MAY 6th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
IN PAUL'S FOOTPRINTS ACTS 18:18-28;19:1-12,18-20
"WHAT POWER? - !"
After a year and a half in Corinth, Paul 'sets sail for Syria...stopping first at the port of Ephesus.' (Acts 18:18) Sounds like I need to get my sailing shirt on again! There we go...!
After reasoning a bit with the Ephesian Jews, Paul "set sail from Ephesus, stopping at the port of Caesarea, before heading up to visit the church at Jerusalem and on to his home church in Antioch." (Acts 18:21-22) This then took Paul full circle, ending his second mission trip, right where it began...
But before you know it, Paul is back on the road again! Sounds like a song cue...! His third and final mission trip begins where his second trip began, back in Galatia: "After spending some time in Antioch, Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers there." (Acts 18:23) After encouraging the churches he planted years earlier, "Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus..." (Acts 19:1)
So first, Paul came to Ephesus by sea, then second, by land. Apparently it was a Paul Revere kind of expedition —two by sea, one by land. What's more, Paul is intent on keeping his promise. In the spirit of General MacArthur and Arnold Schwartzneggar, Paul promised, "I'll be back...!" And so he is!
Luke's account here in Acts 18-19 presents us with four fun facts. First fun fact: Paul's travels introduce us to some rather colorful characters and amazing partners in the gospel. Consider Apollos.
He reminds of the contrast between Melanie's first ski lesson and mine. Hers was with a ski instructor. Mine involved a friend taking me to the top of Mole Mountain (in Wisconsin) where he told me, 'Keep your skies parallel, your knees bent and have a good time!' And with that he gave me a push! On the way down I knocked down a small boy, a ski patrol, three plastic penguins and single handedly took out everyone using the tow rope! Not bad for a beginner, huh?
I'd learned just enough to make me truly dangerous! That's my impression of Apollos. He's a Jew from Alexandria, home of the greatest library in the ancient world. Apollos himself is well read, esp in scripture and yet his knowledge is limited about Jesus. Luke tells us that he's an eloquent speaker, eagerly telling others about Jesus, but unfortunately he's fairly ignorant about Jesus' resurrection and his promised to fill his followers with His Spirit, the Holy Spirit. So Paul's friends, Priscilla & Aquilla, pull Apollos aside and "explain to him the way of God more accurately!" (Acts 18:26)
So on one hand you got Apollos, an eager beaver of an evangelist, excitedly telling others about Jesus, but knowing enough, or not enough..., to make him truly dangerous. Then there's Aquilla and Priscilla, this amazing couple, who are always mentioned together, and who go around helping other believers get it right and quietly supporting the evangelistic efforts of others — of Apollos and Paul!
So fact one, Paul's got some colorful friends, revealing how God uses friends from a distance as well as those up close and personal, both older and younger, singles and couples, to further his plan!
Second fun fact: traveling in Paul's footprints takes us to some pretty exotic places. Ephesus was one of most impressive cities of the ancient world. Home to one of the ancient seven wonders of the world, the temple of Artemis, it was also the capital of Asian, thanks to a decree by Caesar Augustus.
Ephesus was the second largest city in the east, second only to Alexandria, the home of Apollos and another of the seven wonders, its lighthouse. Ephesus was home to heroes and emperors, bath houses, gymnasiums, palaces, stoas, an expansive aqueduct system and hundreds of temples and altars to various gods — all giving ongoing witness to the depth and range of the city's influence and affluence.
No wonder Ephesus was the focus of Paul's final mission trip! It was a bustling city of culture and cash! You could buy anything there. If in Rome the mob rules then in Ephesus the consumer rules, a culture in which image and prestige were the top commodities. Sound familiar? Calvin illustrates...
Calvin: I wish my shirt had a log or a product on it. A good shirt turns the wearer into a walking corporate billboard! It says to the world, 'My identity is so wrapped up in what I buy that I paid the company to advertise its products!'
Hobbes: You'd admit that?
