The prevailing power of the gospel
THE PREVAILING POWER OF THE GOSPEL (ACTS 19:11-41)
4 elements of the gospel’s power
1. The Spiritual Power (11-17)
2. The Moral Power (18-19)
3. The Social Power (20-28)
4. The Expansive Power (29-41)
THE PREVAILING POWER OF THE GOSPEL (acts 19:11-35)
We are finally back to our study through the book of Acts. If I had to chose a phrase or text which summarized our text this morning, it would be
Rom 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”
In the simple gospel message, we have the very power of God available and at work, and the power of God is powerful!
In the book, “What’s so Great about Christianity” Dinesh D’Souza summarizes the impact of Christianity like this, "Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organized and for the way we currently live. So extensive is the Christian contribution to our laws, our economics, our politics, our arts, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities that historian J. M. Robers writes in The Triumph of the West, 'We could none of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, dead, and buried, and then rise again.' " (From the book What's So Great about Christianity by Dinesh D'Souza.)
· Human Rights and Dignity: Wherever the gospel has gone, it has had a tangible impact on human rights and the value of human life. The quality of life of women, children, and slaves have all been dramatically improved by the impact of Christianity. Cruel practices like the Gladitorial games, which were promoted and practiced for over 600 years, we brought to an end by the influence of the Christian gospel.
· Mercy and compassion are Christian virtues. As one writer, explains, “The charity encouraged by biblical teachings (e.g., Luke 10:30-37) eventually blossomed into hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and care for the poor, the hungry and the homeless (Schmidt, pp. 147–148).
· Marriage and family: The gospel introduced the world to the ideal of a heterosexual, monogamous relationship focussed on rearing children. This simple premise has formed the bedrocks of every stable society.
· Education: the concept of education for the masses has its roots in the Protestant Reformation. Many, if not most of the worlds languages have been put to writing by Christian missionaries and the church has been a leader in education for over 2000 years. Our constitution protects the rights of children to education – that is a right which comes directly from the impact of the gospel on this continent. Many of the most prominent universities of our day were founded for Christian purposes: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford.
· Science: Dr. Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology and comparative religion, states, “the leading scientific figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries overwhelmingly were devout Christians who believed it was their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork” (For the Glory of God, p. 123). Unlike the godless religions of Asia and the capricious gods of other faiths, the God of the Bible was a rational Being whose creation operated on laws that were discoverable and could be applied to solving problems for the benefit of mankind (Psalm 19:1; Proverbs 25:2)—an understanding “essential for the rise of science” (Stark, p. 123).
· So, we could go into every field of human activity – art, music, literature, free enterprise, work ethic, and government. We could go to almost every place, and we would see the undeniable impact of the gospel for good.
We should not be ashamed of this simple message, which carries in it and with it, the very power of God.
I’ve called this morning’s message, “The Prevailing Power of the Gospel.” Our texts is Acts 19:11-41.
May you be encouraged this morning, as we go back to the first century, as we read ancient history, God’s inspired history, of how the gospel took root and began to shake the world.
Read Acts 19:11-41
1: The Spiritual Power (11-17)
2: The Moral Power (18-19)
3: The Social Power (20-28)
4: The Political Power (29-41)
1: The Spiritual Power (11-17)
Remember, what is the key verse in the book of Acts? Acts 1:8… Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the messengers of the gospel are empowered with supernatural, divine power – for the express purpose of taking the gospel out.
Luke-Acts is a two part series and Luke’s stated purpose is to give his readers confidence in the gospel message. As the gospel spread out further and further from Jerusalem, false gospels began to arise and false teachers and rumours were spread amongst the Gentiles that Paul was not a true Apostle and his gospel was not the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. So Luke is inspired to compose a carefully researched historical account of the birth of Christianity. Luke-Acts has a parallel structure, a parallel sequence of events and many parallel miracles. He is very careful to show how the power of God that was at work in the ministry of Jesus, was at work in the ministry of Peter, was at work in the ministry of Paul. The same power, the same gospel, from the same God.
