November 8th, 2021 - Acts 19-20
Apollos was holding his own in Corinth so Paul went to Ephesus, taking the upper and longer route through Phrygia. After a bit Apollos returned to Corinth, joining Paul. The two men had different personalities, gifts, and roles but God worked through both of them. Paul discovered that some believers in Ephesus had an inadequate understanding of the Christian faith. These twelve men had been baptized into the baptism of John the Baptist but they had never heard about the Holy Spirit. All they knew was that one mightier than John was supposed to come. They did not know that Jesus the Messiah, the One mightier than John had already come. He had died for their sins, had been raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit. They needed to hear the rest of the gospel. As soon as this happened they could place their faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Paul set about instructing them further. When Paul laid his hands on them they received the Holy Spirit, spoke in other tongues, and prophesied. This was the same experience of being filled with God’s power and presence that the disciples had experienced on the day of Pentecost.
From Ephesus other churches were born in Asia Minor: in Colosse, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These interestingly enough are the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Note the sequence of events here. Paul tried explaining the things of the kingdom to the Jews in the synagogue for three months. After he was finally rejected, he took those who had believed and started a new school for the study of the scriptures in the facilities of a philosopher named Tyrannus. During the two years that Paul conducted these classes, all who dwelt in Asia Minor heard the gospel. This indicated that Paul and the students of the school did more that study. They clearly witnessed to others as well. It is probable that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians during this time. God confirmed Paul’s apostolic authority by performing miracles through him. These miracles that Paul and others performed verified that the apostles represented God and that the gospel they preached was from heaven. The handkerchiefs and aprons that carried miraculous powers to others to be healed were things Paul used in his tent making. The handkerchief was a cloth used to wipe away perspiration and was usually worn tied around the head. The apron was tied around the waist. These were sweat rags used as Paul worked with leather. Why would God perform healings this way? Ephesus was a focal point for magicians and wandering priests. The city was filled with wizards attempting to exercise power over the dark forces. God may have used such unusual means in order to show that His miraculous power was greater than the powers of the darkness. Paul’s effectiveness is contrasted with the impotence of the traveling Jewish exorcists who used the name of Jesus as though it was magical. However, they didn’t have a relationship with Him or the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. The contrast between Paul and the Jewish exorcists was not lost on the people of Ephesus, Jews and Greeks alike. The resulting fear caused the inhabitants to honor and respect the name of Jesus, leading many to confess their sins and forsake their sinful practices, including sorcery. The value of the books and scrolls the sorcerers brought would have a value in the millions and millions of dollars today. Luke’s summary of the success of the Good News in Ephesus is short but powerful. When the Christian faith overcame problems of internal dissension, idolatry, and pagan practices, it spread widely and grew quickly.
Paul was headed to Jerusalem but took the scenic route. He sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia, but Paul lingered a bit longer in the province of Asia. Paul felt compelled by the Spirit, no doubt troubled by what he had heard about the situation in Corinth. But instead of going immediately he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him with the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. But Paul also wanted to go to Rome badly. He wanted to proclaim the Good News in the most significant city in the world, but there was trouble brewing in Ephesus. It started with a silversmith named Demetrius who had a very large and successful business making silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis, and he employed many craftsmen to keep up with the demand. Artemis’ birthplace was thought to be Ephesus so the Ephesians were the official guardians of the temple of Artemis. Twice annually there were elaborate festivals held in her honor with athletic, musical, and theatrical celebrations that included singing Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Her temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple was 425 feet long and 220 feet wide having 127 white marble columns 62 feet high and less that 4 feet apart. The ruins of the theatre in Ephesus have been excavated. This theatre could seat 25,000 people. Conversions to Christianity had clearly affected the income of Demetrius and damaged the worship of Artemis. However it was clear that Paul and his associates had committed no crime. Silver coins and shrines carrying the image of Artemis were minted in Ephesus. Statuettes of the goddess were used in civic processions and are still sold there today. The appointed rulers of the province were called Asiarchai, the rulers of Asia. These leaders served a civic benefactors and usually championed the emperor cult. Some of these officials in high places were friends of Paul. Luke highlights that Christianity was attractive to people of high standing in society. Demetrius managed to rile up a good number of the artisans and residents of the city, causing major confusion. The majority of the citizens ended up at the amphitheater, dragging Gaius and Aristarchus with them. These two men were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go to but the believers would not let him. Tempers were rising and a riot was about to break out. Everyone was shouting but Luke tells us the majority had no idea why they were there or what was going on. Peace was finally restored when the mayor intervened and dismissed the crowd. The last thing they wanted was for the Roman government to charge them with starting a riot. What we see here is that Christians in the Roman world were entitled to legal due process.
