Arguments and Miracles

Please read Acts 19:8-12 in your Bible of choice.  I chose the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

Even though a majority of Americans claim to believe God exists and claim to be “spiritual,” the numbers of those who believe in supernatural things like heaven, hell, and miracles have been in decline.  This is an illogical position to take, but accurately reflects the belief that religion is self-made.  It is illogical to believe in God and yet maintain the idea that His actions in this world are always along ordinary, natural lines.

Ask somebody if they believe in miracles and you will get an answer along these lines.

– An intellectual response: “No, I only believe in things I can perceive with my five senses.  As miracles claim to violate the laws of nature, I don’t believe in them.  I believe in science.”

– An emotional response: “I totally believe in miracles and they happen every day.  Just being alive is a miracle!”

Neither of those persons believes in miracles. I want to encourage a biblical response instead: “The Bible says that God did things outside the so-called ‘laws’ of nature.  These things happened to give glory to God and to give people more reason to believe.”

We will continue our study of the ancient church in the city of Ephesus by looking at how God used ordinary teaching and extraordinary miracles to get the Gospel of Jesus to Asia Minor.  What we can learn from this passage is that we must rely on God to use us and a variety of means to get the Word out to Sioux Falls.  The Word of God will change lives and renew our fellowship!  God has not limited this experience to ancient Ephesus: it can be true in our place and time as well.

  1. Paul argued with the obstinate.

Paul’s typical strategy was to begin in the local synagogue (8+9).  Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” but he still chose to reach out to the Jewish community in each city where he founded churches (see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).  We’re told several things about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue.

– He spoke BOLDLY, “freely” or “openly.”  Paul was there to give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

– He argued PERSUASIVELY.  Paul was not a people-pleaser: he worked toward convincing the listener to repent.

– Paul’s subject matter was THE KINGDOM OF GOD, announcing – as Jesus did – that the KOG was “at hand” (see Matthew 4:17).

– This lasted THREE MONTHS.  Lasting that long indicates some level of acceptance at the beginning, but not much patience.

The synagogue time came to an end when the “religious people” in the synagogue opposed Paul.  This was not a mild kind of opposition.  The text explains; SOME BECAME OBSTINATE.  That word literally meant “hardened.”  The fault for their refusal to believe did not lie with God or with Paul; it was all on them.

So THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE.  They would not accept the reality that the Kingdom of God had come; that Jesus was the Messiah.  And worse, they PUBLICLY MALIGNED THE WAY.  In Acts, those who opposed the Church invented slanderous lies and used them in an attempt to stir up public opinion against the disciples of Jesus.  This name for the Church – THE WAY – sounds unfamiliar to most of us.  It was a name once used to refer to the followers of Jesus, possibly based on John 14:6, where Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

Meeting opposition, Paul changed venues and continued bringing the word (9-10).  Instead of the synagogue, he used the LECTURE HALL of TYRANNUS.  The Greek word for LECTURE HALL meant “school,” a refuge of sorts for philosophers to address one another and crowds of interested listeners.  We’ve no other biblical info on TYRANNUS, but evidence has been found proving he lived in Ephesus at that time.

Verse ten mentions both Jews and Greeks heard the word, so we can assume the LECTURE HALL proved to be a more public forum than the SYNAGOGUE had been.  What the enemies of the Church intended to be a roadblock instead paved the way for greater exposure.

Luke is careful to assure the reader that Paul TOOK THE DISCIPLES WITH HIM.  It is reasonable to assume this group included both Jewish and Gentile converts; the people who had accepted Paul’s teaching as true.

He held DAILY DISCUSSIONS.  One of the things that marked first century churches was their DAILY meetings.  They also enjoyed unrivaled success in bringing people to Jesus.  A coincidence?

The Greek word for DISCUSSIONS is the basis for our word “dialogue.”  However, this Gk word included both lecture and conversation-based teaching methods.  The means of teaching isn’t nearly as important as the object of teaching: God Himself.

Paul used the LECTURE HALL for TWO YEARS (10).  One indication of “success” at that location was both Jews & Greeks HEARD THE WORD.  Nowhere is the number of converts mentioned.  This implies “Success” can be measured in faithfulness, leaving fruitfulness up to God (as in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Another indication of success in verse ten is that the ministry at Ephesus facilitated the spread of the WORD OF THE LORD all over Asia Minor, reaching both Jews and Greeks.  Having a two and a half-year stay and reaching an entire region was a great success!

  1. God used Paul to do miraculous healings.

The line of agency could not be clearer than Luke drew it in verse eleven: GOD DID EXTRAORDINARY MIRACLES THROUGH PAUL.  When these miracles were accomplished, they might’ve been misunderstood as having been powered by Paul or by special magical items.  These miracles consisted of healing from illness and deliverance from demons.  The people of Ephesus were superstitious and might have misunderstood Paul as being a magician.  Luke made it clear that God healed and delivered those people: Paul was merely the man through which the miracles happened.

To counter this, ordinary items were endowed with healing power.  The only thing different was that had come into contact with Paul.  They were not specially-made magic items; there was nothing special about the item itself.  The point here is that the real power came from God.

The word for HANDKERCHIEF is borrowed from Latin and refers to a cloth used to wipe perspiration from a laborer’s brow.  The word for APRONS is also Latin and refers to protective cloths worn by workers and also scraps of cloth used as rags.  The power was not resident in the cloth, nor did it come from Paul; all of it was means God used to display His power.

There are parallels elsewhere in the writings of Luke; in Luke 6:18-19, Jesus healed people without touching them at all.  In Acts 5:12, 15-16, people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them.  In the Bible, supernatural healings happened in just about every way you can imagine, with very few of the accounts agreeing in the details.  The emphasis is never on how the healing occurred, but on who did the healing; God was the One who did the healing.

One of God’s purposes in the Spiritual Gift of Miracles is to validate the ministry of someone claiming to speak in His name.  While Luke doesn’t use this account to prove that point, there’s no doubt that reports of miraculous healings created additional interest in a magic-obsessed community and gave Paul’s message added authenticity.

The result expressed in verses ten and twenty was that the WORD OF THE LORD – the history and teachings of Jesus – became more widely known, more widely accepted, and grew in the power of influence.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

One reason people might be reluctant to believe in miracles is they don’t want to be deceived.  Since the word was invented, claims of miracles and particularly miraculous healings have been used to trick people.  Take this story from Jokes4us.com, for example:

A Rabbi and a Priest get into a car accident and it’s a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest’s collar and says, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The Priest replies, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”

The Rabbi continues, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest.

The Priest asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

“No… I’ll wait for the police.”

http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/carcrashmiraclejoke.html

Paul made it his aim to declare the truth as persuasively as possible, but without manipulating either the Gospel or the people hearing it.  He did not want anyone’s response to the truth to be based on human salesmanship or anything less powerful than the Holy Spirit.

That should be our desire as well.  We need to adopt Paul’s motto in 1CT 9:22 = I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN SO THAT BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME.  May we have that heartfelt desire to tell others about Jesus and may we act upon it with the same integrity.

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J.

Bradley Chance.

O         Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New

            Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

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