Acts 19:1 – 41
At what cost?
What are you prepared, for the gospel of Jesus to cost you?
If you’re a Christian, what are you willing to give up, to continue in the Christian faith,
To grow to maturity in Christ, and persevere in godliness.
Or is there something you wouldn’t give up, A cost of growing in faith, that would be too great?
If you’re not a Christian, If coming to trust in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God meant giving up something that you enjoy or value, what would be the hardest thing to say good bye to?
Or, slightly different question, what outworking of the gospel of Jesus in our lives, do you think our community will be least tolerant of?
You know, society is generally happy when the gospel impact in the lives of Christians sees them looking after the poor,
Caring for the sick,
Christians started the first hospitals and universities, that’s all fine.
But what kind of gospel impact would have our community saying, “We don’t want Christian people here in our region”?
Acts 19 shows us the impact of the gospel of Jesus in the lives of people, including very costly impact, and also the way the gospel overflows, and impacts wider society.
Acts 19 also records some unusual and surprising events;
People being re-baptised,
What looks like magic, just to name a couple,
And so we might ask, “Does this chapter lay down the pattern for ministry, either in the early church or today?
Should these this be our expectation, or should we expect something different, as we seek to share the good news of Jesus with people we know?
And the question of expectation is an important question. People who study church planting say that one of the most significant human factors in the effectiveness, even survival of a new church, is whether or not the founding pastor has realistic expectations for what ministry will look like,
But it’s not just limited to church planters!
If we expect that the dramatic, surprising events in Acts 19 will always accompany our evangelistic efforts, then if they don’t, if that’s not how God chooses to act through us, then we’ll pretty quickly become disappointed with God, and perhaps even resentful.
So as we see the gospel impacting lives in Ephesus and beyond in Acts 19, we’ll ask is what we’re seeing, typical of Paul’s ministry in particular, and Christian ministry, in general, or is this atypical, and unique to these particular moments in Salvation History?
When is a disciple not a disciple?
So we open with the Apostle Paul meeting some disciples, who actually, are not really disciples!
Verse 1 Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
When I was a little kid I was into jokes, and riddles, and I had a book of silly riddles and puns written by Bennett Cerf (SURF), who founded Random House publishers.
I can remember 2 jokes from this particular book.
The first one is, “When is a door, not a door?” “When it is ajar” A, jar, right?!!
And the second one’s not much better, “When is a boy, not a boy?” “When he turns into a store!” And there was a little picture there of a boy turning, to walk into a store! Come and see me after if you don’t get it! I did say they were silly!
But here, early on in what’s often called Paul’s third missionary journey, we’re faced with a similar question;, When is a disciple not a disciple?
Paul meets these people who are called disciples, but he obviously has some reason to think, that they’re not really disciples of Jesus.
And so he asks a question to find out: Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
Perhaps all the maths I learnt in school is coming back to haunt me, because I keep thinking of Venn Diagrams!
You know, This category of objects, and this category of objects.
Sometimes they’re mutually exclusive, what’s in one set cannot be in the other set.; Cats, and dogs. If it’s a cat, it isn’t a dog.
Sometimes there’s a partial overlap. For example, Women, and aircraft pilots, for example!
Not all pilots are women.
Not all women are pilots, but there are some women, who are also pilots. And we have one in our church!
But sometimes the two labels overlap, not just partially, but entirely. If you are one, you are also the other:
Christians, and people who have the Holy Spirit.
Those 2 identities are exactly the same. The Bible has no concept of someone who has the Spirit of God dwelling in them, but who isn’t a follower of Jesus.
And equally, there’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit.
So to ask Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? is to ask Are you a Christian?
Are you a follower of Jesus?
Do you trust in his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of you rebellion against God?
And as the conversation progresses, it emerges that these men, about twelve, in all, were disciples of John the Baptist., at least they’d come under the influence of John the Baptist.
They’d received the baptism that John spoke about, but their understanding of John’s message was incomplete.
