When was the last time you shared the gospel… and what was the response?
My wife Sally was born in Kenya, her parents were missionaries there. They came back when she was about 6, then 20 years later they went back full time to the same place.
Her dad is the head of the missions in North Kenya. We’ve had the privilege of visiting a couple of times and doing some ministry there.
They head out on these missions to people living in the aridest places. They drive for hours where’s there’s just nothing for ages and then a little town of huts will pop up in the middle of nowhere. They’ll stop and tell them about Jesus. Most of the towns they come to have never heard the gospel before.
One town they went to last year, had lived in fear of demons and the spirits of their ancestors for as long as they could remember, and after spending time telling them of the power of Jesus over the Spiritual realm, 60 households turned their lives over to Jesus! He’s seeing that happen all over the place as they take the word out!
God’s word is powerful enough to break the hardest heart and to call in those we consider the furthest gone. But the question for us is - do we believe that?
All the way through Acts - since Jesus rose and left, people have been opposing and speaking against this Gospel message; trying to discredit the word of God. Here in chapter 19, we see God confirming the validity and power of his word as lives are continually transformed, the word goes out and the world experiences the difference that Jesus makes.
Let’s dive in! First off we meet a group of people who, like my taste in music, are living in the past.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” ~Acts 19:1-4 (NIV)
These guys had been around when John the Baptist was calling people to repent and get ready for the one who was coming after him. They were faithful Jews, trusting in God’s promises of a saviour who was coming: They just didn’t know he already had! They were missing the final piece! So Paul tells them the gospel and they’re baptised into Jesus’ name!
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. ~Acts 19:5-7 (NIV)
They finally experienced the fulfilment of all they’d been looking forward to. They had a part of the story and were believing that part, but until Paul filled them in on the fullness of the Gospel, they had no personal relationship with the Christ they’d been waiting for. And all it took, was the Gospel! The message Paul was entrusted with.
See, it’s not enough just believing in some closed idea of God, thinking "that’s good enough". Instead, true salvation, a personal relationship with Jesus, takes hearing and believing the truth - the Gospel. This is the Gospel Paul and the Apostles were taking to the world.
I wonder if you’ve personally accepted that message. These guys show us something of what many of us can fall into. Something I had also fallen into.
That is, a state where you know some things about God, but still don’t know God personally. Not in a personal relationship with Jesus by His spirit, based on His truth!
This can particularly affect people who have grown up in a Christian household or have a background of Catholicism or other denominations or religions that was very heavy on tradition and not a relationship. You may have heard lots of things about God, and taken on many of those things, but not personally met and accepted Jesus. Maybe you’re listening here today and recognise that’s you. You know some things about God, but haven’t personally accepted that God’s own Son, Jesus - died in your place, for your sins, offering you forgiveness for everything you’ve done - enabling you to begin a relationship with him now and spend eternity with Him in heaven.
If that’s you, let me invite you today to accept his offer! All it takes, is to pray and ask Him to forgive you, to give you his spirit and lead you in his word. If you’d like to talk more, come and see me, or stop at the ‘New Here’ flag.
Over the next couple of verses, we see the word opposed again by the Jews in the Synagogue, so Paul takes those who have believed down the road to a pagan hall and he meets with them daily to talk about Jesus and the Christian life and verse 10 says:
This 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. ~Act 19:10 (NIV)
Luke wants us to see that God’s word would never be bound to a building! This reminds me of the last couple of years through Covid, even though we couldn’t meet in the church building, the word continued to go out, and even to areas we didn’t expect. We were seeing people turning to Jesus online, over zoom and even people overseas were benefiting from that ministry. As much as some of us flinch at the word 'Zoom', it was a massive blessing that we praise God for!
The word just can’t be constrained to a building! It rang out in Ephesus as the disciples came in and went out, and I pray it keeps ringing out from us here as we gather and go!
After confirming the power of the word there, the next section is another confirmation of how there’s no one and no power God’s word isn’t powerful enough to transform.
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. ~Acts 19:11-12 (NIV)
OK, now this is just crazy right. Hankies and aprons healing people. What is going on there? And I think the big question is - is this something we should expect to see happening today? And if not, then why not!? Discussions about Miracles in the bible and today can be tricky ground to navigate, especially when reading Acts, because Acts doesn’t always give us clear signs of what is meant to be read as just descriptions of special events, compared with what we should expect as the normal Christian life.
One thing I love here is that Luke himself, the author, is a Physician, a doctor, a man committed to science, and he sees no issues accepting science and God’s hand in performing miracles. In his mind, they’re not opposed, but completely possible, because of who God is. As I said at the beginning, this chapter especially, is working to show us how God was
confirming the power of His word through the Apostle Paul. And one of the ways he confirmed his word was by enabling Paul to do miracles!
When Jesus was on earth he called specific people to him and marked them as Apostles. Apostle means - a sent one - a messenger. These Apostles were commissioned to be the particular witnesses for Jesus who would pass on the gospel of Jesus’ life to the generations after them. This is why we call our faith an Apostolic faith - faith in the message of the Apostles.
…one of the chief signs / marks of an Apostle is that they perform signs and wonders - miracles! ~2 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV)
These miracles confirm their message! Miracles never save a person, but they draw attention to the message that does save!
The apostles were given the ability to perform specific miracles to confirm that saving message, which we now have today written down in our bibles! Which also bears witness to their miracles, as we read here. What Luke writes here isn’t for us to think our lives will be the same as Paul’s, but for us to see and have confidence that: The Word Paul preached about Jesus - was the truth that brings salvation and eternal life! Because God confirmed it through Paul’s miracles! If we walk away from this just wanting to do the miracles, but not wanting to preach the word, then we’ve missed the point!
