But there's another bit of this old Book that concerns us people living now, most intimately. These older pages reveal the one unchanging God. He is ever the same.
But there's a book of illustrations of this same God which belongs peculiarly to us. It is distinctively the Church book of the Bible. I refer, of course, to the Book of Acts, with the Epistles woven in, and the Revelation knot on the end.
In the Gospels Christ reveals the heart of the Father. He gives the meaning vividly of these Old Testament pages. The Acts continues the story, for all the peoples, of all the world, who come into living touch of heart with Christ.
Acts is the sequel to the Gospels. The Gospels are sample pages of the coming Kingdom time, Acts sample pages of the Church time. Each covers a generation of time.
In the Gospels the King is pleading for acceptance. His ministry is an eloquent plea. In all He does, He is saying, "this is a bit of what the Kingdom is like." But the King is rejected, and goes voluntarily to the Cross to give His life out for men, and for their sins.
Then something new comes in. It is never spoken of in the Old Testament. It fills in the interregnum until the King shall bring in the Kingdom. The messenger-nation fails.
Now, a new group is formed to be God's new messenger to the race. It is called the Church, the "taken-out" group. It is formed of all believers in Christ, both Jew and non-Jew, by the Holy Spirit's presence.
There's a natural contrast or comparison between the Gospels and the Acts. The Gospels are Kingdom pages; the Acts the Church book. Acts runs through a generation of time, roughly thirty-three years.
Then it breaks abruptly off, as though each generation of the Church should carry on the story, until Christ comes for the next step in His racial program.
In the Gospels healing has the foremost place in Christ's activity. But it does not come into prominence until Christ's rejection by the leaders is quite clear. There's over a year of waiting for national acceptance. Then Christ's official herald is imprisoned. That means Christ's own rejection.
Now, Christ turns to Galilee, unofficial Galilee, despised by the cultured Jerusalem leaders. He begins preaching and teaching and healing the crowds, and training the inner group of disciples.
When the national rejection of His Messiah ship is quite clear He turns to the personal side of the Messiah's work. Healing now takes the prominent place. It is through healing that He first gets the great thronging crowds.
In the Acts healing has a distinct place, but on the whole not as prominent a place as in the Gospels. It becomes one feature only of the gracious ministry described, and of the power experienced. It is one feature. It is quite distinct in itself. Yet it becomes one feature with the others.
There are five summaries. These indicate that vast crowds experienced healing. All sorts of cases were included, great power clearly in action, and a deep abiding spiritual effect on the people.
There are eight individual instances of healing. One would be classed as acute. One was the supernatural protection from a deadly viper. Six are incorrigible incurables: twice lameness from birth, one of forty years standing; once long-standing palsy; twice the dead are brought back to life; and possibly Paul's recovery from stoning would be included with this last item.
There are two outstanding centres of healing activity, Jerusalem the Jew centre, and Ephesus the Galilean or non-Jewish centre. The Jerusalem activity is at the beginning, and the Ephesus activity distinctly toward the close, of the Acts period.
At Jerusalem great crowds are healed, great healing power is in evidence, and great spiritual blessing is connected with the healing.
At Ephesus the activity runs through two full years. The power in evidence is quite unusual, to a very marked degree. And the spiritual power in men's lives is quite pronounced.
Ephesus was the strategic center of Asia Minor. The message preached, and the power revealed there, went out to all parts of Asia Minor, and across the seas in every direction.
It is striking to mark that healing has greater prominence in the record, in the space given it, at the beginning of Acts. Practically it tallies with the story of the Gospels. It continues a distinct part of the activity clear to the abrupt ending of the Acts.
But one is conscious that it becomes one feature with others. The absorbing thing here is the preaching of the crucified risen Christ. The healing becomes one manifestation with others of the power of the risen Christ.
Yet, there is no suggestion of the lessening of the power in healing, nor of minimising its place. For it is toward the close of the Acts period that the unusual story comes of the young man who fell down dead out of the window at Troas, and is restored to life. And the outstanding Ephesus campaign is likewise toward the close. It is merely a shift of proportionate emphasis.
The Epistles fit into the pages of Acts, and are most intelligently read and understood as they are read in that way. They run side by side with Acts, with Revelation coming a bit later as the knot on the end of the whole.
Corinth becomes the strategic centre of European activity, as Ephesus is the strategic centre of the Asiatic. And as Ephesus had a special message of healing activity, Corinth sends out a special message of healing teaching.
Much space is given to the active ministry of the whole group of disciples in Corinth. It was clearly an active church centre, with the power of the Holy Spirit distinctly marked.
Distinct prominence is given to teaching about healing. Clearly healing was a blessed commonplace in the experience of these Corinthian Christians. And many among them had marked power in this regard in ministering to those in bodily suffering.
Healing is spoken of as one of the nine or more special gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was one of the gifts. There were other gifts. It was given to some, but not to all.
Here is the same sense of proportionate emphasis as in the Book of Acts. It was a blessed gift, one of several. Paul is putting special emphasis on poise in teaching, keeping things well balanced, in due proportion.
Toward the close of this Acts-Paul period there are distinct touches of some not healed. Paul's thorn comes in here. These will come in for treatment in the story of "God's School of Suffering," touching the disciplinary side of suffering.
The thing to mark just now is that they in no way change or affect the main teaching about healing. They simply give light to keep things in poise.
From of old, a common teaching has been that miracles ceased long ago, and are not to be expected. And this is quoted regarding healing.
This Book of Acts, with the interwoven Epistles, gives the clear answer. The interwoven Acts and Epistles make up the Church book, indicating what is meant to be the blessed commonplace clear to the end of the Church period.
From the outer non-Jewish world, where these letters mostly take us, there is a quiet turn back to things at the Jew centre.
The first Bishop of Jerusalem reveals the custom and the teaching that continued in the old mother Church. There was plainly no lessening of the teaching there, nor of the blessed experience (Jas_5:13-15).
Then the circle of this wondrous old twin-book of God swings back to the starting point. There 's a garden at both ends, Genesis and Revelation. God's ideal persists clear to the end, and becomes real, actual.
The tree of life has become a grove of trees. The garden has become a garden-city. All the fine simplicity of the country and the garden is coupled with all the fine true culture for which the city characteristically stands.
And here is the same winsome touch regarding our bodies. Sickness and pain, tears and death, mourning and crying, these are gone, clean worn out. The trees of life bear monthly harvests, and their leaves, like Ezekiel's, are for healing (Rev_21:4; Rev_22:1-2).