They say we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit, which means they really hadn’t heard much of John’s message at all, since John himself announced, Mark chapter 1 for example, I baptize you with water, but he, the Messiah, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
But their response could also mean, not so much “We have not heard of the Holy Spirit at all”, but, we have not heard that the Holy Spirit is available, and a reality for people!
They’ve started on their journey, John was about preparing people for Jesus, but a true disciple of John, is someone who believes in and trusts the one who John was preparing for.
To be a follower of John and yet not trust in Jesus, is like standing on the side of the road as the Tour Down Under comes through the Adelaide Hills, and as the police escort comes past, preparing the way, you think, “Well, now I’ve seen the Tour Down Under”, and you go home!
No, because they don’t have the Spirit, Paul knows that they’re not Christian disciples, and so he teaches them of Jesus, and baptises them in his name.
And so here we see both something that is typical of Paul’s ministry, and something that is atypical.
Typically, what we could say is the pattern of Paul’s ministry, is to teach people about Jesus, God’s chosen king, against whom every person on earth has rebelled, and to call people to repentance and faith in him.
And baptism is given as the outward mark of being a disciple of Jesus.
That’s Paul’s ministry, That’s typical Christian ministry, that’s what we’re on about.
But here we also see a couple of things that outside the usual pattern of how God works.
This is, for example, the only occasion in the New Testament, where people are re-baptised. It isn’t normal practice for people to be baptised more than once.
And so today, for people who were baptised, perhaps as children, when they were born into the community of God’s people, we don’t baptise them again as adults. That’s not the normal pattern that we find in the Scriptures.
And similarly, it’s unusual that God sends the Spirit through some separate act, the laying on of Paul’s hands, verse 6.
There’s only one other place in Acts where the Spirit is given like this, and that’s in chapter 8, when the gospel message spreads from the Jews, to the very first Samaritan converts.
It would be a mistake to think, that Christians generally receive the Spirit of God, through some secondary action, or through some other person.
As we’ve said, to be a Christian, is to have the Spirit, from the very first moment.
And even the fact that the Spirit’s arrival accompanied by the speaking in tongues and prophecy, this isn’t the usual experience of people, even in the book of Acts.
And so if you’re thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I didn’t have anything as exciting or dramatic as this”, we might be tempted to think, “Well, have I missed out?
Should I expect some miraculous demonstration, to prove to me, that I do have God’s own Spirit dwelling within me?”
Well, the answer has to be “No,” doesn’t it?
This is exceptional!
The purpose of this unusual demonstration of the Spirit’s presence, seems to be to clear up any doubt about the identity of this group.
God says, they are now real disciples.
The impact of the gospel: Christians should live as those who have the Spirit of God.
This raises a question for me though, and that is, is the impact of the gospel of Jesus on our lives, as complete as it could be, as it ought to be, as those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in us.
And by that I mean, do we sometimes live as if, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?!
As if there is no Holy Spirit dwelling within us?
Do our lives suggest that there is such a thing, as a Christian person, who doesn’t have the Spirit?
For example, Do I struggle against the sin in my life myself, instead of being enabled, by the Spirit of God, to put that sin to death? Romans 8:13 tells us that it’s the Spirit of God who enables us to put to death the misdeeds of the body, and yet, I fear, so often our attempts to free ourselves from the entanglements of sin are just that our efforts.
As if, simply by trying harder,
Working a bit more diligently, I can overcome my sin and rebellion against God on my own.
Or even the way we grasp our identity as God’s children,
The Bible teaches us it’s the Spirit of God who brings home to us the reality of our identity as Gods’ children, the Spirit who brings about our adoption to sonship and enables us to call God our Father, Romans 8, Galatians 4.
Yet often I think, we try and create, or prove our identity, as we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit, we fall into the trap of thinking I’ll be a child of God if I can make myself a child of God,
If I can work my way towards that,
If I can perform at a certain level, I’ll have the right to call God my Father,
And conversely, if my performance isn’t up to scratch, well, I have no right to call him my Father,
Whether it’s the way we approach the Bible,
The way we think about evangelism,
It’s easy to think that it’s up to us to figure it out,
To convince others,
To bring people to faith in Jesus,
But that’s the work of the Spirit of God!
