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Acts 19:1-22: Jesus or nothing
OFSTED - the word that strikes terror into teachers.
I: School where I marked in cupboard
Their goal is to reveal healthy schools and expose false places that are pretending to be safe and effective teaching establishments.
It matters because a healthy school increases the likelihood of a child having a healthy life.
Let me ask a personal question, Would your life be exposed under the inspection of a spiritual OFSTED?
It matters because faith only has two categories: authentic or fake.
Paul is a Christian missionary, his role is to take the good news of Christianity across Roman Empire, and you heard from the reading, anyone who says the Bible is boring hasn’t read it - because we’re in the city of Ephesus, a city with…
- Jesus or nothing - Authentic Spirituality
Paul [verse 1] meets 12 disciples in Ephesus. This is the core team of a new church, it must have been thrilling for him.
But in [verse 2] something’s not quite right.
We don’t have many details, but based on the conversation there are some clues.
I wonder if as they enjoyed time together Paul noticed that all their prayers focused on calling on “God the creator”, but no one ever mentioned Jesus.
Perhaps they had great worship sessions but the lyrics focused on sorrow at sin, and the mercy of God but no lyrics about Jesus - nothing on his death and resurrection.
Perhaps the Bible studies or talks all focused on ‘Things are hard right now, but don’t worry God will send his servant soon!”
And I wonder if Paul was like - “Uh, guys - “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?”
“Then what baptism did you receive?”
And Paul is told they received the baptism of John, which was a spiritual movement launched before Jesus started his ministry, and was all focused on stirring up the realisation that every person had walked away from God, had rejected him, and therefore everyone was responsible for the brokenness of the world.
John’s baptism was a revolutionary movement that invited people to stop blaming others for the problems of the world, and stop seeing themselves as their own saviours, and instead enjoy the freedom of for the first time being honest and saying, “the problem is me.” And then, in the greatest game changing bulletin, John taught, God would send a saviour!
And as a mark that you were owning your responsibility for the brokenness of the world (sin), and as a public mark that you were waiting for God’s saviour - John invited people to be baptised.
So does that make sense of the Ephesus 12? Enthusiastic, spiritually switched on, but missing the one vital piece that makes sense of the whole jigsaw - they missed out Jesus.
Paul says that in verse 4, “You guys need to know that Jesus was the saviour John was preparing you all for.”
There are two key ways that this applies to us today.
Firstly, let me speak to those of you who would consider yourselves spiritual. Perhaps, even you are sympathetic to Christianity:
- For you there is something more to the world than just survival and death - something bigger, more purposeful and beautiful.
- For you there is an appeal in the ancient paths of faith, ritual, temple, eternity.
- For you perhaps too is a belief that the world is not as it should be, and we must be honest with ourselves, that there is a darkness within us that longs to be healed.
- Perhaps even, the God of the Bible, the teachings of scripture, the wisdom of old really resonates with you on a deep and profound level.
Let me put this as sensitively and clearly as I possibly can: without faith in the Jesus of history, described in the Bible as the saviour who lived the perfect life, died for the forgiveness of our sins, and rose again to guarantee us eternal life - then your Christian sympathies, even your right instincts are no more helpful to you than getting four out of five lottery numbers right and begging to receive the £50m.
Close isn’t enough. Saving faith is Jesus or nothing.
Look at verses 4 and 5, only when they recognise Jesus for who he is, the Holy Spirit, that is God himself comes to dwell within them immediately, and their world is turned upside down and changed forever.
In fact, the description of the guys ‘speaking in tongues’ (talking in languages that they have not learnt) and ‘prophesying’ (applying God’s truth with an insight beyond your experience or understanding) is meant to echo the experience of the disciples in Acts 2 when in an upper room in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit comes upon them - because God is affirming that this group who are 1,700KM away from Christian epicenter in Jerusalem are the real deal!
Secondly, let me speak to you who would claim to be Christians and yet you doubt whether your faith is authentic rather than misguided like the Ephesus 12.
I understand why you might fear that, doubts are a normal part of being a believer. And when you see the spiritual fireworks that affirm the Holy Spirit has come upon these new believers, it can easily make you wonder if the reason your spiritual life seems so anemic is because it’s actually a fake.
Now, it’s true that every believer has the holy spirit within them, and for some, that is evidenced by gifts such as speaking in tongues or prophesying. And there will be a small number of you here for who, that is kindness of God to you that the Spirit of God has bestowed upon you that gift as a marker of His presence within you.
However, for all of us, who believe, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives, powerfully removing old ways of living and transforming us to be more and more like Jesus.
The Christian is not a finished product, but a glorious cathedral covered in scaffolding, a lifetime of construction in ever greater moments of beauty and restoration.
In a letter that Paul wrote to a church in Galatia, he lists the fruit of the Spirit as being:
love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So if you want to see evidence of your authentic faith, that is evidence of the Spirit of God at work in your life, look for evidence that these behaviours and mindsets are present.