Now, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t still do miracles through people, or that he can’t do miracles anymore! Absolutely not!
I’ve heard story after story of how God has continued to do miraculous things throughout the world to bring people to himself, but what we often see, is that it happens in places
where God’s word is harder to source and it draws them to His word, and once they come to find His word, the miracles don’t seem to be as prevalent. Not as needed…because miracles don’t save, only the Gospel saves!
I’m happy to chat more about this with you personally if you’ve got more questions. What we’re seeing here is a confirmation that this Word Paul was preaching – is powerful and trustworthy! And that’s what I think this next little section is showing us. There are some people going around trying to drive out demons saying - “in the name of the Jesus Paul preaches - come out” - but getting nowhere… even to the point that the demon-possessed people overpower and attack them!
The demons say “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you!?” again, confirming God was doing something particular through Paul that he wasn’t doing with others. Look at the effect that has on the surrounding area!
When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. ~Acts 19:17 (NIV)
Notice first of all who’s name was held in honour - Paul’s! NO - Jesus’! Even as powerfully as God might decide to use someone - the glory and focus are always for Jesus’ name! Not ours! So, let’s keep preaching it and looking for the miracle of a saved life: Someone receiving the miracle of the Holy Spirit! Moving from Death to life!
Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. ~Acts 19:18-20 (NIV)
Back then a drachma was a day’s wages, so that’s 50,000 days worth of work! 136 years! These people considered the power of the word of God of more worth than their sorcery! Of more worth than their livelihoods, as they burned their means of making money. More powerful than their shame as they confessed their deeds, and were ready to openly, publicly change their lifestyles for the name of Jesus! That’s a powerful word! And we see this in verse 20 - these changed lives caused more lives changed!
But as I began with, the question for us is - Are you convinced of the power of the word? Of it’s worth or Jesus’ worth in other people’s lives?
I think we can often decide ahead of time if people’s lives are too hard for God to work on and we don’t share the gospel with them because we think it won’t work. Or we see their lives and they look so comfortable or messy that we convince ourselves the word isn’t worth their life change. We limit God! I do it all the time! It’s so foolish! We forget our own stories. Let’s stop doing that - Christmas is coming up - let’s use the opportunity to speak up and watch God go to work! And as he does, you can expect it to have an effect on others, positively & negatively…
About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” ~Acts 19:23-27 (NIV)
So, obviously, the gospel has been spreading and loads of people’s lives have been changed, so much so that the idol-making business has gone downhill! The guys making these household gods are upset for a few reasons. They think these idols / statues are real gods and will lose their glory - if that’s possible. If their god loses followers - they lose their jobs. It’s a sad reality, they’ve built their lives around a false god, a god who is dependent on their followers… who they’re continually making images of, thinking there’s something real going on there… They can’t see the inconsistency… either way, they’re not happy!
When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theatre together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theatre. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. ~Acts 19:28-32 (NIV)
Isn’t this just a classic picture of our world today! This mob unite over a common mindset and storm into the theatre - a place where they would have held shows, meetings and also gladiator wars, slaughtering animals and people. They want blood! They’re Angry! Violent! Confused. They want their lives back, they want money! They drag in Paul’s travelling buddies! They really want Paul - the cause of all this! But the Church won’t let him in - they know how this ends… he was stoned before. But I love what happens next! And I think this is the point of this section, the city clerk stands up and pretty much tells them to pull their heads in.
The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. ~Acts 19:35-36 (NIV)
He’s saying, if Artemis is truly God, we shouldn’t have to defend her like this but obviously, the resurrection of Jesus has brought these “undeniable facts” into question.
I love what Spurgeon said about God’s word when someone asked him to defend it’s validity, he said, the bible is like a lion, you don’t defend a lion, you just let it out of its cage and it defends itself!
Anyway, the Clerk says, if these guys have done something wrong, the courts are open, you can put in a case there.
You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. ~Acts 19:37 (NIV)
They’ve done nothing wrong, us on the other hand:
As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” ~Acts 19:40 (NIV)
It’s just beautiful and shows that the only thing the Christians had done “wrong” was share the gospel! The Ephesians were rioting because they were feeling the effects of the good news taking root in people’s hearts. And there’s such a contrast here between how the world takes matters into their own hands when life turns upside down and how the church brings about change. Rioting, anger, rage and violence is fuelled by a false idea about life, worshiping a false god. Compared with Paul, who’s nowhere to be found, because he’s already made his
Difference, through the preaching of the gospel, no rage, no violence… just words! It reminds me of what the Apostle Peter wrote, to a church suffering under the weight of their culture.
Live such good lives among the pagans [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. ~1 Peter 2:12 (NIV)
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. ~1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)
The word is powerful to change lives…We don’t need to be like this crowd and take matters into our own hands - we need to be like Paul. Preach, and let God do his work.
I’ve been reading Exodus lately, and I’ve loved seeing this connection with God’s word and his power…Moses - faltering lips - called to go to pharaoh and just speak “Let my people go”
Not called to do anything violent! God did miracles through him, but he was called to speak - and let God do the work! Same when the people left Egypt, God told them to ask the people for their gold and silver, He didn’t say, before you leave, sneak in and grab as much as you can… but just ask, and watch me do my thing! I'll make them favourably disposed towards you…
And so today, God calls us to speak! To share the gospel and watch him go to work! Share the word, and watch God move hearts. The Gospel transforms, and God’s given us the privilege of being his witnesses, as others experience our changed lives. We ourselves are God’s walking Miracles today!
Never underestimate your testimony as a witness to God’s miraculous confirmation of His powerful word! Share your story!