Ephesus-A Special Place (sermon text version)

Today’s passage of Scripture is all of chapter 19 and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Last week in the adventures of the early disciples known as the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul had just finished up his second missionary journey and checked back in at Antioch which was kind of like his home base. In the meantime, we saw ministry continuing with Aquila, Priscilla, and a very learned but equally humble Apollos whose education was furthered, completed, and his ministry empowered by good Christian friends back in Ephesus and Achaia.

Paul has finished checking in and now while Apollos heads over to Corinth, Paul travels along the interior road checking in with churches he’d planted along the way and arrives at Ephesus…again. God made it possible for Paul to return. templeartemisephesians.jpgEphesus would be a special place for Paul.

What types of places are special to you?

What makes them special?

Warren and I were just out in Oregon for our nephew’s wedding. Oregon is special to Warren because that’s where his whole family is now. But NJ has always been special because it’s where his family grew up. He learned to fish and hike trails in NJ, but he furthered his understanding of fishing and hiking in Oregon. Deep sea fishing instead of river fishing or lake fishing. He likes fishing so Oregon and NJ are special places to him.

Some places might be special because of the scenery like the beach we visit in Florida or my childhood vacations in Hayward or as a young mom, our camping vacations in the Big Horn National Forest. Special places maybe because of things that happened there. A guy I sat next to on the plane was former NFL—a guard for the Oakland Raiders. He said they lost to the Packers that year but he showed me his AFC championship ring and every person he talked to on the plane he began by asking them where they went to high school. High School was obviously more special to him than it is to me. I want to forget I ever went to high school.

Maybe places are special because of the people we love being there: kids, parents, or good friends.

Well, Ephesus was a special place for the Apostle Paul. His heart was bonded to the Ephesian believers and their hearts to his. But Ephesus was also a special place because of several major events that happened during 27 months of relatively peaceful ministry that Paul had there.

Ephesus was also a powerful place. It was a strategic center that had few equals in the world. It was home to the Temple of Artemis (Diana) which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was critical for trade given its important location as both land and sea trade routes. It ranked with Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Alexandria as an urban jewel because of its population and wealth, maybe declining a bit by the time of Paul, but important still.

And special because for Paul, what Ephesus represented was the opportunity to preach to multitudes in one place and have the effects noticed throughout the province of Asia. It did for Paul’s ministry what Peter’s speech at Pentecost did for the Jews. To those gathered, they witnessed God’s power and heard the Gospel truth and carried this to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire.

Yes, Ephesus was special. But it was also a difficult place for ministry because that’s how it often is when a city is rich, powerful, and influential. It was also difficult because of the prominent temple of Artemis and the strong grip of the occult on the minds and hearts of those residing there and those traveling through. In fact, an entire industry had been built around the temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. She was kind of a fertility god and the silversmiths there were kind of like a unionized workforce, a guild producing silver shrines for tourism. They were organized and vocal…and very protective of their income stream.

Let’s look at a few vignettes of this special place called Ephesus and make a couple of points regarding our ministry today. Beginning in Acts 19:1-7

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 baptized into 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.

The first vignette tells of some disciples who believed but had only a partial understanding of the Gospel. Paul completed their instruction by pinning their faith to Jesus Christ and baptizing them into His Name. They received the Holy Spirit and it was kind of a Gentile Pentecost…interestingly about 12 men in all, a picture of completion.

bibleWhat can we learn from this vignette? We all start somewhere. No one arrives from the womb with complete Bible knowledge. We all start somewhere and it’s not a sign of shame or stupidity to have incomplete faith. But it is important that we don’t become content with incomplete faith and rob ourselves of the power of the Spirit-filled life. Repentance of John’s baptism is where it starts, but in Christ Jesus, forgiveness is here and personal. The Holy Spirit is the same evidence here among the Gentiles as He was at Pentecost among the Jews and God-fearers present at that time. Were Peter and the other disciples believers before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost? Sure! But the Holy Spirit sealed it, just like here. We all start somewhere.

A second vignette is found in 19:8-12

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 the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

What can we learn from this vignette about God doing miracles through Paul? When dealing with the occult, those involved in witchcraft, and those in pagan religions—animistic ones that worship created things and believe there’s a spirit under every rock—miracles can be helpful. Miracles can reach these folks in a way that speaks especially to them.

I knew a guy in MN who had been rescued out of the occult and he lived out the careful caution we see in Paul. We don’t engage in the occult to reach them, but some people’s Christian gifting in the area of faith healing or other miracles will be a bridgehead to launch a ministry. Paul did this for 2 years so that everyone would hear the word of God. If Paul had done miracles and left, then the Gospel would have been sacrificed though Paul would have gained a fanatical following. Yes, God did miracles through Paul, but only as a means of bringing people along to hear the Gospel that saves. Paul did not engage in the occult.

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 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 I know about Paul, 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 honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced 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.

In this third vignette, we hear the strange story of the seven sons of Sceva. They were driving out evil spirits as Jews, but not as Christians. When they encountered the demon-possessed, they’d invoke the name of Jesus. One day, we’re told that the evil spirit answered them instead of coming out of the man. This story is creepy and really strange. The sons were beaten up and fled naked and bleeding after the guy who was possessed was used by the evil spirits to beat up these seven sons. People involved in the occult heard about it, the name of Jesus was honored and many believed, confessed their sins, and burned their magic scrolls.

