February 12, 2023


Passage: Acts 19:1-41

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
— Acts 19:1-41, ESV

For the second time, Paul stays in one place for a long time, twice as long as the first time.  He served in Corinth for a year and a half, then in Ephesus for three years.  The only other lengthy stays he experienced during his ministry were in prison.

We learned much from Paul’s first pastorate about pastors and people.  Now we want to glean something from his second pastorate about the gospel and the great divide it creates.  Jesus said as much, what with all His talk about narrow and broad, sheep and goats, Heaven and Hell.  Paul’s preaching positions people perfectly into one place or the other, permanently.

The gospel brings about regeneration or reprobation.

Imagine yourself a citizen in first century Ephesus.  Like modern day Americans, you had it all.  The city was populous (over a quarter million residents), prosperous (the most important port city in Asia Minor), and panoramic (a sweeping mixture of culture, education, and religion).  What you would not have had, at least not wholesale before Paul came to town, was the gospel of Jesus Christ and a Christian church.

It is not that God, or god, or gods could not be found in Ephesus.  They were all there.  Most people found solace in the god of secularism and materialism, the almighty dollar, as do most people today.  Some believed in false gods, from Greco-Roman mythology or elsewhere.  But the monotheistic God, the true and living God of Holy Scripture, had adherents in Ephesus, too.

Paul had made a previous stop there, along with Pricilla and Aquila, but the gospel didn’t gain much traction, save for the conversion of the notable Apollos, who then took Paul’s place in Corinth.  A large synagogue was there, and Paul will get to it posthaste.  But the Apostle’s gospel ministry began with a dozen disciples of an almost forgotten figure, John the Baptist.

Remember John the Baptist as the last Old Testament prophet and the first New Testament preacher.  He baptized and introduced Jesus to the world, then died in doubt, leaving a subtle dichotomy between the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus.  Over twenty years after the deaths of John and Jesus, there were still a few followers of the former who did not know the latter.  To them, John had not yet decreased so that Jesus could increase.

I do not know how God judged the devout Jews who lived between the time of Christ and the destruction of the Temple.  I do not know how God judged the messianic followers of John the Baptist who had yet to find Jesus Christ in the hazy soteriological transition from Old Covenant to New.  But I do know how God judges people now.  If you seek salvation in any other name other than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will not find it.

So, along comes Paul, preaching the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ, to Baptists, to Jews, to Ephesians, to everyone.  What happened then is what happens now every time the gospel is preached.  People are either regenerated into Christians, bound for the promised land of Heaven; or, they are reprobated into hardened heathens, headed headlong for Hell.

The gospel, the telling of the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is the conduit by which the true and triune God gives salvation to the elect.  They are mysteriously chosen by God the Father, predestined to hear the preaching of God the Son, and when they do God the Spirit goes to work, regenerating the mind and heart to grant repentance and faith.

To be saved, you do not have to understand unconditional election or give a theological treatise on the Trinity.  You don’t even have to know who the Holy Spirit is at first (the Baptists, followers of John, didn’t, and most Baptists today still don’t).  You just have to walk in “the Way.”  You have to repent, believe, be baptized, join the church, and give absolute allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Twelve former followers of John the Baptist were regenerated, saved, Spirit-filled, granted eternal life.  Some from the synagogue became followers of Jesus by following Paul’s preaching about the kingdom of God.  People from all over Asia, bound to pass through Ephesus from time to time, heard the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, then were baptized into the church which would serve as the most significant body of Christ in the world for the next hundred years.

Praise God for Paul’s preaching of the gospel.  Praise God for the regenerating power of the the Holy Spirit.  Can you praise God?  You can, but only if you’ve been regenerated, or as Jesus put it, born from above.

What about those who are still down below?  What happens when a person hears the gospel and refuses to repent and believe?  They become stubborn, reprobate, hardened, indifferent to the only remedy for their sin.  Some mistake Jesus as a magic cure, use Him in the wrong way, and find out sooner (like the sons of Sceva) or later (like adherents to the prosperity gospel) that the end of using Jesus instead of following Jesus is disaster and destruction.

Paul’s preaching and pastoral work for a period of three years produced regeneration and reprobation in Ephesus.  A church was formed.  Opposition entrenched.  Legacies are left on both sides.  The legacies of regeneration and reprobation are reformation and rebellion.

The gospel results in reformation or rebellion.  

The gospel saves or hardens, and you can always tell the difference between the two.  Salvation always results in reformation, and an ongoing one at that.  Unbelief is rejection of God and rebellion against God, and the latter can be passive or aggressive.

We make much of The Great Reformation in our church, since we are a Reformed Baptist Church.  The motto of old needs to be heard now, Semper Reformada.  In in reality, every true church is a reformed and always reforming church, just as every Christian is a reformed and always reforming Christian.

Whether you like Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon, or not, every true Christian loves Jesus.  And Jesus is a Reformer!  He creates us in His image, but sin felled us, marred that image, separated us from God.  The gospel is required to regenerate, and when it regenerates, it reforms.

Through the gospel, God regenerates us as we have previously discussed, reforming that perfect image through justification.  Sin still besets us, so Jesus continues the reformation through sanctification, the Spirit and the word bringing conviction and constant reformation.  In glorification, when we go to be with the Lord, the reformation project will be complete.

In Ephesus we see a new people justified by faith in the gospel.  Then we see reformation.  The new Christians took stock of their lives and identified areas not compatible with Christian living, like certain practices and certain media and other things, and got rid of them.  This is reformation, constantly comparing your life and life choices with Holy Scripture, communing with the Holy Spirit in prayer in search of peace or correction, and getting rid of anything in your life that does not glorify God and communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Be careful here!  Avoid the extremes of legalism and licentiousness.  And know that reformation seeks not middle ground, but holy ground, and when you find it, live there.

Those who refuse to reform their lives according to the will and word of God, whether they have made any profession of faith in the gospel or not, prove to be false Christians, non-Christians, or anti-Christians, and none of those categories are good.

Prime among the people who rejected Paul’s preaching of the gospel in Ephesus are Demetrius and his union mob.  The gospel threatened their business of making items of worship to false gods.  They rejected the gospel, the rejection manifested itself in rebellion, and the rebellion nearly turned into a riot.  Only the relative sophistication of the city of Ephesus allowed the church to be established unscathed and Paul to escape unharmed.

The point is, however, if you value money, or vocation, or other gods, or anything else above the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot be Christian.  You have rejected the gospel no matter how many aisles you may have walked and prayers you may have prayed.  You are living in open rebellion against God.  Rebels are glamorized in this life and culture.  But, the end of life and lack of culture in Hell will not be so exciting for rebels, according to the Lord.

In this church, as in virtually every Christian church, you can see a cross.  We have one atop our steeple outside, above our baptistry inside, in front of our pulpit, all around in the stained glass windows.  We revere the symbol, the perfect symbol of Christianity, consisting if you will of two dividing lines.

The vertical line divides the earth and its humanity, the Christians and the non-Christians.  You can tell one by their regeneration and reformation, the other by their reprobation and rebellion.  The horizontal line divides up and down, Heaven and Hell.  The side of the line you are on in this life will determine the side of the line you are on in the life to come.

This is Paul’s preaching in his second pastorate.  This is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God.

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