A Church Mighty in the Word
A CHURCH MIGHTY IN THE WORD
If you have the Word of this God, and I hope you do, let me invite you to open to Acts 18 as we continue to study this picture of a church that can't be stopped, with a gospel that can't be stopped, following a God who cannot be stopped.
What we’re going to do, today, is we’re going to look at Paul’s third missionary journey. Last week, we finished after a couple years in Corinth. Paul traveled back to Antioch in Acts 18:22. Antioch was his home base, so he stayed a little while there. Then, as we’re about to read in verse 23, he leaves Antioch for the third time...Acts 13, Acts 16, and now, in Acts 18, he’s going to leave for the third time, and this time, he is not going back to Antioch. So, this is the last time he leaves out. We’ll talk more about that over the next couple of weeks.
What I want is to see is the beginning and, really, the thrust of Paul's missionary journey, his third missionary journey, revolving around the city of Ephesus. We’re going to see Paul spend about three years total there, and the text we’re going to read today is going to bring up some interesting questions: the kind of questions that can lead to a variety of misunderstandings about what Scripture is teaching. So, as I was studying this text this week and praying through what the Lord is teaching us, I want us to spend some time thinking about, first, what the Lord is not teaching us through these texts, and then what the Lord is teaching us. So, there are four sections we’re going to think about, and each section, you’ll notice, I want us to see what the Bible isn’t teaching us in that section of Scripture, and then what the Bible is teaching us.
So, we’re going to do things a little different. We’re going to dive into some issues, like baptism of the Holy Spirit and casting out demons and facing opposition, and then, we’re even going to talk about falling asleep in church, so stay awake. You don’t want to miss that one. So, sound good?
What we’re going to do is what we’ve done a variety of weeks during Acts, and we’re going to read and pause along the way and think about these different sections. Just to give you a heads-up, we’re going to camp out pretty concentrated on the first two; the last two we’ll fly through.
So, Acts 18:23: “After spending some time there...” they’re in Antioch, “...he departed...” Paul departed,
...and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Keep going into Acts 19 with me.
And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 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.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 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.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.
“And he...” Paul,
...entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 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. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Let me encourage you to underline verse 10. That's quite a statement. For two years, he preached every day in this public hall. For two years. Most scholars think that that was happening probably from about 11:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon. So, for two years, day after day after day, he is reasoning from the Scriptures in this hall. Verse 10 says “all the residents of Asia...” that’s a lot of people. All of them “heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”
Then, you get down to verse 20. Maybe underline this verse, too, Acts 19:20. It says, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” I want you to underline those two verses, because this is really the thrust of what's happening in Ephesus. Paul is speaking the Word for a few years there, two years at that point in verse 10, and we’ll see about a year after that. He’s speaking the Word of the Lord, and the Word is prevailing and increasing mightily. A church mighty in the Word. This is my prayer for us: that the Word would prevail mightily among us, especially when we think about issues that we’re about to talk about: baptism of the Holy Spirit, casting out demons, these sorts of things.
If we’re not careful, we can let our opinions and even our experiences trump the Word of God and begin to inform how we understand theology more than God’s Word. So, we want God’s Word to prevail mightily in our minds, in this church, when we think about important issues in Christianity. Then, on a deeper level, our prayer is that the Word would prevail mightily through the church: that from this place the Word would spread out and be proclaimed. It says here “all the residents of Asia,” so all the residents of Birmingham hear the Word of the Lord because of what’s going on here.
The Word and the Holy Spirit …
So, with that picture, I want us to think about the Word and the Holy Spirit first. What does this passage that we just read teach us about the Holy Spirit? A little background: what you have is Apollos here at the end of Acts 18, a Jew from Alexandria who comes, and it says in verse 24 that “he was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.” Some translations say “mighty in the Scriptures.” So, here’s a man who knew the Word, and he started preaching there in Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla noticed that, yes, he was teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, but there was some of what he was teaching that was a bit off. So, Priscilla and Aquila come aside and show him the Word. He responds, he is teachable, and so he responds favorably to that. He continues preaching, and then they send him off to Corinth, where now he’s preaching. You see Paul mention this in his letter to the Corinthians. Remember 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul talks about how he planted there in Corinth, and who watered? Apollos watered. The Lord gave growth. So, it’s this picture; that’s the Apollos that’s mentioned there.
