I’ll ask you to turn if you would to Acts chapter 19. I want to look at the planting of the church at Ephesus this evening for a few moments. Knowing there’s more here than we have time for, we’ll make use of the time we have by God’s good grace. Before I read God’s Word, let’s pray together.
Father, thank You for this Your Word. Thank You You’ve left us a record of Your heart, Your mind, Your thoughts, Your purposes, Your plans. We find Your character unfolded here. Father, we find Your Son displayed for us here. And so Father, send Your Spirit to teach, to soften, to help us drive away every distraction, to speak to us as our teacher. Father, thank You that He, You’ve sent Him to us in power, to empower us, Spirit of God, to live and think and do as the people of God. Use this time in Your Word. We make, Father, our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake, amen.
Beginning with verse 1 of Acts chapter 19. We’ll read through verse 10. Follow with me:
“And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They said, ‘Into John's baptism.’ And 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, Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.
I want us to think about something tonight, and that is this – that the Word of God is sufficient for every purpose for which God has sent it. In fact, let me read, even though I’m not preaching this passage, let me read from Isaiah 55 where the prophet makes it so plain and so beautiful as the Word of the Lord. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The sufficiency of God’s Word for everything in front of us, the sufficiency for God’s Word for everything in ministry, the sufficiency of God’s Word for His people in all situations. Well, I want us to look particularly at the beginning of the church at Ephesus with that proposition in mind – that there is a sufficiency of Scripture that Paul has no weapons and no ploys and no tools other than the tools of the Scripture, and by God’s good grace, the blessing of the Holy Spirit which accompanies the teaching of God’s Word. I want us to look at a couple of things that happen here.
The Incredible Benefit of Paul’s Ministry
One, Paul is evangelizing men with an incomplete, a partial faith. They’ve heard a little bit, and Paul teaches them the Scripture. And then from there, Paul reasons with the Jews in the synagogue. What’s he using? He’s using the Word of God. And finally, Paul reasons in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Again, his tool is the Scripture. And we look at what incredible benefit came because of Paul’s simple ministry of preaching, teaching, reasoning with the Scripture.
We pick up with this narrative kind of in midstream. Paul has left Antioch. If you look at Acts chapter 18 verse 23, he’s left Antioch for the third missionary journey. And so we’re catching him in the process of that third missionary journey. As he has begun, he’s begun as he always did, he went overland through the churches of Galatia and Phrygia, encouraging the saints. It would have been his third visit to those churches in the southern region of Galatia. Paul has actually been to Ephesus once before at the end of the second missionary journey. You find it in verses 18 through 21. He goes to the synagogue and reasons with those in the synagogue on a particular Sabbath Day. He is in a hurry to return to Jerusalem. He says to them as he prepares to leave, “I will return to you if God wills.” And so it’s been in his mind; it’s been in his heart. God has opened the door for him to return here in this third missionary journey and he will be there almost three years preaching and teaching and ministering in the Lord’s name at this particular place during this third missionary journey.
So we catch him in process. He arrives at Ephesus. Luke doesn’t tell us – Luke isn’t really interested in giving us all the information we want to know. He gives us a little snippet of conversation. He doesn’t tell us where these twelve men came from that Paul discovered and began to talk to about their faith. Luke calls them disciples, and he calls them disciples because they’ve been exposed to some of the truth of Jesus. They haven’t been exposed, if you look at the latter portion of Acts chapter 18, you find Apollos who’s been exposed to a great deal of the truth of Jesus. His theology has to be corrected; it’s as though he’s preaching Jesus without knowing that Jesus has really come and accomplished the work for which God sent him. But you read from chapter 19, you don’t get the sense that these twelve disciples that Paul discovers have nearly as much information as Apollos has. But Apollos doesn’t have all the information he needs. These men have even less, so that Paul says, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” They haven’t even heard there’s a Holy Spirit.
It does say something about the power of the preaching of John the Baptist. Let's not miss that point, that the preaching of John under the power of God's Spirit in the Jordan Valley has reached all the way to Ephesus – these men have heard of John's baptism – reached all the way to Alexandria where Apollos heard of John's baptism. John preached the Word of God as God gave it to him and it was powerful and it covered miles and miles and miles as a preparation for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where Paul picks up, again, reasoning from the Scripture, that’s where Paul picks up, explaining to them what John’s baptism is. It’s a baptism of repentance; it’s a baptism of preparation. It’s a baptism preparing people to receive, to believe in the One who was to come. And Paul was able to tell them, “He’s come and His work is done!” He’s evangelizing these men who are holding on with a little bit of information, a little bit of John’s information, a little bit of John’s preparation. They’re holding on for the One that John was saying to wait for as they’ve, in some fashion, have received the message of John the Baptist.