Calvin: Oh sure. Endorsing products is the American way to express individuality. (p. 136)
Like Calvin, we're buying into a mindset that our identity is wrapped up in what we buy. And in this consumer culture of ours, the prevalent mindset is that as you can pick and choose what's best for you off the shelf, you can pick and choose what's best for you in terms of spirituality as well. Like ancient Ephesus, with its freedom of religions and plurality of beliefs, our culture is like a spiritual smorgasbord! That's the third fun fact: Acts 19 addresses the same kind of issues we have today.
We pick and choose from the buffet line of spiritual beliefs and practices, living by the credo of the day: "Whatever works for you." It's called syncretism. It sounds logical but it certainly isn't biblical, for in doing so, we wind up playing God, deciding for ourselves what's best for us rather than trusting in God's Word and loving will for our lives. As the Sons of Scerva in Ephesus discovered, there are greater powers than we mere mortals at work in the world, and above them all is Jesus, king of kings.
Syncretism and consumerism even influences how we do church. "You can find it in liberal churches where miracles are explained away from a scientific worldview, whose sub-culture more and more resembles the culture around it, preaching a gospel of justice as opposed to submission to the will of God and the transformation of lives. You can find it in conservative churches as well where people hop from church to church, seeking to have their personal needs met rather than working to better the church and thus behaving as consumers on a private quest for what will serve them best." (R Richardson)
It brings to mind the story of a man marooned on an island. When the rescue team arrived they found three huts on the beach. They were told that the first was his home. And the second? Oh, that's my church. And the third hut? Oh, well, that's where I used to go to church!
Many of us don't even realize how we're buying into consumerism... So how can we overcome it? First, admit where you've been guilty of it - on being more focused on what you're getting out of it then what you can contribute. Second, seek biblical clarity and an appetite for what God wants.
That's the fourth fun fact in Acts 19: Jesus' followers, like Paul, are always looking to help others make up what's missing. So it is that Paul asks: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Act 19:2) It's what's missing among the believers in Ephesus, and among many believers today! This is evident in their response: "We haven't even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!" (Acts 19:2) (Apollos!!)
And so Paul steps forward and offers to help them receive what they are lacking. He lays his hands on them, prays for them to be filled, and Luke records the response: "The Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied." (Acts 19:6)
Now some of you are thinking, 'how exciting'! And others are thinking, 'how creepy'! Doesn't sound very Lutheran to me! Some years ago we had four guests from a Lutheran church in Bremerton join us for Alpha. At the retreat, one of them said, 'Pastor Don, I didn't experience anything supernatural but I sure do sense something exciting happening here. I've never felt such a presence of the Holy Spirit!'
Sounds supernatural to me — as the Spirit is! Now there was no hocus-pocus or mystical hand gestures. We simply opened our hearts and let God know we were willing to receive. We simply invited the Holy Spirit to come — and he did! And as people were filled some were moved to tears as they felt God's love for them, others were healed, some had divine insights and some spoke or sang in tongues.
It was not at all unlike what Luke describes here in Acts 19. If we're to do what Jesus called us to do, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body and soul - and our neighbors as ourselves, if we're to overcome this me-centered epidemic that is at loose in the world around and within us, we need to reclaim the Spirit's power to transform lives from the inside out! We need it and Jesus offers it!
I read an interview in which Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison, was asked why she'd become a writer, what books she read, what method she'd used to structure her writing. Toni laughed and said, "Oh, no, that's not why I am a writer. I'm a writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. He'd ask me to share something of myself. That is why I am a writer. I write to see my father's eyes light up!" (Toni Morrison)
I imagine her father's eyes lit up because of how he delighted in her. So it is with your Heavenly Father who delights in you, and when you seek him out, walk into his presence, his eyes light up! What if, by His very Spirit, His love could light you up as well — alter your perspective, your priorities, fill you with a joy in knowing him and being known by him that you found yourself living in order to share it?
Have you ever felt like there has to be more to life than 9 to 5 living, more than living from Friday to Friday? Have you ever wondered if God wants more for you? Following his lead in Ephesus Paul writes, "fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands." (2 Timothy 1:6) "How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:3)