How The Gospel Becomes Our Heart’s Reality and Life’s Centrality – Acts 19:1-20
Lord willing, for the next 10 weeks or so, we will be finishing up the book of Acts. It should take us into December where will focus on the coming of Christ and finish off 2013. Let me just say that I have felt that God has used every sermon series for its time. Let me bring you in on a secret. Some people have asked how I knew what the themes are that we study. I don’t. It comes just at the right time.
I know God has used this series already to clarify some things as well as to solidify other things at Living Hope just as we are moving toward some interesting transitions as a church. As we move toward independence, I have sensed God pulling Living Hope in as a Father draws His children to His heart and then empowering us to grow up and push us out to do the same.
In the book of Acts, the Gospel is always on the move. In every chapter, new challenges come, obstacles stand in the way, but it always perseveres. Today Paul is now on his third missionary journey. As he keeps moving forward, he faces more obstacles, more issues, but the Gospel keeps moving forward and keeps moving him forward. How do we get that kind of power to keep moving? Remember that the Gospel doesn’t bring power, it is power (Rom. 1:16). Believing it, savoring in it, delighting in it more and more is what brings power, especially when I feel like I am constantly feeling stale and complacent in my walk. The Gospel is power to keep trusting when anxiety keeps filling my heart. The Gospel is power even when I feel like Satan has a stronghold on my heart. This is what I want to explore today. How do we experience that power? It is the through the Spirit of God. First:
- I. The Spirit of God makes the Gospel our heart’s reality (vv.1-10)
We saw Apollos last time discipled by the husband and wife team of Priscilla and Aquila. He is a disciplemaking discipler moving from Ephesus to Corinth to water what Paul had planted. In 1 Cor. 3:6 Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave us the growth.”
While Apollos is in Corinth, Paul comes back to Ephesus. There, he met some “disciples.” The word “disciples” does not always refer to believers in Christ. The Pharisees had disciples and John the Baptist had disciples. They’re disciples but disciples of who? Paul is not sure, so he asks some questions. Paul asks, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” in v.2. They say, “We never even heard of that.” He finds out that they only knew the baptism of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus. He told people that Jesus was coming and to prepare for it, he baptized them looking forward to His coming. This tells us these people were not believers yet. Paul shares the Gospel with them and baptizes them with the Christian baptism, which looks back at Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Now some have taken this passage and taught it this way. The KJV incorrectly translates verse 2 as, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit SINCE you believed?” The idea, then, is that you need to have some kind of experience with the Spirit of God AFTER you are saved. They call it “the Second Blessing,” or “Baptism in the Spirit” and the way you know you got that is if you start to speak in tongues. Their argument is that these disciples in Acts 19 are believers who experience this second blessing.
Therefore, you have two classes of Christians: ordinary Christians and then Level 2 Christians or “Spirit-baptized Christians” who had this experience. I don’t think Acts 19 teaches this. These 12 men do not seem to be believers at all. Secondly, look at Paul’s question and how it’s framed. It implies that the Holy Spirit is received at a definite point in time and that that time is the moment of initial belief. (The same thought is expressed, for example, in Ephesians 1:13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 11:17).
Thirdly, there really is no set pattern for the reception of the Spirit in Acts. Sometimes people received the Spirit at baptism (2:38; 8:38), sometimes after baptism (8:15), and sometimes before baptism (10:47). The instances of tongues-speaking in Acts are erratic, not the general rule (see 2:4; 10:44–46; cf. 8:39; 13:52; 16:34). Fourth, the book of Acts is a transition book describing how the church was established and grew not prescribing how we need to follow their pattern. We go to the Epistles to find teaching that is prescriptive. Fifth, starting a theology that puts Christians into classes is contradictory to the theology in Acts that says that the Gospel reaches everyone the same way and the Spirit is available to everybody. This kind of experience with the Spirit happens to Jewish people (Acts 2), Samaritans (Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 11) and now to these Old Testament people stuck in transition. The Spirit coming down on all different types of people show us of the Gospel’s inclusiveness.
At this point, non-Charismatics look at Charismatics and say, “See, you people are wrong. I have a better understanding of the Holy Spirit. You need to study your Scriptures more!” We love to be known for what we don’t like. As we sit smugly with our neatly ordered systematics and react against abuses of the gifts of the Spirit, I wonder if we have lost a robust view of the Holy Spirit. As a result, our prayer life is non-existent, our hearts have grown cold and our passion for Christ empty. Our theology ends up really being, “Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.” In our exegesis, we have x’ed out Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I believe a lot of it is because we are afraid of abuse of the gifts of the Spirit of God and we focus just on the teaching gift, though that gift can be abused as well. The Bible does teach us in Ephesians 5:18 to be filled by the Spirit. The idea is to be controlled by.
