(Christian Today posted an article about 5 Scriptures that most pastors won’t tackle from the pulpit. I decided that see if I could. This is number 4 of the 5 Scritpures from their article, which you can read here.)
There are some passages that are routinely passed over in favour of those Scriptures, but we want to change that. If “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)” then there shouldn’t be any Scripture that isn’t covered from the pulpit. And that includes Acts 19:11-12
So, let’s talk about it.
“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” – Acts 19:11-12
Of all the portions of Scripture that Christian Today shared, all the possible New Testament passages that a pastor would likely skip over, this is probably the one I understand the most. Not that I get it, or understand the passage perfectly, but I fully understand why a pastor would want to rush past it.
This is a strange passage, but just as we have talked about with each other New Testament passage, this is a part of Scripture. It deserves to be talked about.
1. It Isn’t That Strange Of An Incident
This might seem like a strange, singular event, but it really isn’t. Something just like this happened only years before. Consider this; the book of Acts is kind of like the Gospel of Luke, Part 2. Luke started recorded the life story of Jesus, and then recorded the life story of the Church.
This passage from Luke, Part 2 has some similarities to another passage from Luke, Part 1.
“And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” – Luke 8:43-48 , emphasis added
It’s a common story from Luke, Jesus healing the woman with the bleeding issue, but often the touching of the cloak is overlooked. It wasn’t that she touched Jesus, she touched cloth. That was it. That was what “healed” her. It was the act of faith, believing that Jesus could heal her actually, but the edge of his cloak was what she touched.
So when Paul is preaching and teaching, and healing the sick, it isn’t that strange in the record of Luke that there are aprons and handkerchiefs being used for a similar fashion.
But before I move on, there needs to be some more explaining. Even this miracle or these types of miracles were important. Not only in the life of Paul, but in the life of Jesus. And because miracles had such significance and meaning in Jesus life, they have significance and meaning in Paul’s.
Let me explain more.
“Then [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people.They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.” – Luke 4:31-37, emphasis added
Miracles accompanied powerful teachings. They were a sign that what was being said had real Godly power and authority behind it. When Jesus ordered demons out, or healed the sick, or raised the dead, it was a testimony to what He was saying. When Jesus spoke of forgiving sins, there was an understanding by the hearers that He was capable of such things, because it was clear that God was working in and through Him. The healing of the woman with the bleeding issue would have served as another witness to the authority and power Jesus had.
So when Paul, the ex-Christian murderer comes preaching the gospel of Jesus, it isn’t just words. There is authority and power. There are miracles that accompany his sermons. It becomes aboundently clear to everyone that hears Paul, or reads his letters that God is with him and working through Him. The same Spirit that moved with Jesus was moving with Paul.
When Luke records this bizarre occurrence of aprons and handkerchiefs being used to heal, it isn’t about drawing attention to how strange something is, but serving as a witness to God working in the life of Paul. Not only for the unbelievers, but also for the believers.
Don’t forget that the Disciples feared Paul, and thought he would kill them. I’m sure that seeing or hearing witness of the great things God was doing in and through Paul drove that fear away. Especially when they remembered how Jesus healed a woman with a bleeding issue. It wouldn’t have been that strange at all.
2. Don’t See It As A Specific To Replicate, But Evidence Of Getting It Right
One of the reasons, I would think, that most pastors avoid this passage is because people want to see this as an example to follow. “It’s written in the Bible, so it must be a good idea” is the unspoken attitude to verses like this. Another example is Gideon’s fleece.
But there is a major flaw in this logic. Just because it is written in the Bible doens’t mean that is something that we should try to replicate or follow. In the Old Testament, Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law. Should we follow that example? King Solomon, with all his wisdom, had hundreds of wives and hundreds more concubines. Should we follow that example? In the New Testament, the seven sons of Sceva tried casting out demons in the name of Jesus, that Paul spoke of, but decided they didn’t need to know this Jesus. The demons attacked them. Should we follow that example?
Of course, these are bad ideas. Of course, no one is actually trying to follow them or replicate them. And if that is the case, then the question must be asked, what are these stories for? What purpose do they serve? Why were they recorded? What can we learn from them?
In the case of Acts 19:11-12, I would suggest reading Point #1.
I would also suggest, with great humility, that this is an indicator of what the early church was used to seeing. Not the special aprons and hankerchiefs, but healings following the declaration of Jesus Christ.
Go through the first few chapters of Acts, and look. There is a sermon. Then miracles. Or miracles, then sermon. Whichever order they came, the church grew afterwards. The declaration of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ was preached high and low, and the evidence of this power was seen as if Jesus was standing right there.
I humbly suggest that if we are doing things right, if we are preaching Jesus with authority, then we should be seeing miracles just the same. If we want to see an example to follow, I submit this is what we trying to replicate.
(I realize that some people will have a lot of issues with this. I am not suggesting that if you aren’t regularily seeing miracles that you aren’t preaching Jesus, or attending a Christ-centered congregation. But there shouldn’t be a lack of evidence of physical and spiritual transformation either. This may take many shapes and forms, and be different depending on the Christian tradition you are a part of. However, no Christian tradition that is preaching Jesus crucified and resurrected should be lacking the transformational power that comes from the Spirit of Christ.)
3. The Work Of Jesus Is Not Dead
It would be easy to assume that after the original Twelve Disciples ran away scared following Jesus’ death, that their movement would have died out. Their leader had been crucified, what more could this handful of fishermen and other rabble do now? Only change the world.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, at the beginning of Acts, he said,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
The disciples would receive power when the Spirit feel, and for those familiar with Acts know that is exactly what happened. But it didn’t stop at the Twelve Disciples. Especially because there were at least 120 in the place where the Spirit first fell.
The work that Jesus had started continued. It moved on from the Twelve. It included Paul, and these verse from Acts 19 speak to the fact that what Paul did was of Christ. The work of Jesus grew and included the people that Paul taught and mentored, also giving credence to Paul’s ministry.
We often look at the specific weirdness of the aprons and hankercheifs and get hung up on it, when we are not seeing what is happening as a part of a much larger story. God was on the move. The Kingdom of Heaven was being built and spreading out over the Earth.
Though it was happening in ways that were strange, (Luke does say that it was extraordinary, something that didn’t normally happen) it was happening. God was working, even if it was a new looking work.
The world had crucified Jesus. He did die upon the cross. But that wasn’t the end. On the third day, Jesus rose again. The disciples rose up and continued his work. Paul continued it. And today, we are called to continue it.
The work of Jesus is not dead. Inwhatever way God has equip you to work and give witness to the power of Christ, do it. Even if that means touching aprons and hankercheifs, and healing the sick.
These verses, Acts 19:11-12, should serve as a call for action. Not just for the leaders of the church, but for all people. The work of Jesus is not dead. So, rise, and do that good work.
There are some passages that are routinely passed over in favour of those Scriptures, but we want to change that. We do believe that “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)”. And that includes Acts 19:11-12.
Those are just a few reasons as to why this verse is worth preaching and talking about from this often skipped portion of Scripture. Hopefully it will not stay that way.