ACTS 19:1-22 MARCH 12, 2017
“THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”
The busiest airport in the United States is the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, GA. Years ago there was a joke which said that even when you die you first have to switch planes in Atlanta. Atlanta is indeed a very busy place for commerce in the eastern United States. During the time of Paul Ephesus was one of the busiest cities in the Roman Empire. It was the busiest center in the eastern part of the empire. Even the milestone markers for the roads in the Eastern Roman Empire began from Ephesus. It was in the city of Ephesus that we will look at the events which occurred in this city. At the time of Paul there were around 250,000 people.
Acts 19:1-2 (NIV) “1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 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.” Do not mistake the word disciples as identifying someone who is a Christian. The word disciple is a general term we would describe as being students. These students seem to know who Jesus was as a teacher before his death. Knowing of Jesus does not mean that someone is a Christian believer.
Paul was trying to discern what they understood about Jesus and the faith. They had never heard of the Holy Spirit so Paul questions them a bit more. Acts 19:3-7 (NIV) “3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.” They do not know of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
If a person does not know that Jesus died for our sins and that we must believe that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven then they are still lost and are not true believers. Jesus made it clear in his talk with Nicodemus. John 3:5-6 (NIV) “5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” We must be born again of the Spirit.
Knowledge about Jesus is never enough. Knowledge about Jesus and what he offers us must be accompanied with a leap of faith. Paul made it clear that a person has to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or there is no faith. Romans 10:9-10 (NIV) “9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” One can be sorry for their sins but turning to Christ to make atonement for one’s sins is another vital step in coming to faith. These twelve men then were baptized into the faith and then showed evidence of the Holy Spirit after Paul laid his hands upon them.”
We receive the Holy Spirit when we come to faith in Christ. Paul explains this to the Ephesians. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) “13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” When we believe and trust in Jesus to save us from our sins and depend upon him alone for our salvation, then the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and marks us as being believers.
Luke goes on with how Paul was used by God while he was in Ephesus. Acts 19:11-12 (NIV) “11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 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.” The power did not come from Paul. The power to heal came from God through Paul. Big distinction! God also chose at that time to heal people though handkerchiefs that Paul had used. The Greek word here is literally translated as a sweat rag. It was a piece of cloth that had come in contact with Paul’s skin. Paul did not encourage this.
Many of the people in this region were superstitious. They still believed in magic. This belief in magical amulets or tokens remained. One can see that faith healers have been around for a long time. Jewish magic was very prevalent during this era. Ephesus was considered a center for magical and occult practices. Practitioners will often use names that they perceive to be powerful in their incantations (spells). Acts 19:13-14 (NIV) “13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.”
It did not go too well for these practitioners. Acts 19:15-17 (NIV) “15 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 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.”
God in his providence works out everything for his own ends. Proverbs 16:4 (NIV) “4 The LORD works out everything for his own ends– even the wicked for a day of disaster.” The Lord used this incident to reveal his power. This resulted in non-Christians acknowledging the power of Jesus. As believers we have nothing to fear as the Holy Spirit, who resides in us when we believe, protects us from the demonic world.
This incident also had a powerful effect on the church. Acts 19:18-20 (NIV) “18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
When we come to faith in Christ we come as we are. It is often a struggle to get rid of our old evil lifestyle and practices. Ephesians 5:8-11 (NIV) “8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
The church has always struggled with syncretism, where we accept Christ but continue to engage in practices that do not please the Lord. This was part of the problem in Ephesus. The Holy Spirit used this incident to convict Christians of their sinful, demonic practices and to get rid of their “magic scrolls”. Many places in our world have supposed believers who have continued to practice voodoo and other demonic practices. The Lord calls us to get rid of these deeds of darkness. We are to put away the evil practices we used to do in the flesh and confess our sins to the Lord.
We are to be untied to Christ by and through the Holy Spirit. Listen to the words of Paul. Ephesians 4:30-32 (NIV) “30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Our power comes from the Lord Jesus. Philippians 4:13 (NIV) “13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Paul accomplished the ministry he had been given to do by being united to Christ through the Holy Spirit. May we too be united with Christ to do his will to the best of our ability with all of our heart. We must live in the light and please our Lord.
Let us pray.