Acts 19:1–22 . . .
“God’s Power in Ministering”
Our text today records the establishing of the church in Ephesus. In Paul’s day, it was a city of about 200,000, noted as a center for magic arts and especially for its Temple of Artemis, a multi-breasted goddess. This temple was the largest building in the world at that time, as long as a football field, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. God opened the door so Paul could enter this stronghold of Satan, enabling the church to be established so that “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (v. 20). In fact, “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia [Western Turkey today] heard the word of the Lord” (v. 10). It was probably during this period that the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 were established.
Every Christian longs for God’s church to be established and extended as his Word spreads mightily and prevails. Our text shows that for that to happen, there must be powerful evangelizing, empowering, and equipping. The church must preach the gospel and be empowered through God’s Spirit, while pastor-teachers must equip the saints for the work of ministering. All this and more was happening in Ephesus.
How does God display his power in and through our spiritual lives? Luke answers that question for us in today’s passage. As he describes Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus, he highlights four ways in which God displays his mighty power spiritually. They're all seen in the context of ministry: (1) baptizing in the Holy Spirit, (2) preaching, (3) healing, and (4) exorcism. Let’s take a closer look at each element of God's power in ministering!
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit (19:1–7)
God’s power is revealed through the baptism in the Holy Spirit. As Paul embarked upon his third missionary journey, he crossed through Cilicia, Lyconium, and Asia, visiting and encouraging the churches that he planted on previous journeys until he reached the city of Ephesus. After briefly preaching there on his way home from his second missionary journey, he made good on his promise to return “if it is the Lord’s will" (18:21). Apollos had already left Ephesus and landed in Corinth.
Upon entering Ephesus he encountered twelve men who were disciples of John the Baptist. Discerning that they had some kind of knowledge about Jesus, he asked them if they'd received the Holy Spirit when they believed. In reality, they didn't even know that the Holy Spirit had been made available. This response compelled Paul to dig deeper into their spiritual background by asking which baptism they received; they affirmed that they'd only received John’s preparatory baptism of repentance. Hence, Paul filled them in on all of the works of Jesus, giving them a more robust explanation of the gospel, including the events of Pentecost. When they gained a fuller understanding of the Christian faith, they believed, and Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus. God’s power was clearly displayed when Paul laid his hands on them; they received the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal fashion, immediately speaking in tongues they prophesied. Through baptism and the laying on of hands, God’s incredible power was manifested by tongues and prophecy.
These Ephesian disciples had only a basic understanding of the Messiah Jesus and his ministry, only what could be gained through the message of John the Baptist. They were in the same place as Apollos before Aquila and Priscilla explained and taught him about the way of God more accurately (18:24–26).
Just as he'd done on the day of Pentecost and here with these twelve men, today God baptized people with the Holy Spirit the moment of conversion. When each of us truly becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit begins to live inside us, giving us at least one spiritual gift and supernaturally empowering us to make a hearty effort to carry on Jesus’ work in this world. Water baptism is an outward symbol of the internal baptism of the Holy Spirit.
During this time, Paul wrote his letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians while in the city of Ephesus; 1 Corinthians has much to say about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. [You can find Warren's Hearty Boys weekly commentaries of 1 and 2 Corinthians here].
Preaching (vv. 8–10)
God’s power is also revealed through preaching. After that initial encounter with the twelve, Paul eventually left the synagogue and began teaching in a borrowed school building. He had an extended time of preaching in the synagogue, but the influence of the Jews who rejected his message drove him out. He then resumed his teaching in the hall of a Gentile teacher named Tyrannus.
For three months, Paul labored to persuade Israelites of the truth about the kingdom of God, i.e., all that's implied in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the crowd at the synagogue became obstinate and refused to put their faith in Jesus, he left them and their open ridicule, taking the believing people and setting up shop in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, who could very well have been a lecturer who taught there; it's also possible that he was the building owner who rented it to Paul in the afternoon when it wasn’t used for its regular function. Paul most likely spent his mornings and evenings working at his tent fabrication trade, spending his afternoons preaching the gospel to all who'd listen.
