“Living in the Shadows”

Acts 5:12-20


            Being scared is one of our most natural instincts.  We are typically scared of what we don’t know.   Shadows can represent this fear as we wonder what is lurking within them, what is out there, what is making them.  In addition to not knowing, the power of our imaginations can make us believe some highly irrational thoughts as actually being true, especially when we don’t have all or we have very little information about the situation.

            Shadows in and of themselves are obscure, which raises our suspicion even more and creates a feeling of fear.  From a young age, we are taught to fear certain things.  Fear is an important tool when it comes to keeping ourselves safe.  As parents, we try to teach our kids the importance of our own safety and we learn to fear anything that may threaten this.  We’re told not to be out after dark or to wander off alone.

            These fears continue into our adult years.  Even though it is different things which scare us as adults, we still get scared of the unknown.  Here’s a simplified example … if I’m staying at someone else’s house at night and there are noises downstairs, I may not sleep well for a while because I don’t know what it is that is making those noises.  Now, if I’m in my own house, my own bed and I hear noises, I could tell you exactly what the noise was and what caused it.

            Movie directors use shadows to represent the unknown, to strike fear in the hearts of the observers.  If we see a shadow moving across a wall, it’s very difficult to see what, or who, is creating the shadow.  Even if the shadow is well defined, we still have no more information about the object than its shape, and that still strikes a certain amount of fear in the heart of the individual.

            Whereas people are typically afraid of the shadows because of the uncertainty of the unknown … the opposite seems to be true in our reading from Acts 5.  Listen again to what Luke writes.  “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed” (Acts 5:12-16).

            Instead of shadows scaring the people, the people had hoped that Peter’s shadow would go over the ones who were sick, go over those who were tormented by evil spirits and when it went over them, the shadow would bring about healing.  This seems like a rather strange thing.  Shadows bringing healing?  What’s up with this?

            Well, a little background.  After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, he came and had a conversation with Peter.  Luke does not let us know what this conversation was about, but it struck a chord with Peter as he was now behaving and acting like a man struck to the heart with love and thankfulness.  This is a completely different Peter than on the night when he denied Jesus and went away weeping bitterly.   Peter has been forgiven by Jesus and with that love and thankfulness in his heart, he is faithfully serving his Savior as best as he can.

            But this still doesn’t really answer the question of how can Peter’s shadow really heal these people?  In and of itself, Peter’s shadow is just that, a shadow.  There isn’t anything special about either one of them.   So how can Peter’s shadow bring about healing?

            This same question can be asked about an event which happens later on in the book of Acts.  In Acts 19, the apostle Paul was in Ephesus.  Luke tells us that “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (19:12-13).  Is there anything special about Paul?  No, he even admits to Timothy his protégé, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).  As far as we know, the handkerchiefs and the aprons which touched Paul were just normal handkerchiefs and aprons.  There is nothing special about any of these things, and yet, the sick were cured and evil spirits left those possessed by them.

            Same question comes up in Mark 6 when Jesus is in the region of Gennesaret.  “Where {Jesus} went – into villages, towns or countryside – {the people} placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged {Jesus} to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were clean” (Mark 6:56).  Nothing special about the cloak, besides the fact that Jesus is the one who was wearing it.

          So what gives?  If there is nothing special about Jesus’ cloak, nothing special about Paul or his handkerchiefs and aprons; if there is nothing special about Peter and his shadow … then how were these different groups of people instantly healed? 

          They were healed not because of anything special within themselves but by the power of God who works through means.  The Lord worked through the hands of his disciples after his resurrection, after his ascension, but also through earthly things like handkerchiefs and aprons and even shadows.

          And our resurrected Lord continues to work through means today.   The means are different than some of those used by Christ’s first disciples, but nonetheless, God continues to work through means.  The power of God’s Word continues to work through means of signs of wonders.  These signs and wonders involve things like water, bread, and wine.  By themselves, they are nothing but water, bread, and wine.  But when the Word of God is added to these visible elements, then the water when applied to an individual in the name of our Triune God in Baptism washes sins away and plants the seed of faith.  When the Word of God is added to the bread and wine, in, with, and under the bread and wine the very body and blood Christ is given for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of one’s faith.

          God works through means and He gives us these gifts as we continue to live our lives in the shadows.  The shadows we live in may be dark and gloomy at times, our shadows may come with hardships and trials … but you and I, we are able to stand up under them because as those saved by a resurrected and living Savior, we live our lives in the shadows of an empty cross and an empty tomb.  Living in the shadows of an empty cross and an empty tomb, you can be assured that Jesus’ power and provision is in your life wherever it is that you go.

          And even though we are living in the shadows of the empty cross and empty tomb, we will still have our fair share of darkness and gloom, trials and hardships.  The thing is though, this shadow of the cross and tomb and the hardship we face now will not last forever.  Let me use an illustration to explain.

          Dr. Barnhouse was a pastor of a church in Philadelphia for many years.  He lost his wife when his daughter was still a child.  Dr. Barnhouse was trying to help his little girl, and himself, process the loss of his wife and her mother.  One day when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them.  As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car.  The minister had a thought.  He said something like this to his daughter.  “Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?”  His daughter replied, “By the shadow of course.  That can’t hurt us at all.”  Dr. Barnhouse replied, “Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you’re fine.  Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive, more alive than we are.  And that’s because when Jesus hung on the cross, the real truck of death hit him.  And because death crushed Jesus, and because we believe in him having risen from the dead, now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death … and the shadow of death is but my entrance into eternal glory.”

          When our resurrected Christ comes again, there will be no more trials or hardships or sickness for He will usher in the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth.  In this eternal glory of the new creation, there will be no need for the sun or moon to shine for the glory of God will give its light and the Lamb, our Savior Jesus, will be the lamp.  In Him, there is no darkness at all.  For now, we live in the shadows of a victorious Lord, but then, then we will live in the light which shall have no end.  Amen.

          The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.


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