In this chapter of Acts some most interesting things are brought out in connection with the marvelous ministry of the apostle Paul. The theme of Acts 19 is found in the last part of verse 17: “The name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” So we will trace the record through and notice what it is that magnifies His name. What are the events as here recorded that glorified that name so long ago? What similar things would glorify and magnify His name today?
The New Baptism (Acts 19:1-7)
As Paul continued his third missionary journey he came again to Ephesus where Apollos had received the message of the new creation through the Holy Spirit. We note from the first verse of Acts 19 that Apollos had moved on to Corinth. We read that when Paul arrived in Ephesus he found “certain disciples.” Who were these disciples? They were Jewish converts who had been instructed by Apollos. He had been preaching in the synagogue regarding the baptism of John, and teaching them all that he knew. Now he had gone on, and as Paul arrived, Priscilla and Aquila no doubt asked him to come and preach to these people in the synagogue. And Paul, always ready to communicate to others what God had made so precious to his own soul, went with them and found these disciples.
Paul wanted to help them, so he asked: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Actually what he asked was this: “Did you, upon your believing, receive the Holy Spirit?” In other words, “When you listened to Apollos and heard his messages about the coming Christ and you believed it, did you receive the Holy Spirit?”
This was not a question asked of Christians. It was a question put to disciples of John the Baptist—those in, what we might call, the halfway house between Judaism and Christianity. Their answer was, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” Of course, as Jews they had heard of the Holy Spirit. But what is actually meant here is: “We have not so much as heard whether the Holy Ghost is come.” You see John had said: “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Apollos had told them about that, but they had not heard of the arrival of the Holy Ghost and His work in the believer’s life.
Paul inquired, “Unto what then were ye baptized?” Notice the implications of this question. Why did he ask them that question? What did this question have to do with whether or not the Holy Spirit had come? Our Lord Jesus, before He went away, gave His last commission to the apostles: “Go ye therefore and [disciple] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” They were to go out and carry His message everywhere in the world, and baptize the converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. That is Christian baptism.
If these Ephesians had received Christian baptism, they should have known the Holy Spirit had come. So Paul asked in effect, “Into whose name were you baptized?” They answered, “Unto John’s baptism.” That was a different baptism. It was a baptism of repentance, a preparatory baptism, looking forward to the coming of the King. Christian baptism looks back to His death, looks up to His throne at the Father’s right hand, and on to the end of the dispensation when He will come again. The age has not ended yet. Therefore, we are responsible still to baptize believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. So when Paul heard their answer, he explained, “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
And so Paul, we have no doubt (everything is not recorded here in a few verses), preached the gospel to them. He told them the wonderful story of how Jesus came and died at Calvary, bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. He told how His precious body was laid away in the tomb then arose in triumph, and before He went home He commissioned His apostles to go into all the world preaching the gospel and baptizing men in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He taught them how some day He is coming back again to set up His glorious kingdom. And we read, “When they heard this”—that is, the unfolding of the truth concerning our Lord Jesus Christ—”they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Someone may say, “Why, you see, they were not baptized in the name of the trinity. They were baptized only in the name of the Lord Jesus.” People who reason this way fail to take into account what is involved in that expression. “In the name” speaks of authority. Why do I preach? It is because I have been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to carry His gospel into all the world, and I preach in the name of the Lord Jesus—by His authority. So these men were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, that is by His authority, which implies baptism unto the name of the holy trinity. Whether Paul baptized them himself we know not—but he saw that they were baptized when they confessed Christ as their Savior. And now, having been baptized with Christian baptism, Paul laid his hands on them and as at Pentecost, as in Samaria, as in Cornelius’s house, immediately the Holy Spirit came on them and there were the same wonderful signs as at Pentecost: “They spake with tongues, and prophesied.”
You see, this little group was living in a transition stage. They were neither Jews as such, still on legal ground, nor were they on full New Testament ground. They were Jews who were looking forward to the coming of Messiah, and had been baptized with the baptism of John. In order that there might be definite evidence that they were brought into the body of Christ, the Spirit fell upon them, thus baptizing them into the body of believers and giving them special gifts as He had given to the Jews at Pentecost. There were not many of them. “All the men were about twelve.”
This was the last group brought in to complete the various companies to whom the gospel message was to go. First, Peter began at Pentecost and preached mainly to the Jews with some Gentiles present. Then later on Philip went down to Samaria and carried the gospel message to that group who were of a mixed religion of Judaism and paganism, and they were brought to faith in Christ. Next Peter went to the Gentiles, preaching the gospel to Cornelius’s household, and as he preached they believed, and the Holy Spirit fell on them and brought them into the body of Christ. Finally, the Spirit of God led Paul to this little company who had accepted John’s baptism but had not yet heard the further message. They believed and were baptized by the authority of the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit fell on them. There are no other groups to be found in the book of Acts. Everywhere else that the message is carried it will go to Jews, Samaritans, John’s disciples, or Gentiles.
