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PAUL IN EPHESUS

Acts 19:1-19:40
Key Verse: 19:20

So far we studied about Paul in Athens and in Corinth. In Athens he saw so many idols and was greatly distressed. Then he delivered the comprehensive gospel message that includes God’s creation and Jesus’ resurrection and his judgment. In Corinth he fought a fierce battle against the pride and immorality of the Corinthians by depending the Spirit’s power, testifying that Jesus is the Christ, the power and wisdom of God for the salvation of perishing mankind. In last lesson Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul had left in Ephesus, invited Apollos to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. Through Priscilla and Aquila's influence, Apollos was changed from merely teaching about Jesus to proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Thus Priscilla and Aquila were an excellent spiritual coworkers’ family to Paul. In today’s passage, we see Paul’s active gospel work in Ephesus.

First, baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus (1-7). Look at verse 1. “While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus.” While Apollos was doing God’s work in Corinth, building upon Paul's pioneering there, Paul arrived at Ephesus. Last time Paul had come to Ephesus crossing the Aegean sea from Cenchrea in Achaia. Now he came back through inland to Ephesus. It was as he had said, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Ephesus was a harbor city on the western coast of Asia Minor. It was home to the temple of Artemis, the fertility goddess. This temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Around this temple swarmed tradesmen and prostitutes who made their living from the temple business.

There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy and peace. Probably Paul saw that they were sad and dejected, although they were sincere. At this they answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” The topic seems to shift suddenly from the Holy Spirit to baptism. Yet, these are closely related. “John’s baptism,” they replied. Then what did Paul say? Look at verse 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, Jesus.’” It is true that John preached the baptism of repentance in the desert and at the same time he revealed Jesus to the people of Israel as the forerunner of the Messiah. According to the gospel of John, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” He said continually, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn 1:29-31). Here Paul turned their attention from John to Jesus, whom John the Baptist had introduced.

Look at verse 5. “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.” So far we can note two baptisms, John’s baptism and baptism into the name of the Lord Jesus. John’s baptism, which is the baptism of repentance, is important. Without repentance no one can come to God. But John’s baptism cannot save people. Only baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus can. Being baptized into the name of Jesus is more than a mere ceremony of being baptized with water. It is to accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord and to publically declare it. In verses 6 and 7 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. They were about twelve men in all.

The souls baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus are so precious and they are truly blessed ones. In these souls the Holy Spirit comes and dwell. All people need to be baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Last Monday a baby called the “Royal Baby” was born. It was a highly broadcasted event. Many people seemed to consider this event as special, but there were also other people who regarded the birth of the royal baby as one of 370,000 births of that day. People might expect that this royal baby would grow differently from all other babies and might become really a Royal One for mankind. But the truly Royal Baby was born over 2,000 years ago, and he was born in a manger. He grew up to be a man of sorrow and familiar with suffering. He died on the cross for man’s sins and rose again from the dead. He was proved to be the heavenly Prince, the Son of God and the Christ. It is undeniable that someday the so called royal baby, who was born on July 23, 2013, also has to be baptized someday into the name of the Lord Jesus. Otherwise, his life would be very pitiful and miserable, despite his royal family background.

This is the reason the risen Jesus commanded to his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the three persons are one. Those who are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus are born of God and of the Spirit (Jn 1:13; 3:5). They are born into the family of God. They are not under the spirit of the prince of this world, but the Holy Spirit, that is the Spirit of Christ (Eph 2:3; Jn 14:30; 16:11; Ro 8:9). In the Spirit they can have communion with God the Father in heaven through prayer and they can have eyes to see what’s going on in the world and interpret the events in the light of God’s word and have hope for the future, for they know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Those who are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus are truly blessed people. (The norm of Christian experience is a cluster of repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit). We praise God for this wonderful grace. We must bear this grace and grow in it. Then how can we grow?

Second, daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (8-21). Look at verse 8. “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” This congregation included the twelve men who were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus and many others. Paul spoke boldly about the kingdom of God for three months. The kingdom of God is the place where God rules. God rules in hearts of those who are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Also, there is the kingdom of God beyond this world, beyond our life on earth. Jesus once said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). The kingdom of God must be preached to all those who are immersed into this perishing world. The kingdom of God is the ultimate hope of mankind and the final destination of all believers. The kingdom of God so occupied Paul’s heart and mind that he persuasively argued about the kingdom of God for three months.

Then what happened? Look at verse 9. “But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way.” Here we see, step by step, the downgrading of the people: first a stubborn and hardened heart, and then refusing to believe, and finally, public maligning of the Way. Believing is the matter of heart and personal unbelief develops to public malign. What did Paul do at this? So Paul left them. Paul knew when to preach and when to leave. Leaving the obstinate people at the right time is also important. After leaving them, Paul took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Leaving the obstinate people and taking the disciples make a good contrast. Amid the disbelieving people, the disciples were so precious. They had to be protected and well taken care of. So Paul took them with him, separating the disciples from the obstinate people in KJV. While on earth Jesus took care of his twelve disciples so well. Jesus once said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mt 16:6); “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” (Mk 8:15). Jesus wanted to protect his disciples from the religious and political and worldly influence of that time. Before his cross he prayed for them that Holy Father might protect them from the evil one and sanctify them by the truth of God’s word (Jn 17:15,17).

