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

The Lord’s Day

May 13, 2007

Acts 19:1-22

To the Ends
of the Earth

The Gospel Comes to Ephesus

Dr. Derek W. H.

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

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

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

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

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
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
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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