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Power in Ephesus

If you are just joining us today for the first time, we have been working our way through the book of Acts for the last several months. We are now in Acts chapter 19 and the start of Paul’s third missionary journey. 

Paul had been commissioned by God to bring the message of the Gospel to Kings, gentiles, and his fellow Jews throughout the Roman empire. And this is the third major excursion that Paul has undertaken to accomplish this task. However, this third journey is little bit different from his first two journeys.

In his first two journeys, Paul was really a pioneer of the Gospel! He brought the Good News to places far from Jerusalem – places that had never heard the message of Jesus. But now in his third missionary journey, he actually spends most of his time strengthening the church – working in places where he had already planted churches earlier.

If you look at the maps of Paul’s journeys, you can see that journey number three includes many of the same places that he had already visited during journey number two. But this fits well with Paul’s desire not only to preach the Gospel – but to help people grow and mature in the Lord. As we’ve mentioned before, Paul didn’t want to merely make believers – but he wanted to make disciples – followers of Jesus Christ would who grow, mature, and make more disciples of Jesus. This is part of the reason why Paul wrote all those letters that make up a good portion of our New Testament today – these were written to give instruction and encouragement for those new believers in the churches that he had planted.

And this is really the expectation that Jesus has for all of us! Not to write letters that will one day become part of the Bible, but to help each other grow and mature in the Lord. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 28:19…

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. Matthew 28:19-20a

The second part of this command – to teach these new disciples to obey all of the commands of Christ – is just as important as the initial step of making disciples and baptizing them! And so as Paul traveled the world preaching the Gospel, he was very intentional about helping these new disciples grow in their faith and understand of Jesus. And we’re going to see that very clearly in our passage today.

Paul’s third missionary journey technically begins at the end of chapter 18, but since we briefly covered that as part of last week’s message, we’re just going to pick it up today in Acts chapter 19. And just for a bit of context now, Paul is currently in the city of Ephesus – where he had earlier dropped off Aquila and Priscilla near the end of his second missionary journey. This was also the city where Apollos met Aquila and Priscilla, so by now there is quite a strong Christian presence in the city – but of course, there is still much evangelism to do be done! We pick it up in verse 8 now.

8 Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. Acts 19:8-9a

We’ll just pause here for a moment. As was Paul’s custom, he spent the first of his efforts in Ephesus preaching in the synagogue – trying to convince his fellow Jews to put their faith in Jesus. But as we see here (and as we’ve seen just about everywhere else Paul has been) – there are always those who reject Paul’s message. And in this case, the stubborn Jews in Ephesus not only rejected Paul’s message, but they also began speaking out publicly against “the Way.”

Now just in case you hadn’t caught this earlier, “the Way” was basically another name for Christianity or the church in general. Of course today, we don’t often refer to Christianity as “The Way” – but as you read through the Bible, you won’t find the word “Christianity” at all and you don’t even see the word “Christian” very often – I think it’s only there 2 or 3 times. In most places, Christians are simply called believers – or as this passage refers to them, followers of “the Way”.

This was generally the term given to the early church – likely in reference to Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 where he said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. “ John 14:6

And so quite fittingly, early Christians were known as followers of the Way – or perhaps the more expanded version would be followers of the Way, the truth, and the life!

And it’s kind of interesting that these Jews in Ephesus were speaking out publicly against “the Way” and not just against Paul. Normally, we would see the Jews persecuting Paul and his companions, but here they are trying to make a case against the whole of Christianity – they were publicly speaking against the Way! Which leads me to believe that Christianity was beginning to make a pretty significant impact in Ephesus!

It wasn’t just Paul who was causing a stir, but as more and more people became believers, the  the collective impact of all those believers began dramatically changing the entire city – and we’re going to read more about that a little bit today and a lot more next week.

But wouldn’t that be great to see that happen here in Penhold? Or in Red Deer? After all, isn’t that our goal? Aren’t we aiming to see Jesus totally transform so many lives that it totally transforms the entire town of Penhold? Absolutely! And I don’t believe that’s just wishful thinking, either! If it can happen in a city like Ephesus (which really was like a combination of Las Vegas and San Fransisco and LA all combined into one) – If God can transform that city – God would have no problem transforming our little town in Central Alberta! 

