Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles... And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5.12-16)
One reason the early church grew so rapidly was that the apostles exercised a mighty healing ministry. And not only the apostles: Stephen worked many signs and wonders, Philip exercised a similar ministry and healed many who were sick, while Paul expected at least some members of the Corinthian church to have gifts of healing too. So why don't those of us who consider ourselves to be Christ's disciples do the same? I don't accept the get-out doctrine that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit were intended only for the apostles. Paul wrote that these gifts would cease "when the perfect comes, and the imperfect passes away", and when "we see face to face," presumably when we all meet Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13.8-12) Neither the perfect nor Resurrection Day has yet come, when signs and wonders will be redundant and there will no longer be any need to heal the sick. But for now Jesus said, "These signs will accompany those who believe... they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover." (Mark 16.17,18) He set no time limit to this. If we believe we are included in that statement. So why aren't we doing it?
And why aren't I doing it? Is it that I don't have enough faith or is it that I am not bold enough? Am I indifferent to the sickness and pain that people suffer? These are the questions I asked myself this morning. And I think I learned something about faith at least.
Jesus told his disciples that if they had faith as a mustard seed they'd be able to move a mountain. I think he meant that we don't need a great big amount of faith in order to do great big things. If we just have a tiny amount of faith it is sufficient. What is necessary is to act on it. I have just bought some tomato seeds. Looking at a tiny tomato seed it seems impossible that it could turn into a large plant with perhaps 20 tomatoes on it. However could it do that? I don't have to answer this question in order to sow it. I don't need to understand how it can grow so big. I just plant a tomato seed in the ground, because that's what you have to do with a seed. Plant it. Actually, it would turn into a tomato plant even if I didn't believe it would, so long as I planted it. My faith is not really the issue. It is what I do as a result of my faith which matters, even if my faith appears to be no bigger than a tiny seed.
Jesus did not always heal everybody who came to him. Clearly I would need some wisdom and perhaps the Holy Spirit's direction to step out of the natural into the supernatual. It would not be wise to plant a tomato seed at the beginning of winter, or in waterlogged ground, and it is true that in some soils it might not grow very well, but even in that case I wouldn't know unless I first tried. In general it is better to try, even if no good comes of it, than not to try and thereby ensure that no good comes. God might work a miracle.
John Crowder tells how in 2005 he prayed for an amputee in a wheelchair in an outdoor shopping complex, asking God to regrow the man's legs. No legs popped out, but as John was praying the man began to weep because the Lord began healing him of a chronic stomach ailment, right there on the spot. A crowd gathered, and soon a lady shopkeeper whose foot was wrapped up in bandages asked John and his fellow evangelist to pray for her. Five minutes later, she ripped the bandages off and walked back to her shop, healed. He concluded, "If I had not set a big goal for a big God, my faith would never have risen high enough to expect even the lesser things."
Right now I am self-isolating, in obedience to the government's instructions to people aged 70 and older to shield themselves from the conrona virus. (Romans 13.1-3) I may not meet anybody physically for many weeks or even months. But perhaps God intends this isolation, both for me and for other believers, so that we can be like ground lying fallow in order to regain our lost spiritual strength and become even more productive when the right time comes. It is an opportunity to strengthen our spirits by praying and meditating on God's word, just as Jesus did in the wilderness after his baptism.
It may be significant that this epidemic has happened during Lent, traditionally a time for special reflection and drawing nearer to Christ. Let us make the most of it. Perhaps the church in Britain may yet come back to life. Signs and wonders may yet come back on the menu. If Jesus could cleanse a man from leprosy he can do the same for a sufferer from Covid-19. Perhaps it not so much a matter of faith as of obedience.