Gospel In A Hostile Culture (Acts 19)


Happy October. In our house, this month is bookend by two events: 1) OBX, 2) Halloween Candy.

Many seek to discover the world’s greatest – whether it’s candy, restaurants, cars, cities, or overall wonders of the world. History has identified 7 wonders of the world with its beginnings over 2,000 years ago from travelers who marveled at man-made constructions. I will leave you to research the list of feats and places, and how they have changed during modern times. Yet, one of those ancient wonders was in the city of Ephesus with the Temple of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt/vengeance & fertility. Romans called her Diana.[1]

While there were multiple temples to this Greek goddess, the most significant structure was built around 350BC. The building was surrounded by marble steps that led to a more than 400’ long terrace. Inside stood 127, 60’ columns and a massive statue of Artemis. One historical philosopher wrote, “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on anything so grand.”[2]

While we have studied Paul’s journeys to an idolatrous culture (Athens), immoral culture (Corinth), we now turn to a hostile culture in response to the true God.

EXAMINE       Acts 18:19 – 19:41

Acts 18 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus. 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Paul left Corinth for Ephesus. Ephesus was another major port city of Asia Minor. It had an estimated population of 250K. It not only boasted a wonder of the world in the Temple of Artemis, but also contained a 24K seat theatre, a lecture hall, and overall known for city life all are accustomed; with specific emphasis on the occult, magic, and healing. Thus, Ephesians 6 statements about spiritual warfare and putting on the armor of God make complete sense. Paul sought to understand the heartbeat of the city so he could pierce it with the sword of the Spirit and stitch it back with the gospel thread of grace. 

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Interestingly, while Paul was received favorably and invited to stay, he returned home to Antioch. His haste was probably due to a desire to reach Jerusalem in preparation for Passover before winter travel made it unbearable.[3]

After some respite and recovery, he began his third missionary journey to return to strengthen many of the churches he had started.

  • Paul made his way back to Antioch, the church that established his Christian faith and sent him on mission. It was his, and many others’ home base, and as we all know, there’s no place like home. Where do you go for physical respite and spiritual renewal? I pray that your residential home and our church family is a place of sweet replenishment and peace, and that you/we guard our doors from becoming a place of chaos or conflict.
    – Matthew 7:25 “[When] the rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
    *Skyscrapers are not built with sandcastle foundations.
    – Isaiah 32:18 “[The LORD’s] people will live in peaceful habitations, in secure homes, in undisturbed resting places.”
    – Proverbs 24:3-4 “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”
    – Joshua 24:15 “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

I pray that your residential home and our church family is a place of sweet replenishment and peace, and that you/we guard our doors from becoming a place of chaos or conflict.

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 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. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.        

Paul does return to Ephesus. Before he arrives, there was a gospel work taking place with Priscilla & Aquilla. Also, an eloquent speaker and Scripturally sound man named Apollos had arrived in the city/church. He’s from Alexandria (Egypt), which is where a magnificent Library existed and the Septuagint (Greek translation of Hebrew OT Scriptures) was written ~250BC.[4] Therefore, Apollos was highly educated and knowledgeable about the Messiah but not personally aware of Jesus. So, Priscilla & Aquilla explained to Apollos the fulfillment of prophecies and teachings of Jesus, and he too became a Christian. While God used Paul to plant churches, it seems God used Apollos to nurture Christians and disciple healthy churches (1 Cor 3:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13). Overall, Scripture does not tell us what became of Apollos beyond that he was a preacher of the gospel and powerful teacher of God’s word. Some speculate he was the author of the book of Hebrews.[5]

Never underestimate an open Bible.

  • Never underestimate an open Bible. Apollos was a student of Scripture. He was also a humble learner from Priscilla & Aquilla. Their studies together led to him being further equipped and used of God in meaningful ways. Your Bible discussion at a coffee shop, or small group study in a home, few verse meditations in the AM, or single catechism questions with a child, or church seminars may seem small, but they are profoundly significant, progressively equipping, and altogether honoring to the Lord.

