Jesus explains this in his parable of the sheep and the goats.  In that parable, the king blesses those who did works of mercy, saying, among other things, “I was sick and you took care of me.”  Not, “I was sick and you healed me.”

So depending on what God’s intentions are for a given situation, as followers of Jesus and citizens of the inbreaking kingdom, we are called either to be channels of miraculous healing of the sick, or else channels of merciful care for the sick.

We can only know whether our calling is the former one if we have previously cultivated the ability to hear God’s voice and discern God’s intentions on a day-to-day basis. Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who could do this.  As I noted a couple of posts ago, Jesus explained, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  Jesus discerned what God was doing and then joined in.  I think the apostles learned that from Him, and that’s how they got started.

Moveover, we can only fulfill a calling to be a channel of God’s miraculous power if we have previously learned how to become such a channel starting in small ways.  It is those who are faithful in small things who are entrusted with greater things.

So while the impulse to want to heal someone in a wheelchair is admirable and compassionate, I wouldn’t necessarily advise trying to start there.  I believe it would take a great many experiences discerning God’s voice and trusting God to act in supernatural ways before we were equipped to play a role like that.  (Remember, the disciples spent three years watching closely what Jesus did, and then they went out on apprenticeship journeys and discovered that God could do the same through them.  So they had a lot of background and experience.)

Instead, I would see if you could discern something God had in mind for you to do with Him today by way of encouraging someone (for example), or meeting a practical need, or answering someone’s question.  Begin that way to discover the secret of co-operation with God that Jesus modeled so well.

At the same time, see where God is calling you to exercise faith to believe for provision, or direction, or reconciliation, or opportunity, and learn that way to trust God for greater and greater things.

Over time, who knows?  And in the meantime you can still offer a smile and an encouraging word to any beggars you pass on the street. (In most cases it’s not a good idea to give them money directly but you can always refer them to places that can help.)  They’ll probably find this refreshingly different from being treated as invisible, and it might begin to show them Jesus’ love for them—which was really the point of the healing that Peter performed.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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