Paul the Circuit Preacher
We’ve seen Paul on two different missionary journeys so far through our study in Acts and he is now on his third missions trip. The Apostle Paul can now be compared to a circuit preacher. From Wikipedia – Circuit Preacher: “A circuit preacher is a Christian minister who, in response to a shortage of ministers, officiates at multiple churches in an area, thus covering a ‘circuit’.”
We left Paul in his circuit visiting the churches, but we have not forgotten, nor has he, the promise he made to his friends at Ephesus, to return to them, and make some stay there; now this chapter (Acts 19) shows us his performance of that promise, his coming to Ephesus, and his continuance there two years. ~Matthew Henry
You may remember that when Paul was last in Ephesus, he told them that if God allowed him to, he would return to them:
When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, but took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus. ~Acts 18:20-21
Now Paul returns to Ephesus to teach:
Vs 1-7 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.
Here we see that upon Paul’s return to Ephesus he finds a group of believing men who had not heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the situation we saw back in chapter 18 with Apollos. These believers knew the “baptism of John”, but nothing else of Jesus.
John the Baptist’s ministry was to point to the coming Messiah to save Israel and the world. The “baptism of John” was a baptism of repentance and acknowledgment that the believer recognized that he/she was a sinner and that a Messiah was coming to save the sinner. These believers knew nothing else past that. They didn’t know or understand that the Messiah had come, nor did they know anything of the Holy Spirit. Here we see Paul give them a more complete understanding of the Gospel. Not only was the Savior prophesied to come, but He had come and been killed for their sins and had been raised up again on the third day to offer them eternal life. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, so that now they are complete in Christ.
From David Guzik: “On the one hand, they are called disciples – and appear to part of the company of Christians in Ephesus, things that would not usually be said of them if they were not actually Christians. On the other hand, they know so little about Jesus; and they are baptized in water again, this time in the name of Jesus. So were they Christians already or not? It’s tough to say – but certainly, Paul perceived they lacked something of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
What about you? Would someone look at your life and see a conspicuous absence of the Holy Spirit – His peace and power – in your life? What do you see when you look at your own life?”
Paul Teaches in a Public School
Vs 8-9 And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
Some think that this “school of Tyrannus” was a school for Jews, others believe it to be a Greek public school. As we’ve seen previously in the book of Acts, what Satan intended for evil God turns to good use. Paul was being opposed in the synagogue where he was probably limited to teaching once a week. Now suddenly he is able to be “reasoning daily”. To God be the glory!
When Joseph the son of Jacob was in his last days on earth in the book of Genesis, he reassures his brothers who had sold him into slavery:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
~ Genesis 50:20
The Lord still does that today in our lives as believers. Many of the painful and difficult circumstances we’ve gone through in our lives have been used by God to be a testimony for Him later, or to help us assist others in what they’re going through. The devil cannot thwart God’s plans no matter how hard he tries.
Vs 10-12 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.
I love the phrase “unusual miracles”! God does “normal miracles” in our lives all the time. Many of those miracles we don’t even see or recognize. That car accident that God prevented. The son or daughter that God brings back to Him in repentance. The life saved from drugs or alcohol at the local mission. The baby born that wasn’t aborted, or the adoption that occurred after birth. The healing of cancer when no cure was expected.
But here in Acts 19, God is doing some “unusual miracles”. This suggests that these miracles were limited to the book of Acts – for this moment in time. God is not limited to using these miracles elsewhere, but we don’t see this same miracle repeated throughout Scripture. Consider that there no limit to His awesome creativity, and this is simply God demonstrating that! We see miracles all through the Bible where the miracle happens only once (look at the way God stopped the sun in Joshua 10, or the 10 plagues on Egypt in Exodus chapters 7-11, or Daniel in the lions den in Daniel 6). A more “normal” miracle might be the different ways God uses the laying on of hands which we see fairly often in the Old and the New Testaments.
The Circuit Exorcists
Vs 13-20 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
The phrase “itinerant Jewish exorcists” suggests that these are circuit exorcists. Satan loves to try to copy what God is doing in order to trick mankind. He makes a counterfeit copy of God’s good things to fool us into sin. As one example of this, God created animal blood sacrifice to Him way back in Genesis 4 and Genesis 15 in the Old Testament. Satan copies that and tricks man into animal and human baby sacrifice to false gods all through the Old Testament. So here we see these Jewish exorcists copying what they’ve seen the disciples do which is to drive out evil spirits in Jesus’ name. In this way, Satan is trying to draw away from the work of God.
Satan’s own demons know who Jesus is and they recognize that these exorcists are not Christians – they don’t have Jesus!
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
Again, what man and the devil intend for evil, God uses for His good purpose and for His glory! Look at verse 17 – “and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified” and also verse 20 – “the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed”.
One of Satan’s tools
Vs 21-29 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. “Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.” Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions.
Here again we see Satan attempting to stop the work of God and the growth of the new church. Satan uses men to cause confusion and angers a rowdy mob around the idea that Paul and the disciples were disrupting their business. This is very similar to Satan’s tactic in Acts 16 with the fortune-telling slave girl. Money itself is not a sin, it is a fact of life that we all have to deal with in order to live in this world. But Satan frequently uses money as a means of corrupting people to sin, causing division in marriages and churches, or in this case prompting men to try to stop the ministry of God.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
~1 Timothy 6:10
It’s not money itself that is sinful, it’s the love of money. Again, it’s a common tool that Satan uses to drive people into sinful behavior.
God can sure use anybody!
Vs 30-41 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
God can use anyone -Christian or not- to serve His purposes. The Lord can use a policeman to stop you from speeding which keeps you from an accident. He can use a non-believing doctor with his medical training to heal. Here in Acts we see God use the town clerk who is obviously not a believer. He refers to the “great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus” which tells us he believes in 1) the false goddess Diana (and that she is great), and that 2) a meteorite that fell from the sky is a god-image, and that it’s 3) sent from the god Zeus.
Our omnipotent God uses all kinds of people and circumstances in our lives to accomplish His good work and His plan. We see that very clearly here in Acts 19. But we also see that very clearly all throughout the Bible. We see it from the very first sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) all the way through the crucifixion of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins to the anti-christ in the book of Revelation. God is working in you and in me every single day and through every situation in our lives whether we see it or not.