Making God known,
Revealing God through his Word.
Which means if you’re not a Christian, please don’t think that the Bible is something you have to be clever enough to figure out!
We’re really pleased you’re here with us this morning, and we want to encourage you to ask God, to make himself known to you by his Spirit.
To ignore the work of the Spirit of God and think that understanding God, or coming to God is all about my efforts, is to live as if we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?
So back to Paul, and the impact of the gospel in Ephesus.
This is the longest that Paul spends in one spot in the whole New Testament, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we see the impact of the his message in a number of different ways.
Again, as is typical, Paul’s ministry begins among his own countrymen, preaching in the synagogue for 3 months, before the opposition to the gospel message requires him to move down the road, to the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
Now, I always think of this as some public building with a great big picture of a dinosaur over the front door!
But literally, it’s a school building, and some Bible versions even translate this word as “gymnasium”! So this is the Trinity Mount Barker of Ephesus of 52 AD! The Christians are meeting together in a hired school building or gymnasium
And the impact of the gospel message is what we see elsewhere in Acts, and in our own experience:
Some, verse 6, refused to believe, and, set about in effect evangelising for their unbelief, they publicly maligned the Way, that is, the Christian faith.
The impact of the gospel: Unbelief and opposition 8 - 9
I couldn’t help but think of the celebrity atheists, men like Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, who, even in their own words are described as atheist evangelists.
And maybe you’re like me, you see these names pop up in the headlines, some new book, or speaking tour, deliberately intended to undermine people’s Christian faith or publicly maligning Christianity, and your heart sinks a little bit.
And yet, when for example, Philip Pullman speaks about his Dark Materials books for children, and he says, and I quote, “I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief”, we shouldn’t be surprised.
They publicly maligned the Way
It happened in Ephesus in 52 AD, and it will happen today.
The impact of the gospel of Jesus on some people, will be that they seek to wipe it out.
But of course, that’s not the only impact of the gospel in the lives of people that we see here.
The personal impact on individuals as the gospel message takes hold of them, and as the Spirit of God brings this message alive, the impact is both widespread across many people, and also deep within individuals.
Notice verse 10, Paul’s discussions and teaching went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
Well, you can’t have much more gospel impact than that! Jews and Greeks, that’s everybody! It doesn’t mean just natives of Jerusalem, and natives of Athens. Jews and Greeks is like saying “Australians, and the rest of the world”, which is kind of how we categorise the planet’s population, isn’t it?!
Everyone in the province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital, heard the Word of the Lord.
And the widespread impact of the gospel message, this message about the kingdom of God, that Paul preaches, is complemented by the extraordinary miracles that God did through Paul, so that, verse 12, even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Again, if we were to pause for a moment and think about what is typical and atypical in this episode, this is not the normal way that God endorses his gospel message or his gospel messengers!
We do see, in the New Testament, when gospel message presses through barriers into new areas and new people groups, God does sometimes endorse or confirm the message with miraculous signs and demonstrations of his power.
But for the signs that strengthen the impact of the gospel to be so similar to what we might consider pagan magic, is surprising.
Every now and then I meet Christians who, hope or wish that this could be the everyday experience of Christians today.
But notice that Luke, the author of Acts, describes these events as extraordinary miracles.
Even handkerchiefs and aprons, he says, as if that’s something unusual.
Even Luke thought this was an uncommon occurrence, clearly not something that he thought all Christians would experience as they engage in gospel ministry.
God may perform this kind of sign to accompany the spread of the good news of Jesus here in our region. In Ephesus, among a people who it seems were infatuated with magic and sorcery, God if you like, comes down to their level, and speaks their language, demonstrating that the power they’ve dabbled in, is nothing compared to his power, and it ultimately leads to the Ephesians overcoming their superstition, and their magic, and their infatuation with pagan power.
The impact of the gospel: Costly transformation 11 - 20
And lest there be any doubt, that rather humorous episode with the Seven sons of Sceva demonstrates that there’s nothing magical about Paul, or the words of the gospel, or the name of Jesus, as these men found out to their discomfort!
