Sermon title:  IGNORANCE & IMPOSTORS ABOUND IN THE CHURCHES

Acts 19:1-6, 13-17

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, June 27, 2021

 

 

The main thread woven throughout the Book of Acts

is the spread of the Gospel of Christ.

 

From 120 disciples in the 2nd Chapter of Acts,

the Church grew to fill the Eastern Mediterranean—

so that, by the time we read the last Chapter,

there were Christians from Rome in the North

to Ethiopia in the South.

 

But, along with reporting on that growth,

Acts also tells of the problems the early Christians faced.

 

And it turns out that many of them

were similar to problems Christianity faces today.

 

In the 19th Chapter of Acts,

we find the Apostle Paul spending a couple of years

in the city of Ephesus—on the West Coast

of the land we call Turkey today.

 

And he encountered those same problems there,

during his 2-year stay in that city.

 

One of the problems was ignorance among believers.

 

It often happens today, too,

that someone hears the Gospel,

says the Sinner’s Pray, confessing their sins,

and turning to Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

 

And that’s as far as it goes.

 

There is no effort to teach them

what it means to be a Christian.

 

If they don’t get involved with a sound Bible study,

and if they attend a church where the sermons

are entertaining rather than instructive,

they may never grow in the faith.

The Apostle Paul found a situation like that

in Acts 19:1, when he arrived in Ephesus.

 

We read,

1 While Apollos was in Corinth,

Paul traveled

through the interior of the province

and arrived in Ephesus.

There he found some disciples

2 and asked them,

“Did you receive the Holy Spirit

when you became believers?”

“We have not even heard

that there is a Holy Spirit,”

they answered.

3 “Well, then, what kind of baptism

did you receive?” Paul asked.

“The baptism of John,” they answered.

 

Verse 7 says,

7 They were about twelve men in all.

 

We don’t know how these 12 new believers

had been left in such a condition,

never having heard about the Holy Spirit at all—

not even when they were baptized.

 

Our Lord Jesus had commanded at Matthew 28:19 to

19 ...go and make disciples

of all nations,

baptizing them in the name

of the Father, and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit,

20 and teaching them to obey

all that I have commanded you.

 

But these 12 men had not been baptized that way—

not even told of the existence of the Holy Spirit.

 

They had been baptized with the baptism of repentance,

as taught by John the Baptist, who came before Jesus.

 

How did that happen?

 

How had these 12 men been taught

just part of the message about Christ.

 

How had they been baptized with the baptism of John,

instead of with the baptism Jesus taught?

 

We don’t know for sure,

but we know it wasn’t Paul’s fault.

 

Paul had stopped briefly in Ephesus before,

and visited their synagogue,

but did not spend any time there.

 

The 12 men may have been taught by Apollos,

when he himself was only a new learner,

and preached about Jesus

before learning more about the Gospel message.

 

Acts 18:25 tells us concerning Apollos’s preaching,

25 He also knew much

about the Lord's Way,

and he spoke about it

with great excitement.

What he taught about Jesus was right,

but all he knew was John's message

about baptism.

26 Apollos started speaking bravely

in the synagogue.

But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him,

they took him to their home

and helped him understand God's Way

even better.

 

So, it may be that the 12 men

had learned about Jesus from Apollos

before Priscilla and Aquila

helped him correct his teaching on baptism.

 

In any case, when Paul returned to Ephesus,

he found these men there—

believing in Jesus,

but never even hearing about the Holy Spirit,

and never having been baptized,

in the manner Jesus commanded.

And that’s similar to what we find today, too.

 

There are folks out there in the community

who’ve been told about Jesus,

and who’ve been led through the Sinner’s Prayer,

but who never received any more instruction

on how to live Christian lives.

 

They may, or may not, have been baptized.

 

They may, or may not, attend church.

 

They may attend a church where there’s a lot of

singing and shouting and praising,

but not much instruction in how to

obey all that I have commanded you,”

as Jesus said.

 

If we encounter people like that—as Paul did—

we should encourage them

to get into a serious Bible study—

a Bible study that really studies the Bible,

not just watching entertaining videos.

 

We can invite them to study the Bible

in a way that will fully instruct them in God’s ways,

as Jesus said,

teaching them to obey

all that I have commanded you.”

 

And we can encourage them

to read the Bible themselves

to hear the Word of God first-hand.

 

Reading the Bible itself is preferable to

reading anything you can find in a Christian bookstore.

