Matt 19:13-15; Acts 4:23-31
Last week we saw that being “in the Spirit” meant sharing in the end-time reality that had arrived in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Baptised into Christ’s kingdom the first Christians knew themselves to be involved in a constant struggle with evil spiritual powers (Col 1:13 ESV etc.).
In this hostile environment various gifts of the Spirit were needed to establish the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor 12:3-11 ESV).
Western Christianity has largely lost this dynamic, but there’s a foundational biblical practice which when exercised in faith can activate spiritual restoration. This is the laying on of hands as an expectant sign of God’s presence and power.
Hebrews 6 goes so far as to say that part of the “foundation” for “maturity” in Christ is the instruction “of …the laying on of hands ” (Heb 6:1,2 ESV). The text goes on to describe Christian experience as a very last times reality; being “enlightened…tasted the heavenly gift…shared in the Holy Spirit…tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:4-5 ESV).
This suggests that the laying on of hands somehow initiates people into life “in the Spirit”.
As the “maturity” connected with laying on of hands in Hebrews 6 is deeply connected to how this language is used about Jesus in the book (Heb 2:10 ESV; Heb 5:9 ESV; Heb 7:28 ESV; Heb 12:2 ESV) it must have been that when new believers received prayer with the imposition of hands they had a powerful transforming experience in the Spirit as part of his bringing the universe to its completion in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10 ESV).
To understand the biblical importance of the laying on of hands we need to start in the Old Testament.
God’s own hand creates heaven and earth (Job 34:19 ESV; Ps 8:6 ESV; Ps 102.25 ESV; Isa 45:11-12 ESV; Isa 48:13 ESV; Isa 66:1-2 ESV); and his acts of in history (Isa 5:12 ESV; Ps 111:7 ESV) to redeem or judge are by his hand (1 Sam 5:6, 11 ESV; Isa 25:9-10 ESV; Isa 26:11 ESV; Jer 6:12 ESV; Jer 15:6 ESV; Jer 16:21 ESV; Jer 51:25 ESV).
This is emphatically true of the redemption from slavery in Egypt by the Lord’s “strong hand” (Ex 3:8, 19-20 ESV; 13:3, 9 ESV).
In other places when the hand of God is laid on people they are set aside to an anointed prophetic ministry (2 Ki 3:15-16 ESV cf. Jer 15:17 ESV; Ezek 1: 3 ESV; Ezek 37:1 etc.). And the spiritual “revival” under king Hezekiah is attributed to “The hand of God…on Judah” (2 Chron 30:12 ESV).
In the Old Testament laying on of human hands imparts blessing (Gen 48:14-16 ESV), sets aside to the priesthood (Num 8:5-15 ESV) and when Moses places his hands on Joshua he becomes his appointed successor ( Num 27:18-23 ESV).
Since Joshua is said to be “full of the spirit of wisdom” through this ritual the idea of a spiritual impartation is clearly present (Deut 34:9 ESV).
Most commonly hands are laid on animals in order to set them apart for a sacrifice for atonement ( Exodus 29:10, 15,19, 33 ESV; Lev 1:4 ESV; Leviticus 4:4 ESV Leviticus 4:15 ESV Leviticus 4:24 ESV ; Leviticus 8:14 ESV Leviticus 8:18 ESV Leviticus 8:22 ESV ; Leviticus 16:21 ESV; Num 8:5-15 ESV; 2 Chron 29:3 ESV ).
The New Testament takes the laying on of hands in powerful and exciting new directions.
Whilst Jesus imparting a blessing to children through placing his hands on them (Mark 10:13-16 ESV) is a lovely act, this is quite within the Old Testament framework.
What is new is that in the Gospels Jesus repeatedly heals people through laying on his hands (Mark 5:23 ESV; Mark 7:32 ESV; Mark 8:23-25 ESV; Luke 4:40 ESV; Luke 13:13 ESV).
Given some of Jesus’ other healings it’s likely “power went out from him” through his hands (Luke 6:19; 8:46).
(I remember when I have having extremely painful kidney stone attacks that went on for some months and was scheduled to go in for surgery on a Monday. On a Friday night some members of a home group prayed for me and that’s what one of them experienced power flowing through her arm/hands. The next morning I passed a stone nearly a centimetre in length.).
Everyone upon whom Jesus laid his hands experienced the blessing of the hand of God.
The power Jesus had to bless through his hands during his earthly ministry was however limited. For this ministry to be perfected his hands needed to be crucified. Psalm 22 ESV, from which Jesus quoted on the cross (Mark 15:34 ESV), speaks prophetically of the piercing of his hands (v.16).
After his resurrection Jesus showed the disciples his hands (Luke 24:39 ESV) which still bore the scars of his wounding. Finally, in going back to the Father we read, vs.50 “he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.vs.51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. vs.52 And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, vs.53 and were continually in the temple blessing God. ” (Luke 24:50-51 ESV).
The high priestly blessing had placed them under the covering i.e. atoning presence of the Lamb of God who’d taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29 ESV) so they were overcome with happiness. Since the crucified and healed hands of Jesus were glorious “gospel hands” what comes next in Acts shouldn’t surprise us.
