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Acts 19:1-10 26.04.20
The big title for all our sermons in the book of Acts is “God’s church in all the world”. Every chapter tells that story. A church here and here and here. In this town, that city, these hamlets, those nations. Gathered in that hall, this home, those synagogues.
God’s church is made up of different people, in different cultures, and face different challenges, they are all different. That’s why there are different letters to each of them.
What we find in the book of Acts is that there are some features which are central to them all. There are core features that make a church a church, and without which, whatever you’ve got, it’s not the church of Jesus Christ.
We see those central features in Acts 19:1-10, and in what became the church in the Turkish city of Ephesus.
Paul had promised some people that he would come back to them there if he could, and here he arrives in 19:1.
What does he find? A bunch of “disciples” they are called in verse 1 … a group of “about 12 men”, we are told in verse 7. We know that they had “believed” (v2), and that they had been “baptised” (v3). Now that sound like a good nucleus for a new church.
It isn’t however. Though they look like Christians, and sound like Christians, and smell like Christians, Paul senses that something big is missing which means they are not Christians at all.
So he asks: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Where is he going with that question?
He says in Romans 8:9 “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” When he asks if they have received the Holy Spirit, he is asking whether they belong to Jesus.
He is not asking them if they first belonged to Jesus and then secondly, had an experience of the Holy Spirit, as a kind of follow-up special deal. He is asking if they really belong to Jesus.
They don’t have a clue what he is talking about: “We haven’t even heard there is a Holy Spirit” (verse 2). They are therefore admitting that they are not Christians at all.
Aren’t they called ‘disciples’; and haven’t they ‘believed’ and haven’t they been “baptised”? Sure – all of that, but disciples of whom? Not of Jesus. Instead, they are disciples of John the Baptist. What did they believe? They believed John’s message of repentance. What are they baptised into? Into John’s baptism. All of which would have made them great next-door neighbours.
That, however, is as far as they had come, when John had meant them to go further … Verse 4 John told “the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
John knew he was not the end of the line, but that Jesus was. These 12 men had got stuck on the train platform at Scone or Aberdeen, when the train was going all the way to Sydney.
So let’s get that fixed. Paul shows them Jesus, they believe into him, and are baptised “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v5b).
Are they now all the way there? By laying his hands on them, a sign of acceptance and fellowship, Paul says they are. God says they are, as he pours out his Holy Spirit on them. “The Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying” (verse 6). It’s like the Day of Pentecost all over again. They are as much in the family as Peter and John, and all the others who had travelled all the way to Sydney.
Are these languages and prophesies for every Christian? No, these are signs of a new age which is coming. They are signs that the kingdom of God has now fully come in Jesus.
For people like these men, stalled half-way between the old way of things, and the new – with one foot in the Old Testament and the other in the New, if I may put it that way – a sign that the new age was now here was important. Once that has happened, it doesn’t need to keep being repeated.
If you have a big birthday bash when you turn 50, as a signal of a new decade, you don’t keep having a 50th party. It happens only once. Turning 50 is history, and you’re now in your new decade.
What then is central to having a real church of Jesus? People turning over a new leaf? People being baptised or being religious? How about following a great preacher like John the Baptist?
At the heart of things, the big deal in the church of Jesus has always been belonging to Jesus in faith and repentance and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God.
Which is going to mean what, for us, do you think? Two things for today:
How might someone today get stuck at Scone, when the train is going all the way to Sydney? Thinking that being a Christian is all about turning over a new leaf? Being a really nice person? Getting baptised? Joining a church? Stopping a particular sin?
You could do all that, and not be a Christian … not have the Holy Spirit living in you.
How would you know he had taken up residence?
Do real Christians have doubts, and lose their way, and get tired of fighting? Yes – all of that and more. Sin in my life does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not. All real Christians battle with sins and doubts and inconsistencies.