We need to pray that God would move in our lives and in our community – transforming us first – so that we can go on to help bring transformation to others!

But to get back to our story – the Jews who have rejected the message of the Gospel begin this public campaign to discredit and discourage people from joining “the Way”. And so, instead of continuing to fruitlessly preach to these Jews in the synagogue, Paul changes his ministry strategy. Continuing in verse 9:

 So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:9b-10

This is pretty great stuff! Since he wasn’t welcome at the synagogue anymore, Paul took his band of disciples with him and began teaching them (and many others) in a public lecture hall.

And from the description here, this doesn’t sound like the weekly church gatherings that I’m sure were also happening throughout the city, but rather, this was just a daily public meeting that anyone might stop in and listen to what Paul had to say about Jesus and the Gospel and the kingdom of God!

Some Greek manuscripts for this passage add the little detail that Paul taught from 11am to 4pm each day. This would have been the heat of the day when people would be stopping to eat their lunch and have their afternoon siesta since it was too hot to work! That’s kind of a foreign idea to us here in Canada, but in lots of hotter counties like Mexico or in the middle east, nobody works during the heat of the day – and so this would have been a perfect opportunity for Paul to have all these great spiritual discussions with the blue-collar, everyday people of Ephesus.

And apparently, this strategy was a huge success! Verse 10 tells us that Paul did this every day for two years and through this, people through-out the province of Asia (as they came and went through the major city of Ephesus) heard the Word of the Lord!

And I gotta tell ya – this passage really struck a cord for me. I love how Paul, when he saw that he was no longer making progress preaching in the synagogue – He changed it up and did something new – something that was much more effective and had an incredible impact for the Kingdom of God!

And I just wonder if every once in a while, we need to do something similar with our efforts to reach the lost and to make disciples! Now I’m not saying that what we’re doing is no longer working or that we’re not seeing progress being made. But I do think we need to constantly evaluation our efforts and see if what we’re doing is working! As we look at our different church programs and events – are we accomplishing the things that we want to accomplish? That is, are we actually seeing people come to know Christ – and are we actually seeing those new believers grow up into Christian maturity?

And if we are, wonderful! Let’s keep doing what we’re doing for a while longer! But if we’re not, then we really need to consider what else we might do that may be more effective!

It’s far to easy for churches just to keep doing what they’ve always been doing simply because it worked once upon a time!  But even though it worked great back then – it may not be as effective now! We need to constantly ask ourselves – is what we’re doing now the most effective way for us to make disciples? If not, what changes do we need to make – what new things do we need to try – to more effectively carry out the mission that God has given us?

And by the way, this isn’t just true for churches – you can apply this to your family and even to yourself personally. Is what you’re doing now the most effective way for your to accomplish the tasks that God has given you? Are you personally growing to know and love and obey God more and more? That’s kinda your main task in life… Is what you’re doing now helping you accomplish that? Or maybe do you need to start something new?

Or how about your kids – are they growing to know and love and obey God more and more? Is what you’re doing to disciple them working? Are they growing up into mature Christian believers?

And if not, what do you need to change – or what new things do you need to try – in order to accomplish that better?

Now certainly there are times for consistency and routine in our lives – but don’t just get stuck in a rut because that’s what you’ve always done! Make sure that what you’re doing is actually helping you do the things that God has called you to do!

For Paul – He was called to preach the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles – and so when his efforts stopped being effective in the synagogue, he changed it up and for the next two years he did that very effectively at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And as he did that, we can see that God blessed His ministry greatly. The next verses tell us:

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. Acts 19:11-12

Now this was certainly unusual. God does not always enable his people to do miracles – but in this case, it seems that God wanted to confirm Paul’s message by empowering him to do miraculous signs and wonders. And actually, we see that Paul wasn’t really doing the miracles himself – But God was doing them without Paul even being present. 

These handkerchiefs or aprons mentioned in these verses were not likely items that people just brought to Paul for him to touch and blessed and then were taken to heal someone. But rather, it’s likely these were the aprons that Paul would have worn while tent-making – kinda like a carpenters apron with all his tools – and the handkerchiefs were likely Paul’s rags used to wipe the sweat from his face as he worked. They were never intended to be magic charms or anything like that. 

