Every chapter in Acts is a keeper, but none are more fascinating than chapter 19 for a variety of reasons.
CAUTION: The first lesson we encounter right off the bat is not to construct a doctrine or our theology on an isolated event, no matter how intriguing we find it.
In Ephesus, Paul encounters some disciples of John the Baptist who have had no teachings since the death of that wonderful servant. They’ve not heard of Jesus and know nothing of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. So, Paul teaches them, then baptizes them “in the name of Jesus.”
I’ve known for religious groups to build an entire interpretation of how the Holy Spirit comes and works just on this story. Not a safe thing to do. In fact, most commentators on Acts will point out that, just as Jesus said in John 3 the Holy Spirit moves like the wind — you do not know where it came from or where it will go from here, but you simply see the effects at the moment — the Lord works in various ways and uses various methodologies throughout Acts.
A little later (19:11-12), we see people healed by handkerchiefs taken from Paul’s body. Take that verse out of the Bible and half the evangelists on television would go out of business.
FUNNY: The little story in Acts 19:11-16 may be the funniest thing in the New Testament. Granted, the Bible was not given as a comedy routine and anyone reading it seeking humorous material are pursuing a fool’s quest, but it does have its moments.
Paul has been mightily used of the Lord in Ephesus for miracles of exorcism and healings. Seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva watched him and decided they could do that. They found a demon-possessed person — apparently they were plentiful — and gathered around him. One said, “I know how to do this. I’ve seen that Paul fellow work.” As they all laid hands on the poor fellow, the leader of the seven sons intoned, “We command you in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches to come out of this man.”
The demon inside the man said, “Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?”
At this point, the fellow jumped up and began to beat them. Luke, who is writing the story, says they fled, wounded and naked.
Bible students read that, recover from the humor of it, then realize there is something important in that devil’s comment. The demon certainly knew who Jesus was, and he was also well acquainted with Paul, who had caused him lots of torment. But he did not know these seven idle boys who were having a little fun that day.
In order to be saved, the Bible teaches we must know Jesus Christ and He know us. But there is not a word in the Bible that teaches in order to be lost, the devil must know us and we him. In fact, most lost people probably don’t even believe in the devil. And that suits him just fine.
REVIVAL: God sent a great revival in Ephesus (Acts 19:17-20). What does that mean? Large numbers of people who heard of Jesus were believing in Him and renouncing their paganism. They were speaking up, confessing their faith, and going public in their new allegiance. As a result, many decided to get rid of the idols and charms which had ruled and ruined their lives. Many of these little statuettes depicted Diana, the local goddess.
Most Christians think of revivals as bringing only good, but there is another side to that story. The businesses of Ephesus were built around the manufacture of Diana-figurines and hosting worshipers from far and wide. When people turned to Jesus Christ, they renounced the old foolishness. Suddenly, the businesses found themselves without customers.
That’s why a revival in Ephesus caused an economic crisis in that city.
Interestingly, when the business leaders got together and decided to act against the Christians, they craftily did not admit their true reasons — pains in the pocketbook — but claimed that their main consideration was pride in their city (Acts 19:27). Another bit of humor, if you ask me.
PROTECTION: This is just a minor thing but it strikes me as helpful. The disciples watched the uproar approach riot status and refused to allow the Apostle Paul to enter the arena (19:30).
We always think of Paul being the leader, but in this case, he was the one being led. He submitted himself to the wisdom of the church’s leadership in Ephesus and stayed home that day. Good lesson for pastors when their leadership insists they do something for their own good — stay home with the family, take a needed rest, that sort of thing.
TESTIMONY: This is one of my favorite insights in Acts. In order to quell the riot, the Ephesus city clerk takes the podium and reasons with the mob. He reminds them that everyone knows Ephesus is the capital of Diana-worship and no one is going to take that honor from them. We shouldn’t do anything rashly, he warns. He’s implying without using the words that the Roman government will not take kindly any kind of civic uprising and they should tread softly. Then, he makes a point every Christian should take to heart.
Looking at the Christians who have been bound and dragged into the arena, the clerk says, “These men whom you have brought here are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess.” (19:37)
Fascinating. Paul has been preaching in this city for over two years and having incredible results. Yet, by the very testimony of a pagan city father, neither he nor the others have been speaking out against Diana. What kind of self-control did that take?
You and I know plenty of preachers who would have walked into that city with both guns blazing, calling the goddess every bad name they could think of and rejoicing in the bad publicity they generated. The mob and riots they provoked they would take as signs of success, and the few converts they intimidated into the kingdom of God would become their groupies. It’s a form of mental sickness, if you ask me.
Great stuff here in Acts 19, and plenty more besides this. But this is enough to get you started.