What can we take home from this third vignette? The spiritual realm is nothing to mess with. We don’t dabble, play, or horse around with spiritual evil. It will not end well for the person doing this as seven sons can tell you. As Christians, we don’t drive out evil under our own power, but it is Christ in us whom the spirits know is God…and only our status as followers of Christ giving us the armor of God that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6 to protect us.

Don’t you find it interesting that (1) the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power (remember our cycle: Pure Church, Powerful Church, Growing Church) in such a context, but also (2) that many of the Apostle Paul’s writings about spiritual evil and the spiritual realm’s power and Christ’s superior power…are found in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians? Paul’s time there was formative both in his theology and in his wrestling with how to maintain godly ministry when facing a world filled with the occult.

One more thing we can take home from this story is that we’re unequal to the battle against spiritual evil on our own, but we’re better prepared to stand firm when we’re grounded in the Word of God. Study your Bible. It’s your best defense in a world going to hell in a hand basket.

A fourth vignette involves a riot that would be forever fixed in the mind of Paul. Cultures and economies and how they work would help Paul’s understanding of how to contextualize the Gospel, submit to authorities even pagan ones, and yet, how never to compromise the Gospel.

21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” 22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer. 23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” 28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. 32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

When peoples’ businesses are threatened by Christianity, the business leaders lash out. This competing god of Money cannot be overlooked. It had been Paul’s powerful preaching, his saying that gods of silver and gold are manmade and not real gods, that threatened the very livelihood of those http://article.wn.com/view/2012/06/17/los_angeles_riots_figure_rodney_king_dies_aged_47manufacturing shrines and souvenirs. Their whole tourism industry was built around the temple of Artemis of the Ephesians! If worship stopped there, if the prostitution stopped there, if the tourism stopped there, if the silver smiths stopped their work, the whole economy of Ephesus could collapse as lose its status as a center of culture and trade. It wouldn’t be too good financially for any of the people who profited from it. So they rioted. They formed a mob and went into the streets. Picture the riots in Detroit in 1967 or the 1992 riots in LA after the Rodney King verdict. Picture Ferguson and Baltimore. In Ephesus—an urban center of major trade and economics—these riots, for their day at least, might have looked like chants in the streets “Death to America” and burning US flags and torching American leaders in effigy.

Paul had wanted to appear before the crowd—what an opportunity to preach! But his fellow disciples and some people of influence who were friends of Paul wisely kept him hidden so that he could live to preach another day and write a chunk of the NT.

What can we take home from this riot? Well, we must be aware, as Christians, that our faith may put our business dealings and our economic futures in jeopardy. Chick-fil-A is facing this at the Denver airport. In the US, bakers of cakes, pizza shops, Little Sisters of the Poor, Hobby Lobby, wedding photographers, and a high profile court clerk in KY are all conscientious objectors to worldly things on account of their faith. We may pay a heavy economic toll, but it is a reality we must navigate with wisdom. We must hold to the truth anyway and trust God to get us through it. Money is a deceptive competing god. Very powerful! Economics, when tied to the government’s role in our lives, is something so powerful that it ought not to be underestimated in its pull on our lives.

Interestingly this riot vignette continues:

35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

The city clerk—who would be like a government representative—was looking out for Ephesus. These were changing times when local control was being usurped by an increasingly powerful centralized command-and-control center in the Roman Empire. The local official didn’t want word to get out that riots were ongoing because it might involve bringing in the feds, so to speak, and losing their autonomy. So this clerk appeals to their heritage and encourages them to avoid doing anything rash. The courts are open. It can be handled legally. There’s no reason to riot because these Christians (and even the Jews who wished to distance themselves from the Christians) aren’t doing anything that can’t be accommodated by the courts.

Luke went to great effort to demonstrate that Christians don’t need to fear rioters or authorities. In fact, Paul in his letter to the Romans (chapter 13) would state that very thing. Even legal challenges wouldn’t keep God’s work from moving forward. It lasted in Ephesus, from the time of Paul until the Greco-Turkish War of 1921-22 ended in the signing of Treaty of Lausanne. A population exchange was formalized in which the Christian population of Greeks, Armenians, and Nestorians were expelled from their native homeland to Greece and the Greek Muslims were transferred to Turkey, whose land now would include Ephesus.

Yet, Ephesus would be a special place to Paul. It would continue to be important to Christianity–Ephesus is one of the 7 Churches of Revelation formed during this 3rd missionary journey of Paul. Yes, Ephesus would be special because it represented the ongoing evangelization of all Asia during 27 months of relatively peaceful ministry. The Ephesian believers would grow to love Paul with a deep, abiding love as we’ll see shortly in our study of Acts and he would have a special heart for them. In this chapter of Acts we see why Ephesus was special. A lasting ministry detailing things we rarely see from Paul. Miracles. Dealing with the occult. A huge riot not as an opportunity lost, but recorded by Luke and ministering to us in a lasting way. The Gospel spread widely and grew in power. Yes, for all these reasons, Ephesus would be a very special place.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on September 3, 2015

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