Can you imagine going into a car yard and buying a brand new car, not a real flash car just the basic model without all those fancy optional extras, leather seats, mag wheels, pumping stereo system, with mp3 docking and Bluetooth so you can play music from your phone, although as the father of teenagers I am told that last one isn’t really an optional extra it’s an essential… you’d told them you don’t want those optional extras. You jump in, inhale that nice new car smell, settle yourself in, they may not be leather but its more comfortable than the beaten up seat in your old car, you put the key in the ignition and turn it and… well nothing… nothing happens… you try it again and nothing happens just the click sound….What’s going on here?
You pop the bonnet go round to the front, open it up… … but there is no motor in the front. It’s you didn’t think you’d bought a VW Beetle but just to make sure you open up the boot as well no no motor there either. You go back to the dealer who is standing there smiling at you and ‘ask what’s going on?’ and he says “Oh with this model the motor is an optional extra”? crazy right… totally and utterly ridiculous, A bit like trying to be followers of Jesus without the Holy Spirit.
We are working our way through the book of Acts as a way of better understanding the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church and hopefully in our lives today. The passage we had read out to us today in Acts 19 has I believe a lot to teach us and tell us about the spirit, about mission and about witnessing to Jesus Christ.
The passage we had read out to us today is the story of Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus. It’s a challenging passage, for the first time we see the Christian faith go head to head with the worldview of pagan religious practise… What you might call magic or occult practises. It’s a story that shows the way in which the new believers moved from a synchronistic understanding of the Christian faith, standing with a foot in both camps if you were, to abandoning their pagan religious practises and embracing the Christian faith fully. It’s a passage that because of the setting focuses on what we might call the move of the Spirit in power, through signs and wonders, in the face of the overt spirituality of the people of Ephesus God moves in power to reveal the truth about Jesus. That the Christian faith is different you can’t just use it like another magic formula.
But the passage starts with Paul’s encounter with a group identified as disciples who did not know about the Holy Spirit, who had not received the spirit. This isolated incident has been used as I Howard Marshall says to emphasise that the receiving of the Holy Spirit is a secondary experience separate from salvation. It’s contributed to the idea that there are two classes of believers the haves and the have not’s… those who are supposedly filled with the spirit and the others. I’m going to focus on this first section and then round up with some comments on the rest of the passage.
Paul’s coming to Ephesus follows on from the story of Apollo’s a good preacher and bible teacher who seems to have gone about telling people about Jesus but only had half the story. His focus was on the baptism of John the Baptist simply for repentance with no understanding of new life in Christ. We are told that Pricilla and Aquilla spent time sharing the rest of the gospel with him. The implication is that the group at Ephesus had come to a sort of version of faith through Apollos’ teaching. Paul has to correct their understanding as well. For Paul the fact that the believers hadn’t received the spirit was a sign that they hadn’t fully understood and responded to the reality of who Jesus was, his death and resurrection. They were not Christians more disciples of John the Baptist. When they believe because of Paul’s message he baptises them in Jesus name, they are the only people who it is mentioned are re baptised in the new testament, he lays hands on them and they receive the Holy Spirit, as a sign of that they prophecy, which is to speak forth God’s word and speak in tongues. The problem we have is what are we to make of this rather interesting and anything but common occurrence? What does it have to do with us to day?
Some as I mentioned before say that it means that people can believe in Jesus and still need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit as a second experience, and it needs to be accompanied by signs like speaking in tongues. People often point to things like John Wesley taking of his heart being strangely warmed or the azura street revival which is the birth of the modern Pentecostal movement as examples of this happening. This often has more to do with coming into a fuller awareness of the spirits presence and power in our lives because when we come to put our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour that God sends his spirit to dwell in us, to be with us. The Holy Spirit is the means by which we experience the rejuvenation that comes in Christ.
I think a lot of people are like these disciples in Ephesus because we can say “o we didn’t even know about the Holy Spirit’ we think it’s like an optional extra for the super spirituals rather than the abiding presence of God in our lives. To use the analogy I started off with its kind of like we don’t realise that it is the Spirit that energises and enables our faith to go somewhere like the engine does on a car. Did you receive the holy Spirit when you believed?... yes… are you allowing your life to be filled by the Spirit? That perhaps is the more pertinent question.
The resting image in our service today contains a verse that is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he invites his listeners to be filled with the spirit, in English this seems to be referring to a one off event, but it is in a Greek tense that we have trouble translating into English , it has the sense of be filed and keep on being filled with the spirit, of an ongoing relationship. Paul had contradicted it with Don’t get drunk on wine and there is a sense that being drunk is being under the influence of more and more alcohol, to be filled with the spirit is to allow ourselves on an ongoing basis to be filled up with the very presence of God.