In v. 10, Luke presents astonishing detail. For two full years, Paul carried on his preaching ministry in Ephesus. God revealed his power through it in that everyone in the province of Asia — Jews and Greeks — heard the Lord's word. God displayed his power through Paul’s preaching! From Ephesus, the word of the Lord spread all over the area. Most likely all seven churches of Asia that Apostle John highlights in Revelation were founded at this time. This province was intensively evangelized. It remained one of the leading centers of Christianity for many centuries.
Healing (vv. 11–12)
God’s power is revealed through healing. In vv. 11–12, Luke summarizes how God displayed his power through Paul’s ministry of healing. Notice that Luke attributes these most-unusual miracles to God, not Paul. Note that these were extraordinary miracles; we shouldn't expect God to continue using this method to bring healing. And if it hadn’t been for God’s divine power, Paul wouldn’t have been able to heal the sick or drive out demons. The extraordinary character of these miracles is seen in the fact that Paul wasn’t even present for some of those healings. Simple handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul proved effective in curing the sick. God’s power was greater than anything that the people of Ephesus had ever encountered. Their own magicians and sorcerers couldn't conjure up any displays of such magnitude. We don’t really know how this worked, other than the same way that the shadow of Peter (Acts 5:15) or the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 14:34–36) might heal: The item became a point of contact by which a person released faith in Jesus becoming his or her healer. This miraculous healing account is reminiscent of the woman who'd been bleeding for twelve years but was instantly cured of it when she touched the edge of Jesus' cloak (Matt. 9:20–22; Mark 5:24b–34; Luke 8:42b–48). Similarly, God’s power is again displayed through healing.
Today, all over the world we continually read about and personally witness miraculous healings. Sure, many times God uses doctors and medication to heal people, but there are other times when he steps in, defies the laws of logic and science, and heals people from all sorts of physical and psychological ailments. God continues to display his power through healing.
Exorcism (vv. 13–22)
We also see God’s power being revealed through exorcism. At the end of v. 12, Luke alludes to the fact that, throughout Ephesus, Paul was performing exorcisms and delivering people from demonic spirits. In vv. 13–20, he gives us a more detailed glimpse of how God’s power is displayed through exorcism: There were seven brothers, all sons of Sceva the chief priest, who no doubt witnessed some of Paul’s exorcisms; even though they didn't believe his message or become followers of Christ, they were impressed by his spiritual power; they went around trying to exorcise evil spirits, imitating Paul by invoking the name of the Lord Jesus with each effort.
At that time, Jewish exorcists practiced their trade with a lot of superstition and ceremony. In our text we see a group of itinerant Jewish exorcists who attempted to imitate what they thought was Paul’s formula for success. One day the seven brothers tried to exorcise a demon from a man the way Paul had done, but the demon within answered them saying, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” . . . The demon exposed the men for the impostors they were, and the possessed man jumped on the seven brothers and beat them to a naked, bloody pulp. They were lucky to escape the house with their lives; the demon had been supplied with supernatural strength to have been able to pummel seven men.
When news of this event spread throughout the city, everyone was gripped with fear. But the name of the Lord Jesus gained more respect and credibility. This prompted a massive event of public confession where many of those who practiced sorcery and magic publicly burned their books and scrolls, which were filled with magic charms, amulets, and incantations, known well in Ephesus and extremely valuable. The value of fifty thousand drachmas (NIV) or pieces of silver (NKJV) today has been estimated at anywhere between $4 million and $5 million.
Luke marks this incredible display of power with a summary statement in v. 20: "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power." God’s power being displayed through exorcism demonstrates that the end result was obviously worth it all. The work in Ephesus and the region of Roman Asia continued in a remarkable way. Sometime after this, Paul decided to return to Jerusalem before traveling to Rome.
- Q. 1 What is it that signals Paul to stop teaching in the synagogues?
- Q. 2 If you were one of Sceva's sons, what would you say about Jesus after being jumped by the evil spirit in v. 16?
- Q. 3 What do you need to confess and then "burn" in order to live for Christ Jesus? What will it cost you?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 19.]
† Watch the video clip of Acts 18:12–19:40, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Paul in Ephesus
19 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and 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.”
3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
4Paul 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.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.
8Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9But 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. 10This 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.
11God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so 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.
13Some 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 the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16Then 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.
17When 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. 18Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19A 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. 20In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
21After 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.” 22He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.