Monday, December 8, 2008

In Search Of Truth, Acts 19:1-20


When Paul arrives in Ephesus, he runs into some disciples. The term disciples means "learners", and doesn't necessarily refer to disciples of Jesus. These disciples were following what they knew of John the Baptist's teaching, which was focused on turning from evil and recognizing our need for the Messiah. Like Apollos, they were missing the most vital piece of the puzzle: Jesus.

Baptism is believed to have originated with the Jewish tradition of ceremonial washings. Gentiles converting to Judaism would be completely submerged in water to signify the washing away of their past and complete embracing of their new direction. For Jews to be baptized like this would be a big deal. They had understood themselves to be God's chosen people for so long that a sense of entitlement had developed in many of them. Being baptized in the name of Jesus would strongly indicate that their former way of life was not sufficient and they were abandoning it in favor of something new.

So when the Holy Spirit enters into these disciples in verse 6, it is not because they were submerged in water in verse 5 or because Paul laid his hands on them in verse 6 (although evidence of the Holy Spirit appeared at that time.), but because they genuinely believed that Jesus is the Messiah as described in the Old Testament. All those who put their trust in the divine identity of Christ are given the Holy Spirit to live in them.(1 Corinthians 12:13) The difference, as we see here, is how the Holy Spirit gives evidence of himself in each individual believer.

Again, Paul follows his pattern of trying to reach the Jews first, and then the non-Jews. (v.8-10) God used him to do extraordinary miracles and Paul became so respected that people even took articles of his clothing and used them to heal the sick. God may have honored these somewhat superstitious practices with healing to draw attention to Paul's teaching, but we can't know for sure.

Those who practiced magic in this time period were known to believe that names gave them power. For example, knowing the "true name" of a spirit would give them power to manipulate that spirit. (This historical practice has also found its way into modern fictional representations of fantasy magic in a few instances.) These magicians even threw in the names of Jesus and Paul, as though by using their names they could harness more power. The response they received from an evil spirit is a little humorous: "I recognize Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?"

This little account should remind us that the name of Jesus is not in and of itself the source of power. It is the substance, the very person that the name represents that gives power. God doesn't want us to experience his power through removed superstitious mysticism, but through genuine belief and trust in him.

Paul's impact on this community expanded dramatically and many who were using magic gave up their practices, at significant financial cost to themselves! The total value of sorcerous materials burned in verse 19 represents about 137 years worth of wages! We don't know how many sorcerors contributed to this "book burning" but either way, the act represented a significant departure of the occult from the Ephesian culture and likely the economy as well.

Although not many of us practice real magic today, consider for a moment whether or not you could set aside financial security if it meant doing the right thing.

Paul stayed in Ephesus for about two years. During that time he wrote 1st Corinthians, which we will begin looking at next week!

Next Week: Paul begins teaching the Corinthians how to mature in their spiritual journey.

Coffee House Question

Why do you think many people look at the Bible from a superstitious distance instead of examining and trying to understand it?

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