June 25, 2017. That’s the last time we were in Acts. So you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten my plan to walk through Acts, stopping where Paul wrote a letter. So, finished with Romans, back to Acts.
Paul has begun his 3rd missionary journey . . .
When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:22,23).
“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism'” (Acts 19:1-3).
Ephesus was 400,000-citizens large. But Paul focused on twelve “disciples” he found. Given that Apollos had preached only the baptism of John the Baptist earlier in the city (http://theoldpreacher.com/apollos-and-the-not-full-gospel/), Paul’s question is understandable. It’s also a reminder that in the early years of the church (Acts), the mark of a believer was the Holy Spirit. Anything less constituted a deficient Christianity. However, that they “had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” is mystifying. John the Baptist announced one to come “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11). If Apollo taught something akin to John, how could the twelve not know about “a Holy Spirit”?
In any case, these men were not regenerate. Whatever they believed, they weren’t Christians. Because no one becomes a Christian without the regenerating work of the Spirit. So Paul corrected them . . .
“Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them” (Acts 19:4-7).
As at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and with Gentile Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46), the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit came with tongues and prophesy.
Is this to be normative? I would contend, along with many others, these signs came when the gospel reached to unreached peoples. The Holy Spirit must come to birth a Christian. But outward signs are the province of the Lord.
Paul had briefly visited Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:17-21). On his return, he will plant a church, beginning with these twelve.
“He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:8-10).
Following his pattern in other cities and keeping his promise to the Jews from a previous visit (Acts 18:21), Paul preaches the gospel in the Ephesus synagogue for three months, arguing “persuasively about the kingdom of God.” But some Jews were obstinate. They “refused to believe” and publicly maligned “the Way”. So Paul left, taking “disciples” with him and “argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus”. Some ancient authorities claim he taught daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For two years he taught. The result? Author Luke claims “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”
Years later when Paul wrote his prison letters, they were addressed to churches planted as a result of his preaching these two years in Ephesus. When he wrote two letters to Timothy, he was writing to a young man at the Ephesus church. And when John wrote Revelation, he was writing to churches started from Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
Luke writes that Paul “argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.” ” . . . argued” is the Greek word dialegomai. Paul didn’t preach sermons. He conducted discussions and contended for the gospel. Significantly, Luke says Paul’s topic was “the kingdom of God.” Paul was claiming that the reign of God had broken into this world in the person of Jesus Christ. God was “taking over”–and the extraordinary miracles Luke reports on next is part of that “take-over”/
“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:11-20).
Ephesus, home of the pagan goddess Artemis, welcome magicians and sorcerers. Indeed, metal symbols of the goddess were used to manipulate evil spirits for one’s own benefit. Whether God did “extraordinary miracles” to counter this sorcery, or just to authenticate Paul’s preaching, we have no way of knowing. But he did them, so that handkerchiefs (actually “sweatbands”) or aprons (perhaps better “belts”) that had touched him touched the sick, and they were healed and demons fled.
Skeptics may mock. Mimics may copy. But miracles were an inherent part of Paul’s ministry. And to offer “prayer cloths” for an offering is to turn miracle into profiteering magic.
Surprisingly, Jews often were involved in mediating the magic of the East to the Greek-Roman world (Leviticus 20:6,27; Deuteronomy 18:10,11; Josephus Jewish Antiquities). So, it’s not surprising that “some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits . . . ” The outcome wasn’t what they’d hoped. Manhandled by the evil spirit “they fled out of the house naked and wounded”. This only further exalted the Lord’s name and resulted in many conversions and costly repentance. Luke sums up Paul’s two years in Ephesus: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
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When you put your faith in Christ, were you baptized? And, when you were baptized, did you receive the Holy Spirit? Let me qualify that last question, because the Spirit doesn’t always reveal his presence in tongues and prophecy. So, were you taught to pray to receive the Spirit? And did you consciously pray to receive him?
Paul wrote, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9). Christianity, then, isn’t only believing certain doctrines or practicing a certain morality. It’s a miracle-faith in which God the Holy Spirit actually comes to live in and reveal himself through the believer.
So, if you’ve not been baptized, plan to be. And when you are, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart.
Otherwise, you’re “not quite a Christian.”