And so God has given us a sampling of some people taken out of each of these groups and brought into the body of Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the great, outstanding witness that God is satisfied with the finished work of His beloved Son, and His Spirit now dwells in every believer and baptizes every believer into the body of Christ.
Today there are but three classes of people in the world—Jews, Gentiles, and the church of God. And when Jews and Gentiles accept the gospel message, they are no longer seen by God as such but are new members of the new creation, the church, of which Christ is the exalted Head.
The Power of the Name (Acts 19:8-20)
Paul continued at Ephesus for a long time. While the synagogue was open to him, he availed himself of the opportunity given to go there and preach the message of the new covenant.
“And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Some well-meaning but uninstructed people interpret this to mean that during the ministry and journeys of the apostle Paul, he preached the gospel of the kingdom, and that after he got to Rome he received a fuller revelation of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body, and therefore no longer preached the gospel of the kingdom.
That, of course, is an utter mistake for when we turn to the very last verse of the book of Acts, we read that during Paul’s imprisonment, after he had supposedly received this special revelation, he was still preaching the kingdom message:
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him (Acts 28:30-31).
Up to the very last, Paul preached the kingdom of God, and with that he proclaimed the truth of the church, the one body. The believer in the Lord Jesus is both a member of Christ’s body and a subject of the kingdom of God. He would be a poor Christian indeed who did not recognize the divine authority over his life. Being a Christian is more than receiving a creed, more than subscribing to a system of doctrine, more than agreeing to certain church rules and regulations. Being a Christian implies submission in all things to God our Father, who is Sovereign of the universe.
Paul continued preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God. But opposition broke out. The name of the Lord Jesus always provokes the opposition of wicked, ungodly men who are determined not to submit to the will of God. In the synagogue he saw that he was only going to produce strife and division because of the opposition of those who hated the name of Christ Jesus. Paul therefore concluded that it would be useless to continue under such conditions, and he said to the Christians—those who had already received the testimony—”We will have to separate ourselves from all this.”
So they evidently rented a public schoolroom. How often the schoolroom has been used for the proclamation of the gospel! How often our home missionaries found no other place but the schoolroom open to them, as they went about from place to place in the rural areas. Well, they had a good precedent to follow in Paul’s experience in Ephesus.
In the school of Tyrannus he continued to preach for two more years, so that we are told, “All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”
In this we see how wonderfully God carries out His own plans. You remember on the second missionary journey when Paul wanted to go into the province of Asia, the Spirit suffered him not. But now, on this third journey, the door had not only been opened to Asia, but God had so arranged that Paul would stay here long enough for the whole district to be permeated with the message. When we read that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, it does not necessarily mean that all of them came to hear the apostle Paul, but it does mean that many of those who did hear the apostle preach believed the message and in turn carried it to those around them.
We have seen something like that in our own country when there has been a great spiritual awakening. I can remember, for instance, when Dwight L. Moody was in the city of Toronto, Canada, when I was only a little lad. The whole country talked about it, all the newspapers carried reports of his sermons, and everywhere one went throughout the province he would hear of the messages that Moody had brought to the city of Toronto. Even today I can remember the hymns they used to sing as they went to and from the great gatherings. I can remember how people were stirred. All in the province of Ontario heard the Word. So it was with Paul The converts carried Paul’s message throughout the district called Asia and many heard about the wonderful name of Jesus, the sinner’s Savior.
“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” We are not told exactly that God commanded this, but it is very evident that the people in their enthusiasm, in their recognition of the fact that God was working in a mighty way through Paul, came to him and said, “Let us just press this handkerchief against your body in order that it may carry healing to our sick friends.” I have known people who have tried to do that today, but they are very poor imitations. Here in this special way God authenticated the message of His servant. Sometimes it is said that it is only when the Word was being ministered to the Jews did we have any miracles, but here the apostle Paul is ministering in the great Gentile center where there were comparatively few Jews.
Next we find in verses 13-16 an effort to imitate the work of the Lord. If Satan cannot hinder that work by direct opposition, he will try to spoil it by patronage or imitation. You remember how in Philippi he used this method with a poor, demon-possessed woman (Acts 16:16-18).
“Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.” These vagabond Jews were untrue to their own religion, for God’s holy law sternly forbade communication with evil spirits of any kind. God condemns spiritism in no uncertain terms in the writings of Moses and of the prophet Isaiah. But these renegade Jews had given themselves over to this evil practice. They professed to cast out evil spirits by some system of incantation, and they even attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus as a kind of charm in order to exorcise these demons.