Paul took the disciples with him and formed a good spiritual vessel. They were worthy of Paul’s time and effort as those who followed Paul in the hostile environment of strong objection against him. Paul gave his heart and time for their discipleship. He had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. It was like having intensive Bible study daily. It was done in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, which was different from synagogue. Paul rented the lecture hall of Tyrannus. The Tyrannus school was used for lessons of philosophy. From 11 am – 4 pm, in the heat of the day, these rooms were empty. So Paul rented these rooms for it was the perfect time and place for Bible study. This went on for two years. One Ph. D. student said that he had to read 6 hours a day for his Ph.D. study. A pianist said that she had to play the piano at least 6 hours a day to reach a certain level. We know that an athlete also goes through a rigorous training each day for competition. These examples show the importance and power of daily practice and daily discipline both in the physical world and in academic world. It is also true in the spiritual world. God gave the Israelites daily bread training in the wilderness for forty years. They had to get up early in the morning to gather manna every day, except the Sabbath day. It was to depend on God for the food provision daily and to obey him, gathering as much as they needed, not greedily, and keeping the Sabbath, for he would give twice of the portion on the previous day that would be spoiled though kept one day. It went through forty years in their wilderness life. Later on when Moses reflected this event, he said that it was to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Dt 8:3). I wondered how the former slave people would become the mighty worries in the book of Joshua to conqueror Canaanites. One undeniable reason was that they received the discipline through daily bread for forty years. We believe that Jesus’ disciples went through daily intensive Bible study with Jesus for three years. And this must have been the basis for them to be the spiritual leaders to succeed to the work of Jesus after his departing the world.

As for disciples daily Bible reading and daily bread eating while having quiet time with Lord are significant. How long we spend in this quiet time depends on each one’s relationship with the Lord. While our fellowship with the Lord cannot be mechanical, it requires discipline. So Paul said to Timothy, “…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things” (1 Tim 4:7-8). And then he said, “…devote yourself to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (4:13). A Psalmist said that the bless man is the one whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Ps 1:2). This teaches the importance of continuous meditation on God’s word for fruitful life. God said to Joshua who was going to a war, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Jos 1:8). One needs to continuously meditate on the word of God for the successful and victorious life in God.

As for us, we also have weekly Bible study through Sunday worship service. I am surprised and impressed that university students finish one course or a certain textbook, however thick the book, through weekly lecture--once or twice a week in a semester. This is a kind of wisdom for the students to study, the wisdom of having the continuous and faithful study. I believe that Christians’ Sunday worship is also God’s wisdom. Of course, worship service is to worship God purely and wholeheartedly and thus glorify God. Also, we can have a deep weekly Bible study through the message in worship service and then finish a certain book in the Bible for a period of time. After having Bible study and hearing message, we write Bible reflection or testimony. Sunday passage in the Bible we study each week is deep. Studying and hearing the message is not enough. Each person should go deeper and sink into the passage through testimony writing. Because of the depth of the words of God, the spending of one or more hours in doing so is a worthy investment. Those who consider Bible testimony writing more significant than essay or any paper writing, pouring out their heart and thought and time on it accordingly, they will be sufficiently reward and blessed. We ask God for further faithful and intensive Bible study on a personal level and also on the ministry level.

Then what was the result of Paul’s daily intensive Bible study with the disciples? Verse 10 says, “…all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” We believe that this includes the powerful work of God’s word in the hearts of the disciples and through them. The mighty work of God was done through their steadfast and intensive Bible study. The concrete events of the powerful work of God were written in verses 11-19. Illnesses were cured and evil spirits left by even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul. Those who tried to copy Paul’s driving out demons in the name of Jesus were greatly humiliated and ruined. The name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour in the province of Asia. People openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly, the total value of which was fifty thousand drachmas $100 * 50,000 = 5,000,000).

Then Luke commented in verse 20. “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” In Acts, this is a significant comment. When the apostles decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word at the problem of waiting on tables, it was written, “the word of God spread and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (6:7). When Peter came out of the prison led by an angel of the Lord through the prayer of the church and Herod was struck down to death also by an angel of the Lord, it was also written, “the word of God continued to increase and spread” (12:24). When in Paul’s first missionary journey the Jews in Pisidian Antioch talked abusively against him and Paul declared to turn to the Gentiles, again it was written, “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (13:49). Here Luke wrote, “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” Particularly, “the word of the Lord grew in power” was added. Here we can clearly see that the work of God is done through the word of God. This is one clear teaching of Acts, furthermore of the whole Bible.

The work of God in Ephesus, done by the word of the Lord, gave Paul a great vision. He said in verse 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.’” Then he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia. It was to collect offerings for their poverty-stricken sisters and brothers in Judea, and thus to repay their spiritual debt. And Paul stayed in the province of Asia a little longer, because a great door for effective work had opened before him, and many were opposing him (1 Cor 16:9). Both the opportunity and the opposition necessitated his continued presence in Ephesus.

Third, a great disturbance about the Way (23-41). Look at verse 16. “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.” While there was a great work of God going on about the Way, that is Christ Jesus, there arose a great disturbance in Ephesus. It was because of some people’s declining business and, supposedly, the declining influence of the great goddess Artemis and the temple of Artemis. The crowd gathered in a theater that could accommodate at least 25,000 (nestling at the foot of Mount Pion). Luke wrote that “the assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (32). And then at one point they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” This is the exact expression of their ignorance about the Way, that is, the Lord Jesus. There is a sharp contrast between their emotional, momentary shouting for their great goddess Artemis, and the disciples’ steadfast intensive Bible study of the Way. Even Christians’ belief can be like their shouting if they neglect sincere and wholehearted Bible study.

The city clerk quieted them 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?” At this, their pride as Ephesians was boosted. And the clerk emphasized that things must proceed orderly and legally. Afterward the assembly was dismissed. In this way God protected Paul and the gospel work in Ephesus.

We thank and praise God for the baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and coming of the Holy Spirit. In this grace may we grow as disciples of Jesus through faithful and devoted Bible study so that the word of God may grow in power in us and through us.

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