Then, when you get into Acts 19, Paul arrived in Ephesus. When he gets there, he encounters these disciples...ironically, twelve of them...and he asks them, “Did you ever see the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They say, “No, we’ve not even heard there is a Holy Spirit.” So, they start having this conversation about baptism as it relates to the Holy Spirit, as it relates to Christ; and the result is the Spirit comes on them, and they begin speaking in tongues and prophesying.
What the Bible isn’t teaching …
So, what does this teach us or not teach us about the Holy Spirit? Well, what the Bible is not teaching here is that, after you come to faith, you need to be baptized by or in or with the Spirit. Many people take this passage and a few others like them, like this one in Acts, and say that, “After you become a Christian, after you believe, at another point in time, you should seek to be baptized in the Spirit. You want to be baptized with the Spirit.” There are many who identify themselves as Christians in theology. Without going into details, even very prominent churches around us, here, would say that you should, as a Christian, seek a second baptism by the Spirit or in the Spirit or with the Spirit; various churches who will lay hands on someone and pray for that person to be baptized in the Spirit and wait for some response. Some will say that that the response needs to be speaking in tongues, and you don’t have the fullness of the Spirit unless you have spoken in tongues. So, as a result, many Christians talk about a second baptism: baptism in the Spirit. I’m guessing there are some here who have had experience along those lines, who would say, “I’ve received a baptism in the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion, after conversion.”
I had a good friend in college that we would meet together just about every week for lunch, and we were constantly on this issue, and he was constantly telling me that he was praying that I would receive a second baptism. He would say, “David, I want more than anything for you to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.” So, I would say to him, “Good news, bro. I have been. When I was saved, so, I’ve already got Him,” I would tell him. Or more appropriately, “He’s already got me.”
What the Bible is teaching …
So, what is the Bible teaching here? Not that we need to be baptized with/in/by the Spirit at some subsequent time after conversion. The Bible teaches that baptism by/in/with the Spirit occurs at conversion, that when you place your faith in Christ, the Spirit of God comes to dwell in you. You're baptized by/with/in the Spirit at the point of salvation.
Let me show this to you: 1 Corinthians 12. Turn a couple books to the right to 1 Corinthians 12, and while you’re turning there, let me mention this...we’re not going to have time to turn to all these places, but you might write some of them down...there are seven times in the New Testament where we see “baptism with the Spirit” or “baptism in the Spirit” or “baptism by the Spirit” mentioned. Seven times. Four of those times are the in the Gospels, when John the Baptist talks about Jesus’ baptism being a “baptism in the Spirit.” They’re the same story, just repeated four times: once in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8...Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8...Luke 3:16, and John 1:33. Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33...parallel accounts that are talking about John the Baptist, saying that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. So, that’s four.
The next two times that we see “baptism with the Spirit” mentioned are references to Pentecost, what happened in Acts 2. Acts 1:5, Jesus uses this phrase: “You’ll be baptized in the Spirit, with the Spirit...” when He’s telling them what’s going to happen at Pentecost. In Acts 1:5, before He ascends into heaven, He says, “You’ll be baptized with the Spirit,” Acts 1:5. Then, you get to Acts 11:16, and that’s a reference to how the disciples were baptized with the Spirit at Pentecost.
So, you have four talking about John the Baptist and talking about how Jesus will baptize you with the Spirit; then you’ve got two instances in Acts, both referring to what happens at Pentecost. Then, this mention right here in 1 Corinthians 12:13. We’ll start in verse 12. This is the only other reference to baptism with/by/in the Spirit. Look at verse 12. Paul is talking to the church at Corinth, and he’s just planted the second missionary journey. “For just as the body is one and has many members,” Paul says, “and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul is telling these Christians that they were baptized in the Spirit when they became members of the body of Christ, i.e. when they became Christians.