*Sunday 9:30am TGP is 3-year scope of entire Bible for CM/YM/AM.

*Gospel Family Groups. If not in one and need teacher, get a group of 5 people and I’ll facilitate to get you going.   

  • Seek to be a coach more than a critic. Priscilla & Aquilla’s ministry is impressive. Their quiet faithfulness to serve the Lord, tell people about Jesus, teach the Scriptures from their home and church are a model example. Their reputation could have easily been held over Apollos – “Who is this guy coming into our church like he knows everything?” Instead, they humbly encourage and teach, and allow him to utilize his spiritual gifts.
    – Whom are you criticizing that needs coaching?
  • If you’re on the other end receiving the correction, turn it into instruction and grow from it.

Acts 19 1 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.

While Apollos travels from Ephesus to Corinth, Paul returns to Ephesus. Paul encounters some Messianic disciples who had only been baptized according to John (cf Ac 1:5; 11:16; 13:25; 18:25; 19:3), and not into Christ or received the Holy Spirit. Paul explains the gospel to them, and they receive the Spirit. Luke’s emphasis on 12-disciples and upon receiving the Spirit speaking in tongues and prophesying, is similar to Pentecost (Acts 2). Luke seems to be indicating the gospel is continuing to establish foundational apostolic roots, even among Gentile regions.

A few items to note/apply

  • Not everyone who believes in God follows Jesus. Likewise, not everyone who goes to church or talks like a Christian is one. Some people have an awareness of God/Jesus/Scripture but not the authenticity of faith. Each person must have a defined experience (not always a single moment) of turning from sin & self, and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation.
  • This is the only example of re-baptism, highlighting an unusual and unique experience between the old and new covenant. We must remember much of the content in Acts is descriptive of events and not prescriptive for experience. In other words, this example of already being baptized and not receiving the Spirit is generally at odds with the Christian faith. The pattern for saving faith and Spirit-filled believers in Acts is: God opening eyes/hearts, individual repentance of sin, reception of the Spirit, and baptism (mostly simultaneous; cf Acts 2:38; 8:15,f; 8:38,f; 10:47; 19:5).

And he 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. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

The total time Paul stays in Ephesus is 3-years; his longest, compared to 18-months at Corinth, and just weeks or days at other cities.

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 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.

Notice Luke describes this as “extraordinary miracles” from God by the hands of Paul. The association is God’s presence is with His followers to bring His kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven; to reverse the curse of sin, healing the sick and offering hope to the helpless; and redeeming the world’s brokenness. God’s people bring a taste of heaven on earth with their love, joy, peace, and perseverance.  

Certainly, not to be missed, is the reality that far too often Paul’s experience has been distorted in a way that blasphemes God and dishonors the church. Merchandizing “sacred carpets” or “holy bandannas” and promising earthly blessing or eternal rewards misses the point of what Luke was describing.

God’s people bring a taste of heaven on earth with their love, joy, peace, and perseverance.

13 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.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”

Interesting insight into the spiritual world that aligns with the Gospels. The demons always have accurate theology. They know Jesus is the “Son of God.” The book of James says “demons believe in God and shudder” but they lack saving faith. Likewise, Satan has memorized more Scripture than even the most distinguished seminary student, but the devil and his demons are not devoted to the glory of Jesus. – – So, this evil spirit knows Jesus and Paul, but is not afraid of any phony prophet, false teacher, or scamming ghostbuster.

16 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. 17 And this became known 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.

This seems incredible. You have probably heard of individuals jacked up on drugs/meth with temporary feats of strength. In similar manner, this demon-possessed individual overpowers 7 ghostbusters and beats the pants off them! Listen, if you enter a fight with clothes and leave without them, you’ve lost. They were wounded physically and psychologically and went home with embarrassing shame and defeat.

18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 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.

Spiritual warfare and physical suffering have a way of sobering individuals to get right with God and get real with repentance. An entire community began to confess sin, clean their house of idolatry, and commit sincerely to follow Jesus.