 

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us,

“All Scripture is inspired by God

and is useful to teach us

what is true and to make us realize

what is wrong in our lives.

It corrects us when we are wrong

and teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it

to prepare and equip his people

to do every good work.”

 

If you’ve never read the Bible on your own,

just start with any of the Gospels—

Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

 

Or start at the beginning with Genesis,

the first book of the Old Testament.

 

If you pray and ask God’s help

in understanding what you read,

you will be truly blessed.

 

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So, one of the problems

Paul encountered in ancient Ephesus

was lack of knowledge

lack of biblical understanding.

 

And that lack of knowledge is a problem

that also plagues the Church today.

 

Another problem he encountered there

was outright false teachers.

 

Not those who simply lacked proper understanding,

but those who misused the name of Jesus

for their own financial gain.

 

Our Lord Jesus warned against such impostors,

when he said at Matthew 7:21,

21 Not everyone who says to Me,

‘Lord, Lord,’

will enter the kingdom of heaven,

but only he who does the will

of My Father in heaven.

22 Many will say to Me on that day,

‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy

 

in Your name, and in Your name

drive out demons

and perform many miracles?’

23 Then I will tell them plainly,

‘I never knew you; depart from Me,

you workers of lawlessness!

 

So, Jesus said there would be many

who would call him “Lord, Lord”

but would be persons who didn’t have

any relationship with Jesus at all.

 

“I never knew you,” he’ll say to them.

 

Yet these are people who claim to have

 driven out demons in Jesus’ name,

and claim to have performed miracles in his name.

 

But Jesus called them “workers of lawlessness”

people who choose to continue practicing sin

instead of obeying Jesus as their Lord.

 

And we see that same sort of thing today,

with some supposed miracle-working ministries.

 

They focus on miracles, signs and wonders,

instead of on Jesus and the written Word of God.

 

They may do that for years, even decades.

 

And then a scandal comes to light,

exposing those supposed miracle workers

as secret practicers of sin—

workers of lawlessness,

sexually immoral, drug users,

dishonest financially, and so on.

 

The scandal undermines the faith of thousands of people

who had put their trust in those religious leaders.

 

We’ve seen that in the Roman Catholic Church,

where priests who claim to perform

the miracle of transubstantiation in the mass

turn out to be long-term pedophiles

who molested generations of children.

 

And we’ve seen that sort of scandal

in connection with prominent TV evangelists,

and even the former president

of the American Association of Evangelicals.

 

These men used Jesus’ name to rise to power & prominence

as supposed “holy” men,

but their actions showed

that they didn’t know Jesus at all.

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The Apostle Paul encountered another situation

back in ancient Ephesus

where religious celebrities

were using the name of Jesus

without even being Christians at all.

 

These men were Jewish exorcists,

apparently earning their living

by performing exorcisms on people

who were believed to be possessed by demons.

 

We read about them in Acts Chapter 19

13 Some Jews who traveled around

and drove out evil spirits

also tried to use

the name of the Lord Jesus

to do this.

They said to the evil spirits,

“I command you in the name of Jesus,

whom Paul preaches.”

14 Seven brothers, who were the sons

of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva,

were doing this.

15 But the evil spirit said to them,

“I know Jesus, and I know about Paul;

but you—who are you?”

16 The man

who had the evil spirit in him

attacked them with such violence

that he overpowered them all.

They ran away from his house,

wounded and with their clothes torn off.

 

These men who tried to use Jesus’ name

in their exorcisms

were not Christians at all—

not even pretending to be.

 

They were Jewish and were sons of a Jewish High Priest.

 

But they were trying to use Jesus’ name, anyway.

 

In this case, it backfired on them immediately.

 

The evil spirit used the possessed man

to attack them, wound them,

and publicly humiliate them.

 

And the spectacle of those seven religious dignitaries

running out into the street wounded and naked

became big news throughout the local area.

 

Verse 17 says,

17 All the Jews and Gentiles

who lived in Ephesus

heard about this;

they were all filled with fear,

and the name of the Lord Jesus

was given greater honor.

 

So, in this case, the end result turned out to be good.

 

People throughout the area, who heard what happened,

also heard about Jesus—

that even the demons recognized Jesus’ power.

 

Many of those Jews and Gentiles

must have been hearing about Jesus for the first time.

 

And the Apostle Paul was there,

preaching in that area,

and in position to tell them more about Jesus,

and lead them into the true knowledge

of the Christian faith.

