Acts 19 – Paul Stories

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Today’s PassageActs 19

Here, guys. Have some Paul stories.

The first one occurs in Ephesus. There, Paul finds a similar situation to what he found with Apollos from the previous chapter: Christians had been baptized, but “into John’s baptism” (3). They hadn’t been baptized in Jesus’ name, and they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit. So Paul fixes that. The end, next story.

This one also happens in Ephesus. God is using Paul to miraculous ends, healing and exorcising demons. Trying to keep up with him, Jewish exorcists attempt to piggyback off his success by invoking Christ’s name too, commanding demons, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches” (13). But that doesn’t go so well. The seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva give the ol’ “Jesus whom Paul preaches” a try, but the demon replies, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (15). The demon then throws the body of its vessel at these would-be exorcists with such fury that they flee the scene beaten and naked. They learn the hard way that the name of Jesus ain’t no magic incantation. It’s useless unless backed by the same Holy Spirit that Jesus had.

The third story, you guessed it, happens in Ephesus. Idolatry is a profitable business for some, and a prominent silversmith named Demetrius gets the city’s craftsmen and workmen together to address Paul’s insistence that “gods made with hands are no gods at all” (26). And Demetrius isn’t in it just to make a buck. He sincerely believes in the goddess Artemis, saying,

Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence. (27)

His speech sends his colleagues into a frenzy, rioting and holding two of Paul’s friends captive in the Ephesian amphitheater. Eventually, the town clerk is able to enter the theater, remind the crowd that the proper place to address their grievances, especially with those who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of Artemis, is the court. Rioting, on the other hand, is against Roman law. The crowd disperses, and that takes care of that.

I’m wary of trying to draw life lessons too quickly from stories like these. It’s too easy to draw parallels that don’t exist between one’s own life and the events described, taking away the wrong lesson through some tenuous connection. Sometimes, I believe, the takeaway lesson is that these events are real, they happened, and we do not feature in them. They simply happened.

But why bother relating what happened if it doesn’t, in some sense, matter? Faced with the choice between recording these events and doing something else with his life, Luke took the time to pen them down. If nothing else, they show that Jesus Christ makes a difference. His gospel has interpersonal, social, economic implications. It alters the human landscape; it did then, and it does today. Fidelity to the gospel might not draw the ire of shrine-crafting idolatrous silversmiths or cause a city’s worth of craftsmen to storm a public building, but one way or another, genuine commitment to Christ is going to make someone unhappy. But, as the seven sons of Sceva and their failed exorcism demonstrate, faith in Christ sure beats the alternative.

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