· Lk 8 the women just touches Jesus’ garment and is healed. In Ats 5:15 people are healed when Peter walks past and here when handkerchiefs or aprons of Paul’s are carried to the sick.
· Jesus casts out demons, Peter casts out demons and Paul casts out demons. Vs 15 - The demons know Jesus, they know Peter and they know Paul.
· Luke includes these accounts not to provide us with a template or patterns for a healing ministry, or a deliverance ministry – but to show us that the same power which was at work in Jesus is now at work through his apostles and through the gospel.
· VS 11 says – God was performing extra-ordinary miracles. Miracles are by definition extra-ordinary, but Luke adds another adjective to make sure we get the point – this was unusual, even in the category of unsual and the point was to validate the ministry and the message of Paul it says, “by the hands of Paul.”
· In case we don’t get the point – he provides the contrast. There were these Jewish exorcists who tried to use the gospel and its power – but they were not sanctioned to so, they didn’t know Jesus or His gospel, they were Jews, unbelievers, trying to use the gospel without actually submitting to its themselves. Trying to benefit from the gospel without yielding to it personally.
Illustration – Using Christianity
Wherever Christianity goes, there are those who see its power, see its inherent goodness and they want to lay hold of the benefits of the gospel without laying hold of the gospel itself.
· Churches are full of professing believers, who go to church for a motivational speech to get them through the week.
· Who enjoy the relationships and the practical and moral support that those relationships provide.
· They go to church because church has a positive impact on their marriage and their networks for business. It’s a better place to meet someone than a night club and it provides a more satisfying form of entertainment and distraction.
· But they don’t know the Lord of the church personally. They have learned the lingo, adopted the dress and the external practices and they see some measure of success, some measure of social improvement and transformation – but it’s a form of religion without the power.
· In 2 Tim 3:5 Paul says many, in the last days, will have an appearance of godliness, but without it’s true power.
Here we have the illustration of that principle.
It’s only the gospel that has the power to free us from demonic control. Exhorcists might have a measure of success by giving people mantra’s or formula’s or with special anointing oil or by using the name of Jesus. But complete deliverance can only come when people believe and yield to the gospel message and receive the power of the indwelling Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes into a person – all other Spirits must flee. But until that happens through faith in the gospel – all we have is the appearance of deliverance, the appearance of change, the appearance of godliness without the power.
1: spiritual power
2: The Moral Power (18-20)
Luke then sets in stark contrast, this apparent, temporary deliverance from evil – with the genuine spiritual transformation which the gospel produces.
· It starts with faith. In contrast to those who tried to use the gospel, or benefit from the gospel, there were those who believed the gospel for themselves, who embraced it personally.
· It’s effects are ongoing – they kept coming. This wasn’t a once-off emotional experience or event. This was the pattern, the lifestyle, the characteristic transformation that the true gospel produced in the lives of true believers.
· They were confessing and disclosing their practices. The life of a believer is a life of repentance. Continually being confronted with our many sins and confessing them before God and man. They were not only acknowledging them to God, but disclosing them, uncovering them for all to see.
Illustration – 1 Jn
· 1 Jn is written so that believers might have confidence, assurance as to whether they have received eternal life. In 1 Jn he provides a number of tests of true Christianity. Do you confess Jesus has come in the flesh, do you love the brethren, are you walking in obedience to the gospel?
· One of the tests, or evidences of true conversion is found in 1 Jn 1:9 – “We are continually confessing our sins and continually being forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.” We are neither those who deny we sin and claim to be perfect, nor those who love their sin and justify and excuse it. Rather, true believers are continually confessing and forsaking their sin. Continually repenting
Be ashamed when you sin, don't be ashamed when you repent. Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness [ Boldness means to beg God for undeserved mercy]. Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance. John Chyrsostom
Note this wasn’t empty confession – merely bemoaning their guilt, or talking about how wicked they were.
· This was repentance – a confession which involved a turning away from sin toward Christ for grace to be forgiven and grace to be delivered and transformed.
· This was full disclosure – nothing kept hidden, nothing justified and excused.
· This was a repentance which was more than empty words, but genuine sorrow over sin which resulted in action. There is an evident intent to turn away from these practices and never return to them.