 

Part of that knowledge

that Paul would teach those new believers

involved the need to give up

the demonic and spiritistic practices

that were so common in that area.

 

So, Verse 18 goes on to say,

 

18 Many of the believers came,

publicly admitting and revealing

what they had done.

19 Many of those who had practiced magic

brought their books together

and burned them in public.

They added up the price of the books,

and the total came to

fifty thousand silver coins.

20 In this powerful way

the word of the Lord kept spreading

and growing stronger.

 

And that brings us back to the importance

of teaching new believers

to obey everything Jesus taught us.

 

These new believers back there in Ephesus

were taught to give up magic and other practices

inconsistent with following Christ.

 

It isn’t just a matter of

inviting people to say the sinner’s prayer,

or to say that they accept Jesus as their Lord & Savior.

 

Christ’s command was to

go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them

in the name of the Father, and of the Son,

and of the Holy Spirit,

20 and teaching them to obey

all that I have commanded you.

 

That involves teaching them

more than just to verbally confess Christ,

but also to learn Christ’s teachings.

 

It involves understanding how following Christ

impacts our everyday lives

in this corrupt anti-Christian world.

 

We can’t leave new believers

in the condition of those believers Paul encountered

who didn’t even know the Holy Spirit existed.

 

Those left in that condition are weak and vulnerable

to being exploited by false teachers.

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Part of the responsibility rests on those who teach

—to give new believers the basics of the Gospel,

and help them grow beyond that.

 

But part of the responsibility also falls on each Christian—

—to draw close to God in prayer, and

to read and study the Bible,

to grow up in the faith.

 

In 1 Corinthians Chapter 3, the Apostle Paul

told the members of that church,

1 Brothers, I could not address you

as spiritual, but as worldly—

as infants in Christ.

2 I gave you milk, not solid food,

for you were not yet ready

for solid food.

In fact, you are still not ready,

3 for you are still worldly.

 

Shame on us, if time goes by and we are still like infants—

not ready for solid spiritual food from the Bible

like history and prophecy,

because all we know is that Jesus loves us

and died for us,

 and forgave us of our sins.

 

It’s important to know that basic foundation of our faith,

but, as time goes by, we should be maturing

and growing in our knowledge of God and his Word.

 

The 5th Chapter of Hebrews similarly addresses

Christians who have not grown

beyond spiritual infancy—

those who are born again,

but haven’t grown beyond newborns.

 

It says,

12 Although by this time

you ought to be teachers,

you need someone to reteach you

the basic principles of God’s word.

You need milk, not solid food!

13 For everyone who lives on milk

is still an infant,

inexperienced in the message of righteousness.

14 But solid food is for the mature,

who by constant use

have trained their senses

to distinguish good from evil.

1 Therefore let us move beyond

the elementary teachings about Christ

and be taken forward to maturity,

 

The Sunday service and the Wednesday Bible study

are helpful in this Christian growth.

But individual personal prayer and Bible reading

are also essential for real growth

beyond spiritual infancy.

 

If you haven’t already done so,

now would be a good opportunity

to set aside time in your personal schedule

for prayerful reading of the Bible.

 

Ask God to help you grow in knowledge

and in your walk with him.

 

And, if you haven’t yet begun that spiritual journey

by becoming a disciple of Jesus,

right now would be the time to begin.

 

Jesus is alive, and he is still

welcoming people with open arms

to forgive our sins

and to give us new life as his adopted children.

 

You can become a disciple of Jesus

by turning to him in prayer.

 

Tell Jesus that you’re sorry for your sins,

and that you want to live the new life

that he calls you to live as his follower.

 

Give yourself to Christ,

and ask him to save you.

 

Your prayer can be silent,

between you and Christ alone.

 

It’s a personal thing, between you and God.

 

And your prayer can be as simple as,

“Lord Jesus, I’m yours.  Save me!”

 

“Lord Jesus, I’m yours.  Save me!”

 

The living Christ will honor that prayer

and will put his Holy Spirit in you,

and you will be born again as a child of his.

 

And he will begin to lead you personally

on the same spiritual journey as the Apostle Paul

and the early Christians.

 

Jesus is real, and you will begin to experience

his hand in your life.

 

Tell others you have taken this step

of committing your life to Christ,

so that we can rejoice with you

and offer you help along the way—

help to grow in the faith.