You see, the Word was sufficient for Paul to complete the evangelism that John’s message began. How many people do we run into that have a part of the Gospel? How many people do we talk to that have a little bit of information? How many people do we talk to that need the whole story? Paul is providing the whole story here. And because it’s the Word of God, they receive it. God blessed it; God sends it into their hearts. They trust the Savior as Paul tells them the whole story of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Word of God sufficient for Paul’s work in evangelizing men with a piece of the story.
The Spirit Falls
And Paul moves from there. Let’s talk a second about verses 5 and 6. That “he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus and then he laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” You realize that’s the fourth time in the history book of Acts that that phenomenon takes place. The first time was the Day of Pentecost as the disciples were filled with God’s Spirit and speaking in tongues and prophesying. The second was, as the Gospel came to Samaria under the preaching of Philip and as the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the Gospel had gone to Samaria, they sent Peter and John to examine more closely what was happening. And they prayed for the converts and the converts received the Holy Spirit who came on them with tongues and prophesying. The third time was in the household of Cornelius. Remember, God sent Peter under divine revelation to the household of Cornelius. Cornelius, a Gentile, a centurion, who filled his home perhaps with other Jews but more likely also with other Gentiles. And Peter is nervous about even crossing the threshold, but in obedience to God’s call, preaches the Gospel to Cornelius. He doesn’t even get started good before the same phenomenon takes place. The Spirit falls and there’s the speaking of tongues and prophesying as these people trust the Savior. And God gives the sign of the Spirit’s indwelling.
Here’s the fourth time. Each of those times represents the crossing of a threshold – certainly the Day of Pentecost but then the day when the Samaritans hear the Gospel. You understand, and we know we’ve heard a great deal about that difficult relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. And so the Gospel comes to the Samaritans with verifying signs; that’s what the indwelling of the Spirit and the display of speaking of tongues was about. It was a verifying sign. God’s doing a new work. Who would have imagined that God would evangelize the Samarians? And then the Gentiles, the same thing. Who would have imagined that God would do the work of evangelizing the Gentiles? Are we sure? And Peter could say, “Let me tell you what happened to us at Pentecost. It’s the same thing that happened in the house of Cornelius. Of course I’m sure! They believed and they believe just as we do, and they’ve been sealed with the Spirit just as we have!”
Wall of Division
God was beginning to tear down that wall of division between the Jew and the Gentile. Here at Ephesus, a new threshold is crossed. Ephesus will become a center of evangelistic activity for throughout what we know as western Turkey and even beyond into Europe. Paul can say at the conclusion of that Ephesian ministry that, “I preached the Gospel as far as I can preach it in these regions, all the way to the border of Illyricum.” So the Gospel coming to Ephesus is another threshold that’s crossed and God verifies, He verifies, “This is the work that I am doing. This is the place where I will do amazing work,” as He sends His Spirit in such a prominent display. Did other believers receive the Spirit? Of course they did. They received the Spirit as you and I received the Spirit. As we trust Christ as our Savior, God sent His Spirit into our hearts and adopted us, made us His sons and daughters and empowered us. That’s the way it’s happened all the way through as people trust Christ as their Savior. They receive the Spirit, but there are times when that work is verified. And this is one of those times of verifying signs and wonders as God is demonstrating He’s beginning a new work across a new threshold.