· They burned the books, they cleared their houses of them
· They counted the cost – vs 19 explicitly mentions the cost involved in this repentance. This repentance cost them something, in fact cost them a great deal. They were willing to count the cost because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.
· 50 000 pieces of silver. A piece of silver or drachma was an average days wage. So this is 50 000 days worth of wages or 137 years worth of wages – burned up.
· If God was just concerned about money you would think He would let them sell the books and use the money for missions… But God’s work must be done in God’s way, with God’s resources.
· Again, the contrast between these genuine believers and the business in the next portion of narrative. They were also very much aware of the cost of the gospel, how the gospel was impacted the bottom line of their business – and for them, it meant the gospel had to be silenced.
These believers were being impacted and transformed at the deepest level – their worship was being transformed – from idols to worship the true God. To value and glory in, and trust in the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
That’s what the gospel does, it transforms our worship. What that means, is that it changes what we love, what we live for and value. It changes what we trust in.
They were no longer trusting in magic to protect them, or idols to provide for them, or comfort them – the gospel puts God at the centre of our lives and pursuits.
As one writer explains, “Ephesus was reputed as a centre for magic. Magic was a part of Ephesian culture. The famous statue of Artemis, the centrepiece of her temple, was noted for the mysterious terms engraved on the crown, girdle and feet of the image. Referred to as the “Ephesians scripts”, this magical gibberish was considered to have great power.” (NAC, Polhill, 405). But faith in this magic and these other powers had to be relinquished for faith in Christ. As they had seen, not even Jesus’ name can be used as a kind of magical incantation to deliver someone from evil apart from personal faith in Him.
This is the big problem with Africa – the gospel is being preached here in such a way that it doesn’t call for this genuine repentance, a genuine turning away from idolatry, and immorality and sinful cultural practices. It doesn’t call for a transfer of allengance from faith in other things, faith in magical practices, faith in the ancestors – to faith in Christ and Christ alone.
Many African churches are trying to gain the blessings and power of the gospel without fully yielding to it in repentance and faith. They are preaching a Jesus and gospel, rather than a Christ- alone gospel.
And it doesn’t work, it can’t work – because Jesus is Lord. When we surrender to Him as Lord, to be the king over every area of our lives – then He comes in with power and His power is pervasive and He leaves no area of our lives untouched and undisturbed, no sin unconvicted, no power unvanquished, no idol untoppled, no ….
VS 20 – this is not about Paul primarily, or Peter – but about the message they preached. It was the Word of God which was increasing and prevailing mightily – it was the power of the Word that was effecting this transformation.
1: Spirtual 2: Moral
3: The Social Power (21-28)
As the gospel impacts individual lives deeply, it begins to impact society broadly.
Here’s Ephesus, the economic hub of Asia minor. World renowned for the Temple of Artemis and the cult that stemmed from there.
· The whole of Ephesus is being impacted
· Not only Ephesus, but vs 26 all of Asia minor.
· Paul had spend around two years ministering around Ephesus and used it as a base to reach out into the whole of Asia minor of which Ephesus was the capital.
· VS 25 – this is impacting the economy of the city and there is a very influential guilt that are not happy about it at all.
· VS 27 the concern is that the economy of the city and the entire religion built around it will collapse – because the gospel is showing idolatry for what it is.
Impact of the gospel on idolatry
Such is the impact of the gospel on idolatry. It’s hard to picture this if you haven’t been to India. In India there are multiple idols in every car, every household, every garden, every building and shopping centre. You can image the business that is built up around the supply and demand of these idols – which would come to nothing if people were turning to Christ and turning away from their idolatry.
· Imagine the impact if the 80% of professing believers in our country turned from drunkenness. Imagine the impact on the liquir industry.
· Imagine if all the professing believers in our country refused to have anything to do with bribery and corruption, but exposed it wherever they went – imagine the impact on our legal system and economy.
· Imagine if all Christians stopped watching movies with blasphemy and immorality and listening to songs which promoted the same – imagine the impact on the entertainment industry and music industry.
· Imagine if Christians stopped buying things they didn’t need and wearing certain clothes just to make a statement of their status. Imagine the impact on the clothing industry.