But the impact of the gospel in Ephesus is not only widespread, it’s also deep and significant in the lives of individuals.
Verse 18, 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.
As people in Ephesus come to honour the name of Jesus, they confess their sin, and their involvement in pagan magic.
As a result, they burned their scrolls, that had been part of their sorcery.
Perhaps the burning of these scrolls was a definitive sign of cutting themselves off from their old way of life,
A way of saying, “We cannot go back. We’re not just dabbling in Christianity, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just pick up where we left off.” Like the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez, who reportedly burned his ships when they arrived in the New World, so neither he nor any of his men could turn back to the life they knew.
Maybe these new Christians realised that if these things were still around, they’d be a continual source of temptation.
Whatever the case, the impact of the gospel on these people’s lives, is not that they “get a bit of religion”,
As new Christians, they’re not just nicer versions of themselves.
The gospel’s impact on them, runs deep, even to the fact that they are now completely out of step with the cultural norm of their society.
So come back to typical and atypical with me for a moment.
What’s typical here? Well, repentance, confession of sin.
When, by the work of the Spirit, the gospel of Jesus takes hold of someone’s life, this is the appropriate response; Repentance, turning to God, and confessing our failure to honour him with all of our lives.
Also typical, is the picture of all forces of evil, no matter what they are, defeated before the risen Christ. Jesus triumphed over the forces of darkness on the cross.
These scrolls and sorcery of Ephesus are representative of those spiritual forces allied against God, and so as is consistently the case, the spiritual forces of evil fall, while the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
Jesus one. Satan zero. As a fairly simple summary!
Also typical, is the costly putting away of sin, false religion, and evil practices.
Throughout the Bible, this is the pattern of coming to faith, and growing in faith.
Of what it looks like to trust in God to supply all our needs,
For all our protection,
Trusting that to have Christ, is to have enough,
Pursuing discipleship, and maturity, and holiness no matter what the cost.
There is nothing surprising about this. This is the very kind of impact that the gospel has on people.
A person who has Christ, can lay aside everything else.
And yet, in some ways, I feel that this is atypical.
It worries me, that too few Christian people, would willingly pursue this kind of costly obedience.
The median full time wage in Australia just a little over $57,000 a year, which means that in today’s terms, this Ephesian bonfire disposes of pagan paraphernalia, worth over 7 million dollars.
This is costly obedience, isn’t it?
These Ephesians have realised that when a disciple really is a disciple, they will let go of the things they treasure, in order to receive the blessings of relationship with Christ.
And there is no price too high for them.
No personal cost,
Not even what we’re about to see, was an enormous cultural cost.
But I think today, in our culture, in our churches, we are reluctant to completely and utterly do away with anything that would hold us back, or anything that would lay claim to our allegiance.
So my question is, what would you burn?
What will you burn today, because you need to make it clear to those around you, that some object, or habit, or practice, or behaviour, or person, is in your past, not in your future with Christ?
What will you burn today, to remove once and for all, the temptation to sin, to fall back into former ways?
What is it that is just there, nearby, at home, in your pocket, on your desk, on your computer, that you need to burn, so you won’t become entangled once again, in sin’s deceitfulness?
What will you burn today, because you know that to hang onto it, is inconsistent with being a disciple of Jesus.
If you’re not a Christian, but you’re interested in maybe becoming a follower of Jesus, please understand this!
Becoming a Christian isn’t about having a bet each way! It’s about being drawn into a new life, that has no room for anything that is opposed to God.
And maybe today, there are some here, who need to do some burning. Not literal burning, although perhaps that might be what it takes!
The impact of the gospel: Society feels the change 23 – 41
But it didn’t take long, before that deep and costly gospel impact flowed from the lives of the believers, into the public life of Ephesian society.
Verse 23, About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way,
Is it that Christians are treating people badly?,
Or that Christians are harassing people and becoming Bible bashers,
Is it that the Christians are being hypocrites, and everyone gets annoyed with them?
Well, it’s not is it?
It’s that the impact of the gospel in the lives of the new Christian disciples,
The outworking of the good news of Jesus, in freeing people from slavery to false religion, has a negative impact on those who profit from false religion.