Romans tells us that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). The idea is there is experiential knowledge of being a child of God in life. This means the Spirit of God’s job is to make your sonship and adoption in the family God an experiential reality. You can experience it. Imagine if I was walking with my daughter down the street and then suddenly I pick her up in my arms. Legally, whether in my arms or walking on the street, she is my daughter. Nothing will change that. However, when I sweep her up into my arms, she has experientially realized what it means to be my child. When the Spirit God fills you, it sensing your Father’s arms experientially and that burns in your heart, leaving you in wonder. When is the last time the Spirit of God made the wonder of our sonship a burning reality in our heart? When you were in awe of your adoption in the family of God? When is the last time you sensed your Father’s arms? When is the last time you wept worshipping God because of it?
Wait, are you telling me I need to get emotional? I don’t get emotional. I’m not into emotionalism and it’s dangerous and my worship is just the facts of Scripture…are you kidding me? You were pretty emotional and worshipping last week because some guy on your favorite sports team in a helmet ran down the field with a leather ball. Go to any sporting event and you will see worshippers. Go to a car show. Go to an IMAX theater. Go to a concert. Admit it. You’re a glory junkie….we are born worshippers. That’s why we like the 360-degree, between-the-legs slam dunk, or that amazing hand-beaded formal gown, or the seven-layer triple-chocolate mousse cake.
You looked pretty passionate eating that! Pretty emotional then. Whatever we pursue, we prize and whatever we prize we worship and whatever we worship we serve. And the Holy Spirit’s job is to help you pursue Christ and make the Gospel not just head knowledge, but heart knowledge.
The question is not if you have the Holy Spirit or not. The question is does the Holy Spirit have you? And I realize more and more, I don’t let the Holy Spirit minister to me. This past week I had such a complaining, bitter, unloving and snappy heart. And when you sit in that, you are not thinking of God. You are in self-pity, throwing a party for yourself. Poor me. After a while, a sadness envelops you. But here is what I do to medicate myself. I go on facebook and envy people who I think have better lives than me. That makes me more sad. So I check the sports pages. My sports teams are all failing. The sadness continues. So I go to the fridge and look for something unhealthy to eat. That makes me happy for a second. But the sadness continues. So I turn on the television and watch someone else’s sad life. Then I go back on my phone and look at facebook and envy again.
Do you see the pattern? We are self-medicated worldly comfort addicts. Yet throughout the whole process, the blessed Holy Spirit is pushed away as He tries to minister to you. Next time, and this is from a secular comedian Louis CK: let the sadness come. When it comes, you will feel a sense of helplessness, loneliness and weakness. The Bible says, the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness (not weaknesses)…why? Because we are a ball of weakness. There in your sadness, turn to the heavens. Let the groans of your heart come. Let the sadness take you over. Then you will see that sadness is a little ripple compared to the waves of grace that will follow, if you let it. When grace flows in, you wonder, “How in the world is someone like me saved?” And the only word that comes forth from your lips is: GRACE. Then you have experienced the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to Sam Storms: “What makes life livable is enjoying the joy that comes from knowing that you are enjoyed by God.” When you experience your sonship in the Father’s arms, the Spirit helps you say, “Someone as all-powerful as God loves me like this? And He delights in me, going to infinite depths and lengths to save me at infinite costs to Himself? He says He will never let me go and nothing on earth or Heaven or time and eternity will ever make Him lose me? He will hold on to me, transform me and one day will make everything sad come untrue? Then why am I worried about money? Why am I fearful?” When was the last time He filled your heart with wonder of your salvation?
Secondly, once your heart experiences the reality of the Gospel, then:
- II. A heart affected by the Gospel leads a life centered on the Gospel (vv.11-20)
Paul keeps going in vv.8-10. Paul is not the message. He’s just the messenger. He is the vehicle through whom God is moving His Gospel forward. He spends three months in ministry until he gets kicked out. It’s not really about where’s he’s going but who is carrying him and the message he’s carrying. He continues and keeps going because the Gospel is moving him!
In v.11, we see Luke telling us that even crazier miracles were happening. Notice God was doing it through Paul’s hands. He is the fountain, the source. We are just the vessels, the means. In a minute, we will see where people are the source and God is the means. When we screw that order up, we will be in trouble.
Again v.11-12 is descriptive. No epistle teaches this to be normative today as some tele-evangelists would like you to believe. Handkerchiefs are headbands or sweatbands Paul wore around his forehead when he labored as a tentmaker.  Aprons were like towels wrapped around your waist. This means Paul is preaching and working by making tents. But the Gospel doesn’t revolve around his life. His life revolves around the Gospel, that even his dirty sweatbands are used for the Lord. This reminds us of the lady who touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak and gets healed. It is not the cloths themselves, but what it represented. God is so powerful that He can heal you and cast out demons without even an apostle present.
