Today we are going to look at Paul’s third missionary journey and our focus is going to be on the 2 years that Paul spent in Ephesus. Paul’s journey started out where all his journeys did which was in Antioch. Paul then travelled back through the region of Galatia, stopping in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. These were all places Paul had visited before and most of these towns he was forced out and told never to return. One of the things we have learned about Paul is that he was a determined man who simply did not give up. He had been called by God to preach to the gentiles and share the good news that Jesus was the Messiah and Paul never stopped doing that and he never stopped encouraging the churches that he started. We cannot give up when God calls us.
At the very end of Paul’s second journey he stopped in Ephesus for a short visit. Acts 18:19-21. Paul had promised to return to this city and on his third journey he fulfills that promise. Paul was excited to teach and preach in Ephesus because this was the 4th largest city in the Roman Empire and a very strategic location. All roads in this region led to Ephesus because it was a port city. It was a center for business, culture and learning and Paul could see how Ephesus could be key for the spread of Christianity around the world. If the community of Jesus could penetrate this city, then its influence and message could spread around the world both by land and sea. In many ways, Ephesus was the crossroads of the world so it was an important place for Paul to spend time teaching, preaching and establishing a center for the Christian faith.
When Paul arrived in Ephesus he met some followers of Jesus who knew about Jesus and John the Baptist but they didn’t know about the gift and power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 19:1-7
The baptism of John was an act of repentance. It was a way for people to acknowledge sin and express a desire to live a new life. John’s baptism led people to Jesus who then showed them what this new life was like and it led people closer to God, but it wasn’t a baptism in the name of Jesus and it was missing the power of the Holy Spirit. The people of Ephesus were missing so much in their faith because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit and it leads me to ask how much of our faith are we missing because we have not fully accepted and experienced the power of God’s Holy Spirit?
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come to be a comforter, to lead us into all truth, to guide us in the way of life and to form our lives as a potter forms and shapes clay. But the Holy Spirit was also going to give power. After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples, I am going to send you what my Father has promised; stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49. The power Jesus is talking about is the power of the Holy Spirit and it is still the Holy Spirit who gives us power.
The Holy Spirit gives us power to live for God in a world that often pushes back against the way and will of God. Last week David talked about how the call of God often leads us to live in ways that are different than the world around. God calls our values to change and it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the power to make that change. The Holy Spirit also gives us power to follow the unique call God has given to us when forces work against us or we experience disappointments and failures. It is the Holy Spirit that gives life to God’s call; it shapes it and guides us and it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the courage, strength and determination to live out that call in our lives. Paul baptized the people in Ephesus in the name of Jesus, and we know they received the Holy Spirit because the power was given to them to speak in tongues.
This gift of tongues allowed people to speak in other languages and sometimes in unknown languages and the reason it was important in this time of the church was that it was an immediate and outward sign that the Holy Spirit was present and at work. There has always been a certain amount of controversy around the gift of tongues and Paul often addressed it in his teaching. While tongues was a gift – Paul said it was more important to speak plainly so others could hear and learn about God and Paul encouraged people to seek after and nurture other gifts instead.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the gift of wisdom, knowledge and faith, as well as healing, prophecy and miracles and in his letter to the Romans Paul talks about the gifts of serving, teaching, encouragement, giving and leadership. All of these gifts are also manifestations of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. They often aren’t seen as clearly or immediately as the gift of tongues but they are perhaps more powerful because they impact the lives of others in more significant ways. When we are compelled to serve or encourage or give or lead than we know that the Holy Spirit is present and moving in our lives. The big question is this – Have we asked the Holy Spirit to be present and at work in our lives?
To receive the power of the Holy Spirt we don’t need to be re-baptized, but we do need to pray and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us and use us and guide us in life. If we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and are praying daily for this to happen, it will. Let me share with you an amazing story about the work of God’s Holy Spirit in the life of Donna and Tom Taylor. Many of you know Donna and Tom, they were very active here at Faith Church and moved to Florida a few years ago.
Donna contacted the UM Children’s Home in their area to see if they needed afghans and quilts for the children and youth. She was told that what they really needed were laundry bags since most of the kids arrived with their few belongings in plastic bags. The Holy Spirit was leading Donna to do this project because a neighbor had already given her a lot of fabric that she could use for these bags. Donna then discovered that Walmart had drapery fabric on clearance for $1 a yard so she went and bought most of what they had.
Two weeks later, Donna travelled to another Walmart that had some fabric on sale and as the saleswoman was measuring the fabric, she asked what Donna was making. Donna told her about the children’s home and their need and she immediately said pick any of the fabric that you want and we will give it to for $1 a yard. Donna said, the story could have stopped there but it didn’t…the saleswoman then pulled out her charge card and paid for the purchase. They told her that wasn’t necessary but she insisted and said that she couldn’t sew but she could help this way. Donna said, I walked away more firm in my mission and feeling so blessed by the power of GOD in everyday lives.
But the story doesn’t end there, after Donna and Tom delivered the laundry bags to the children’s home they stopped at a JoAnn’s Fabric store. The saleswoman, who Donna knew, looked up and said, “I have something for you!” The woman went into the back and returned with a new sewing machine. She told Donna that someone had recently purchased it and didn’t like the way it worked so traded it in for a different model and she knew that Donna was the one to have this barely used machine. When they asked how much it would be, the woman said nothing. She had taken care of it. She then told Donna that if she was not working, she would be serving alongside her in her mission and ministry.