Now I think you can understand what this passage is saying – the gospel is the power of God, not just for the salvation of individuals but the transformation of society. One individual at a time, one change at a time – but the impact is exponential because its based in true heart transformation which only the gospel can bring about.
Of course – such changes are not welcomed by all. Even as the gospel advances, it advances amidst persecution, and it triumphes over those who would oppose it.
This last section of chapter 19 introduces a theme which will dominate the last few chapters of the book.
4: The Political Power (29-41)
VS 21 – Paul resolved to go to Jersualem and after that on to Rome. The last chapters of Acts trace the unfolding of this resolve. Again Luke is picking up on a theme from Jesus’ own life.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Lk 9:51)
This marks a turning point in Luke’s gospel as he traces the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. Luke is careful to show that this was exactly according to God’s plan and purpose, and even though Jesus seemed to be falsely accused, even though the crowds were turne against him, even though he was ultimately crucified – this was not a subverting of God’s purpose, but a fulfilment of it.
· The cross was a very big stumbling block to Jews accepting Jesus as the messiah – how could God’s messiah be falsely accused and crucified – if he was God’s messiah, shouldn’t God have rescued him?
· The false accusations and imprisonment of Paul was a big hindrance to Gentiles receiving the gospel. Isn’t this man just a criminal and a trouble maker? How can a man of God be an enemy of Rome and of the government and a law-breaker?
So Luke is careful to trace the political opposition to Paul. To show that it is unfounded.
· What is clearly the motive for this political unrest as Luke exposes it? Material greed. Just like with Jesus, it was to protect their own political and material interests that Jesus was persecuted.
· VS 29 – there was confusion, vs 32 there was confusion, most did not even know why they had come together. VS 37-38 there are no valid charges here and vs 39 valid judicial protocal has not been followed. Vs 40 this commotion is not Paul’s fault, he himself has done nothing wrong
· Can you hear the parallels? Can you see what Luke is doing? He is providing a political apologetic. He’s trying to lay out the facts to dismiss the confusion around Paul and dispel the false accusations.
· Of course this pattern will continue from chapter 19 until the end of the book.
· Paul will go to Jerusalem, he will go on to Rome, he will be falsely accused and imprisoned and ultimately killed on account of His gospel testimony.
· Paul’s purpose will be fulfilled, but not according to his plans. He is going to be swept along here by a political force and persecution completely beyond his control – but in and through it all – God is sovereign in bringing about the furtherance of the gospel.
· Paul’s third missionary journey from this point on – the itinery will be set by God using the political forces of the day and yet accomplishing exactly what Paul had purposed here in 19:21.
· Acts 28:30-31 – Paul might be chained, but the word of God is not chained.
As in the life of Jesus, as in the life of Peter, as in the life of Paul – God’s gospel purposes are not thwarted by materialistic greed and corruption and political agenda’s. It might appear that way – but God is able to move the course of history to accomplish His desired ends. VS 35 The town clerk, who is no friend of the gospel personally, becomes a friend of the gospel on this occasion and protects Paul and his testimony without even realizing it. Paul will go on to Jerusalem and then to Rome at the expense of the State and the gospel will continue to advance despite the best efforts of the most politically powerful men of Paul’s day.
There is nothing that political tyrants should fear more than the pervasive power of the unstoppable gospel. That is why so many countries, even today, will tolerate anything and everything but the simple preaching of the gospel…
I hope this text encourages you, as it does me.
We hold in our hands, the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
· It’s a power which is able to completely and permanently deliver people from every other spiritual power and oppression
· It’s a power which is able to transform a person’s life down to the very core of their being so that the very idols of their hearts are exposed and their worship re-directed to God and God alone.
· It’s a power which shapes the very fabric of our society, winning some and hardening others in their rebellion
· It’s a power which is advancing from Jerusalem to every corner of the globe, every nation under heaven and cannot be stopped or even diverted by any political power of system.
And all this power is couched in a simple message – Jesus died, Jesus rose, repent for the forgiveness of your sins. A message so simple it can be believed and passed on by anyone, even you….