The healings characteristic of the Gospels continue under the apostles through the laying on of hands (Acts 5:12 ESV; Acts 9:12 ESV; Acts 9:17 ESV; Acts 14:3 ESV; Acts 19:11 ESV; Acts 28:8 ESV cf. “Mark 16:18 ESV”).
These were signs of the blessings of the presence of the kingdom of God. What’s new in Acts, even compared to the Gospels, is the impartation of the Holy Spirit through “the laying on of hands.” (Acts 8:14-17 ESV Acts 9:17 ESV; Acts 19:6 ESV).
The believers who imparted the Spirit in this way had tremendous confidence in God; knowing they were “in the Spirit/in Christ” (Rom 8:9-10 ESV) they believed that the power of the future was in their hands.
They knew they had entered into the sphere of unlimited unconditional blessing sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22 ESV; Eph 1:13 ESV; Eph 4:30 ESV).
They were not distracted by the political, economic or social powers of this world, but following Jesus recognised that the authority to bless in healing and imparting the Spirit was in their hands.
Understanding that they were raised up and seated with Jesus in heaven (Eph 1:19-22 ESV; Eph 2:6 ESV) “Blessed” by “the…Father with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” they moved in an atmosphere of imparting blessing (Eph 1:3 ESV).
Knowing they had received from Jesus authority over evil forces manifestations of healing and the gift of the Spirit as signs of the coming new age were inevitable through their hands.
No human opposition could frustrate the outworking of such powers. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet 4:14 ESV)
The Spirit saturated the broader life of the early churches; not the least because their leaders had received the impartation of the Spirit at their commissioning. When Paul says to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you…. fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands (1 Tim 4:14 ESV ; 2 Tim 1:6 ESV cf. Acts 6:6 ESV; Acts 13:3 ESV; 1 Tim 5:22 ESV), his faith was connected to a past tangible experience.
This prayer in Acts 4 is especially relevant for today, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”” (Acts 4:30 ESV).
The disciples had seen Jesus stretch out his hand and heal (Mark 1:41 ESV), they’d seen desperate people beg Jesus to lay his hands on the blind, deaf and dead and helpless i.e. children (Matt 9:18 ESV; Mark 5:32 ESV; Mark 8:22 ESV; Mark 10:13 ESV), and Jesus had never failed the suffering in their hour of need.
They were totally persuaded that the Lord delighted to stretch out his hand and so they prayed and acted in faith so we read, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles” (Acts 5:12 ESV).
Following Jesus as someone totally set apart by the Holy Spirit from the world, especially through the cross, they knew themselves to be set apart to a new creation of blessing (John 17:15-19 ESV etc.).
Whether in serving, healing, or releasing gifts for leadership they were blessed to be a blessing and in the laying on of their hands they stood in the place of God (cf. John 20:23 ESV).
This powerful sense of special purpose bound the early congregations together in the midst of a world they knew to be perishing (1 Cor 15:50 ESV). This sense of separation from the world in order to bless the world is where everything has gone wrong in Western Christianity.
From scandals as public as institutional child abuse through to what every pastor knows of the conduct of congregational members, the average lifestyle and behaviour of Christians is no different from that of unbelievers. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8 ESV) so it must be that the Lord surely wants to stretch out his hand to change this dreadful state of affairs.
Last week I spoke of how God is inciting mainstream Christians to jealousy, moving us to humbly seek the revelation of his glory through acts of the Spirit (Acts 2:33 ESV) at any cost. Donna and I were visiting some Iranian converts from Islam the other day and in the course of discussion they described how in one of their meetings a man with a crippled hand asked for prayer; when several people laid hands on him he had immediate full recovery.
If such an atmosphere of expectant faith is lacking in our hearts we can confess that sin without fear of condemnation (Rom 8:1 ESV).
I think we are in a situation like the father in the Gospels struggling to believe that his epileptic son could be healed because the efforts of the disciples had failed.
In anguish he cried out to Jesus and said, ““I believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 ESV).
Many of us have witnessed unsuccessful attempts to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and impart the Spirit.
Thankfully Jesus delivered the boy from his demon with a word of command and went on to explain what was lacking in the life of the disciples, ““This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (and fasting?).”” (9:25, 29 ESV).
[If as I suggested last week the Lord has withdrawn the Holy Spirit from the Church, and there’s no such thing as a spiritual vacuum, then the evil powers which have come into that space definitely will not come out apart from much prayer-and-fasting.]
Prayer that the Lord stretches out his hand through our hands is the order of the day. This is surely the will of God; if we ask (Luke 11:13 ESV; James 4:2 ESV).
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 17th. June, 2018 | Alive@5 St Mark’s
Author: Dr. John Yates
MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 17th. June, 2018
Where has the Spirit Gone? Part 1: Groaning is a Gift for Glory
Where has the Spirit Gone? Part 2: The Spirit of Righteousness
Where has the Spirit Gone? Part 3: In the Spirit
Where has the Spirit Gone Part 4: Laying on of Hands