This is just one example of how the power of the Holy Spirit can move in our lives. When we invite the spirit to be at work in us every day, God is able to do great things. Will these kind of events happen all the time? No. Remember, Paul was persecuted and driven out of places, but there were also miracles and powerful leadings of God mixed in as well. Daily inviting the Holy Spirit to work in us opens the door for God’s power to be seen and God’s love and grace to be shone and most importantly for God’s will to be done and God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
As the power of the Holy Spirit fills people and miracles and wonders like these are seen one thing that happens is that people stop trusting in many of the things they used to trust and they start trusting in God. We hear this in Acts 19:18-20
In Ephesus, and throughout the Greek world, people turned to sorcery for help. We aren’t talking about the Harry Potter kind of sorcery, but spells and incantations that people would buy to help them in life. If someone needed healing or strength or maybe they wanted a child or needed help in business they would purchase a small scroll with a spell on it that they were supposed to repeat. Here is a scroll found in Egypt, it says, Give me your strength, Abaras. Say this 7 times while holding your 2 thumbs.
These spells written out on scrolls were some of the things that people turned to for comfort, healing, strength and guidance but as more people started turning to God and found all of this in Jesus they found these scrolls meaningless, so people brought their scrolls to Paul and instead of selling them – which they could have – they saw them as meaningless and destroyed them. The gospel of Jesus Christ had made such an impact on people’s lives that instead of trusting in the spells and incantations of the day and instead of trusting in the 50,000 drachma (more than $5 million) they could have gotten if they sold them, they just gave them up.
The Holy Spirit can still bring this kind of power into our lives. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to turn away from the things of this world that we used to trust in so that we can trust more fully in God. While most of us don’t have spells and incantations that we repeat to bring about health and good luck, there are many things in this world that we still trust more than God.
When I was growing up I was a sucker for the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and every year I would follow the directions and return the entry sure that I was going to win. Their commercials still kind of tug at my heart and mind and I think – well, someone has to win why not me. But when I go down that road I am trusting in the idea of monthly checks more than God. For some people the same is true with the lottery, or gambling, or reading your horoscope. Now there is nothing evil in these things –but we need to ask ourselves – what is it that I trust? Where am I placing my hope and looking for strength? Am I turning to and trusting in God or the things of this world? Anything other than God is an idol that needs to be removed from our lives.
Speaking of idols, Ephesus was the center of worship to Artemis, the goddess of fertility.
|A statue of the goddess Artemis.|
The city housed the Temple to Artemis which is considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and while the temple lies in ruins today,
|The ruins of the temple today.|
it would have been a spectacular vision in Paul’s Day.
|What the Temple of Artemis may have looked like in Paul’s day.|
The people of Ephesus took seriously their role as keepers of the Temple and many of the businesses in Ephesus centered on sustaining the worship of Artemis. Many people in Ephesus were artisans who made statues of Artemis that were sold to people there and around the world.
As more people turned away from sorcery and idols to trust in Jesus, the less need there would be for statutes and idols to Artemis so the statue and idol makers in the city saw Paul and his message as a threat to their business and way of life. They spoke against Paul and started a riot. Acts 19:23-41
|This is the theater where this story in Acts 19 takes place.|
What this story shows us is that while Paul often faced persecution and opposition, the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in him and helping fulfill his call. The message of Jesus was spreading in the gentile world. People were finding real hope and help in Jesus and the Holy Spirit was filling people causing them to turn away from the Greek and Roman gods they once worshipped. The influence of Jesus was making a difference in the world, so much so that a riot in one of the largest cities had the entire region in turmoil. The Holy Spirit helped Paul remain faithful to God’s call to take the gospel of Jesus to the gentiles and the Holy Spirit was changing lives and those changed lives were slowly changing the world.
Paul spent months and years in the cities and towns he visited and slowly his message and work was making a difference. This third missionary journey shows us the power there is when we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and allow God’s power to work in us and through us. When God calls us he doesn’t leave us to work on our own, he makes available to us His power. Today and every day let us ask God for the gift and power of the Holy Spirit to fill us, shape us and use us so that our world might truly be transformed.
Called to Power
1. Read about Paul’s third missionary journey in Acts 18:23 – 20:1-38
2. Invite the Holy Spirit to be part of your life every day.
Almighty God, fill me with the power of your Holy Spirit. Give me the strength and courage to trust in You more than I trust in the things of this world. Help me to embrace all that You have for me today and let me to be faithful to Your call and the purpose and plan You have for my life. Use me as You will and make me a blessing to all I meet. I pray this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
3. Take time at the end of each day to reflect on where you saw the power of God at work in your life. Notice the work of the Holy Spirit in the little and big things. Give thanks for God’s power.
4. Read Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Identify the various gifts of the spirit and reflect on which gifts you have experienced in your own life. How can you use these gifts to help fulfill the call of God in your life?
5. What practices might you need to give up in order to show more faith and trust in God? What idols in your life might need to be torn down and destroyed?