Paul's Third Missionary Journey - A lesson in how people respond to the Gospel
The book of Acts moves fairly quickly from one place to the next and it is easy to get the impression that all the events happened in a very short period of time.
But in reality this book covers a span of 32 years from the ascention of Jesus to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in about AD 62.
And his third missionary journey, a small part of which we will look at today spans a period of several years, with almost three years in Ephesus alone.
This was a spectacular time of ministry and we read in Acts 19:10 and Acts 19:20 that the Gospel message had spread widely throughout the whole province.
In fact the fame of the Apostle Paul and his message is actually attested to in Acts 19:26 by those who opposed the message because it had a negative impact on their business of selling idols.
There are so many twists and turns in the book of Acts that it is easy to miss them if you just read it through as one continuous story, which is something I actually encourage you to do.
But today I want us to focus on something a bit deeper in the text, rather than simply looking at the events I want us to learn some lessons by looking at the responses of different groups to the gospel message.
Because we are going to come across a range of responses and I believe that what we see in Acts 19 is indicative of what we will encounter in the world today.
So let’s look at how people responded to the gospel message and its influence in Acts 19
The first group we came across is a group who have an incomplete knowledge but are open.
In Acts 19:1-7 we read of twelve men who are described as believers.
But Paul’s line of questioning reveals to us that their knowledge is incomplete.
They did not know about the Holy Spirit, they did know about John’s Baptism and it is evident from the overall conversation that they knew something of Jesus.
The best understanding is that these men were followers of John the Baptist and knew something about Jesus but their knowledge was incomplete
In the 20 years since the ministries of John and of Jesus it would be very easy to see how the message of John the Baptist had spread and been accepted by many and that something of Jesus being seen as the one who fulfilled John’s prophecy had also spread but the fullness of the Gospel message had not.
Pentecost was many days after the resurrection.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was after the resurrection.
And in this province, far from Jerusalem we find men who have accepted John’s message, heard a little of Jesus but have missed the entirity of the Gospel call for repentance and personal faith accompanied by Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit.
They are what we might call pre conversion believers.
They know a little and are very favorable but haven’t actually received the message.
These are the sort of people who might have had some exposure to a positive experience of Sunday School or RI classess or perhaps a Christian children’s camp or youth group.
They have part of the story and see it all in a positive light but no one has every spent the time with them to share the entire Gospel story and the implications for their life.
They want to be good people, they have grasped the love your neighbour and God loves you part of the story but haven’t heard the part about personal faith in Jesus and repentance from sin.
Our responsibility is to show Jesus to them and how he completes the story.
Then there are those who have a religious foundation but nothing more and are inquisitive and respond positively
These are the people that Paul would often find in the synagogue or gathered for prayer by a river when there was no synagogue in town.
In his day the level of interest in the Messiah was very strong amongst the Jewish people.
So Paul capitalised on this and would show those who were part of the synagogue community that Jesus is actually the messiah and that they should put their faith in him.
Now this community was made up of ethnic Jews, Gentile converts to Judaism and God Fearers, those who liked the morality and theology of the Jewish faith but were not willing to convert to Judaism for various reasons.
This was usually a fertile ground for the early church as there were some amongst the synagogue community who were genuinely searching for a deeper relationship with God and were excited to hear that this was possible through Jesus the true Messiah.
In our time this group might be found in the enormous group of people who are “spiritual but not religious”
Or even amongst those who belong to other faiths, people who have a genuine heart to seek after God but don’t really know of Jesus apart from what little their own faith might teach.
Often they are very willing to discuss matters of faith and a gentle loving approach of hearing and being heard may well see them come to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, the one who fills the need they have been seekign to fill through their religious or spiritual practices.
The key is respectful dialogue, listening to what they believe, sharing what you believe and pointing them to Jesus.
Then there are those who are inquisative but become hardened and reject the message
Paul always remained in the synagogue for as long as possible but in every case I can think of opposition eventually arose.
Some people will always be offended when there is a challenge of personal repentance and it seems to me that this was primarily the objection that Paul encountered when he was preaching to the Jewish people.
The other key objection which Paul encountered was his emphasis that Gentle believers were free of the requirements of the Mosaic law.
In my experience a refusal to truly accept personal responsibility for sin and the need for repentance are often accompanied by a legalistic insistence on certain other requirements.
Ritual and legalistic observance of certain moral or religious practices is often a self righteous substitute for personal relationship.
Other people are judged as righteous or sinful against their complience with certain legalistic requirements.
Requirements that are arbitarily chosen by the self righteous person, whilst they refuse to see themselves as under judgement for their own legalism and unwillingness to extend the grace that Christ has to the person they judge.
This is the person who criticises others whilst ignoring the log in their own eye. (Matthew 7:3-4, Luke 6:41-42)
I like Paul’s response, he literally leaves them, in Acts 19:9 and in a previous instance in Acts 18:6 he shakes the dust from his clothes and goes elsewhere.
This is exactly the approach that Jesus advocated in Matthew 10
We don’t need to waste our time with legalistic people, instead we need to demonstrate the reality of Christ’s work in our lives by living out the Gospel of grace.
