Evensong 10th September 2017
Acts 19.1. 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.’ 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 baptised in 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. 8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 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. 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. 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 the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, 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 honour. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 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. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
A thread that runs through this passage is "What is a true believer?" The acid test is "Do they have God's Spirit living in them?"
First we need to know something about Ephesus. Like Athens, had reached its heyday and was in decline when Paul visited it. Its claim to fame was twofold. Its location on the west coast of Asia Minor near the mouth of the Cayster River made it an important commercial centre. As commerce declined due to the silting up of the port at Ephesus, its religious influence continued to draw worshippers to the Temple of Diana (Roman). This magnificent temple was four times the size of the Parthenon at Athens and was renowned as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Alexander the Great had contributed much money for its construction in the fourth century B.C., and it lasted until A.D. 263 when the Goths destroyed it. Ephesus was a hotbed of religious superstition and occult practices.
First of all we meet the 12 "disciples" whom Paul found, verse 1.
Presumably, Paul had some doubts about their trust in God. He felt something, or someone, was missing. So he asked, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’
The Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer when they trust in Jesus. Before this the Spirit is at work by convicting of sin, revealing who Jesus is and what he did on the cross, and giving God's undeserved favour to enable a positive response. Opening the eyes of the spiritually blind.
It seems as if these "believers" knew little about Jesus, except that John the Baptist pointed to him. 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.’
John the Baptist called people to turn back to God, but he couldn't give them the power to live for God or forgiveness for their sins. Only Jesus could do this and John said of Jesus that he is superior and will baptise with the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3.11 ‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Reading between the lines, Paul gave the 12 disciples the full story, told them about Jesus, and they responded by trusting in Him. So, they had a Trinitarian baptism, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit was confirmed when Paul prayed for them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied as evidence of this filling.
Paul spend three years in Ephesus. God backed up Paul's message with extraordinary miracles.
We then encounter more people who didn't have a true trust in Jesus. Having heard about Paul driving out devil spirits, v13, Jews also tried to use the name of Jesus to expel evil spirits. Almost like it is the latest spell in Harry Potter! They did not have a relationship with Jesus. Their lack of knowledge and understanding of Jesus was clear to the evil spirits who beat them up and left them naked.
Seeing that knowing Jesus defeats evil and sorcery and realising other practices are wrong, some believers, who held onto their old life turned away from sorcery and superstition. So did some of those who were not believers, burning their scrolls which were worth a fortune. Today, Christians ought to renounce similar practices such as horoscopes, tarot cards ouija boards, and spiritualism
If you were to ask a person on the street "What is a Christian?" they might say, "Someone who believes in God". But so did the evil spirits who beat the seven sons of Sceva. They might say, "Someone who attends church". But some people who listened to Paul in the synagogues and elsewhere rejected his message. Another answer might be "Someone who lived their life according to a moral code." But the 12 believers whom Paul encountered were trying to live like this before they came to faith.
A true Christian is someone who trusts in Jesus for their salvation. They have God the Holy Spirit living inside them. The Acts of the Apostles teaches that the Holy Spirit is the sign of being a Christian. This is backed up by Romans 8.9 "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ." The believers who turned away from magic and superstition also remind us that becoming a follower of Jesus means people have to live differently I the power of the Spirit.
Like Paul, we need to deliver a true message of what it means to be a believers in the power of the Spirit. Like the believers of Ephesus, we need to act as if our lives are truly under the Lordship of Jesus in the power of the Spirit.