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To the End of the Earth (44): The Gospel Comes to Ephesus

Series: To the End of the Earth

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 13, 2007

Acts 19:1-22

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The Lord's Day Evening

May 13, 2007

Acts 19:1-22

To the Ends of the Earth

The Gospel Comes to Ephesus

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me to Acts 19. We made a brief visit last week to Ephesus, but then Paul made that whirlwind journey, you remember, taking all the way from Ephesus to Caesarea, and then perhaps to Jerusalem; and certainly north to Antioch, and then inland across through Iconium, Lystra, Derbe; and then, down towards the west coast of Asia Minor back to Ephesus again. We were in Ephesus last week looking at this curious figure of Apollos, this Egyptian convert who comes to Ephesus. He's now tonight, as we read this chapter, in Corinth; and I'm not sure that Paul and Apollos actually meet up in this part of the journey. But now this evening and again next week, and probably for a few weeks, we're going to stay in Ephesus. Paul spent three years in this city. He spent two years in Corinth, three years in Ephesus. I think it tells us something about the importance, the strategic importance, of both Corinth (in Achaia, in Macedonia) and Ephesus (in Asia Minor) perhaps as centers from which church planting seems to take place.

The reading this evening, we're going to read the first twenty verses of Acts 19…and, well, it's a preacher's nightmare. It's totally a potpourri…it contains a whole lot of things, trying to find some coherent theme as to all the little events that occur. This evening is a little difficult. I think what Luke wants us to see, however, is how the gospel came to Ephesus–and it came to Ephesus along a multi-strand way. It came through the synagogue, it came through a rented hall in Ephesus, and it came through curious individuals with whom the Apostle Paul had contact.

Now before we read this passage together, let's look to God once again in prayer. Let's pray.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures. We thank You for the word of God holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We believe the Bible this evening, Lord, to be Your word–every jot and tittle of it. We pray that as we read the Bible and study it together — come, Holy Spirit. Help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This is God's holy word:

”And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ And they said, ‘Into John's baptism.’ And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. And there were in all about twelve men.
“And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. S o the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”

Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant word.

Now as I said, Paul spent two years in Corinth, and he will spend upwards of three years here in Ephesus. We think of the Ephesian letter as one of the most profound letters in the New Testament, along perhaps with Romans. It is the most theologically profound and erudite of all Paul's letters, giving perhaps an indication of the strength and vitality and growth of this church in Ephesus that Paul spent three years ministering to. It was a strong church, from which emanated perhaps disciples who went throughout the region of Asia Minor evangelizing and speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had arrived here in Ephesus (remember last week?) with Priscilla and Aquila from Corinth, and then made that breathless journey all the way back to Caesarean Antioch and along the land in the north through Iconium, Lystra, Derbe…all the way down back again to Ephesus. Ephesus is located at the mouth of the Cayster River, to the west part…coast of Asia Minor…what we would call Turkey today…and had been established a thousand years before Christ. A wonderful, extraordinary city. It was now in Paul's time in somewhat shabby economic state. Appian, the historian of first century B.C., tells us that Marc Anthony had taxed the city of Ephesus ten times above the normal taxation levels to pay for the civil wars that resulted after the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., and it was only when Augustus became emperor that peace and some measure of civility returned to Asia Minor and to the city of Ephesus.

Ephesus was a free city. It had its own government; it wasn't ruled by Roman officials. It had a Greek constitution. Its population, interestingly, was something like the greater city of Jackson. I think the city of Jackson population is somewhere around 400,000, maybe half a million; and it is estimated that Ephesus was somewhere in that region. It was a large city. It had an amphitheater, a bit like the one down the road here, that seated 25,000 people. We’ll see next week that Paul and his friends of course make their way into the amphitheater in Ephesus.

The agora, the marketplace, the business center of Ephesus was some 360 feet square. It had a magnificent library comparable to the magnificent library in Alexandria. The remains of that library can still be seen. The building is more or less still standing today. It of course had the great magnificent temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was the city eventually where Timothy will be sent as a bishop, as an elder…one who would teach and continue the teaching that Paul had established here in Ephesus. According to Iranius and Eusebia, John spent five years toward the end of his life here in Ephesus, although that is sometimes disputed.

Now three things I want us to see tonight as the gospel comes now to Ephesus. It's already come in the form of Priscilla and Aquila, and the ministry of Apollos. Apollos has now been sent off to Corinth, but now Paul has arrived, and Luke wants to give us something of a summary of many different kinds of events that take place over a period of two years — one in the Jewish synagogue, one in a rented hall in the city, and then among certain specific groups of people.