Leaves Synagogue with Disciples
And so Paul then enters the synagogue, again, equipped with nothing but the Word of God, and begins to reason with the Jews he finds there; reasoning, that is, debating and discussing, persuading them about the kingdom of God. He’s teaching what the Scriptures say about Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. And he’s there for three months. You know if you look at the history of Paul’s ministry in the missionary journeys you recognize that’s a good run for Paul. That’s a really good run. He's not that many places that long before he is usually run out of town, or in the case of some places, stoned. So that's a long time to be in the synagogue reasoning week after week in terms of who the Scriptures say that Jesus is. From the writings, from the prophets, from the Psalms, Paul is showing them, Paul is showing them because the Word of God is sufficient. That's all he's relying on – the Word of God and the power of God's Spirit opening eyes, opening hearts. That's it. That's his tool chest. And for three months, he's faithfully, boldly proclaiming the Word of God, reasoning and disputing and debating with the Jews in the synagogue until some demonstrate their hardheartedness and demonstrate their disobedience. They blaspheme; they speak evil of the Way before the multitude, and he withdraws and takes the disciples to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. But for three months, what a fruitful ministry there in the synagogue. Because what does he come from there with? He comes from the synagogue with disciples. Why does he come from the synagogue with disciples? Because God has blessed the teaching of His Word.
Let’s let that soak in for a second; a simple little thought that we kind of think and say just like the air we breathe without noticing it much. But that is our help. God is our help and our hope. As we think about our calling to be salt and light in the communities where God has placed us, as we think about living here on the North State Street corridor, what’s our only help and our only effectiveness? It is that God blesses the teaching and the preaching, the exposing of our neighbors to His Word. God blesses us as we extend ourselves to the folks that live and work around us and find ways to point their attention to His Word. God blesses. God has blessed Paul in ways here, again, as you’re familiar with the history of Acts, in ways that are – like I said, he’s been here a long time. Three months is a long time for him to be in the synagogue reasoning. That’s the blessing of God.
The School of Tyrannus
And so when he departs, as hardhearted and disobedient men begin to speak evil of the Way, he departs with disciples. You see that at the end of verse 9? He took away the disciples and he goes to a different spot. He goes to the school or the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Now I’ve had the chance to be in Ephesus and I’ve seen the spot that they think might be, maybe, perhaps was the lecture hall of Tyrannus. The harbor is the center of the Ephesian commerce and business community. There’s a street that leads from the harbor to the center of town where the forum is, the marketplace, the theater is. And so halfway up that street is a sight that they believe may well have been the lecture hall of Tyrannus. In other words, it was in the middle of everything. It was in the middle of everything and Paul reasoned daily, he reasoned daily there in the school of Tyrannus. That means he rented that hall every day for two years. And this took place for two years.
Now let’s think for a second – what does Paul have in his tool chest? He’s got the Word of God and the blessing that God gives the faithful preaching and teaching of it. And that’s it. He’s got some things that don’t work very well. Derek Thomas and James Montgomery Boice, in their commentary on Acts, talk about a couple of Greek manuscripts that support and corroborate what we understand to be the best texts of this section. And so we believe we've got the best text, the best writing, the most accurate rendition of the words that Luke wrote. But a couple of those manuscripts have some margin notes. And the margin notes indicate that what Paul most likely would have done would have been to rent the lecture hall of Tyrannus for five hours a day; not the best hours of the day. The best hours of the day were the early morning and the late afternoon/early evening, because that's when it was cool and comfortable. Paul got the worst hours of the day between 11 am and 4 pm, the hottest part of the day. That's when Paul got the lecture hall of Tyrannus – not when it's cool and comfortable and pleasant to be there; but when it's hot and sticky and muggy and somewhat smelly because they don't have deodorant much in those days.
And you're seated next to someone who has been working in the earlier part of the day and they don't smell so good. That's not an advantage. Because you see, everybody else is on siesta. They break from their workday at about 11 to have a long lunch and a long rest and they'll come back to their work about 4 in the afternoon when it begins to be cooler and more comfortable again. But no, what's Paul doing? Paul is reasoning, lecturing, teaching, preaching, debating in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. He's already worked. He did his work in the tent maker booth in the marketplace at the forum because he's got to pay the rent to Tyrannus. So he's already been at work that day. If you remember, he says to the Ephesian elders in chapter 20 as he's bidding his farewell to them that he has supported himself among them. Well, that was the tentmaking business that he did. He worked to support himself so he wouldn’t be a burden to them. And so he’s already done that today. He’ll go back and do some more in the afternoon. Sometime today, he’ll also go and teach house to house, because remember he also said in that farewell address to the Ephesian elders, “I taught you from house to house.” So Paul found time after five hours of teaching in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, to perhaps wrap up work on somebody’s tent that they’ve ordered and then he’ll move from house to house. That’s a long day. That’s a long day.