But God saw fit to use these everyday items to confirm Paul’s message and the power of God. And as further evidence of God’s power, we read in the following verses:

13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

Acts 19:13-16

Again, this is kind of an unusual event – but it shows that that power of God is not something that you can manipulate or use for your own purposes!

This group of Jews were like traveling exorcists. And we aren’t given their motivations for doing so – but most scholars conclude this was likely their business – casting out evil spirits was how they made their living. But we can clearly see they were not doing it out of love for God or care for His people. 

And so when they recognized that Paul (who preached about Jesus) had the power to do all kinds of miracles and casting out demons, they tried to tap into that power for their own selfish motives. (Much like Simon the Sorcerer did back in the early chapters of Acts.) And so in addition to all their other incantations that they often used, they added the name of Jesus to their list.

But of course, that ended very badly for them. When they tried to cast out this evil spirit using the name of Jesus, the evil spirit said to them, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?”

These men were claiming to be connected with Jesus – using His name to cast out these spirits – but they obviously had no connection with Jesus. Unlike Paul, who had a very real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

It’s like what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21…

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ Matthew 7:21-23

What a sad day that will be for those who have fooled themselves into thinking that they are Christians – that they are saved – when in fact, they have no real relationship with Lord.

This is a strong warning for all of us. We need to be sure that we’re not just fooling ourselves by going to church and saying we’re believers. As this verse tells us, there will be those who “serve God” all their lives – helping at youth group, going to Bible study, even preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus. You can fool a lot of people, but you can’t fool God. God knows if you truly have a right relationship with Him or not. God knows who are truly His. And so I would urge you, if you’ve just been faking it, to start today to begin a real relationship with the God of Heaven. Submit your life to Him and begin your journey to know and love Him.

What a tragedy it would be at the end of your life to call out “Lord Lord” – but have God reply “Get away from me – I never knew you.”

Well, unfortunately that was the case for these seven sons of Sceva – at least at this point in their lives! Perhaps after fleeing the house – being beaten, battered, and naked, they recognized their need of a Saviour and turned to God! Of course, we’re not told that – but at the very least, we know this event had a significant impact on the rest of the city! Verse 17 continues:

17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

Acts 19:17-20

God was doing some incredible things in Ephesus! As Paul preached the name of Jesus in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, with God confirming his message through incredible miracles – and as word now spread throughout the city of what happened to the Seven sons of Sceva who falsely used the name of Jesus – the entire city began to take the name of Jesus pretty seriously!

In fact through this, many people who had become believers were convicted about their own sinful practices, (specifically in the realm of sorcery and witchcraft and the like) and they boldly chose to make things right. And they did this by doing two things.

#1. They confessed their sinful practices. 

Now given the context of these verses, I suspect they confessed their sin both to God as well as to others. And I just want to talk about that for a minute.

Confession is not typically something we enjoy doing, but it is essential for maintaining a right relationship with God. 

Even as Christians, we all sin. No one in this room is perfect – at least not yet! As long as we live in this fallen world, we will all have the tendency to sin. And when we do, we need to confess that sin both to God and to others. 

We confess our sins to God because all sin is a sin against God. Yes, there are times when we sin against each other (and yes, we also need to confess and make things right with those that we sin against) – but ultimately, every sin is a sin against God – because we are acting in opposition to his character and his commands. And so we need to earnestly and humbly confess our sin to Him. 

By way of definition, confession is honestly acknowledging the wrong of what we have done, recognizing that it is indeed a sin – an offence against God.

Of course, when we do that, we know that God is eager to forgive us. 1 John 1:9 tells us

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

What a fantastic promise that is! Sometimes we feel like God could never forgive us for what we’ve done – but this verse assures us that He will! 

I mean, if you think about it, Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross for you if He wasn’t willing to forgive you! Because of Christ, forgiveness is available to anyone who earnestly and humbly confesses their sin to God.

But in addition to confessing our sin to God, we also need to confess our sins to one another. And why is that, you may ask?

As you know, sin tends to flourish in the dark. Those sins that we hold secret, those sins that we tell no one about – those are the sins that keep the greatest hold on us. But when we confess our sins – both to God and to one another – that’s when God begins to break that hold! Sin withers in the light. I suspect that’s why James tells us in James 5:16…

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16

There is great healing that comes from honestly and humbly confessing our sins to one another. It’s a bit like removing a sliver… It hurts like crazy to go through the process, but once the sliver is removed, the healing can begin.