Just over a week ago the pastor and writer Tim Keller passed away, many of us have found is writing incredibly helpful, but one thing he said that I’ve never forgotten, is the caution not to mistake the defaults of our personality for evidence that the Spirit of God is active within us, rather look to where you have acted contrary to your instinct.
That is, if you are naturally gentle and peace making, look for when you have shown the courage to get into conflict for a defence of justice.
If you are naturally angry or impulsive, look for when you were calm, patient and self-controlled.
If you have found yourself in a long season of sadness, look for where you have experienced moments of joyful thanks to God.
Do you see, more than tongues or prophesying the remarkable power of authentic spirit filled faith is when you find the courage to swim against the tide of your habits, routines and patterns to bring an extraordinary good into the world, even if it’s just for a moment.
I: Life changed.
If you’re not yet a believer, (and it’s great to have you here), it’s important to know that Christianity is not a philosophy or collection of wise sayings to live your life by, it is utterly different.
It is a confidence that the God who made the world, knows you, loves you and resides within you, and is fiercely jealous of any disease, dark force or oppression that would hold us captive and steal our joy.
So verses 8-20 should come with a warning: Authentic faith transforms lives, and transforms communities, but false faith promises everything but is empty.
- Jesus or nothing: authentic power
This second half of the passage is as weird if you’re new to church or come every week. So seat belts on!
It starts in verse 8 with a lecture and it climaxes in verse 18 where scores of people, who practice “magical arts” burn their gear.
That’s not a group of people are bbq their Harry Potter memorabilia, it’s the equivalent of [£….] of books on manifesting, crystals, astrology horoscopes being permanently got rid of - symbolising a whole community of people declaring that the only supernatural power they want to depend upon comes from Jesus.
In other words: Jesus or nothing!
So how does one lead to the other? Because if you could answer that question what that mean for your life? What would that mean for Manchester?
Step 1: (Vs 8-10) Explore the gospel
‘The Gospel’ is the story of what happened in history when God became a human, was killed on a cross and rose from the dead. With all of the life changing implications of that.
And Vs 8-10 tell us that Paul unleashes this story into the heart of Ephesus, exposing this city to the gospel for longer than any other place he has previously visited - 2 ¼ years!
The result is gospel trended across Ephesus social media platforms and numerous numbers of people got to really explore what it means.
“Yes Matt, but how do you know if you’ve really heard the gospel or not?”
If you still think Christianity is about following rules to get right with God then you haven’t heard it.
Step 2: (11-12) Watch for fireworks!
In first reading these verses are simply bizarre!
The cloths from Paul that seem to be more effective than turmeric shot, are likely to have been his sweat rags, which is a frankly disgusting idea.
And yet people are being healed of all manner of diseases.
This makes no sense until you realise that this is an echo to the famous moment in Jesus’ ministry in (Mark..) when a woman who suffered from internal bleeding for many years, received instantaneous healing when she simply touched Jesus’s clothes in faith such was the power of God walking amongst the crowd.
How might this apply to us?
Simply this. When Gospel goes out into a community watch for the indirect explosions of gracious power that will indirectly start occurring.
Here at City Church…
Does that not provoke your curiosity to see what happens if you were to unleash the gospel at work, over coffee with a friend, perhaps in the school canteen, or even over a cheeky Nandos!
Step 3: (Vs 18-20) Change your life
The bonfire of supernatural stuff is more relevant to you than you know.
You see, supernatural tools that help you manipulate God, the spirits, the fates, the universe - whatever! Are simply attempts to cope with the anxiety of living in a chaotic world by trying to control it. Afterall, magic is the manipulation of the universe through words, actions or will power.
You may be an absolute Muggle, but my guess is that you have your own methods to cope with anxiety by controlling your universe.
The power of the Holy Spirit at work in believers, through being unleashed by belief in Jesus is strong enough to free you from your unhealthy coping mechanisms. Those things that you are putting a supernatural weight upon to help you thrive in a painful world, those cycles of misery, can be broken.
Do you see the power of the Spirit as the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ is unleashed amongst a community over a period of time. This is exactly what we long to see in this church, in our city.
And note how different this is to fake Christianity.
The false ‘prosperity’ churches that litter our city claim that following Jesus will fulfil your longing to grasp more money; and yet our passages shows us clearly that authentic Christianity moves people to let go of wealth, 50,000 drachmas to be precise, if that means they can live the life their creator has called them to.
And then there’s the example of the exorcists, ghost busters team of 7, who claim the power of Jesus and yet because they have no genuine faith, it makes no impact. Jesus or nothing.
I wonder if some of you are thinking: “Is that all he’s going to say about the demon and the blood and the nakedness bit?”
Well, there is something I’d like to comment on as we finish.
3: Jesus Became Nothing: Authentic Love
The theme of this talk has been putting your trust on the authentic Jesus. We began with a group who knew religion but they didn't know Jesus, and 7 ghost busters knew the power but didn’t know Jesus, so what’s the one big thing they should know about this Jesus who is active by his Spirit.
For those of us who aren’t yet Christians here today, what is the one thing you need to know about Jesus?
It’s this: Jesus became nothing, and that is the authentic love you’ve searched all your life for.