Outside of this, there is no other time in the New Testament where baptism in/by/with the Spirit...that language is even used. You have other language, like we’re “the temple of the Holy Spirit...” 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16...talking about how we’re God’s temple and His Spirit dwells in us. Ephesians...what Paul later writes to this church in Ephesus...Ephesians 1:13-14 talks about how the Spirit seals us; there’s a seal in us. Then, you’ve got Romans 8:9 that talks about how all Christians have the Spirit of Christ living in them. Not half the Spirit, a quarter of the Spirit, but the Spirit of Christ living in them. So, Scripture clearly equates baptism by/in/with the Spirit with something that happens at conversion that applies to all Christians.
Now, that brings up a couple of questions, then. What about Pentecost? Obviously, those disciples who received the Spirit, as Jesus said, were baptized in the Spirit in Acts 2, obviously, they were believers before. So, they were believers in Christ who had not been baptized with the Spirit. Jesus had told them to wait to be baptized with the Spirit, and this is where we remember...and that’s a good question: What about Pentecost? This is where we remember that this is the story of how the early church began, and not everything in the book of Acts that we are reading...and we’ve talked about this along the way...is intended to be normative, setting the stage for what it ought to look like all the time from here on, because this is a pretty unique time in redemptive history. Jesus’ disciples were living in a time of covenant transition, a very unique time in redemptive history, very different than the time that we are in today.
You think about it. Follow this with me: covenant transition between Old Covenant to New Covenant. Regarding Jesus, they understood the new covenant. They had seen Jesus live, die on a cross, rise from the grave, and so they believed in Christ, the one who had paid the price for sins. By the time you get to Acts 2, they had seen Him ascend into heaven, an ascended Messiah. But follow this: regarding the Spirit, they still were living up until Acts 2 in the Old Covenant, meaning they had an incomplete experience of the Spirit. This is what Jesus had promised. He said, “I’ll send my Spirit once I go to the Father.” That’s the whole point in John 14, 15, and 16. It’s this whole point in Acts 1: “You will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you.” Then, a couple verses later, He’s ascending into heaven, setting the stage now for Acts 2, the Spirit to come down.
So, in that time, an intermediate time, a very unique time after Jesus had risen from the grave and ascended into heaven, before the Spirit had been sent by Christ, there’s this unique time in here where the disciples, though they knew who Jesus was and had believed in Jesus and been saved by Christ from their sins, the Spirit had not been sent from the ascended Messiah, so they were still living in anticipation of what Ezekiel 36...Ezekiel 37...had prophesied, what Jesus had talked about in John 3 and John 14, and 15, and 16. So, they were waiting.
So, here’s the picture: at Pentecost, disciples with an Old Covenant experience of the Spirit became disciples with a New Covenant experience of the Spirit. This was very unique, what happened in Acts 2, and after that, Peter stands up and preaches, and he says, “Repent and be baptized, and you’ll receive the Holy Spirit” when? Right then. “Repent, be baptized. You’ll receive the Spirit. You don’t have to wait later, until some other time. No. The Spirit has been sent. You repent, you receive the Holy Spirit.” That is the picture the New Testament carries on after that, as we’ve talked about. When you repent of your sins, turn and trust in Christ, you receive the Holy Spirit.
The next question is, “What about other second baptisms in Acts, like we’re talking about here in Acts 19?” We’ve seen a couple of others. Turn with me, now, back to Acts 8. Let me show you the other two instances that people would point to. Act 8, verse...we’ll start in verse 12, okay? If you remember the context here: Stephen is stoned at the end of Acts 7. The disciples are scattered from Jerusalem, and they start to go to Samaria. Listen to the story. Acts 8:12. This is in Samaria.
When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
So, there we’ve got a picture where it certainly seems like you’ve got people who believe in Christ, and then the Holy Spirit comes upon them at a later point.
The other passage...so, hold onto that in your mind. The other passage is two chapters later in Acts 10:44...what we read about when it comes to Cornelius, and it talks about the Holy Spirit falling on the Gentiles. Acts 10:44 says, “While Peter was still saying these things...” so, he was preaching,
… the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
So, both of these pictures...the Holy Spirit coming down in these ways...in addition to what we’re talking about here in Acts 19, how do we understand these?
