Acts 19:11-12 (HCSB)
11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands,12 so that even facecloths or work aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.
Years ago, a friend of mine in college was a “prayer partner” for a mega-TV-preacher. After a donation of a certain amount, my friend received in the mail a prayer cloth anointed by this man. I don’t remember what he did with it, but the thought of him going through the campus waving it at people brings a smile to my face.
There’s another passage in Acts 5 where something similar happened to Peter: Acts 5:14-16 (HCSB) 14 Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers—crowds of both men and women.15 As a result, they would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on beds and pallets so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on some of them.16 In addition, a multitude came together from the towns surrounding Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
What are we to make of this/these strange stories? Thanks for asking! Allow me, in bullet-point fashion, to give some ideas:
- This was revival time! In both Ephesus (Acts 19) and Jerusalem (Acts 5), full-fledged revival was breaking out. In both places, many, many people were coming to the faith.
- The revival was started by the Holy Spirit. Again, in both places, it wasn’t like the Apostles “scheduled” the revival to begin and end on a certain date. In both cases it was a sovereign/unexpected move of the Spirit: Acts 4:31 (HCSB) 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness. Acts 19:6 (HCSB)6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak with other languages and to prophesy.
- The revival included human effort. It wasn’t JUST God’s move, the people were at work, too. See Acts 4:32ff. And in Ephesus, the church had been going to discipleship training school every day for two years – and going out in the evening to minister – before this revival “came out of nowhere.”
- And, of course, there was the miraculous. There are “miracles” and then there are “extraordinary miracles”. These were the latter. Because God can do whatever he wants.
In regard to my friend’s prayer cloth – I’ve discovered we’re a bit superstitious (I’m not superstitious, just kindastitious). If something worked once, then let’s try it again! So we study old revivals, we give away prayer cloths, etc. When God does show up in an extraordinary way, we hang onto it as long as we can, then we start propping it up – promoting and marketing – writing books, making documentaries, and going on speaking tours.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ Transfiguration. The disciples with him were so excited about what they saw, the decided to build some shrines and stay there. But you can’t stay. The Lord won’t let you. He’s going back down, because back down the mountain is where the need is.