Along with all that, the Holy Spirit brings such changes that the direction of life radically changes. This means that we are talking not about perfection in life, but a changed direction of life.
When he comes, that change is astounding.
Is it possible you are stuck at Scone, when the ticket was all the way to Sydney? That you are only “half-way” to Jesus, if I can put it that way?
What could be big enough to stop you coming all the way to Jesus right now, where you are, trusting him to take you all the way? Are you trusting him to own you and live in you by his Holy Spirit?
Could there be anything more important than that to get sorted out today?
Coming all the way to Jesus is bigger than a personal question, as big as that is. It touches us as a church.
We have a great children’s and youth programs here at Trinity. The music and the singing in our services is wonderful. People come here and find acceptance and love that are exceptional.
Might people get stuck there, enjoying all that, and miss Jesus? It happens in churches all the time.
Is there something we can do that will help avoid that?
What has that been over 18 chapters? God brings people all the way to Jesus by his Word. His word explained one to one on a desert road. His Word reasoned in a public market place. His Word preached in synagogues and public halls. His Word told to crowds, and his Word told to individuals.
It’s here again at Ephesus, where we can see what is front and centre here. I can tell you, it isn’t baptism, and it isn’t speaking in tongues or a bunch of other things.
After these 12 men come all the way to Jesus, Paul teaches them and others for 3 months in the local synagogue, as he “reasoned” and “persuaded”. He spoke logically. He answered questions. He won over minds and hearts by convincing talk.
When, because of hostile reactions from others, he had to leave the synagogue, he took those who belonged to Jesus, hired a hall down the street, knocked off work between 11 and 4, and taught them all there every day for the next 700 days.
Can we stop people getting stuck at a station before they get all the way to Jesus? For our part, we make sure the public teaching of the Word of God is always the main thing in all we do.
Our culture may tolerate us being nice, running social welfare and relief programs. It is teaching – and teaching that Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of everything. Our culture, however does not want it.
Will we come back after the coronavirus lockdown with an even deeper commitment of so making the real Jesus known, so that, as much as it depends on us, people we love don’t get stuck at the half way mark?
Once people get to Jesus, are they all the way in? Or do they have to add a bit more, before we can say that? Is there a higher level to reach? An additional experience of the Holy Spirit? A new doctrine to learn? A bold sacrifice to make? Some religious rite to take on, to seal the deal?
When Paul lays his hands on these 12 men here, he is affirming that they are in on the same deal as him. When God pours out his Spirit on them as he did on Peter and John and the others at Pentecost, he was affirming that they were on the same level as them.
There are not levels in the family of God: the just-ins, the moving upward, the spiritual and then the super-spiritual. When you have come all the way to Jesus, you are in, all the way.
Yes, God calls on us to grow in godliness, and mature in faith, and stir up all kinds of graces. There is not the slightest doubt about that. When it comes to status or standing in the family of God, you never get further than what you are in Jesus.
I think that is clear when we see what Paul preached at Ephesus? Luke sums up all his preaching: he spoke about “about the kingdom of God” (v8). At Thessalonica he was charged with “saying there is another king, Jesus.” (17:7).
Is Jesus God’s appointed King? Is he God’s universal king? Does he rule all that we see and all that we do not see? Was he telling the truth when he said “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”? Is he really, and absolutely the top of the pile?
Yes? Then if you belong to him, what higher standing could you ever possible have? How can you go past that?
If you have been a Christian for more than a day or two, you want to know Jesus better, pray more, trust more, love people more and honour Jesus in ways you would never have thought about before. Of course it’s like that. That’s what happens when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of a child of God.
The evidence is not in tongues or prophecies or other one-off things that happened back there. Instead, in changes to what you love, and what you desire, and what you think and do … changes at the bread and butter level of ordinary life.
Brothers and sisters, as wonderful as those changes are – and they are wonderful, none of that adds anything to Jesus, or to the status you now have in Jesus. So we never go past Jesus.