Well, first, I want you to notice something. None of these experiences...Acts 8, Acts 10, Acts 19...none of these experiences mention baptism by the Spirit or in the Spirit or with the Spirit. None of them are using that terminology, so that would be an unbiblical way to describe what we just read. Instead...and again, I want you to see this is very important here, how we’re seeing the church usher in this new era in redemptive history. We can’t miss this. The New Covenant realization of the Spirit is simply following the advancement of the gospel to new territory, parentheses Acts 1:8.
Let me explain. Do you remember Acts 1:8? When Jesus promised, “You’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses”, this gospel is going to go from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. So, this is a picture: the gospel is going to go from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth. So, in these instances where we have these unique, unusual manifestations of the Spirit, where does it happen? First in Jerusalem, Acts 2; next in Samaria, Acts 8; and then, when the gospel goes for the first time to the Gentiles, to the ends of the earth, Acts 10.
You’ll notice we don’t see the same picture in Antioch. We don’t see the same picture in Lystra or Derbe or Iconium or all of these other different places. No, you see this clearly following what Jesus had promised the Spirit would do, and you’ll notice in both of those instances, in Acts 8 and Acts 10, when the Spirit went to Samaria, and when the Spirit went to the Gentiles, the church sent leaders there to verify what was going on. “Is the gospel really going to Samaritans? Is the gospel really going to Gentiles?” The way God made it clear that, “Yes, this was the plan of the Spirit, to take the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth,” was with this picture; this unusual, unique manifestation of the Spirit of God. Then, after those instances, we don’t see this happen again.
Now, you come to Acts 19, you say, “Well, what about here?” Well, the reality is here Paul gets to these guys. You even hear it in his question, what he asked. Now, we’re back in Acts 19:2, and Paul says to these so-called disciples, he says, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This implies that they should have received the Holy Spirit when they believed. He expects them to have the Holy Spirit, but they don’t have the Holy Spirit and they’re claiming to believe. They said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So, he dives in deeper: “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.”
This is where Paul realizes, “These guys are disciples of John, not disciples of Jesus.” So, what does he do? He tells them about Jesus, points them to Jesus, and then they’re baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know Jesus. Now, they do know Jesus. They knew John. Now, they know Christ. When they believe, they receive the Holy Spirit, which goes back to what we’ve said: baptism in, by, with the Spirit happens when you believe in Jesus.
So, all this to say it’s not just a fun, little theological debate that pastors like to have. This has huge implications for your life and my life, our lives in this room. Conclusions: How does all this relate to your life? First, be confident in your baptism. To every person who has trusted Christ for salvation from your sins, God has sent His Spirit into your heart and He dwells in you. He has dwelled in you since the moment you were saved. What Old Testament saints longed for in the Old Covenant was the very presence of God living in them, dwelling in them, moving in them. It is what you have. Rest in that. Don’t doubt for a second that you have the Spirit of Christ in you.
This changes everything about the way we live. We are never alone, never alone. You face temptation, you are not alone. You face trial, you are not alone. In moments where it seems like nobody else understands you, you are not alone. The Spirit of God is in your body; it’s His temple. He has sealed you with His Spirit. The Spirit of Christ, Romans 8:9, dwells in you. So, be confident in your baptism.
Second, beware of two-class Christianity. One of the reasons I am concerned and wanted us to dive into this doctrine of second baptism in the Holy Spirit is because this doctrine, this idea, divides Christians dangerously and unbiblically into two categories. You’ve got ordinary believers, and you’ve got Spirit-baptized believers. Ordinary believers don’t have what Spirit-baptized believers have. The New Testament never teaches that. In fact, the New Testament thoroughly refutes that kind of two-level, two-class Christianity.
You never read Paul or Peter telling anyone in the church that’s having problems, “Well, you just need to be baptized with the Spirit.” The letter to Corinth we just read...I mean, talk about problems; they’ve got problems in Corinth. Paul never says, “Well, you just need to be baptized with the Spirit.” He says the exact opposite: “You’ve been baptized with the Spirit into one body.” He’s showing them what that means for their lives. So, beware of two-class Christianity.
Now, this doesn’t mean we just sit back, we ignore or downplay the Spirit. That’s not a good idea either. So, third, we need to be active in seeking the Spirit, meaning we need to pray for God daily to empower us and enable us by His Spirit in our lives and ministry. We want to walk with the Spirit. We want to live in the Spirit. Every moment of every day, it’s what we want.