The challenge is that often don’t cultivate that in our lives. We forget to ask God to send his spirit more and more into our lives, our call to worship this morning came from Luke’s gospel where Jesus invites us to ask and to seek and to find and that God who knows how to give good gifts to his children will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, we ask to know more of God’s presence in our lives. Again in his letter to the Ephesians Paul invites his follower as they live by the Spirit, as they have experienced the new life in Christ by the Spirit, then they are to walk in step with the Spirit. Allowing God to speak into our lives as we open ourselves up the scriptures and prayer regularly as we respond to what we have heard and allow our lives to change, in the way we treat each other and care for others. You only have to watch TV police reality shows to see what people who are under the influence of alcohol walk like and act like, right. To walk with the spirit is to be made more and more like Christ; its fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control.
Ok let’s look at the rest of reading this morning. As I said before Paul is ministering in a very different spiritual environment than many of us are used to. We might relate to Paul arguing on a cognitive level with the Jews in the synagogue and for two years preaching and wrestling with the gentiles, it’s interesting to note that Paul strategically chose Ephesus because it was the central city for the whole province of Asia minor and the church spread throughout the region. We see that in that environment God chose to reveal himself through a series of what even Luke calls extraordinary miracles. When people are held captive by overt occult practises then God’s presence and the gospel can have some very powerful and profound effects. At church last night we had a fundraiser for the 'One on One Medical Mission' to East Timor, and we were addressed by Annie Chen, a GP from Christchurch who has been doing mission work in Cambodia and East Timor, Annie shared about the amazing miracles God was going, but not so much miraculous healings, more miracles of the way people suddenly were turning up to be involved in caring for the poorest of the poor, and the way God lead her to the neediest. She shared about sensing that God was saying that their was a girl waiting in Cambodia to be sponsored to train to be a medical doctor, she went to Cambodia and the Spirit lead her to one girl whom she asked and who aid she was wanted to train to be a doctor but couldn't get a sponsor. We are not told that Paul actually sanctioned the practise of taking handkerchiefs and sweat bands of his to other people and them being healed, I’m not sure that it is suggesting such things are normative in the church today. In fact I wonder if its wasn’t part of the people of Ephesus seeing this new faith as being like the old occult ways, simply a magic formula to make everything alright. In the ruins of Ephesus they have found amulets that contain the scripts in the name of the God of Abraham and Jacob and in the name of Jesus. A bit like the seven sons of Sceva thought they could use Jesus name without knowing him. In this passage we are supposed to see that the demonic is real, and that it recognises Jesus name and power but that you don’t just use it like a vampire hunter might use the cross, if you know what I mean. There is a reality about who God is what Christ has done for us and the presence of God with his people through the Holy Spirit that is different.
While people may look at speaking in tongues and prophecy as signs of the Spirits presence, which they can be, because God does show up like that sometimes but as I look at this passage the thing that shows me the Spirit of God was at work is the way the believers grow in their faith. AS a result of what they see of the power of God, they give up their occult practises and occult books and scrolls which probably refers to charms they would have worn round their necks as protection or as ways of getting prosperity and burn them and choose to live a more Christian life style. Up to then it seems like is often the case that they were very much living in two worlds in the kingdom of God but still very much hedging their bets, in fact we know by the debate in 1 Corinthians about eating food sacrificed to idols that they were stuck between their culture and their new faith. But here we see them making a very costly choice, and the amount of money mentioned here for these occult items is vaste. They chose to live in a new way and it has a profound impact on the city they are in, which is both positive and negative, if you read on you see it causes riots and Paul is imprisoned.
A couple of quick summary points. If you are caught up or dabbling in occult stuff, horoscopes, spiritualists, Tarot cards etc your Christian faith will struggle to grow and you need to renounce it and get rid of that stuff. I was up on a hill out at Piha one night and I felt the spirit say repent of involvement with horoscopes as I’d never read one seriously in my life I felt that was strange, but I asked God to forgive me, a long time after that I was again on a hill out Piha way and I felt the spirit remind of that prayer and took my mind back to when I was a young fella I used to wear an Aquarius sign round my neck all the time and I used to hang it up in pride of place in my room when I wasn’t wearing it. Obviously God wanted to deal with that and any negative effects it was having on my faith.
In other ways we might find ourselves compromising our faith, and western materialism is one that we don’t often see, we are caught up in viewing life and our goals and our success and joys in what we have and our standard of living and I can see that stopping us from fully experiencing life in Christ.
Lastly we need to look at the question Did we receive the Holy Spirit when we believed? The answer is yes but often I think we kind of forget it whereas we need to be asking God for more of his presence in our lives all the time and opening our lives up receive more of that presence, in prayer and the scriptures in fellowship in service. I’m always happy to pray for people to be filled with the spirit because I am aware we all need to know God more and more in our lives.