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I am linking verse 31 with what follows, rather than attaching it to what preceded, not only because of its themes, but also because there is a little Greek construction (men … de … for any readers who remember 1st year Greek) which can’t be translated into English, which links verse 31 with verse 32. After reading the previous section, with all the drama of fear and debates and escapes, it seems strange that Luke goes on to say in the first verse of this paragraph, that the church throughout all the lands it had spread thus far “had peace”. It can only be explained by the phrases that follow: (1) being built and going in the fear of the Lord; and (2) multiplying by the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the peace which the church experiences does not arise from an absence of conflict, or any human activity, but from God himself. Instead of fearing the opposition, the church fears the Lord. Instead of being discouraged by the situation, they are encouraged by the Spirit. And thus the church continued to multiply.
Now Luke tells a couple of stories to further encourage the reader and show how the church was multiplying. We will look at one story today and the second tomorrow. Philip had gone south-west on his journey from Jerusalem to Gaza (8:26); now Peter is going north-west from Jerusalem, to Lydda and then to Joppa. The text suggests that Peter is traveling to visit the disciples who had been scattered by the persecution at the beginning of Chapter 8.
When he arrives at Lydda, Peter finds the paraplegic Aeneas. I presume that Aeneas was not yet a disciple, as he has been lying down for eight years and probably never visited Jerusalem to hear the good news. Just as Jesus had famously healed the paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-25, so Peter acts here, explicitly asserting that Jesus is the one doing the healing. There is a curious expression here; while Jesus told the paralyzed man to “get up, pick up your bed/mat”, Peter tells Aeneas to “rise and spread yourself”. Every translation I looked at explains it as ‘make your bed’ or words to that effect, but the text doesn’t actually mention a bed at all. Why would he have to make his bed? I visualize him rather stretching out his twisted limbs for the first time in eight years, something I have seen physiotherapists and my own mother do with people who have underused limbs. Regardless of this little detail, Aeneas indeed arises, and all those who lived in Lydda (and Sharon) turned to the Lord as a response to such an amazing miracle.
This is an example story to show the church multiplying beyond Jerusalem. Peter sees that the power to heal comes not from himself, but from Jesus. I am reminded of the mission hospital near my home in Asia; their pharmacy packets read ‘We give medicine, but Jesus is the healer’. If we want to see the church multiply, we also must walk in the fear of the Lord – not fear of the authorities, nor fear of the society or our friends – and being encouraged by the Holy Spirit, to do good works like healing in the name of Jesus. Note that the phrase in verse 31 is not ‘power of the Spirit’, but encouragement or comfort or urging. How is the Spirit urging me today?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, let me be open and responsive to the urging and encouragement of your Holy Spirit. I thank you that you are the great healer, and pray you would use me to dispense your healing, whether literally or figuratively. Your mission was to bind up the broken-hearted and proclaim liberty to the captives; empower me to be a part of your mission, with your boldness and confidence. Help me to fear you, Lord, above all else.