You know, it’s interesting, I think, what happens when many people talk about an experience where they would classify it as a second baptism. What happens, sometimes, is you’ll be in a setting where you’re encouraged to seek baptism of the Spirit. People are being encouraged to confess sins, spend time in concentrated confession of sin, just purging your heart before God and knowing and receiving His forgiveness. So, to spend concentrated time in confession, know and receiving His forgiveness, and then yield to His Spirit, ask God to take more and more control of your life, yielded to Him, surrendered to Him, and ask Him for power in ministry, and this is some of the language that’s oftentimes used with second baptism, so do that.
Well, the reality is if you do those things, there’s nothing but good that’s going to come from that. Likely, powerful manifestation of the Spirit comes from that. No question: you spend time in concentrated confession, spend time yielding your heart in deeper ways to Christ and asking Him, pleading for Him to show His power in your life, and when you do that, things are going to happen. The beauty is, though, we don’t just need to do this here or there. This is every day. We’re supposed to walk in and live in, constantly confessing and yielding and pleading for power. Then, when something happens...and there certainly are times in all of our lives where are spiritual markers where you know in sanctification there’s continual growth, so to speak...but we all know that there are points where maybe it’s that trajectory here, but then all of a sudden something happens and some kind of circumstance, kind of experience, something. So, celebrate that, but this gets to the next part: be biblical in talking about these experiences with the Spirit.
I know there’s some of you who would say, “Well, pastor, I know there was a point where something happened to me in my life that was very different, where I experienced the Spirit of God in a powerful and a dramatic way.” If that’s the case, then my pastoral encouragement would be to say, “That’s wonderful. That’s awesome.” However, don’t label it a baptism of the Spirit when the Bible never labels anything like that: baptism in the Spirit. So, rejoice in that, but talk about the Spirit biblically: the fruit of the Spirit, filling with the Spirit. Look for the fruit of the Spirit. This is where our focus should be: asking the Spirit to produce, not some ecstatic experience, but love and joy and peace and patience and kindness, goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control, all these things in Galatians 5. This is a manifestation of the Spirit in us and focus on the filling of the Spirit.
I wish we had more time to talk about this particular doctrine, but in Acts, we see this phrase used on numerous occasions. Not second baptism, but times when Paul or Barnabas or Stephen is described as being filled with the Spirit or full of the Spirit. Now, it’s interesting because Paul...we know when he came to Christ, the Spirit came down upon him, filled him with the Spirit, baptized with the Spirit, but then, we’ll see him in Acts 13 talking to that magician, and it says right before he spoke to the magician, “he was filled with the Spirit.”
What it is is a picture, and we see it all over Scripture in New Testament and Old Testament alike, in reality, but in a whole new way in the New Testament. The picture is that, yes, those who have the Spirit dwelling in them, when it comes, especially, to opportunities for ministry, when it comes to sharing the gospel, there is a sovereign, powerful manifestation of the Spirit in those moments for the proclamation of the gospel. So, yes, let’s focus on that, but at the same time, realize that the Bible is not teaching that we need a subsequent baptism in the Spirit after conversion. We have the Spirit. We want to live in the Spirit and walk in the fullness of the Spirit on a daily basis. We want to see His power at work and through our lives. Make sense?
The Word and Evil Spirits …
Okay. Second...now, this is where it gets really interesting: the Word and evil spirits. So, Acts 19:11: “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 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.” I mean, let me pause here, because we’re not going to have time to camp out on this; this would be another question: is the Bible teaching prayer cloths for $19.95 that you, too, can be healed from? That’s not what the Bible is teaching. The picture here is just as we saw: Jesus, His power over disease; the woman touches the hem of His garment. Okay? You see Peter. He’s walking. His shadow is cast on people who are sick, and they’re healed, and now we’re seeing it reflected in Paul. This is a picture of their identification with Christ and their apostolic authority, so this is for the advancement of the gospel, not for $19.95 for Paul.
So, anyway, moving on. Verse 13 says,
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.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 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. And this became know 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. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 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. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
There’s verse 20: key verse.
