2 June 2017Acts 19:1-20
“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.” (v. 11)
Psalm: Psalm 18:1-19
Omitted from our lectionary this week is an account of Paul's travels in between his mission in Corinth and that in Ephesus. He called briefly at Ephesus and promised to return in due course, God willing (Acts 18:19-21). Today's passage gives an account of his eventual return to Ephesus, after journeying around Asia Minor (Acts 18:22-23).
Ephesus was in Asia Minor and, like Corinth, was known for its commerce. But it was also an important religious centre of the Graeco-Roman world, home to the impressive Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. Artemis (or Diana in Roman mythology) was the virgin huntress, goddess of the moon and in Ephesus was associated with a local fertility goddess. Perhaps because she was linked to the moon, her cult included the practice of all kinds of magic and superstition, which Paul encountered on this visit.
Following his usual practice, he went first to the synagogue, but as in Corinth, he soon encountered opposition and moved instead to a secular lecture hall, where he seems to have evangelised by discussion rather than lecture.
The authentic Christian life is lived by drawing power from God through Jesus Christ, rather than acting in one's own power. This passage offers two vignettes which dramatise this truth. First Paul encountered the would-be disciples who have only received Baptism into the movement established by John the Baptist (verses 2-3). As Paul explained to them John's Baptism, although approved by God, was simply a human act designed to prepare seekers to encounter Jesus Christ. Baptism into Jesus Christ is an act of God mediated through the apostle, and authenticated as such by the presence of God in the action of the Holy Spirit (verses 4-6).
The other people acting in their own human power are the seven itinerant Jewish exorcists; in their very words of exorcism they admit that they themselves do not proclaim Jesus as Paul does (verse 13) Their humiliation and failure (verse 16) completely discredited human power in the community of Ephesus seems to have initiated a mass conversion and repudiation of pagan magical practices (verses 17-19).
Since both Baptism and exorcism or healing are distinctively apostolic acts of liberation, this passage serves to endorse Paul's status as an authentic apostle, demonstrating the redemptive consequences of acting humbly in the power of God, rather than seeking acclaim for personal human power.
- Have you ever encountered somebody who is doing good and worthy things, but clearly either in the strength of, or for the sake of, their own power, rather than God's? Have you ever been that person?
- What are the signs that somebody is authentically drawing their strength from the power of God?
- What practices do you need in your own life to ensure that you are drawing from the wellspring of God's power, rather than trying to rely on your own strength?