1. Our scripture passage given to us for today is the one that tells us the story of Paul's evangelizing at Ephesus. The words in verse nineteen catch our eye the most. "Furthermore, the many people who had been practicing sorcery brought their books and incinerated them before everyone. When they estimated its price, it came to fifty thousand silver coins." This is an astonishing amount of money. It is equivalent to the pay of fifty thousand days worth of work. In correspondence to that much money, this meant that a huge number of books related to sorcery had been in existence in Ephesus. We see that evangelizing Ephesus was really a battle with sorcery. Using the word "sorcery" makes this seem so unrelated to us, but that's not really so. The battle against witchcraft is part of the reality and true nature of gospel preaching. However, before we put our thoughts on this, let's take a look at how God had first prepared the Ephesian church.
The Baptism Of John
2. As you know, evangelism at Ephesus was not pioneered by Paul. Apollo had already begun evangelizing [there]. As for this Apollo, [the Bible] introduces him as "He had accepted the way of the Lord, spoke fervently about Jesus, and taught accurately, but he only knew the baptism of John," (18:25). In other words, even though he was proclaiming Jesus, he had not left the limits of John the Baptist's preaching.
3. Through The Gospel Of Luke we can know about this "baptism of John" which Apollo was into. It says, "So, going the entire region along the banks of the river Jordan, John proclaimed the baptism of repentance in order to let one obtain the forgiveness of sin," (Luke 3:3). This is "the baptism of John." The baptism of repentance is preached as a backdrop to the soon coming judgment. "The ax is already put to the root of the tree. All trees that do not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire," (Luke 3:9). And the coming messiah is depicted as a farmer dividing the wheat and the husks. "So, with a winnowing fan in his hand, he cleans every nook and cranny of the threshing room, gathers the wheat and places it into storage, and burns up the husks with an inextinguishable fire," (Luke 3:17). Before this day of judgment comes, after we repent we should receive forgiveness of our sins. It is truly a clear sermon. This message was passed on through John's followers even after his death.
4. Apollo had also accepted this message, he was one of the ones who had accepted the baptism of John, that is, the baptism of repentance. Of course, since he had accepted "the way of the Lord" he had surely proclaimed forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus. He surely preached Jesus at his second coming as the final judge. But, the focus of his message was on preparing for God's judgment and did not go outside the range of John's preaching.
5. It is believed that the disciples that Paul met at Ephesus had been baptized under the preaching of this same Apollo. They, too, only knew the baptism of John. They must have been working hard to prepare for the coming judgment and to produce good fruit appropriate to repentance. This is one pattern for a day to day faith life that can be seen in modern times as well. It is a repentance just to escape the coming wrath of God. It is a diligence to try to produce good fruits so as not to be destroyed upon being judged. It is a church life style for the purpose of securing salvation. Now we're not supposed to take God's judgment lightly, but a faith life just to escape condemnation is very unhealthful and maybe even morbid at that.
6. Paul evidently saw that this problem was present among the disciples at Ephesus. He asked them instantly, "When you came into the faith, did you receive the Holy Spirit?" Whereupon they replied, "No, we have never even heard of whether there is a Holy Spirit." When he asked them, "Well then, how were you baptized?," the way they were baptized was John's baptism. So, Paul told them something very important to them. "John conferred the baptism of repentance informing the people to believe on the One who will come after me, that is, on Jesus," (verse four).
7. Repentance doesn't make up everything in the faith life. There is more after that. We are "to believe in Jesus." We believe in Jesus, the messiah who has already come. We are to believe in Jesus as the suffering messiah who was crucified and who had atoned for our sins, but not only that. We are to believe in Jesus as the Lord who has risen from the dead and now lives forever more. The risen Lord pours out his Holy Spirit on believers. He fills us with the Holy Spirit. Then God's Spirit dwells within us, lives and moves on this earth, and reveals the kingdom of God and the rule of God on this earth.
8. In effect, when Paul administered to them baptism in the name of Jesus and laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. They spoke in foreign languages and began to prophesy. However, the important point is not the supernatural signs themselves, but that they had branched on from John the Baptist's message that had only looked at the final judgment, and they had believed in Jesus who had risen from the dead, and they had begun to live under the rule of God's grace which had begun in them already. And the important thing is that they had come to take part in the work of the Holy Spirit upon this earth that will continue to the very end. Taking part in the work of the Holy Spirit means also to take part in the battle with the witchcraft type things in this world and in the battle against evil spirits. Let's go ahead and look at this next.