Okay. Now, there’s a lot here. What you’ve got is itinerant, Jewish exorcists, which is quite an occupation, and they want in on some of the action that’s going on here. So, they go up to confront an evil spirit, start a conversation with this demon, and they say, “In the name of Jesus, Paul’s God commands you to come out.” This is where it gets really good, because the demon responds, begins a conversation and says, “Okay. All right, Jesus I know. Yeah, yeah, He’s made a lot of trouble for us. I am familiar with Him. And Paul? Yeah, he’s wreaking havoc all over the place, so I’ve heard of him as well. So, Jesus I know. Paul I’ve heard of, but who are you?” Immediately, the spirit pounces on these seven sons of Sceva. They don’t know what has hit them.
My friend, Matt Chandler, was at a conference recently, and he was referencing this passage, and he made this astute observation. He said, “You know, when you see a fight happen, sometimes you’re not sure at the end who won or lost, but there’s a general principal here in Acts 19: when you come into the fight with pants on, and you leave with no pants, that’s pretty much it. You have lost.” So, they run out wounded and naked.
What the Bible isn’t teaching …
What’s the point of that story? Well, what the Bible is not teaching is that we need to get training to talk with demons. Okay? That’s what it’s not teaching, and I want to point this out. That may seem ludicrous, but there are many books and there is much counsel out there in Christianity by prominent pastors that you would recognize their names, men that I agree with on a lot of different things, who teach that we should be trained to talk with demons. I’ve read pages and pages and listened to stories and even watched, especially, in different contexts around the world, supposed conversations with demons.
One article in the Los Angeles Times said,
Under the militant banner of spiritual warfare, growing numbers of evangelical and charismatic Christian leaders are preparing broad assaults on what they call the “cosmic powers of darkness,” fascinated with the notion that Satan commands a hierarchy of territorial demons. Some mission agencies and big church pastors are devising strategies for breaking the strongholds of those evil spirits alleged to be controlling cities and countries.
One prominent scholar, expert on spiritual warfare, wrote, “Dealing with evil spirits is major league warfare and should not be taken casually. I know few who have the necessary expertise. And if you do not know what you are doing, Satan will eat you for breakfast.”
What the Bible is teaching …
So, do we need to be trained for spiritual warfare like this so we don’t get eaten for breakfast? Do we need to go to training camps and learn how to cast out demons? No. This is what the Bible’s teaching: There is...and follow it with me...no direct command in Scripture to do deliverance ministry, i.e. cast out demons. The closest we see is in Matthew 10, when Jesus sends out a specific group of disciples at a specific time. He tells them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons, which is significant because when we see demon possession, this is not addressed by Christ even as a sin problem as much as it’s addressed as a sickness problem. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, so it’s treated as sufferers needing healing, and so that’s key.
Then, you have Mark 16. So, that’s Matthew 10, then Mark 16...end of Mark 16...which is a passage that is debated, likely not even a part of the original manuscript of Mark. Beyond those, even once you turn the pages from Acts into Romans, the rest of the New Testament, you will not find one mention of casting demons out of people. Instead, you’ve got the opposite. Scripture commands us not to have anything to do with evil spirits or their mediums, Old Testament and New Testament. Leviticus 19, Leviticus 20...they both say don’t turn to mediums. 2 Kings 21, 2 Kings 23 talk about how it’s evil to do so. 1 Timothy 4:1 warns us against associating with deceitful spirits, and Isaiah 8 says...Isaiah 8:29...says don’t talk to mediums and spiritists. Talk to God. Talk to God not demons.
You look at the literature, the teaching on prayer and spiritual warfare, and you see a lot about talking to demons, warfare prayer. One pastor talked about praying to rebuke demons, and this is what he said: “In a prayer of rebuke, I break a demon’s hold on a person. I usually say, ‘In the name of Jesus, I rebuke you evil spirit. You have no part in this person’s life.’”
Another pastor writes, “This is how you should pray for a woman...” for example “...who is possessed by a demon: ‘In the name of the...’” This is how you should pray: “‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I resist all of Satan’s activity to hold this woman in blindness and darkness. Exercising my authority, which is given to me in my union with the Lord Jesus Christ, I pull down the strongholds which the kingdom of darkness has formed against her. I smash and break and destroy all those plans formed against her mind, her will, her emotions, and her body. I destroy in prayer the spiritual blindness and deafness that Satan keeps upon her.’”