Next we come across those who are impressed by signs and wonders and those who seek power in the supernatural
In Acts 19:11 -20 we see three different but related accounts of supernatural activity.
And when ever we are dealing with the supernatural we need to ask a simple question to whom is the glory given.
In verse 11 the Lord gave Paul the power to perform miracles such that even a piece of clothing was seen as a sufficeint connection to the Apostle’s gift that healing would result.
Now we can wonder at this but we need to understand that people need to have a sense that there is some connection to the source of power in order to receive that power.
God doesn’t need a handkerchief to heal a person at a distance.
The Apostle Paul was given the power to heal by the Holy Spirit so he didn’t need the handkerchief either.
But the people seeking the healing needed some tangible object, just as the woman healed from the haemorrhage of blood in Luke 8:43 thought that just touching the garment of Jesus would be enough.
God will bring himself down to the level of people who struggle to comprehend in order to demonstrate his power and grace.
Isn’t that part of what the incarnation was about.
God coming down to humans in human form because we could’t grasp him otherwise.
In these cases the glory is given to God.
But the contrast is immediately evident in Acts 19:13
Travelling spiritual healers were then and are still now evident in many places.
In those days they would often recite long lists of any and every god or divinity in order to make sure that they covered all their bases.
Even pagan healers would use the Jewish names for God and in one papyrus, known as the Paris magical papyrus , it says ‘I adjure thee by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus’.
But these traveling healers, who Luke clearly identifies by their stage name the seven sons of Sceva, missed one important point.
Their purpose was not to glorify Jesus but themselves.
They did not have authority to act in the supernatural realm in the name of Jesus because they neither knew him nor sort to give all glory to him.
Read what happenend in Acts 19:15-16 “But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.”
All power and glory belongs to Christ, no one else.
These men were in it for their own fame and that is an enormous warning for us as it was for the entire city of Ephesus.
Verse 17 makes it clear that a solemn fear spread across the city and the name of Jesus was greatly honoured.
Whenever the gifts of the Holy Spirit are used it is only to be for the glory of God, never ourselves and never for profit or gain.
It is only ever about Jesus and his mission in this world.
When we see supernatural occurances in the name of Jesus we should look for a corresponding change of heart.
When the Holy Spirit is evident in power repentance, humility and thankfulness are to be expected.
Both for the one who receives the miracle and for those who witness it or hear genuine testimony about it.
That is precisly what occured in Acts 19:18-20 which tells us, “Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.”
When God does something miraculous the result is that people take notice and lives should change.
There is often a cost to that change and in this case it was financial, 50 000 peices of silver, a fortune.
Yet people gladly brought these books of enormous worth and burned them in a public bonfire.
Because as believers they realised that the occult has power and is evil.
They had seen or at least heard of what happened to those who messed with such things.
Now knew that all glory and power belongs to Christ.
They wanted to honour Christ and Christ alone, they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of an evil spirit saying , “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
The final group in this passage are those who stand to lose money when people turn to Christ.
Demetrius the silversmith had a thriving business and as more and more people turned to Christ he saw a threat to his wealth.
Its a very simple story and we see a similar reaction in many parts of the world.
In the great rivivals in places such as England and Scotland and Wales many tavens and gin shops went out of business as revival swept across the country.
Men would leave the coal mines of Wales witht heir weekly pay and instead of going straight to the pub and drink most of their wages away leaving little for the family they would go straight home and give the pay packet to their wife.
There was incredible social change.
It is said that England in particular avoided the terrors of revolution which swept across France because of the Wesleyan Revival.
In places where annimism reigns witch doctors often react with great violence to the Gospel because their power and influence will be lost if the tribe converts to Christ.
We know that when a large portion of a population turns to Christ that vice and corruption decline, standards of living lift through what is known as regeneration and lift.
Even without the influence of foregin mission organisatiosn Christian villages are often cleaner and more peaceful than those who haven’t accepted Christ.
Those who peddle in falshood, destruction and evil don’t respond well to the Gospel coming to their community because they see they will lose money.
In Acts 19:23 following we find that Demetrius is seeing that his manufacture of small idols to the goddess Artemis is under threat and he gathers all his workers and those in business in allied trades and basically starts a riot.
The temple to Artemis, also known by the Roman name Dianna, was as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—four times larger than the Parthenon at Athens.
The whole city economy was centred on this idol so people following a different God was a big deal.
If they no longer believed in the goddess they would stop worshipping and temple trade would decline and eventually collapse.
We see a similar reaction in our society.
Christianity is oppossed and the social influence of the church is resented because it represents a threat to those who peddle vice and destruction.
In Paul’s day the false gods were worshiped in temples.
Where are the false gods worshipped today
Perhaps in the temple to consumerism known as the large shopping mall.
Perhaps the stadium rock concert where the celebrity rock star is worshipped.
Perhaps the oinline betting App, where getting rich quick is prayed for.
Perhaps the nightclub or hook up App or porn channel where hedonism and physical pleasure are all consuming.
In Acts 19 we see many different responses to the Gospel, some are positive, many are not.
The question for us is simply this, how do we respond to the power of the Gospel, is it with humility and reverance for Christ and a desire to serve him and his mission or is it in some other way which denies his claim to all glory and power in our lives?