The Battle With Sorcery/Witchcraft
9. As touched upon at the beginning of the message, a huge number of books related to sorcery were in existence in Ephesus. This means that a lot of sorcerers were there in Ephesus.
10. At root to sorcery and spells is the human desire that wants to freely use and take control of supernatural and divine powers. The reason humans want such godlike powers is that we [are in] a world that is more than we can handle on our own natural strength. So, sorcery is nothing but a manifestation of the desire to want to control the reality of this world in accordance with the way we want. Put in other words, it is the wish to put our selves in God's place.
11. By satisfying that wish, the only thing that gets bigger is human egotism. Even if someone could freely make use of a supernatural power, it would not lead to love and obedience to God. Rather, it would work as a power to pull a person away from God. The main part of black magical deeds is its power to pull someone away from God. So, using a biblical expression, we could call this power that pulls someone from God "an evil spirit." By satisfying human wishes, an evil spirit pulls someone from God.
12. We can find the appearance of these evil spirits in modern society in various different forms. It is not necessarily limited to just the occult, or the many new religions [in our country since World War Two], or anything else tinged with religious coloring. Sometimes it exists in places quite familiar to us by donning a nonreligious mask that would claim self-discovery or self-development. But, wait, it might just rather be that the work of these different evil spirits that do not exhibit religious coloring is even more of a concern.
13. The battle against these evil spirits was the very battle that the church at Ephesus and Paul [as they] were filled with the Holy Spirit had to fight. And it's also the church's battle today. It is the battle for God to rule the world in his love and grace. It is the battle of God's Spirit to set people free and to make followers of God who love him freely and truly. How should a person go forward in this battle? What did Paul do?
14. What Paul did is the same in both Ephesus or in any town. He preached the Word. He preached the kingdom of God. He told how the rule of God's grace has already begun with the coming of the one named Jesus. But, this preaching met with a stubborn Jewish resistance as it did in any other place. So, Paul left the synagogue and moved his place to the lecture hall of a man named Tyrannus. This place was believed to have been a place where philosophy was lectured on morning and night. In that place Paul gave out the Word daily. The scripture tells us the results of that as this: "As this went on for two years, everyone living in the province of Asia, whether Jew or Greek, had come to hear the word of the Lord," (verse ten).
15. Then the report continues on in verse eleven. "God worked remarkable miracles through the hand of Paul. When they carried away towels or aprons that he had put on and applied them to the sick, it was such that their sicknesses were healed and even evil spirits had departed them," (verses eleven and twelve). We should not separate this from verse ten. This was a sign of the kingdom of God. As signs pointing to the kingdom God, God revealed himself in the reality of the rule of grace as attended by the preaching of the kingdom of God.
16. But, in every time period there are always people who are only attracted to the miracles alone and not to hearing the word of God, or seeking the kingdom of God, or in turning to God in repentance. It was like that in Paul's day too. Among those people then, there were Jewish spiritualists going around each area. Among them were the seven sons of the priest Sceva. They thought they could freely exercise the power of God through the name of Jesus. They spoke to the evil spirits, "We command you by Jesus whom Paul preaches." But, the relationship of Jesus and Paul was clearly different from the relationship between Jesus and these men. The sons of Sceva got into trouble instead. The Lord is not one whom we should take lightly. The Lord is absolutely independent from anything and when we submit to his authority, God governs over us with his grace. But, when we try to be the master and use God's power, God never approves of that. People invite judgment upon themselves by doing that.
17. There are these nefarious types on the one side and on the other side the many people who had entered the faith came and began to confess their evil deeds. Based on connecting it to the context, I'd say these "evil deeds" were the black magical acts that they had been involved in. Those who practiced sorcery burned up their books in front of everyone because they knew that they didn't need them anymore and because they knew that since people should believe in God and live under his rule, they shouldn't make the world fit according to their desires by obtaining special powers.
18. It was a complete defeat of the evil forces that would separate men and women from God. As freed people, the people began to live with God and obtained true salvation. It all came because of the power of God's word. Therefore, Luke wrote this in verse twenty, "Thus, the word of the Lord spread more and more powerfully and grew in might." And this mighty word of the Lord has also been given to us and we are being entrusted with this message as well.