All of that begs the question: where do we see praying like that anywhere in the New Testament? We’re never exhorted to pull down, smash down, break down demons; God does that. We cry out to Him not them. When Scripture talks about spiritual warfare, Scripture is God-centered not demon-centered. We don’t challenge principalities and powers. We call out to God.
Scripture nowhere prescribes a strategy for naming or binding evil spirits, nowhere. Binding evil spirits...people point to Matthew 12:29, which has nothing to do with us binding demons. That passage is talking about...Matthew 12:29...how Jesus binds Satan and brings us salvation. That’s what Christ does, not us. We don’t bind the devil; we resist the devil. What does the Bible say? 1 Peter 5: “Resist the devil.” He goes about “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” unless they bind him? No. It says he’s seeking someone to devour, so resist him. You can’t bind him. If you could, why do you keep letting him loose?
Naming evil spirits? I listened to one prominent pastor, who I agree with on so many things, and he talks about how he gets to know demons’ names. You don’t see that. The closest thing is Jesus asking one demon, “What is your name?” and He gets a number in response. It doesn’t mean we need to go around and get familiar with demons’ names. To say that someone has or you have a demon of pride, or a demon of lust, or a demon of anger, or a demon of hatred, a demon called this that needs to be cast out, that is totally unbiblical. You know what it leads to. It leads to people shirking responsibility for sin in their lives, because they say, “Well, I’m generally a good person. I’ve just got this demon of lust.” No, you have a sin-sick heart. You need a Savior to cleanse you from the inside out and empower you with victory by His Spirit in you over this, and so go to Him, trust in Him.
That is where Scripture does command us. Scripture nowhere prescribes a strategy for naming or binding evil spirits, and nowhere says we need to do deliverance ministry, i.e. cast out demons. Instead, there are numerous direct commands in Scripture to do personal ministry, i.e. call people to salvation. That’s where spiritual warfare is waged. You read the rest of the New Testament, and you don’t see battles with exorcisms and incantations, and binding and loosing, and this or that. Instead, you see Paul saying, “Stand with truth and righteousness and the gospel of peace, with faith, and the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” You see him saying, “Fight the good fight by the power of Christ in you.”
This is the key in all the New Testament; it’s what we’re seeing here in Acts 19. You want to fight spiritual warfare? Don’t reverence demons and let them drive you to boot camps. Instead, revere Jesus. That’s the point of Acts 19. Know Jesus and walk in the power of Christ, and live in the power of Christ. Revere Jesus and repent of sin. That’s what going on here in Acts 19. They come, and they burn...they give away all their magic books in this. It says 50,000 pieces of silver worth of stuff. That’s 50,000 days’ wages worth of stuff, millions of dollars that they are just getting rid of totally. Repent of sin. That’s how you fight. You get rid of anything and everything that tempts you to sin. You repent, and you rest in the Word; it will prevail, verse 20.
Be encouraged today. Acts 19 is clearly not a warning. Well, it is a warning not to abuse the name of Jesus, but I want you to know, if you are in Christ and if Christ is in you, Satan cannot eat you for breakfast. Period. He is toast, not you. That’s the beauty of the New Testament. You rest in His Word, and you walk in the power of His Spirit, and you will experience victory in Christ.
The Word and the World …
So, that leads to the Word and the world. We don’t have time to read what happens next. Basically, Ephesus was a major trade city, and much of its economy was built on tourism, because people would come to visit. You can read this this week when we’re reading through the Bible, they would come to visit the altar, basically, to Artemis, this goddess of fertility, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They would come, and they would look at it.
Well, what happened is when Paul started preaching the gospel in Ephesus, people started coming to faith in Christ, leaving idolatry behind, burning all their magic stuff. It started hurting the economy of Ephesus. Isn’t that great? Oh, for the day when the porn industry begins to lose money because people are coming to faith in Christ, and for the day when the abortion industry begins to lose money because people are trusting in Christ. Let’s pray toward that.