Well, they tried it once too often. “There were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said [that is, a voice came from within the man who was raving in the characteristic manner of one who was demon controlled], Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?” And energized by Satanic power the possessed man leaped on them and would have torn them to pieces if they had not run out of the house in dismay. It was the false confronted with the true. They had dared to use the true, the holy name of Jesus in this wicked way to authenticate their own pretensions to power, and God would not permit it.
This incident became known throughout the whole country, and people began to realize that there was power in the name of Jesus. Oh, that lovely name! What does it mean? “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” “Jehovah, the Savior” is the meaning of the name
Jesus. And oh, how precious that name is to every believer! “And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.”
Even unsaved people recognized the fact that there was something marvelous, something stupendous about the name of Jesus, something well worth their attention in the gospel message, which is the story of the Lord Jesus. The result of this preaching of the Word and the miracles accompanying it was that many believed.
Their belief was not simply an intellectual acceptance of certain truths, but they truly and definitely opened their hearts to Christ. They trusted Him as their own personal Savior, and they stepped out boldly before the world, and, as we read, “confessed”. What did they confess? Well, of course, they confessed the name of the Lord Jesus for one thing; but they also confessed their sins, and openly repudiated them. It is written: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Lord Himself has said: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). They confessed that wonderful name, but that was not all. There was another confession they made. “And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.”
These people had been linked with the evil one. Their lives had been marked by sins of the vilest character. Many of them were what were called magicians and witches. They probably had been actually indwelt and controlled by evil spirits who performed lying wonders in order to deceive the people. Such charlatans as these were found all over the ancient world of that time. We have many among us even today.
A certain spiritist medium named Helen Templeton once sent me a long communication that she declared D. L. Moody had given through her. While in a cataleptic condition she wrote what was supposedly a direct message from some disembodied spirit. The letter she sent me was of five or six pages, professedly from D. L. Moody. He had come to her and wanted to give a message to the pastor of his old church. I was interested in reading this message that went something like this: He said he was so sorry that when he was here on earth he did not understand. He had preached as well as he knew, but he did not know the glorious truth of spiritism. Now that he was dead, he had discovered he was all wrong. Now he knew the blessedness of spiritism, but he was far behind others, and it would take him centuries to make up what he missed by wrong instruction on earth. In the letter he said this: “You know, the whole trouble was my father. He followed in the old paths, and he brought me up in the old ideas. Of course, when I became of age I was responsible and I should have refused, and accepted the truths of spiritism, but not knowing any better I followed his teaching.”
I wrote to her and replied, “Evidently the spirit that controlled you was not very well up on his history. He did not know that D. L. Moody had no father after he grew up. His father died when Moody was a little baby; and certainly his mother never taught him the old truths, because she was a Unitarian, and was converted through Moody himself years afterward.” Evidently some impersonating demon put one over on Helen!
But, oh, how people can be deceived by these things; how they will follow all these wretched efforts to talk with the dead, and work signs and wonders! In all our cities we have clairvoyants, astrologers, dream interpreters, spiritist mediums, and such as those.
Well, many of these Ephesians had been involved with this kind of wickedness. But see what happened. They that believed, confessed and showed their deeds. “Many of them also which used curious arts [that is, magicians’ arts] brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.” Here was real repentance! Those books cost alot of money. They brought all their books containing magical charms and had a great public bonfire. My, if you could get all the astrological texts and magicians’ books today, what a bonfire you would have! How readily people are taken up with every kind of superstition. People can believe the most outlandish fables yet tell you they cannot believe the glorious truths of the gospel.
But the gospel did its work there in Ephesus. The light of the truth delivered them from the darkness of error. They were set free. And they said, “We do not want our books any more.” Someone might suggest that they should have taken them down to the secondhand bookstore and realized a little profit on them, but they would have replied: “If they are not good for us, they are not good for anybody else. We are not going to pass poison on to the other people. We are not going to make money on them.” These people were so earnest, that they wanted to be right with God at whatever cost. So we read, “Mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”
Today we would like to see revival; we would like to see marked blessing; we would like to see a great awakening. It will only come when the people of God put eternal things above all else. How many of God’s beloved saints are trifling with things that hinder their spiritual lives! How many tampering with unholy things! How many giving their time to reading and pondering over books of a wicked character! (The presses of our day are literally teeming with the filthiest literature that one could possibly see.) What a cleaning out there would be in many Christian homes if they brought out these vile books and periodicals and burned them, and said, “By the grace of God, from now on we will read only what is pure and upbuilding.” Give God’s own Word the first place in your life and then surround it with the books that help you to enjoy that Word more, books that tend to give you a deeper understanding of the ways of God with men, and you will find real edification.