I. The Gospel in the synagogue.

Let's begin in the Jewish synagogue. It's not where the chapter begins; I’ll come back to where the chapter begins in a minute, but let's begin in the synagogue. Paul, as he always does (in Corinth, you remember, and other cities), he went to the synagogue. And just as in Corinth, he's going to have to leave the synagogue and turn once again toward the Gentiles. For three months he spends his time ministering, preaching, proclaiming the good news of the gospel in the synagogue.

Now Luke gives us a graphic description of Paul's ministry in the synagogue. He uses two particular verbs: that he reasoned and persuaded in the synagogue.

“He entered the synagogue [verse 8] and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading ….”

It's an unusual word. The same word is going to occur again in the rented hall. Reasoning…it's the idea perhaps of apologetics. It's the idea of Paul, as it were, analyzing the understanding of the Jews with regard to the Old Testament: analyzing their beliefs, analyzing where they are, breaking down false notions and false beliefs, establishing a structure by which he could proclaim to them the truth of the Old Testament.

Luke says that he did it boldly. It's one of Luke's favorite words in The Acts of The Apostles to describe Paul's preaching. He preached with boldness, without fear of men, without fear of any individual. He was bold in his preaching and in his assertion of the reality of Christ and who He was. Remember when he writes back to Ephesus, right at the end of Ephesians, in Ephesians 6? Just after the passage about the whole armor of God…and you remember after he had described the whole armor of God, he says, “And pray also for me.” And one of the things he asked them to pray for him is that he might preach with boldness…that same word. He's asking the Ephesians who have experienced his bold preaching to pray for him that he might be bold in his preaching.

And what did he preach? Luke says he preached the kingdom of God. He preached the kingdom of God…that's an interesting phrase, isn't it? It's a most important phrase. In many ways it sums up much of the New Testament. In many ways it sums up much of the whole Bible. When John the Baptist appears on the scene, he comes preaching the kingdom of God; when Jesus appears on the scene in His public ministry, He comes preaching the kingdom of God. None of the gospel writers bother to explain to us what “the kingdom of God” means, because those who heard John and those who heard Jesus understood what the expression kingdom of God meant, even though it only occurs in the Old Testament four times. It's the idea that God is King; that God is sending a Redeemer who will rule and reign over His people. That idea is everywhere in the Old Testament. And Paul is preaching…he's preaching the kingdom of God.

Luke tells us right at the end of The Acts of The Apostles, in chapter 28, when Paul is under house arrest in that rented house in Rome…the very last words of The Acts of The Apostles are these: that he is there “…preaching the kingdom of God, proclaiming the kingdom of God, and teaching with regard to Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” That's how Acts ends. Paul was preaching about the kingdom, about King Jesus, and God's call that we submit to King Jesus and own Him as Lord and Savior, and Prophet and Priest, and our King.

And Luke describes the response. Some became stubborn and they spoke, Luke says, “…evil of the Way.” There is a gospel Way. When you become a Christian, when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you follow a Way. It's a narrow Way that leads to eternal life. There are certain things and certain places you don't go to any more, and you follow this road. It's discernable; you can detect it. And the adversaries of the gospel began to speak of the followers of the Way. It was a Christian Way; it was a Christ-like Way. And they began to speak evil of the Way.

We read in Psalm 16, “You make known to me the path of life.” There's a pathway of life, and Paul is proclaiming in the synagogues the pathway of life. The Messiah that they looked for and longed for has come, and His name is Jesus. And they spoke evil of it.

II. The Gospel in the public arena.

And Paul exits. He realizes that he is preaching pearls before swine now, and he has to leave. And he takes the disciples with him, and he goes, just as he went in Corinth (he went next door). This time he goes to a rented hall, a hall of a man called Tyrannus. He goes there daily. The Western text says that he was in this hall from the hours of eleven in the morning until four in the afternoon. Now you’ll have to understand the ways of the Mediterraneans. Nothing happens between eleven and four in the afternoon. You try going shopping in the Mediterranean just after lunch and you’ll be disappointed, because it's siesta time. They begin early in the morning and they work until about eleven o’clock, and then everything shuts down. And it opens again in the middle of the afternoon and goes on into the evening. That's the way of the Mediterraneans, and perhaps Paul was renting this building because it was unused at that particular time. Perhaps Tyrannus let it out cheaply during those hours.

