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Power encounters

by on August 24, 2015

Do you remember that weird chapter, Acts 19. With the fake exorcists who get a beating. And the magic books bonfire? What’s that about? We looked at it last Sunday and found it had heaps to challenge us.

sons-of-scevaActs 19 POWER ENCOUNTERS

In this chapter Paul arrives in Ephesus. If Athens was a cultural centre, and Corinth a commercial centre, Ephesus was a religious centre. We’re talking spiritual power. As we’ll see, even the economy of Ephesus was bound up with religion. And in pride of place was the great temple of the goddess Artemis. John Stott explains:

Ephesus guarded with immense pride both her grotesque many-breasted image and the magnificent temple which housed it. This structure had more than one hundred Ionic pillars, each sixty feet high, and supporting a white marble roof. Being four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens… it was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. 

In this great city of religion Paul finds some disciples of John the Baptist. His question to them is perhaps unexpected: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” This is how Paul presents Jesus at Ephesus. Did you receive the Spirit? These people have only heard the teaching of John. Right back at the start of Luke’s gospel, John said ‘I baptise with water’ but one is coming…spirit and fire.’ Now Paul says: that one is Jesus. Jesus is the one who baptises in the Spirit.

Readers have waited all through that gospel for the Spirit and the fire to come down. Perhaps these disciples have been waiting too.

We had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. News about the pentecost event has not reached them in Ephesus: they don’t know that the Spirit has been given. We had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. This could practically be a motto for the church in the West. Jesus the bringer of the Spirit: this has been the missing face of Jesus in church in West. We have rarely wanted to say this about Jesus. If you look at all the Christian books written in the West, there’s been so many written about God the Father, so many about Jesus the Son. But very very little about the Spirit. There’s this big empty space on the bookshelves where those books should be. We haven’t had much interest in the third person of the Trinity. We’ve majored on Jesus forgiver of sins. Rightly so, but notice that here in Acts 19 there’s no mention of forgiveness of sins. The focus in this chapter is on the sending of the Spirit. We’ve always focussed on truth, but rarely on power. But here in Acts 19, it’s power that is the focus.

These disciples have been waiting, and now the wait is over, Paul tells them Jesus has come and now they too are baptised – the Spirit falls on them. v.6 READ

They hear the truth, and they experience the power.

And this sets the scene for the encounters that follow in Ephesus. Last chapter at Corinth, we saw Paul take the gospel out into the marketplace, where the people were, out into the hustle and bustle of everyday life and business in a busy metropolis. Here at Ephesus he does the same thing.

We Christians easily feel scared at the idea of taking the gospel out into the world around us. We feel small and weak. People out there seem busy and uninterested. We see the great forces of money and power and consumption and market forces pushing people around, dominating their lives. What room is there out there in the marketplace, for the gospel of Jesus? How can we ever hope to get a hearing, or to persuade anybody?

In Ephesus Luke shows us as series of power encounters. In scene after scene the new power the gospel was bringing comes head to head with the entrenched powers of Ephesian society. We are going to see what difference it makes if you have the Holy Spirit.

Paul spends 2 years in this city, arguing for Jesus in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And his ministry is so effective that people spread the word all over the region. v.10 READ

It becomes clear here that people are finding Paul’s ministry and message compelling. I mean, look at what they did here: v.18 READ

This episode with the magic books is increadibly revealing. Why do these people burn all their books? 50 000 denarius worth of books – that’s a lot of books! Probably a lot of people involved. Why do that? We could say, because they’ve learned that their magic is wicked and they’re ashamed of it. Ok, maybe, but I think there’s more going on here. Think about what they’ve been seeing, these people. They’ve been seeing Paul do extraordinary things.

v.11 READ

When Paul told them about the kingdom of God, it wasn’t just words. There was power. Things changed. Paul wrote to one of the other greek cities he’d visited that ‘our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” That’s what’s happening at Ephesus too. He didn’t just bring an empty message about God’s new kingdom: he brought the kingdom! The Spirit and the power of God arrived as Paul delivered the message. People were getting released from their slavery, healed from their sickness.

Now these people with their magic books, they were interested in power. Magic was all about harnessing the power of spirits, and getting them to do things for you. That’s how magic worked in the ancient view of the world. If you knew the right words, the right name to bind a spirit or demon, you could control its power. That made you powerful.

But now these Ephesian people are giving it up, they’re saying we don’t need this magic. Why? Because they’ve seen what Jesus can do. They’ve seen Paul heal and deliver people in the name of Jesus. And they’re saying, this is real power. All that stuff we were playing with, that’s pathetic. Weak. Counterfeit. Here’s the real thing, it’s with Jesus. That’s why the gospel was having such an impact. It’s the Holy Spirit, the power of God. And that’s why they burned their books.

You know for a long time the church in the West has largely ignored this. We’ve just wanted people to listen to sermons, we call it ‘word-ministry.’ We’ve imagined we could win people for Jesus, just by the force of our arguments. As if the truth alone could bring real change. But too often our words have remained just – words. People are so resistant to truth! The missing element has been the power, the Holy Spirit. And you know if words are all we have, we are not going to get a hearing out in the marketplace. I think we sense that, and that’s why we feel scared about taking the gospel out.

