to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.Acts 5:15(NASB)
Three thousand people were saved on the day of Pentecost, and so powerful was the gospel that Peter and the other apostles taught, that the numbers of Christian converts grew with each passing day. Not only did they preach the good news of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and open up the Old Testament scriptures to the people of Israel, but they also healed many sick people, in those early days of the Christian Church.
We read of the lame beggar in chapter two, who began walking and leaping and praising God for his healing. These miraculous healings convinced many people to believe the apostles teaching - so much so, that the Jewish leaders became jealous of their popularity, and put Peter and John in prison. Nevertheless, these two apostles of Christ boldly announced, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God... you be the judge, but we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."
While Christianity's rapid growth in the early days of the church must have been wonderful to behold, there were some who wanted to be healed without exercising faith, in the risen, ascended, glorified Christ. In chapter 5, we find that Peter's powerful preaching and the healing miracles performed in the name of Jesus, caused the apostles to be held in such high esteem, that, "multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried sick people into the streets and laid them on mattresses, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them."
Unfortunately, certain pagan superstitions, mysticism, sorcery, witchcraft, and other unbiblical practices started to be embraced in the fledgling years of the Church. One such belief was that the shadow of a holy man, a fragment of his clothing, or even his handkerchief would bring about magical healing or good luck. Similar teachings prevail today, and are often couched in the "prosperity movement" or those that promote, the name-it-and-claim-it doctrine.
There is no magic trick to healing miracles and this wrong belief in the healing power of relics or shadows, laid the foundation for many other aberrant doctrines to develop in Christian circles, like the selling of religious artifacts, payments for indulgences and intercessions etc. which set the stage for the dark-ages.
The Lord is the only one that heals the sick. He alone has the power to save, and HE is well able to restore sick people to good health, in whatever way He chooses. And I am sure He honoured the faith of many who carried out these unbiblical practices, by putting their ailing loved-ones into the streets and placing them on mattresses, so Peter's shadow might fall on one of them. However, there is no evidence that healing took place on these occasions and nowhere in Scripture are we told that healing occurred as a result of these practices, which were borrowed from pagan societies.
In those early days of the Christian Church, Gentiles had to give up their pagan practices, and Jews had to transition from being under the restrictive 'Law of Moses' to the liberating 'Law of the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus'. It was difficult for many Jews to transition from the rules, regulations, feast days, sacrificial offerings, and sabbath-day requirements, to the liberty we have in Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The Jews were also a race, who throughout their history, required a sign from God, and no doubt, the Lord used many of these sign miracles in the early church, to bring Jewish people to faith in Christ.
Also in those early days of the Church, Peter, John, and the other apostles had to transition from teaching the pre-cross Gospel of the Kingdom, to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to proclaiming the post-cross, Gospel of the Grace of God, to everyone. Similarly, the full canon of Scripture had yet to be written, and much Church-age doctrine had yet to be clarified by the Holy Spirit, Who graciously guided Paul and the other New Testament writers, into all truth.
During this transitional stage, from one dispensation to the next, some Jewish practices slipped into the early church along with some pagan customs. And while it is possible that putting people on the pavement for Peter's shadow to fall on them was rooted in a pagan custom, it would also demonstrate a simple faith in God, by baby Christians, who had to learn to live by faith and trust God's Word, rather than trusting in signs and wonders. It would also enable Peter, the other apostles, and the 70 who were commissioned by Christ, during His ministry, to continue fulfilling the commission they were given, to, "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons."
There was much for believers to learn during this transition from Law to Grace. Jewish believers (who require a sign) and Gentile Christians, (who desired wisdom) would ALL have to learn to live by faith and not by sight or signs or works of the Law, or the healing power of shadows. God in His grace used these early days of the Christian Church to teach these people that a new dispensation had begun and that God was starting a new thing through the Body of Christ - which is the Church.
We also have much to learn from those early days of Christianity - things to emulate and things to avoid, and there is also much to learn from the Word of God. May we study to be approved unto Him, and be careful not to allow personal biases or cultural practices to influence the truth of Scripture.
Heavenly Father, thank You for sending JESUS to be the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world. Thank You, that You did not give up on humanity when Jesus was rejected by His people, but continued to work out Your plan of salvation through the Body of Christ - redeemed men and women who make up the Christian Church. Thank You, that You are still a God Who heals those who are sick in body and in spirit, and thank You for my great salvation. To HIM be all praise and glory, AMEN.