There was a great response. We read — we didn't read it tonight, but way down in verse 31 we read of a group of people known as the Asiarchs. The Asiarchs…and these are wealthy and influential men who promoted the worship of the emperor, and they hear Paul and become friends of the Apostle Paul, and they warn Paul not to go anywhere near the amphitheater. This is evangelism. There's something strategic about it. There's something extraordinary about it. There's something very exciting about it. Paul couldn't stop preaching the gospel! He couldn't stop reasoning about Christ! And if he has to leave the synagogue, the natural place for him to go “to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”…he now rents this building and is there daily. He invites people along. I imagine perhaps in the mornings he was working with Priscilla and Aquila making tents, making leather goods…perhaps in order to pay for the rent of this building. And after doing perhaps five or six hours of work, meeting various clients, he would invite them along to the hall of Tyrannus, and there sit down and debate with them for perhaps an hour or two. Now you’d have to be interesting to break the habit of a Mediterranean siesta! But apparently there was enormous success, because we read in verse 10:

“And this took place…so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Now we have to do some interpretation maybe with the word all, but Luke certainly wants us to see that for this period of two years Paul has this tremendous success in evangelism. He's made the gospel known throughout the whole of Asia, it appears. It's enormous success. You have to be…it's a very skillful thing. It's a kind of ministry that requires a certain specific talent, I think. I think of Francis Schaeffer. When I was converted in 1971, Francis Schaeffer was all the rage. That strange-looking man dressed in that strange Swiss clothing…and he would invite people to Huemoz, I think it was, in Switzerland, where he lived. And he would gather around him all kinds of people–intellectuals and Communists and anarchists, and weird musicians, people who were engaged in philosophical debates about the meaning of life–and he would gather these people around him. Tremendously successful ministry…we are still indebted to much of the work of Francis Schaeffer in certain circles to this day.

And then, not only in the synagogue, and not only in this hall of Tyrannus where Paul is debating, dialoguing, and engaging in apologetic ministry and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and bringing home the inconsistency of their worldviews, and engaging in a Christian apologetic, and engaging in the ramifications of what it means to believe in God and believe in Christ, believe in the Scriptures. And God blesses it. And the Holy Spirit comes down, and there's this extraordinary blessing in the city of Ephesus. It would have been a tremendously exciting period of time to have been in Ephesus and to have gone along and to have listened to the Apostle Paul engage in this debate in the hall of Tyrannus.

III. Signs and wonders supporting the Gospel.

But then, thirdly, Luke describes various incidents that corroborate other means now by which the gospel comes to Ephesus, one of which Luke records right at the very beginning of Paul's entry into Ephesus.

He meets some disciples (in verse 1 of chapter 19). Now we're told later (in verse 7) that there are about twelve of these disciples, and they’re disciples of John the Baptist. They’re disciples of John the Baptist, and they’re different from Apollos. Apollos, you remember, had only received the baptism of John, but he hadn't heard of the baptism of Jesus. And he was baptized into the name of Jesus. Now, in this particular instance there's a difference here. It appears that these individuals, these twelve, were not believers at all. Apollos was a believer, but he had some lack of knowledge, and Priscilla and Aquila teach him and edify him and instruct him further in the Way. But these men, they seem to be ignorant of the very basics of the gospel, and Paul preaches to them, ministers to them, and speaks to them about Jesus Christ. They were perhaps Old Testament believers. Perhaps that's how we should describe them. They were those who believed in the coming of the Messiah, but apparently for some reason they hadn't heard that Messiah had come. They’d heard John the Baptist in some way…they’d perhaps been in Palestine, heard him, been baptized by John in the River Jordan, and had come back now to Ephesus. But they’d not heard about Jesus. And Paul tells them that the Messiah of whom John the Baptist was proclaiming has actually come, and they’re baptized in the name of Jesus. And Paul lays his hands on them and they begin to speak with tongues, and begin to prophesy.

Now it's a locus classicus of course, among Charismatics and Pentecostals, because it appears that there's some kind of two-stage ministry going on here: they believe, and then afterwards they speak in tongues and prophesy. Now we've seen before in The Acts of The Apostles…we saw in Samaria, for example, the Samaritans…that when Philip preaches to them, they also begin to speak in tongues and prophesy only when John and Peter the apostles come and minister to them. And again in the household of Cornelius, when Peter preaches to Cornelius, again there's this phenomenon of tongues and prophecy. Now there's no specific mention of tongues and prophecy in the case of the Samaritans, but it's often thought that there was. And what seems to be taking place is the fulfillment of that paradigm that we see back in Acts 1:8, that the gospel is to spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth. And what you see, as these specific junctions, as it were, in the spread of the gospel are reached, that there's a repetition of Pentecost, always in the presence of apostles.

Now here in Ephesus that doesn't seem to be the case. This is an unusual case. This lies, as it were, almost outside of that paradigm. And again, this seems to be a unique case, a unique instance of a group of individuals who had not heard about Jesus at all, and to whom this phenomenon of Pentecost is given. I don't think we're meant to draw from this any sense of it being a paradigm for evangelism or for church growth, or for gospel mission in any way; so that Ephesus then falls outside of what's happening in Samaria, or what's happened in the household of Cornelius. It's idiosyncratic in that sense.