There is a movement that’s reacted against this, its called the Pentecostal movement. In their churches they’re always talking about God’s power, about what God is doing right now. They expect healings and miracles, and real concrete signs of God’s kingdom. They sometimes kind of react too far away from us and lose sight of the message, the word about Christ. But you know, what they do say, people sit up and listen. Lots of people flock to those churches.

Were talking about power encounters. The importance of power encounters became even more obvious when some Jews tried to use Jesus’ name without his Spirit. I love this story, it’s so funny. v.13 READ.

It’s funny, but it’s so much like us. They had the right name, but not the power. We too name the name of Jesus, but if there’s no power, no Spirit, if we’re not expecting God’s presence, then forces of evil will still get the upper hand. And isn’t that the story of our society, of Australia. Don’t we see all around us the forces of evil geting the upper hand? These Jewish exorcists got a walloping, and we are likely to keep getting a walloping too, until we learn about the power of God’s Spirit. It’s no good us just  looking back to the power Paul had in his ministry, talking about that. We need it here, and now, in our city for our people. We need the Holy Spirit.

Because that’s how Paul’s was able to go out into the marketplace and confront the forces he found there: it’s all about God’s presence and power. It’s all about the Spirit.

And if people in Canterbury are going to be convinced about Jesus, they need to meet the transforming power of God’s spirit. I want to suggest two ways that we need to let them see that.

The first is through prayer. Some people’s prayer goes like this: my neighbour Bob tells me, I’ve got a heart condition and I need surgery and I’m worried. and I say, I’ll pray for you. What Bob hears me say is, I can’t help, I’ll ask God, Who knows? maybe he might take an interest, perhaps you might get something out of him at some stage. you can’t expect too much though.

The other way of praying is like this. I say, Bob, Jesus is in the business of healing people, and I’d like to pray over you now. Then I lay hands on him, because the Spirit is with me, God is right here now, the Spirit is coming to Bob through me, and we are expecting that God will do something for him. We don’t know exactly what, but we do know that the Spirit is very powerful and active. And so I pray, Father thankyou for raising up JEsus from the dead, and giving him your SPirit. Now Jesus please send your Spirit and heal and help Bob, so he will know that you are Lord.

Then you take your hands off him, and Bob goes away. Does he get healed that day? Maybe maybe not. God answers in different ways. But Bob goes away with the feeling that Jesus was very close to him for that moment, that something real has happened.

So friends this why the ancient Christian tradition of laying on hands is so important: it is tied up with the sending of the Spirit. If there’s no spirit, just a message, then we’ll just say, I’ll pray for you tonite. But if there’s a Spirit of God, right here right now, then we need to be laying our hands on people.

It’s time we rediscovered the power of the Spirit and of prayer. You try this and see what God does through you. He will not be weak. You and I need to learn how to pray this sort of prayer, the hands laying on sort, the Holy SPirit sort. Try it with your children or your closest friends. Learn to do it. Get used to it.

The other way I want to suggest we need to show people the power of the Spirit is through our changed lives. When people look at us they need to see something different. Not normal closed, self centred people used to. Friendly, open , generous, loving neighbours who look after each other. Not people devoted to money, but people devoted to good works and the poor. People need to see that this Jesus stuff, this talk about grace is real. They need more than the words: they need the power. The best advertisement for Jesus is you and me living out the gospel in small, humble, everyday ways.

In the final scene here at Ephesus, we see the most impressive display yet of the world’s power. The whole city is in uproar.  v.23-26. READ

The crowds pile into the theatre – that theatre is still there in Ephesus you can go and visit it. It could seat 25 000 people. We’re talking about a huge crowd. And they’re all roaring and rioting for their beloved temple of Artemis. Why? Because they feel threatened. This little man Paul with his message about Jesus has got under their skin. He’s threatened the commercial interests of the rich and powerful people in the city. They’re losing money. They’re losing prestige. They’ve been caught on the back foot, and they don’t like it. And at the end of all this noise and fury, they will have achieved nothing. Like the Jewish exorcists, they are shown to be powerless, in spite of their huge numbers.

So often we believers in Jesus feel we are on the back foot. We feel threatened by the forces of the world. But when the Spirit is unleashed through prayer, and people start to experience power encounters, what the world has to offer starts looking pretty weak. That’s when word of Christ wins people over.

What we’re seeing in Acts is that the gospel was never supposed to come by itself as just a bare message. It always comes with this power behind it: the power of God’s Spirit. For a long time the Holy Spirit has been a doctrine in our creed. But the Spirit is not an idea to be believed: it is a powerful presence to be lived in, a wind to be caught up in and blown along by, a fire that will not be quenched.

From → General

2 Comments
  1. dan permalink

    Like Paul said to the Corinthians, ‘The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.’ This is a helpful word Jono.

  2. Thanks brother

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