The Spirit Explodes
Part 18 of 22
~Success and trouble in Ephesus.
~Acts19: 1 – 41
by Roger Kirby
Some time has passed since the main events we read about in the last study. Since Paul left Corinth he has been to Jerusalem and Antioch, travelled through the area he has already been to in the south of what is now Turkey and then travelled over land to Ephesus in west Turkey. As already noted Ephesus was a large city, third largest in the Empire, and correspondingly important both to Rome and the developing churches. Though it is interesting to note that in the book of Revelation the church in Ephesus is warned that ‘if you do not repent I will remove your lamp stand from its place’ and they did not repent and the city no longer exists today except as ruins.
Read Acts 19:1–7.
This episode has clearly been put next to that about Apollos not knowing the baptism of Jesus. This time the situation is much clearer: although they are called disciples they did not have the gift of the Holy Spirit. When asked whether they had received the Holy Spirit their reply was literally ‘we have not heard that the spirit is’ probably meaning something like ‘we have not heard that the Spirit is available to the likes of us’. John had spoken about the Spirit so they must have known of his existence.
Question 1: - They answered ‘no’. What can we conclude from that?
They recognized his non-action in their lives. Although we do not need to experience any particular event or activity to know we have the Spirit when we set out to follow Jesus his presence will become obvious in our lives. Because there had been doubt in this particular case about their status in Christ Paul placed his hands on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied, none of which always happened. Again we see there was no essential pattern in what happened. Following Jesus and experiencing the gift of the Holy Spirit are the two essentials.
Read Acts 19:8–16.
That ‘all’ the Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord sounds like an exaggeration when they had no television or radio but there were no newspapers to read so they had a lot of time to talk and gossip and there will have been many travellers between cities.
Question 2: - Why do we find it so much more difficult to get everyone to hear the word of the Lord than they did?
We cannot control the media and in many countries there is a careful exclusion of Christians from the main media outlets, usually because of competing ideologies or religions.
This in vs 3,14 is magic, not in the sense of tricks and sleight of hand, but in the sense of using occult practices, or evil spirits as they are called here.
Question 3: - What is the essential difference between magic and miracle?
There are probably many answers to that question. The one I like is this: magic is the deliberate manipulation of evil spirits by the use of spells, incantations, rituals and other devices to achieve a desired end. Miracles are events carried out in response to a developed relationship between an individual and the Creator and Redeemer God.
Question 4: - Where in this passage do we hear of the direct challenge of miracles to magic?
God did extraordinary things using handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul; this was a use of spiritual power. That this was so successful was a tribute to the power in Paul because of his relationship to God, not the manipulation by other people. But the attempt to use the name of ‘Jesus, whom Paul preaches’ was an attempt to use an incantation without any relationship behind it which was magic.
Question 5: - Where, in your culture, can you see similar things happening?
Of course, I cannot answer that one for you in detail. Note that the idea that icons, or texts from the Bible or any other religious book can protect one from accidents on the road etc. is a playing with the occult that is highly dangerous. All sorts of superstitions are similarly very doubtful indeed and to be avoided. The idea that there is any value in astrology is similarly dangerous. If you are following Christ truly you will avoid these and all sorts of other dangerous practices that attempt to manipulate spirits or even the Lord God himself.
Read Acts 19:17 – 22.
Ephesus was a major centre of occult practices. The value of what was burnt equates to something like 50,000 days pay for a labourer, not that they would have been the ones owning the scrolls! This was clearly a major turning point in the life of the city. Would that the name of the Lord Jesus were held in high honour in many more cities today.
Question 6: - Is there anything you should be burning or dumping? Up to you. I hope not though.
Read Acts 19:23 – 31.
Question 8: - For the second time in this chapter Christian faith is called ‘the Way’. What does this title emphasise?
If you start on a Way and don’t go forward you will soon be stuck in the middle of the path. We must go forward, grow in our faith, move from baby food to adult food, walk in step with the Spirit. We must not say I am saved I don’t need to do anything else. We look and are plain stupid if we act like that. Also if we are on a Way we are going somewhere. Our somewhere is glory, the Kingdom of God, the near presence of Christ, heaven, the new earth and the new heaven.
Demetrius was a sort of shop-steward type. You can’t blame him. The silversmiths would need to develop some new trades if Christianity prevailed. Paul wanted to go into the theatre (a huge amphitheatre still existing) , presumably thinking he was the cause of the trouble and should take the wrath of the mob rather than Gaius and Aristarchus, but his friends realise he would be in greater danger than they were.
Read Acts 19: 32 – 41.
We don’t know who Alexander was or why he was pushed forward. Possibly he was to represent the non-Christian Jews planning to say that they had nothing to do with what was happening. Fortunately the local Roman official turned up and had sufficient strength of mind and enough authority to quieten things down. I expect it took him quite a while to calm his nerves down afterwards!
Luke presents this as the culminating event in Paul’s missionary travels. The story of Jesus, the Way, had challenged one of the greatest cults of the ancient world, the cult of Artemis, the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Diana, in the place of its greatest influence and come out triumphant.