In today's reading, you will find Paul arriving in Ephesus. Ephesus was a remarkable and important city in Paul's world. But the people of Ephesus needed My power and My grace.
In Paul's time, Ephesus was one of the four largest cities in the Mediterranean region, which were Rome, Ephesus, Antioch of Syria, and Alexandria in Egypt. Along with Jerusalem (the center of Judaism), Luke emphasized the first three of these cities as he wrote the book of Acts. Ephesus was a large, multi-cultural, busy city, a major banking center, a town with a harbor and on major trade routes, and a city full of crime. Ephesus was rampant with sexual perversion. It was deeply impacted by a fascination with all sorts of superstitions, demonic religions, black magic, and mystery cults. You can probably imagine similar cities in your day.
Ephesus was a place of financial power with an interest in spiritual power. What you see in Luke's account is reflected in Paul's words to these same believers several years later:
Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We're not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.
Luke carefully frames Paul's visit to Ephesus with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. At the beginning, he records Paul's asking:
"Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?"
At the end, Luke wrote:
The Holy Spirit confirmed that he should first travel through Macedonia and Achaia and then return to Jerusalem.
Luke's account makes clear what Paul emphasized while he was in Ephesus. While there are many demonic powers and religions that touch your world, there is only one true and living God. That true and living God is known as YAHWEH — YHWH in Hebrew — Father, Son, and Spirit. We are above all other spiritual powers and are directly involved in the lives of all those who belong to Us. We live in them through the presence of the Holy Spirit Who is in them and guides them. I revealed YHWH through My time on earth. You can find life in YHWH through Me. No person and not even another spirit can control the power of YHWH.
In the middle of Luke's account, he showed us an example of the world of the occult and demonic spirits. I love the way Luke described an encounter with an evil spirit and finished with this summary:
Everyone was shocked and realized that the name of Jesus was indeed powerful and praiseworthy. ... Again, word spread, and the message of the Lord overcame resistance and spread powerfully.
Paul will have more interaction with the people and the evil spiritual powers in Ephesus on a return trip to Ephesus and will also run into problems caused by people from Ephesus in a later trip to Jerusalem. For now, you just need to realize that a spiritual battle for the eternal destinies of the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor had begun in earnest. Ephesus was a place that would oppose Me with evil spiritual power and evil determination. Nevertheless, My messengers were not afraid to speak the truth of the Father's grace, My power, and the Holy Spirit's guiding care in this place that desperately needed it.
All who belong to the Father and who are My true disciples are filled, empowered, and led by the Holy Spirit. You will need this power as you face the times in which you now live. But remember, "[T]he Spirit Who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world" (1 John 4:4 NLT)
. These words were written by John years later to Christians in Asia Minor where Ephesus was located! Paul would say it this way in his letter to the Ephesians:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.
(Ephesians 1:3 NLT)
So as you read, recognize you are entering the world of spiritual warfare; but don't be afraid! I have overcome!
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul's overland journey brought him back to Ephesus. He encountered a group of about a dozen disciples there.
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?John's Disciples:
We've never heard about the Holy Spirit.Paul:
Well then, what kind of ceremonial washing through baptism did you receive?John's Disciples:
We received the ritual cleansing of baptism that John taught.Paul:
John taught the truth — that people should be baptized with renewed thinking and turn toward God. But he also taught that the people should believe in the One Whose way he was preparing, that is, Jesus the Anointed.As soon as they heard this, they were baptized, this time in the name of our Lord Jesus. When Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them in the same way the original disciples experienced at Pentecost: they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
For three months, Paul continued his standard practice: he went week by week to the synagogue, speaking with great confidence, arguing with great persuasiveness, proclaiming the kingdom of God. Once again, some members of the synagogue refused to believe and insulted the Way publicly before the whole synagogue community. Paul withdrew and took those with him who had become disciples. For the next two years, he used the public lecture hall of Tyrannus, presenting the Word of the Lord every day, debating with all who would come. As a result, everyone in the region, whether Jews or Greeks, heard the message. Meanwhile, God did amazing miracles through Paul. People would take a handkerchief or article of clothing that had touched Paul's skin and bring it to their sick friends or relatives, and the patients would be cured of their diseases or released from the evil spirits that oppressed them.
Some itinerant Jewish exorcists noticed Paul's success in this regard, so they tried to use the name of Jesus, the King, in an exorcism they were performing.
Imagine this: There are seven of them, all sons of a Jewish chief priest named Sceva, gathered around a demonized man in a house.
One of the Jewish Exorcists:
I command you to depart, by the Jesus proclaimed by Paul!Evil Spirit:
Jesus I know. Paul I know. But who are you?Then the man leaps up, attacks them all, rips off their clothing, and beats them so badly that they run out of the house stark naked and covered in bruises.
Word of this strange event spread throughout Ephesus among both Jews and Greeks. Everyone was shocked and realized that the name of Jesus was indeed powerful and praiseworthy. As a result, a number of people involved in various occult practices came to faith. They confessed their secret practices and rituals. Some of them had considerable libraries about their magic arts; they piled up their books and burned them publicly. Someone estimated the value of the books to be 50,000 silver coins. Again, word spread, and the message of the Lord overcame resistance and spread powerfully.
Eventually Paul felt he should move on again. The Holy Spirit confirmed that he should first travel through Macedonia and Achaia and then return to Jerusalem.
O Father, give me the strength to trust that Your power is released to me as I call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Help me to trust that, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit, You will empower, guide, sustain, convict, motivate, and enable me to live for You in my world that is growing more and more hostile to Jesus and His people. I pray this in Jesus' powerful name. Amen.