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Changing the World, the Right Way

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 19

As Christians, our works should be a shining example to others. But it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that can change lives, destinies, and even cultures.


The apostle Paul will spend more time in Corinth and Ephesus than anywhere else.[1] These were two of the largest cities in the empire. The apostle understood the impact of reaching into major cities within the Roman Empire.

Acts chapter 19 picks up now with Paul’s third missionary journey and his return to Ephesus. Paul must have sensed something incomplete among some new believers he encounters here, because he asks them in verse 2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Their answer is “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

Paul then asks them in verse 3, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they answer, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul replies with this statement:

“John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” (verse 4)

John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet. He baptized people who repented and followed his teaching, in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Just like Apollos when he first came to Ephesus, these men—about twelve of them (verse 7)—are following the teaching of John the Baptist and know nothing of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; they know nothing of the church that has been created; they do not even know of the finished work of Christ.

There were no online news services and cell phones. It was much like in the early days of North America, when news traveled slowly and people on the west coast did not know Abraham Lincoln had been elected president until three weeks later.

Paul proceeds to bring them up to date—frankly, into the dispensation of the church age. And verse 5 says, “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” They place their faith in Jesus and then identify with His death and burial and resurrection through their immersion in water, which is what the Greek word baptizō, or baptize, means.

With that, Paul lays his hands on them, and these men begin to speak in tongues and prophesy. Now do not misunderstand this, as many do; this is not an ongoing pattern today. This was a transitional period of time, and the book of Acts describes what is happening while the New Testament is still incomplete.

The New Testament epistles will make it clear that at salvation, the believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residency in the believer.

The delay here in Acts 19, along with the miraculous sign-gifts, shows that all these believers are equally a part of the church. By this delayed baptism of the Spirit, they experience the same thing the Jewish believers experienced in Acts 2; and the Samaritans did in Acts 8; then the first Gentiles who believed in Acts 10. Now this group, whom we might call Old Testament saints—those whom John the Baptist prepared for Christ’s coming—personally believe in Jesus and clearly receive the Holy Spirit.

Everyone who was saved in the book of Acts did not speak in tongues or prophesy. But these groups of people did, showing the world that they were all equally a part of this new creation—the New Testament church.

While teaching is Paul’s primary ministry here in Ephesus, verse 11 tells us that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.” These miracles include healings and exorcisms.

And again, as we’ve discussed before, these miracles are designed to validate God’s apostles in these early years as they lay the foundation of the church. We are not laying the foundation today, beloved; now 2,000 years later, we just might be putting on the last few shingles before the church is completed.

Some folks in Ephesus are fascinated with Paul’s power to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, so they try their hand at it:

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.” (verse 13)

When they attempt this, the demon replies, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (verse 15). Then the demonized man begins to overpower these exorcists. Instead of them getting rid of the demon, the demon gets rid of them!

God uses this event to produce some impressive results. Verses 17-20 tell us a holy fear falls upon the people, Jesus’ name is exalted, new believers confess their sins, books of occultic magic and sorcery are burned, and the impact of the Christian community increases.

The rest of chapter 19 describes a riot that occurs in Ephesus. It begins with a silversmith named Demetrius who fears going out of business when people start following Jesus and stop buying his little silver images of Artemis, the goddess of Ephesus.

Artemis was worshiped as the goddess of earth and nature. She was an early form of what people still worship today and often call Mother Nature.

The temple to Artemis at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Inside was a twenty-foot image of Artemis, which supposedly had fallen from the heavens.

Silversmiths like Demetrius have a booming business selling merchandise related to Artemis. You could get little silver replicas of Artemis’s image. If this were occurring today, you would be able to buy t-shirts and coffee mugs with her image. She is the brand of Ephesus, and Christianity is ruining the brand. So, Demetrius stirs the city into an uproar. Verse 29 describes it:

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.

By the way, the remains of this 25,000-seat amphitheater can be seen in Ephesus today.

The crowd packs this amphitheater, and verse 34 says, they chant for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Finally, the town clerk settles the people down and reminds them that a riot could bring serious repercussions from Rome. He even says that the Christians did not blaspheme their goddess (verse 37). They did not attack Artemis or picket the silversmiths. They shared with everyone the gospel of Christ, and new believers began to live differently. Quietly, the riot ends.

I hear a lot of talk today about changing our culture. Beloved, we have never been told to change our culture; we have been told to make disciples. We certainly grieve over the evil we see in our culture, but we must remember we were not commanded to make bad people good, but to give people the gospel. We do not clean up our culture; we rescue people out of it.

The church needs to take its cue from the church in Ephesus. They changed their world, not by chanting louder, “Great is the God of Abraham!” They changed their world by allowing the God of Abraham to change them.

If you are a student of church history, you have heard of the great 1904-1905 Welsh revival that brought some 100,000 people to faith in Christ. The social impact was astounding, as crime virtually disappeared. Judges had no cases to try, and the jails emptied.

That revival swept into America for a brief season, and thousands of people were saved. One article in the Denver Post, dated January 20, 1905, reported this:

Businesses are deserted and all worldly affairs are forgotten for two hours every midday. Going to and coming from these prayer meetings, thousands of men and women radiate this Spirit which fills them. An entire city, in the middle of a busy day, bows before the throne of heaven, asking the blessing of the King of the Universe.

Beloved, it is by changed lives that the world is changed for the glory of God.

[1] See the chronology of Paul’s ministry in John McRay, Paul: His Life and Teaching (Baker Academic, 2003), 73-79.

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