Paul was borne up by the blessing of God, even though he was tired. We experience that from time to time. We have more to do and God gives us grace, God gives us help, God gives us strength to get us through it. Paul had a long day. He had the worst time of day, the worst time of day for this abundant ministry of teaching.
The Word in Asia
And yet, look again at verse 10. This continued for two years so that all the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. All the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord. Besides the church at Ephesus, let's think about the church at Colossae. Let's think about the church at Laodicea; let's think about the church at Hierapolis – all planted by men who very well likely were part of this school, the school of Paul in the hall of Tyrannus. Men like Epaphras who planted the church at Colossae and may well have planted the other two. Men like Tychicus who was Paul's faithful letter carrier, carrying letters to the church at Colossae and the church at Ephesus. Men like Trophimus, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem with the gift from the churches to the suffering saints in Judea and he accompanied Paul in his imprisonment. Men like Philemon who were, Paul described, as his “fellow worker” in the Gospel. Men like Archipas also described as a "fellow soldier." Let's remember that the book of Revelation, after its stunning beginning, Jesus speaks to seven churches, the seven churches of Asia. We don't know how many of those, other than the ones that were recorded for us, we don't know if the church at Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Pergamum – were those planted as a result of this work? Maybe not directly; maybe indirectly?
It seems that the school of Tyrannus was a church planting engine. Why? Because Paul was so dynamic? No. Because God blessed the faithful teaching and preaching of His Word. That’s why things happened at Ephesus because Paul’s tool chest contained two tools – God’s Word and the blessing of the Spirit which accompanies the faithful teaching of the Word.
We Live in Ephesus
One thing for us to think about as we prepare to leave and go home tonight, and that’s this – we live in Ephesus. You recognize that? We live in Ephesus. For all its glory and prosperity, Ephesus was a broken city. Sexual immorality was rampant. Idolatry was the name of the game in Ephesus. All sorts of idolatry. We know of some idolatry related to the temple of Artemis because of the events that follow here in Acts chapter 19 and the riot – because the silversmiths were losing money, because of the blessing God was giving to His Word as it was preached and taught. We live in Ephesus. We live in a city that does not require better politics. It does not require better education. It does not require more business. We live in a city that’s dying of sin. We live in a city that’s dying for the Gospel. We live in Ephesus.
Where are the church planters who are saying, “I want to go to West Jackson. Send me and my family to South Jackson. We’re a white and black church planting team. We met one another in seminary. We became fast friends; we think we can work together well. Send us. Send us to West Jackson. Send us where the need is greatest. Send us where the blight is the worst. We want to plant a church down on Capitol Street.” We can be the lecture hall of Tyrannus. We can be the school of church planting, right here, for this town. I don’t know that that’s what God wants for us, but I want to ask the question, I want to ask the question of us – “Are we willing to be?” If God would open that door, if God would send us men who would say, “This is where my heart is,” can we help train them? Can we help support them? We’ve got the tools that we need – the Word of God and the blessing and power of His Spirit. Our city needs the Gospel. Can we be part of throwing our city a lifeline not with a better politician but church planters? Church planters to go and be in the worst parts of town, the worst places. We can’t do that. God’s got to call a man to that. We don’t want a man there that God hasn’t called. But are we willing to ask ourselves the question, “God, can I be part of something like that? Can First Presbyterian Church be part of something like that? Can we partner with Reformed Seminary and make something like that happen in a city that’s dying because it needs Jesus?”
I don’t know the answer to that. I want to ask that question. I want all of us to ask that question because I see Paul laboring in a city that was steeped in corruption and immorality, it was just the way of life – children weren’t safe, women weren’t safe, boys weren’t safe because it was a city that needed Jesus. Look at the blessing that God gave. Are we willing to be God’s fellow workers here? Would God be calling us to be involved in some way with that work here in this broken city? We’ve got all the tools we need – the Word of God, the blessing and power of His Spirit; the Word of God that is sufficient to accomplish everything for which God has sent it for.
Father, we thank You for Your Word which is powerful, for Your Word which is able. We're not able, but Your Spirit empowers and enables us through Your Word. Father, call us to great things here, right here in this broken city; call us to great things. Give us great vision. Move us, compel us. You kept Paul away from Ephesus and then you plumped him right down in the middle of it for a great, productive season of ministry. Would You do that with us, right here? Give us this city. Hear us, Father, as we make our prayer in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.
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