Online Text Sermon - Acts ch.19 v.10, Acts ch.19 v.20
|Preacher||Rev. Hugh Ferrier, Inverness|
|Sermon Title|| |
|Text||Acts ch.19 v.10 |
Acts ch.19 v.20
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"And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19, 10).
"So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (Acts 19, 20).
This is an event that took place in a city called Ephesus. It's one of the seven cities that are mentioned by John in his Revelation, where the messages are given by Christ Jesus to the seven churches of Asia Minor. If you were to study where these seven churches are, you would discover them in western Turkey, that is, today's Turkey. One of these churches became a very powerful church later on; you only need to read Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians to discover how mightily this church grew and how powerful it became. Before that, it was an evil city. It was the city where the worship of the goddess Diana was practised. That worship had with it all its attendant immorality, magic and sorcery. So wherever you went in Ephesus in those far-off days you would be confronted by these abominable shrines to Diana; you would be confronted by the magic that people said they could practise; and you would be confronted by the sorcery which abounded.
It seemed such an unlikely place for God's grace to be manifested. But, you know, what is impossible with men is entirely possible with God and this is what we find happening in this city. It gives us cause for being uplifted in these dreadful days of paganism that we are living through. So if these things could happen in Ephesus some two thousand years ago, don't you think it could happen here in the town of Inverness, or in the cities of this land of ours, or throughout the western world? "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (Isaiah 59, 1).
So let's look at this revival that took place. For two years the apostle Paul preached faithfully in the school of Tyrannus. It says "that all they which which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (text). It also tells us that during this time "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them" (v.11-12). You see, this power that was exercised by the apostle Paul was given to him by God in order to offset the power of magic and the power of sorcery that were being practised in Ephesus. In other words, God was showing to the people of that awful city that His power is far greater than any evil power, wherever it may come from, be it from the pit of hell itself. These miracles that Paul was performing were having a baneful effect upon the trade of this evil city. And you know, when a revival comes, when it occurs, it hits hard at the strongholds of Satan. If we were to see a revival in this city of Inverness at this particular time you would see the change that would come over the betting shops, the licence shops, the pubs - all these things that are having an effect upon men and women today, they would cease, their power would be neutralised.
But what I want us to do just now is consider the Source of Revival Power, Revival Effects and Revival Results.
First of all, let us look at the Source of Revival Power. The vagabond Jews mentioned here were exorcists, that is, they professed to be able to expel evil spirits by doing certain ceremonies, and in that first century AD we must remember that demonology was rampant. There were many poor, demented and tormented souls who longed for deliverance from the power and influence of these demons. You get different kinds of demons: the demon of lust, the demon of drug abuse, the demon of drink, the demon of all sorts of things - violence, cruelty, whatever you like to name - there are the demons which specialise in that. They come upon people who are tortured by them and do things they are ashamed of afterwards.
All the powers of earth and hell, we must remember, are subject to the sovereign sway of the Lord Jesus, and, thank God, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our Lord Jesus Christ cast out the devils that were in the Gadarenes; you remember - the man in the tombs at Gadara whom they bound with chains? No matter how they tried to bind him, he broke the chains asunder. He cut himself, he foamed at the mouth. He was a terrifying man. People wouldn't go near the place. He lived in the tombs, in the graveyard. That's not where you get an ordinary sane man. Jesus came to him and Jesus spoke to him. What does it say? He was found "sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid" (Luke 8, 35). O, what a Saviour we have!
Or take, for instance, the devil possessed boy and his parents who were at the end of their tether with him. At last the father came to Jesus and said to Him, 'You see this boy of mine? He's always throwing himself into the fire. We can't control him.' But Jesus could, and Jesus did. It's the same with Mary Magdalene. She's the woman, you remember, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. These are the fallen angels, you see, masterminded by the devil who is the leader of them; and they prey over the earth - prey upon men and women. There are many today who are in the grip of evil forces and they are beyond human control. Sometimes one senses a mood of despair in the face of these powers.
What I'm trying to say this evening is this: remember that the power of Christ can break the chains of sin and darkness. That is the power that we so desperately need in society today. Here were these vagabond Jews - we don't know who they were but they tried to emulate Paul by exorcising evil spirits in the name of Paul's Christ. But their work was vain, it was powerless. You see, you can only work powerfully in the name of Christ when you know Christ, when you live close to Christ.
Remember how there was this family of Sceva? He had seven sons, and they were a very religious family. They thought that they could do the same things as Paul. There was a demon who said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?" (Acts 19, 15) - and he leaped upon them. You see, they were not true men of God, these sons of Sceva. Their religion was not the true and the holy religion of Christ. They remind us of Hophni and Phinehas. You remember these two men, these two brothers? They were the sons of Eli. They were meant for the priesthood. They were only interested in God's holy calling because of what they could get out of it; and, when sacrifices were brought to them, they made sure that they took the best part of the sacrifice for themselves. Not only that, but they were immoral men - and see how God dealt with them. The wheels of God go slowly, and they grind, but they grind exceeding small.