–Side note:

A) 50K pieces of silver = 137+ years of daily wages; several million dollars.

B) Repentance is a change of views, values, and behaviors.

Ps 119:37 “Turn my eyes from worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

C) Instead of burning the books, why didn’t they sell them and tithe or give all the money to the church? BC THEY WERE IDOLS. Idols are not just to be separated from but set fire to them; Christians are not to coddle sin but crucify it. 

  • What things in your life need placed on the altar fire?

20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Well, that was then. Our society is sophisticated, and world is rational, “We don’t worship idols.”  

  • So what do you call 71K willing to sit in heavy winds & rain @M&T Bank Stadium to cheer on grown men wearing purple chasing a leather ball?
  • Can you explain what you call HS students who can wake up early for sports, discipline their diet and exercise so their body performs to the fullest capacity?
  • Please elaborate on the business man who goes to work before the sun comes up and returns home after the sun goes down; but is late for family dinner, misses birthdays, travels on anniversaries, and racks up debt for his gambling debt.
  • Why does that young girl obsess over body image; endlessly compare her life to the photos of all her social media friends; and inwardly fantasize about escape and romance with guys who don’t believe in God like she does, nor really appreciate her unconditionally, yet she yields her body to them?
  • Or, how does a person who has feverishly worked their way to the top with the help of others, now to spend their life in luxury but neglecting to give back to benefit or mentor others?

You see, the principles of Paul and the compassion of the Christian church caused no little disturbance concerning the Way. The way was a reference to what Jesus said of Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), – not just a way among many, but the only antidote for sin, the only source of salvation, the only passage beyond the grave.

Paul and the early Christians saw the gods that enslave but they chose the God who saves. They were turning the world upside down. They were disrupting culture not by positioning themselves for government seats of power, but by proclaiming the gospel. They pointed out how the world seeks economic security and personal identity from their idols. And when their finances or retirement are attacked, or when their comforts or convictions are challenged, they will grow hostile.

  • Imagine a church’s impact in a community that
    • Attracted the spiritually disinterested through tangible acts of love and service.
    • Reconciled fragmented families.
    • Partnered with parents on raising thriving children and siblings that don’t argue and bicker… 😛
    • Marriages were enriched instead of separating.
    • Connected the generationally segmented.
    • Healed racial divisions.
    • Bolstered special need families.
    • Comforted individuals and families hurt by physical or emotional suffering.
  • Imagine a movement of God in a city where
    • Crime rates dropped and business boomed.
    • Murder rates dropped and neighborhoods were joyful.
    • The name of Jesus was praised as frequently and fervently as sport fans cheer in stadiums.
    • And the Baltimore Orioles won World Series each year.
  • Imagine a sweeping revival where
    • Hollywood’s movies produce less filth and more faith inspiration.
    • Human trafficking was eliminated.
    • National leaders were humble instead of war hungry.
    • Church seats were filled with passionate worshipers, heartfelt friendship, and authentic disciples.

This sort of impact would upset the skeptics and agitate the atheists. The culture would become argumentative and aggressive toward the church because they proclaim God that does not fit in our pockets but one that is supreme in the heavens. The true God doesn’t need protected just proclaimed for all His glory and grace.

The true God doesn’t need protected just proclaimed for all His glory and grace. #Acts19


Paul tells the Ephesians that Gods masterpiece is not made with human hands or the price of earthly treasure. Instead, people are God’s workmanship created for good works and bought with the precious blood of Christ. We are purchased and prized by Jesus.

Great is our Father’s faithfulness.
Great is our Savior’s forgiveness.
Great is the Spirit’s comfort.
A thousand tongues to sing, our Triune God be magnified.

[1] Chad Brand et al., eds., “Artemis,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 121.

[2] https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/seven-wonders-of-the-ancient-world#section_4, https://www.thecollector.com/7-wonders-ancient-world/  

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 587.

[4] https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/4022-a-brief-history-of-the-septuagint

[5] Church Reformer Martin Luther. If I had a guess, Apollos was the author of Hebrews but ultimately the Holy Spirit knows.

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