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.
1 While Apollos was in Corinth,
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,”
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.