Signs and Wonders; Acts 19:8-21

Yet more creative evangelism initiatives from Paul, this time in Ephesus. As per usual when the normal model of synagogue preaching breaks down he finds another way to do it. We have heard this so much in Acts now that we have to take it as a normative principle: when one thing stops working, try other ways instead.

I think large numbers of churches continue flogging dead horses because "that's what we have always done", entirely ignoring that what we have always done is pointless when the world has moved on. I remember one church doing the most appalling, insensitive, no-non-Christians-listening open airs and returning to their church hall saying "we have been faithful." They had regularly relied on the same format for 20 years or more, during which they had seen no interest and no conversions. I asked the slightly depressed pastor "why don't you stop it and do some training in personal witness instead." he replied "because nobody would come. This is what we do."

I know that's an extreme case, but there are many more churches who assume they are accessible to the outsider when they just plain aren't. A man said to me not long ago "surely everyone who walks down a road with a church building in it knows the message that is proclaimed inside. If they want to hear the message they only have to come in." This is very common and self-delusional to a depressing degree.

But another church I know just took the step to move out of their building into the local community hall which is right at the centre of their small town. It was a really hard thing for them to do, but their hearts are on taking Jesus to their town, not settling for comfortable anonymity in their cosy, homely building. 

Anyway, back to Acts. This time Paul goes to the lecture hall and dialogues there for two years. I think it likely it was a mixture of debate and discussion, but whatever the mode, people heard widely outside of the church: "all the Jews and Greeks in the province of Asia heard."

Then comes the amazing stuff. God affirms the teaching of the gospel with healings, blessed handkerchiefs (!!), the casting out of evil spirits and indications that it only happens through believers and in the name of Jesus. So great is the effect that people bring LOTS of valuable "magic" scrolls and burn them, renouncing sorcery and turning to Jesus in large numbers. Interestingly the final straw in them turning seems to be the fact that a demoniac beat up counterfeit miracle workers and the word got around that the true message and true son of God beats evil. 19:20 says that the word spread widely and grew in power.

Now what are we to do with this? If you have been following Acts with me you might expect me to say that we ought to seek God for works of power like this. But I don't think that this time. Because even Luke says that these miracles were extraordinary. This wasn't usual stuff, even for the apostolic team. Why did God send such a remarkable outpouring of power? I guess it might have something to do with them being in such a powerful stronghold of the occult. The main emphasis is that the gospel triumphs over evil, whether demon possession, magic or occult practice.

The thing that strikes me most clearly is that new believers wholeheartedly shred the paraphenalia of their former way of life. They could have sold the stuff, but they burn it instead. That's real faith, real repentance. One of the most godly young believers I ever met came to Christ from an occult, goth background. She said to me "God just broke in, told me to turn to Jesus and get rid of my Goth stuff. It was absolutely everything I owned. When I burnt it he told me there and then I would be a missionary in Asia." As far as I know she is to this day. I think of her whenever I read of occult stuff going on in Ephesus in the province of Asia.

Jesus is real. He is powerful over evil. The lesson I want to draw is not to expect miracles that were extraordinary even by the standard of Acts, but that Ephesus shows that becoming Christians means wholehearted life commitment. We don't leave ourselves routes out if God doesn't come through for us. Burn the scrolls, burn the bridges. No compromise, no turning back.