Paul made a habit of retracing his steps to visit and revisit churches that he had planted. Luke tells us that Paul encouraged these churches. The Greek word for encouragement used here means more than just that. Encouragement here can also mean instruction, appeal, affirmation, warning, correction, rebuke and comforting. Paul traveled to Macedonia where he encouraged the believers in all the towns including Thessalonica, Philippi, and Berea. He also continued to gather the offering for the needy in Jerusalem. Titus met Paul in Macedonia with a report from Corinth, which prompted Paul to write what we know as 2 Corinthians. When he was finished he sent Titus back to Corinth carrying the letter. From Macedonia Paul traveled down to Greece, that is Corinth in the province of Achaia. He stayed there for three months. It is possible that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans during this time. Paul was working his way towards a ship sailing for the holy land but he discovered a plot by some Jews just as he was about to set sail for Syria. These Jews wanted to kill Paul. It would have been easy for Paul’s enemies to arrange for him to simply disappear over the side of the ship and never be seen again. Paul was very sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in his life and ministry. In this case, Paul, who wanted to be in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost decided instead to celebrate the Passover with friends in Philippi. Sometimes the Spirit of God led Paul into difficult circumstances and sometimes the Spirit protected him from such circumstances. His traveling companions were disciples from Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe, and Asia who he was mentoring and equipping to lead.
Verses 5-15 is another of Luke’s “we” passages. Evidently Luke rejoined Paul in Philippi, where he had remained several years earlier, and journeyed with Paul to Jerusalem. The believers were now meeting on the first day of the week, remembering Jesus’ resurrection. This was Paul’s last visit to Troas and the gathering featured a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This meal most likely included both communion and a common meal. Paul never missed an opportunity to teach and preach about Jesus and this visit was no different. After the meal they were in the upstairs room. They were full. It was late. The heat from all the people and the many lamps made staying awake difficult. Luke tells us Paul talked on and on. There was a young man named Eutychus who was sitting in the window. As Paul went on and on the young man got tired, fell asleep and then fell out of the third story window to his death. Paul went down, bent over the young man, embraced him, and announced that the young man was not dead but very much alive. They all went back upstairs, ate the Lord’s Supper, Paul talked until dawn, and then he left.
Paul went by land to Assos while everyone else sailed there. He wanted to walk there alone. It was a journey of about 30 miles. Assos was a key city on the east coast of the Aegean Sea. Paul may have felt the need to spend some time alone with God to pray and reflect on what God wanted him to do. When Paul met up with the others it was clear he had received the guidance he had sought. Now he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem to deliver the offering taken by the Gentile churches for the suffering church in Jerusalem. Miletus was a major port on the western coast of Asia Minor at the mouth of the Meander River. It provided a place for Paul to meet briefly with the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul’s address to these elders takes up the remainder of chapter 20. This address is a testimony regarding Paul’s life and ministry in Ephesus, calling for a similar dedication from the leaders who would carry on the ministry. The message highlights Paul’s integrity and pastoral care, speaks about the future, warns against false teachers, and exhorts the elders to be watchful and faithful. Paul modeled sacrificial, conscientious, servant leadership. Paul also tells the Ephesians leaders that he is compelled to go to Jerusalem, not knowing what awaits him there. What he is sure of is that the Holy Spirit has been telling him in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. Many of us would turn tail and run but Paul set his face towards Jerusalem just as Jesus did in his last trip there. He tells the elders that his life is worth nothing if he does not finish the work God has set aside for him to do.
Paul refers to the church as God’s people and God’s flock. In other places the church is referred to as the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of the living God, a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession, God’s field, and God’s building. Paul expected the leaders to feed and shepherd the church in Ephesus over which the Holy Spirit had appointed them as leaders. There are always two distinct threats to the church, whether it was in Paul’s day or this day. One threat is from the outside…unbelievers who cause disruption. The other threat is from within, the arrogant and self serving. He spoke of false teachers, vicious wolves who would try to devour the flock. This did happen eventually, prompting Paul to write to Timothy some five years later. Paul left the Ephesians leaders with words of Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. This is not found in the gospels but Paul seems to have some knowledge of Jesus saying this. He prayed with these leaders he had grown to love and every one cried because they would not see Paul again. Sometimes ministry and being obedient to the Lord is just plain hard.n
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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