May I ask you who profess to have accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, What have you ever given up for Him? Have you given up anything for Him? Face that challenge honestly in the light of God’s Word, and remember that He who has redeemed you now claims you as His own. We read:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable [intelligent] service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
When God’s people put Christ first, when they make everything else subject to Him in their lives, then there will be revival; then there will be blessing; then our prayer meetings will be thronged, and our gatherings for the ministry of the Word will become centers of warm Christian testimony. God give us to be as real today as those Ephesian believers were so long ago!
Christ Challenging Idolatry (Acts 19:21-41)
This somewhat lengthy section of the book of Acts is a narrative that requires little explanation. It describes a very striking instance of the beginning of a great conflict between Christ and idolatry. Some perhaps do not realize that at the beginning of the first century a.d. the great bulk of the world lay in the darkness of paganism. Except for the Jewish nation itself and an occasional few among the more philosophically minded Greeks, idols were worshiped everywhere. Throughout the entire Roman empire the people generally were devotees of false gods. The beginning of the end of pagan worship came with the preaching of the eleven apostles on the day of Pentecost. And in the three hundred years that followed that event idolatry had been practically banished from the civilized parts of the world. It is not entirely banished from the world today, but wherever the gospel of grace goes and men open their hearts to receive it, idolatry is destroyed. But this has always been through conflict, and so one of the first of these conflicts is pictured for us in Acts 19.
Paul had made up his mind, after visiting Macedonia and Achaia, that he would return to Jerusalem, and thus complete his third missionary journey. Then he said in his heart, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” He had little idea how he would get there. You remember, in writing to the Romans he said he often prayed, “making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you” (1:10). God answered that prayer, but not in the way that Paul expected. He went to Rome as a prisoner, and was shipwrecked on the way. I think Paul could have said:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
What God considers prosperity may often seem to our shortsightedness to be adversity.
Paul then sent into Macedonia Timothy and Erastus, two of his fellow workers, but he continued for a little longer, laboring in the city of Ephesus in Asia where he had already been preaching for about two years. And now, because of the great inroads that Christianity had made in the conflict with idolatry, a riot broke out.
Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines for Diana—a lucrative business to the craftsmen—called together his fellows. Appealing to their cupidity, he said to them as it were, “Now brethren, you know that it is through making these idols that we get our living, and this man Paul has come among us and is persuading people that there are no gods which are made with hands, and the result is depression in the idol business. Our business is falling off. People are not buying silver shrines as they did in the past; and unless something is done to stop this new propaganda, our craft will lose its place among the people.” He saw the danger and so mentioned it, simply from the standpoint of a worldly minded, selfish man.
It was said that the image of Diana that was enshrined in the temple, and accounted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, had fallen down from heaven—a gift from Jupiter, the supreme God, Actually what was enshrined in that temple was a great meteorite, which was shaped, very roughly, after the figure of a woman. The people said, “This is an image of the goddess Diana, and she sent it down from heaven that it might be worshiped, and that our city may become the center of her cult.” On the site of a marsh outside the city they built a gorgeous temple in which was enshrined this black meteorite, and the people thronged there by the thousands to worship Diana. And those who desired to carry back to their homes replicas of the image purchased the silver shrines that they might worship them in their own cities.
So by appealing in this way to the greed of these shrine manufacturers, Demetrius stirred them up to indignation. We read: “And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Very often, the less that certain people know about something, the more they shout about it and try to convince themselves as to its truth by the noise they make. It was so on this occasion.
“And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.” There was a great theater in Ephesus, the ruins of which are still to be seen.
Finally the mob lit upon a prominent Jew, a man by the name of Alexander, and they drew him, “out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defence unto the people.” Evidently he was to show that as a Jew he had no part in this Christian worship, though both Jew and Christian worshiped the one true and living God, and both of their systems therefore were opposed to idolatry. But no one would listen to him.
If Diana had never been great before, all that shouting ought to have made her great, but it didn’t! She was soon utterly defeated and fell before the advance of the cross of Christ.
The town clerk was a stickler for law and order, and he realized that a mob was simply an unruly group liable to go to any excess, and so he sought to quiet them. Notice how sure he was of the greatness of Diana. Yet today there is no man living on the face of the earth who worships the goddess Diana!
Finally the town clerk was able to dismiss the mob. In closing we notice that the word translated “assembly” in the final verse of Acts 19 is the Greek word
ecclesia. This word is used throughout the New Testament to indicate the people of the new creation, the church of the living God. The
ecciesia is really a called-out company, and it might be used of a crowd like this as well as an orderly Christian group.