Then we have people who get it all twisted. We have traveling Jewish people who cast out demons for a living called the seven sons of Sceva. They think Jesus is a formula, a magic trick you can use to make things move a little easier. Wherever you have the true gospel, you will always have counterfeit gospels. In the Paris collection of magical papyri, various Old Testament terms are found…One spell reads, “I abjure thee by Jesus, the God of the Hebrews.” Another from the same papyrus reads, “Hail, God of Abraham, hail, God of Isaac, hail, God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.” Ancient magicians were syncretists and would borrow terms from any religion that sounded sufficiently strange to be deemed effective.”
Paul doesn’t even have to be there to confront their foolishness. The demons do it themselves: “Jesus I know…Paul I heard of….who are you?” The demons jump on them and leave them humiliated. Notice Paul doesn’t do anything here for this to happen. Even demons serve in God’s gospel purposes! Notice it is not even the name of the demon that gets acknowledged: and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. This was a name so powerful that it could not be treated as a magic formula. This name could not be domesticated. 
The seven sons of Sceva wanted the external benefits of the Gospel without surrendering internally. They were using the Gospel to make a profit for themselves. People still do that today? We all do that! Sometimes we just want God were nothing more than a magician, a genie in a lamp. Give him a rub and watch him do his thing. Give me a new spouse. Give me a new car. Give me a better life. We’ll ladle up a little bit of Jesus as long as he fulfills our plans. Anything for a little more power or a little more improvement in our circumstances. [But] the walk of genuine faith is the walk of Calvary. It carries a cross, and it takes a lifetime.
If the Gospel is your heart’s reality, it becomes your life’s centrality. Here’s what it’s saying. The power of Jesus Christ is not magic. It’s not mechanical. It’s kingly power. King Jesus must reign supreme. He wants total control and centrality. Unless you’re submitting to his name, there is no power. If you are asking for help, if you’re invoking Jesus’ name, and you’re asking for help, and you’re asking for strength, but you’re not enjoying him and you’re not obeying him, that’s just magic.
The name of Jesus is not mechanical power. It’s not abstract power. It’s not magical power. It’s kingly power. It doesn’t work without submission. That’s the reason Jesus comes to you, “Unless I’m King, I’m nothing to you. I’m not Savior unless I’m King. I’m not helper unless I’m King. I’m not brother unless I’m King. I cannot transform you unless I’m King.”
When the Gospel is central, Jesus is King and God is no longer my magic genie, but my Father who knows what’s best for me. I no longer need to use God to fulfill my plans, but allow God to use me to fulfill His plans. Notice what happens to the Ephesians when the Gospel becomes supreme:
- Name of Jesus extolled
- Confession and repentance
- Word of God spreads
The tense of the verbs in Acts 19:18 indicates that the people “kept coming … kept confessing … kept showing.” These believers apparently had not made a clean break with sin and were still practicing their magic, but the Lord had dealt with them. The total value of the magical books and spells that they burned was equivalent to the total salaries of 150 men working for a whole year!  That would amount to several million dollars worth of wages in present earning power. These people did not count the cost but repented and turned from their sins.
What is the Spirit of God convicting me about today that needs to burn away so His fire can light my heart? Has the name of Jesus become a mechanical formula in my life? My spare tire I take out when I’m in trouble? Or my steering wheel?
Maybe we are looking at our heart’s reality right now and all we see is sin. Maybe all we see is anxiety. Maybe all we see is heartbreak. That is our heart’s reality. But as we go to the table this morning, Jesus tells us to look a little bit higher than what we are seeing. On a hill, far away, there stands a rugged cross. The cross tells me that more powerful than anything my heart is captured by is His love. See His love for you and me. Sometimes I wonder, “Do you get tired of me Lord? My heart is always such a mess.” Listen to Keller:
“Look what his love for you has already enabled him to endure for you. If he had turned away from suffering and the cross, we would have been lost, but he didn’t do that. Hell came down on him, and he would not let go of us. His love for us has already taken everything that the universe could throw at it and it held fast— and you think that you are somehow going to upset him? Is Jesus going to look at you and say, ‘Well, that does it! Infinite existential torment was one thing, but I can only take so much!’? If this suffering did not make him give up on us, nothing will. So Paul can essentially say, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’ (Romans 8: 38– 39). The Lord says, ‘I will never leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13: 5).
This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. This is the only love that can’t let you down. This is bombproof love. Not friend-love, not personal acclaim, not married love, and not even romantic love – it is this love that you are after, underneath all your pursuit of those others. And if this love of active obedience is an active reality in your life, you will be a person of integrity; you will be a person of prayer; you will be kind to people who mistreat you. If you have this love you will be a little more like him. Look at him dying in the dark for you. Let it melt you into his likeness.”
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.
Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (1999). Acts (p. 326). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.
Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 766). Nashville, TN:
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 403). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of
God’s Word. (Vol. 1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 482). Wheaton, IL:
Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Ac 19:18). Galaxie