So, the Word begins to affect the world, but what happens is the tradesmen around there begin to get very mad, because their economy is being hurt. So, they start a riot in the city, and you’ve got this huge riot with thousands and thousands and thousands of people who’ve come together, and they are there fired up and making threats. Paul has warned, “Don’t even go near this riot.” What happens is the town clerk steps up in the middle of that riot and calms things down, and they disperse. So, that’s what happens at the end of Acts 19.
What the Bible isn’t teaching …
What the Bible isn’t teaching...now follow with me here...the Bible isn’t teaching that opposition of the gospel will eventually be quieted in this world. This story is not saying, “Okay, things may get bad, but they will get better in this world.” Not necessarily. You may have read the article this last week. I was meeting with some folks this last week from Open Doors, who work with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world; and they were updating me on the status of this Christian government official in Pakistan, who was shot and killed. He had been speaking out against the blasphemy law in Pakistan; this law that says if you speak against Islam, then you can die. He’d been speaking out against it, and he’d been threatened, and he kept speaking out against it and didn’t quiet down. This last week he was shot and killed.
What the Bible is teaching …
So, the Bible’s not teaching here the opposition of the gospel will eventually be quieted in this world. Instead, the Bible is teaching here and all over the New Testament the proclamation of the gospel will always be challenged in this world. You want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you’ll be persecuted. It will not be easy for you if you’re proclaiming this gospel in this world.
The Word and Our Worship …
That’s the Word in the world. Now, the Word and our worship. Paul leaves Ephesus to go to Jerusalem, and on the way he stops in Troas. Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” So, we have a little secret church action going on here.
From dinner to midnight, Paul is preaching. “There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer.” So, the picture and, literally, the language, the phrasing here is he was slowly...it’s that whole progression, like you’re fighting it, and you're fighting it, and your eyes are going in the back of your head, and you’re nodding your head. So, finally, he gives in, and he falls asleep.
“And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.” So, everybody is panicking. “But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’” So, basically, Eutychus falls asleep, Eutychus is dead, Eutychus raised to life, and now awake.
This is my favorite part. Verse 11 says, “And when Paul had gone up and broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.” You can’t stop this guy. You would think, “It’s midnight. Someone just died because they fell asleep. Let’s call it a night.” No. Paul goes back up: “Let’s get back to work: six, seven more hours in the Word.” That’s good. That’s good.
So, Eutychus: his name means “fortunate.” His name, literally, means “fortunate.” First man to ever fall asleep in church, and we remember him. I mean, he has many successors since then, but he is the one that we point to.
What the Bible isn’t teaching …
So, what is the Word teaching here? Well, the Bible is not teaching that you will die if you fall asleep in church. That’s not what the point is of Acts 20.
What the Bible is teaching …
The point is, when the church gathers, we soak in the Word. This passage is a significant glimpse into the worship life of the early church. On the first day of the week, they’re gathering together, celebrating the Lord’s Supper as part of a fellowship meal, and they are diving into the Word in depth. Then, when the church scatters, we spread the Word. The picture is Paul goes out from here, continuing his missionary journey; they stay there. They all scatter, though, to preach the Word, telling the good news that Jesus has conquered sin, and He has defeated death.
This picture of resurrection: very, very, very clear, and this is key. This is where I want to close here, because this is the picture that we see in Ephesus, and it goes back to Acts 19:10. Paul’s preaching 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM in this hall, two years, and the Word spreads to everyone in Asia, but notice, Paul didn’t go everywhere in Asia. It was people who heard the Word who went out with the Word everywhere in Asia. Churches were started. The church at Colossae, and so you have the book to the Colossians. Paul never went to that church. Most think that the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, those seven churches...Thyatira, Pergamum, Smyrna, Laodicea, et cetera...those churches were planted as a result of people going out from Ephesus.
So, this is the beauty: it wasn’t about one man. The story is not just about Paul, although he’s obviously primary, but it’s not just about one man who’s doing all of this. It’s one man with the Word, and a people who are equipped with the Word, and that’s how the Word went throughout Asia. That’s my prayer for this church.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material provided that you do not alter it in any way, use the material in its entirety, and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to the media on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Radical.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By David Platt. © David Platt & Radical. Website: Radical.net