Once again, this is typical and not surprising.
When the gospel goes forward, when people’s lives are transformed by the message forgiveness and hope in Christ, often the strongest opposition comes from those who profit from the very things from which the gospel frees people.
When the Salvation Army was beginning its gospel ministry in the 1800s, among some of the most vulnerable in London’s East end, who do you think were the most violent in their opposition to the spread of the gospel there?
The liquor dealers and pub owners, who lost business and profits, as the gospel impacted lives and rescued people from alcoholism.
Even today, missionaries I know in different parts of the world, tell me of threats and intimidation from those who profit from the fear and superstition of paganism,
Those who make money from the slave trade,
Those who benefit from the trafficking of women,
Those are some of the institutions that are broken down, as the gospel of Jesus impacts people’s lives, and so those who profit from these things are active in their opposition to the spread of Christianity.
Of course, in Ephesus, this personal cost is dressed up in language of civic pride, and concern for the goddess Artemis.
our trade will lose its good name, Demetrius says, .
the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited;,
and the goddess herself, will be robbed of her divine majesty.
The temple to Artemis was the largest building in the entire Greek-speaking world, 4 times larger than the Pathenon in Athens, 130 metres by 70 metres, so it was true enough that that anything that took attention away from Artemis would have a significant negative impact on the city;, in terms of fame, prosperity, a reduction in the number of pilgrims who came to worship.
And no doubt to the dismay of Demetrius, the city clerk sees more danger in the Roman authorities’ bringing charges of rioting, than any danger of Artemis losing her honour, or the craftsmen losing trade, and so the Christians are, at least at this stage, free worship Christ, and proclaim freedom and transformation in his name.
The perceived relationship between Ephesus and her god Artemis, was unmatched in any other city in the ancient world.
So it is the very culture of this city, that is shaped by the impact of the gospel in people’s lives,
And that’s the effect that the gospel has.
It transforms lives, and itt can transform the life and culture of a city, even though that transformation might lead to opposition from those who benefit from the status quo.
Which takes us back to where we started.
What impact will the changed lives of Christian people today, have in our region, our city, our country?
Or put it another way, what “cost”, and I use that term loosely, would we be happy to see incurred by our society, as lives are transformed by the gospel?
In Ephesus it was obviously an issue of society’s cultural and religious life, being impacted, but the social outworking of the gospel in the lives of Christians is by no means limited to religious matters.
Imagine if Christians were, as a result of the gospel of Jesus, so overwhelmingly generous in our care of refugees, that it actually had an impact on the functioning of our society?
Imagine if Christians were so careful and thoughtful, with how we spend our money that the effect could be traced right through the economy of our country.
I read this week about the gay dollar, the identifiable spending patterns of the homosexual community,
The grey dollar, that of older people,
The Muslim dollar, self explanatory,
But there’s nothing to suggest that the spending patterns of Christian people are identifiably different to that of the wider population.
What if the impact of the gospel in our lives lead to such significant care and investment in the lives of the so-called unemployable, the long-term unemployed, that tens of thousands of people were one day in a position to start looking for work.
That effect would be noticed in our society, wouldn’t it?
An increase in those looking for work would make it a little harder for everyone else to get a job, and yet that doesn’t seem to be any reason for us to somehow try and keep our changed lives and priorities to ourselves.
What if the gospel impact in our lives was such that we had a real confidence to speak publicly about our faith, to answer those who publicly malign the Way.
That would have an effect on our society. Those who make a living firing cheap, uniformed shots at the Christian faith, would find their livelihoods evaporating, since everyone would soon know how misguided and fraudulent their efforts are.
See an uproar over our faith isn’t necessarily bad.
Perhaps it’s something we ought to be praying for.
Not for public outcry itself, but for the kind of transformed lives, that cannot help but shape communities.
What has happened to our faith, if it’s not affecting our society?
What is our faith doing if it’s not affecting the economy?
What effect has the gospel had on us, if those who profit from the things opposed to God, don’t feel the cost, don’t feel that gospel impact?