Now that’s not to say that we need to shout from the rooftops all the horrible details of our deepest, darkest secrets. We need to exercise some wisdom and discretion in who we share what with. In the context of this verse in James, James is clearly talking about a fellow believer – a righteous man or woman of prayer – and so the idea here is that we confess our sins to another spiritually mature believer who can encourage and support and help bring healing in some of these areas where we might otherwise struggle alone.

And that leads me to the second thing these believers in Ephesus did: After they confessed their sin to God and to others – then they repented of it!

Now we don’t actually read the word ‘repentance’ in these verse, but we do see a clear example of it. Notice in verse 19 it says:

19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars.

Acts 19:19

This is repentance if I’ve ever seen it! Repentance is the act of turning away from your sin. It’s doing whatever you need to never again commit that sin against God.

For these guys in Ephesus, their sin was practicing sorcery and witchcraft – something that was very common in Ephesus – but also something that the Bible describes as being detestable to the Lord. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 18…

9 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. 10 For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, 11 or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. 13 But you must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-14

As we clearly see here, all these ‘spiritual practices’ that people use to ignore and circumvent God and instead seek their own answers from Satan and his demons, these things are detestable to the Lord. And so these Christians who had earlier been practicing sorcery – perhaps even earning their living in this way – when they realize how grievous these actions were to God, they confessed their sin and then repented of it completely. That is, they completely removed it from their lives – burning all their incantation books so that they could never go back to that way of life! As Luke notes for us, the value of these books was several million dollars in today’s money.

So this was much more significant than just a bunch of teenagers burning their rock music albums after summer camp! This was like drug lords in South America torching their opium fields! There was no going back after this!

And that really is how we need to treat the sin in our lives. We need to be ruthless with anything that is likely to cause us to sin! We can’t just confess our sin and then do nothing to change our ways. Otherwise, we’ll be right back in the same place next week – confessing the same sin all over again.

No, we need to repent of our sin – and do everything we can to make sure we never do that again.

It’s like Jesus said in Matthew 5:29…

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:29

Of course Jesus isn’t suggesting that we literally start gouging out our eyes or cutting off our hands – he’s using a hyperbole to make a clear point!

Sin and it’s consequences are extremely serious – and we need to treat them as such! We cannot afford to play with temptation or dabble in sin! We need to ruthlessly eliminate from our lives anything that would lead us to sin – even at great cost to ourselves!

Maybe that means burning your incantation books, maybe that means keeping alcohol out of the house, maybe that means putting a parental lock on your browser and getting a friend to keep you accountable, maybe that means going to counselling to change your beliefs.

We need to be willing to do whatever it takes – at whatever the cost – so that we can live free from sin with a clear conscience and a right relationship with God.

And as we do that, God is glorified and his power is made evident in and through our lives – which is just what we see in the last of those verses. 

The paragraph concludes – after noting how the believers confessed their sin and completely removed it from their lives – it says…

“…the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.”

Acts 19:20

And that’s the note that we’ll end on for today. This is what we want to see in our church and in our community. We want the message of God to spread far and wide – and we want to see it’s powerful impact in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.

You know, this story that we’ve just read today is not just a story! This actually happened! God was doing real things in a real place with real people! And since God is the same today, yesterday, and forever, I am convinced that God would love to do that all over again here in Penhold. God still has the power to totally changes lives. 

He can break the chains of sin! He can drawn sinners to Himself. He can do miracles. This God who was doing powerful things in Ephesus is the same God that we serve and worship today!

So how will you respond to what God is saying to you today?

Is there some sin that you need to confess? Some sin you need to repent of?

Are there some changes that you need to make in your life so that you can more effectively partner with God in doing the things that He’s called you to do?

Or maybe you just need to take that first step of fully surrendering your life to Him – perhaps today for the very first time – or perhaps even for the 110th time. Tt’s always appropriate to rededication your life to the Lord.

Whatever it is that God is saying to your heart this morning, I’d encourage you to act on that. Don’t ignore the still small voice of God. Don’t be stubborn like those Jews in the synagogue – but rather surrender your life – at whatever the cost – and choose to follow Jesus Christ – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I’m going to invite the music team to come up and lead us in one last song together, and then I’ll pray and dismiss us.

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