And then there are other incidents. Not only does the gospel come to these twelve men, but extraordinary, now…extraordinary acts in verses 11 and 12 of miracles. And notice that Luke says… Now, miracles are extraordinary in themselves, but Luke adds now the word extraordinary miracles. There's something unusual about this. Paul did not go about constantly healing people. He wasn't always casting out demons. He wasn't always healing people. He wasn't always raising the dead. Healings come at very specific points in the ministry of the apostles, and they seem to have come right here…extraordinary things. We read here of handkerchiefs and aprons (perhaps sweatbands would be a better translation). After working all morning, you know, in the leather factory of Priscilla and Aquila, these aprons and these handkerchiefs, these cloths that he might have used are now sent and distributed, and they only have to touch them. That only occurs here. It's an extraordinary thing! And notice that Luke says about it these are extraordinary miracles; a one-time demonstration of the apostolicity of Paul confirming who he was. This is an act, if you like, of an extraordinary revival here in Ephesus.

And then there are exorcisms, and the strange case of seven sons of Sceva, the high priest (at least he claims to be a high priest). Perhaps Sceva and his sons, being Jews…Jews weren't allowed, you remember, to utter the name of God at all. They never uttered the name of Jehovah. But now hearing Paul cast out demons in the name of Jesus, they try and cast out demons in the name of Jesus. And the conversation seems to go something like this. They come and they say to a man, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches,” and the evil spirit in the man says to them, to these seven sons, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” These are unconverted men trying to usurp, trying to mimic, trying to copy what Paul was doing, and aren't able to do so because the power to exorcise demons is only given to those who know the Lord.

And then even more extraordinary things…the occult. Ephesus of course was a notorious center for the occult and magic arts. The expression “Ephesian letters” in Greek is grammata. It was a well known expression. It was the center of the occult. And as a consequence of this blessing, this outpouring of the Spirit, these believers now are bringing their occult books and they’re naming their spells. The idea of course would be that spells only have power so long as nobody knows what they are. They’re secret, and once you name them, once you declare what they are, they lose their power. And they name these spells and they cast their books in a great bonfire, in a great conflagration. It's a book-burning in Ephesus! Now we tend to think of book-burnings in our Western liberal society with a sense of shame and outrage. You know, it's what the communists do. We tend to think of it in terms of pogroms of some kind against a culture and against democracy, a way in which perhaps the state endeavors to exercise its control by book-burning. Well, of course, the difference here is that these were burning their books voluntarily. They were burning their own books. They weren't being confiscated; they were bringing their own books. It was a demonstration, do you see, of their repentance; a public demonstration that they no longer wanted to follow that old way of life. They no longer wanted to worship their old idols. They no longer believed in the powers of darkness. They believed in the power of Jesus now.

I think it's quite extraordinary and revealing that when Paul writes to the Ephesians…do you remember in the third chapter of Ephesians there's that absolutely magnificent prayer, the beautiful prayer…one of the great “Paul prayers.” In that prayer he says:

“Now unto Him who is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or even think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

“According to the power that works in us….” That must have rung such a bell in some of these Ephesian Christians who had once thought that power resides in magic spells, in the occult, and in the demonic. They’d come to see that power resides in Jesus. Power resides in knowing Christ. Power resides in knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we have peace with God, and that we're on the way to glory, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

And you see, in all these extraordinary ways the gospel has come to Ephesus, and it's come to a huge number of people in Ephesus.

And the Spirit has been poured down in an unusual way. It's accompanied by apostolic signs and gifts that are temporary and that will cease, of course, once the apostles disappear. But they are demonstrations of the power of God, that we live in a world that is supernatural and that can destroy the belief systems that so cripple men and women. And it's found in Christ, and in faith in Christ, and in the gospel of Christ, and in this message that Paul is speaking of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Messiah, and the coming of the rule and the reign of God in His own Son, Jesus Christ. Through Him, according to the power that works in us.

And you know, my friends, that power is at work in you and me, too, as we put our faith in Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. There are aspects of this story, I think, that belong to the uniqueness of the occasion in Ephesus, of course. But that power to change lives and that need to demonstrate that power by acts of public repentance and of turning away from an old way of life, and an endeavoring to follow the Way–the way of truth and the way of life, and the only way that leads to eternal life.

May God give us that conviction and that sense of glory, for His name's sake. Amen.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for this passage that reminds us of the greatness and glory of Your power; the demonstration here in Ephesus of supernatural power that can change lives through faith in Christ. You are the same God, and You can do that today. Come, O Lord, here in this city, and pour out Your Spirit upon us; and grant, Lord, that we might ever trust You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.