The Role of ‘Handkerchiefs and Aprons’ in Healing the SickNovember 15, 2017
So that from his [Paul’s] body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
— Acts 19:12
As we saw in yesterday’s Sparkling Gem, a time came when God instructed the apostle Paul that it was time for him to start his ministry in the local school of Tyrannus. Rather than fight the opposition in the synagogue — unbelieving Jews who were raising their voices against him — Paul had the wisdom to know it was time to withdraw, break camp, and relocate to new territory. Although it looked like a significant door was closing, another door was opening for him that would prove to be even more significant. And at the moment that new door swung open, it would initiate the most wonderful season of miracles Paul had ever known in his ministry!
That next season in Paul’s life literally overflowed with the supernatural. Although God had performed a great number of miracles through Paul in different phases of the apostle’s ministry, the miracles that occurred in Acts 19 were simply spectacular. During this new season in Paul’s life, special miracles exploded in his ministry. God’s power was even being released through articles of his clothing when they were laid upon the sick and those oppressed by evil spirits.
Acts 19:12 refers to this supernatural phenomenon: “So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” The Greek word for “handkerchief ” is soudarion, a word used to describe a garment that is wrapped about one’s head, such as the richly decorated head garments men in the Middle East wear today.
In the First Century, it was customary for wealthier, sophisticated men to wear beautifully patterned pieces of material around their heads, especially if temperatures were hot. The headdress provided protection from the sun, kept the head cool in hot weather, and soaked up sweat that would otherwise stream down the brow and face. The word “handkerchief ” in all likelihood refers to such a headdress since that was the way this particular Greek word was most commonly used.
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The word “apron” is simikinthion — and it depicts a decorative garment worn around the waist for wealthy, educated, and sophisticated men. Those who gathered near the School of Tyrannus — where Paul was conducting his ministry during this time — were sophisticated intellectuals who congregated to show off, to prove their wealth, to communicate new ideas and concepts, and to share new philosophical hypotheses with others of the same socioeconomic status.
The people who gathered in this section of the city were from the “upper crust” of society and dressed appropriately for their rank. In hot temperatures, the majority of these men wore stylish headdresses with brightly colored patterns and elegant wraps around their waists. This type of clothing was a status symbol for the rich and sophisticated. It is probable that Paul was likewise dressed suitably in an expensive headpiece with an elegant wrap tied about his waist.
Some have speculated these were workers’ rags that Paul might have worn from laboring in the leather industry. However, such common worker’s attire would be completely inappropriate for the prestigious corner of Ephesus where the School of Tyrannus was located. This view is very unlikely to be true. The facts seem to point to elegant clothes that Paul wore as he taught in one of the most prestigious schools in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Ephesus. This is my personal view, as I believe Paul would have been appropriately dressed for the audience he was trying to reach with his message. Few of those who were gathered would have had any interest in listening to a common worker in rags. This was simply unfitting for the vicinity near the School of Tyrannus.
But what is known about these garments — whatever kind of garments they were — is that they were saturated with the anointing of God! These articles of clothing, infused with divine power, were taken from Paul’s body to be laid upon people too ill to make the journey to where the apostle was ministering. Although the text doesn’t explicitly state the details, it seems logical to assume that these articles of clothing were cut into smaller pieces so they could be taken to larger numbers of sick, diseased, and demon-possessed people who lived throughout the city of Ephesus.
This is the only record of “prayer cloths” being used in the book of Acts, so there must be a logical reason as to why this particular manifestation of God’s power happened in Ephesus. When people in Ephesus visited a pagan temple, it was common for them to “take home a piece of the power” by purchasing a fetish. They believed objects carried power.
So it seems that God met these pagans at the point of their faith. Because they believed that objects could transmit power, they believed that if they could take home a piece of Paul’s clothing, they would “take home a piece of the power” that operated in his ministry. Consequently, it is probable that these pieces of clothing were cut into smaller pieces and shared among listeners, who took them home and laid them on the sick and diseased with outstanding results. Many were miraculously healed and delivered as evil spirits went out of them.
If Paul had remained in the synagogue — arguing and debating with people who opposed him — it is likely that this flow of divine power would have never manifested in his life. But after Paul took the big step of faith, withdrew from that environment, and stepped by faith into a new territory — that’s when God unleashed levels of power that Paul had never seen or experienced theretofore. Even his clothes carried the anointing of God to the sick, diseased, and demon-possessed — and they were healed!
Just think what could happen if you moved into the next season of your life where God is calling you! You may not see the miraculous results yet, but you could be getting ready to move into the most miraculous season of your life. Just as Paul would never have dreamed God would use his clothes to transmit the anointing, it may be that God has things planned for you that are beyond your wildest imagination. He simply needs you to be in the right place at the right time — and that depends on your willingness to follow and to obey!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I ask You for the grace to step out of my comfort zone and into the place You have designed for me. I’ve been reluctant to let go of what is known and comfortable — but without faith, it is impossible to please You! I know that You are calling me onward and upward. I receive the courage I need to release the familiar and to step out by faith to enter the next season of my life. And, Father, just as Paul experienced miracles he had never known once he obeyed, I pray that my life will explode with miraculous answers to prayer as I step forward to obey what You are telling me to do.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess I have the grace to step out of my comfort zone and into the place God has designed for me. I am not afraid to let go of what is known and comfortable, because I know that God is calling me onward and upward. He gives me courage to step out in faith to enter the next season of my life. Just as Paul experienced miracles he had never known once he obeyed, my life will explode with the miraculous as I step forward to obey what the Holy Spirit is telling me to do.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Have you ever known individuals whose lives literally exploded with miraculous results once they moved from where they were to where God wanted them to be? Who were those individuals? What kind of miraculous results did they see and experience once they got into the right place?
- God worked unusual miracles through Paul — even saturating his clothing with His anointing so that His power to heal and deliver could be transferred onto the sick, diseased, and demon-possessed. What is the most unusual miracle you have ever heard of or observed in your life?
- Since we’re talking about God using articles of clothing to transmit the anointing, have you ever known someone who was healed as a result of a prayer cloth being laid upon him or her?