We come to this question then: wherein lies the Source of Revival Power? Well, it doesn't lie in a mere profession of religion, as the vagabond Jews and the family of Sceva thought. No, revival power doesn't rest with human effort, however sincere. You cannot produce a revival. There are some people today who think they must plan for some great meetings. So they sit down and they make their plans. They do this, and they do that, and it's all thought out what they're going to do: 'Get the people in!' But the revival doesn't come, does it? It's "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4, 6). Only God can awaken those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Only God can give deliverance to those who are imprisoned by the forces of darkness. Today, what do we see? We see the world tyrannised by sinister forces of darkness, and we need deliverance. And only God can deliver; only God can give us the power. You know, I think you will agree with me when I say this: What is it that's lacking in the church today? I'm talking as a minister who belongs to an evangelical church. We've seen it in our own church. No matter how the preaching may be; no matter how the organisation may be, isn't there one thing lacking? What is it? The thing that is lacking is power - power in the pews, power in the pulpit - this is what will bring about revival: when the power of God comes. That's what you've got to pray for, my dear friend, and that's what I've got to pray for.
I sometimes used to go around the Free North Church - and elsewhere over my years in the ministry - when they were empty. I would just sit in a seat and think back to the great days when all these seats were full. Now it's only a shadow of what it was way back 100, 150 years ago. I would ask God 'That thou might send upon us revival', always hoping that before I died I would see it. But my days are limited and I don't expect to see it - maybe I'm lacking in faith. There might be some young people here... O, I hope you see it! I hope you young folk who are here tonight may see a day coming when the power of the Spirit of God will descend, and then you will know that God is at work in this land of ours, the land of Scotland - aye and England too, and everywhere else.
We must look at this too: the Effect of Revival Power. The incident of what happened to Sceva and his family when they tried to emulate Paul was soon broadcast throughout Ephesus. It made men and women aware that the things of God are not to be trifled with. At this particular time of revival it tells us that fear - ah! that's what's missing - "fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds" (Acts 19, 17-18). As I've said, we don't know what a real revival of this nature is like, for we have never been through one. The idea that is put abroad today of revival is that it must be a good time of unabated happiness, a time of light-heartedness, a time of clapping one another on the back and so on. A real revival is nothing like that. In a revival, yes there is joy; in a revival, yes there is peace; but not the happy-go-lucky kind of thing.
When revival comes, there comes with it a deep seriousness of spirit. It's a time when men and women come to grips with eternal realities; when they come to see that God is true, that God is essentially holy, and that God cannot tolerate sin. That's why we read about these people who came and confessed and showed their deeds. They had to make their confession. When revival comes we begin to discover how sin is loathsome, sin is detestable, sin is abominable and sin will be punished. The people of Ephesus had the fear of God. They rejoiced in the name of the Lord Jesus. They were made aware that peace between God and man is effected by Christ and through His blood. When you come under the conviction of sin in a time of revival, it's the moment of heart searching and truth for you. When your hypocrisy and my hypocrisy is shown up to be the sham that it is.
If we examine, for example, the revival movements of Bible times we will see that this is the case. Take Jonah. Oh he wanted to come to his own home. He wanted to come among his own people, but not these Ninevites - no, let them perish; let them be damned. God comes and says to Jonah, 'I've given you a commission. You will not escape from my commission no matter where you go. Take any boat you wish across these seas; I'll be after you.' And so it was. When Jonah realised that he was the cause of the storm in the Mediterranean, and when he asked these sailors to take him up and throw him over the side, what was waiting down there? A huge sea monster! As soon as it came nearby the ship its mouth and jaws began to open and this great preacher of the gospel was swept inside into the belly of the sea monster. Then God directed that beast of the seas until it came to the place where it had to cast out Jonah from a living hell. As Jonah himself says, "Out of the belly of hell cried I" (Jonah 2, 2). Jonah knew he had to go to Nineveh and he went. Do you see him? He's walking down one street, up the other street, round this whole city. He's got a message of judgement, and he's saying to the people of Nineveh, 'God has told me, in forty days He will destroy this place.' As they look at this strange man - who probably has been bleached by having been inside this monster, and who appears before them almost as a ghost, with his bleached skin from the acids of the inside of the beast - what do they do? They repent. They repent, from the sovereign on the throne to the humblest peasant! Not only do they repent but they cause the animals in the field to repent also. They put sackcloth on each of these animals, as if to say to God, 'We are repenting, and even our very stock of livestock is repenting with us as well.'
The same happened at Pentecost. You see, the people of Nineveh said, 'What shall we do?' and Jonah said, 'Turn to God.' The same at Pentecost; Peter was preaching, the people were awakened. They said, 'What must we do?' and Peter tells them to turn to Christ. This is how it always has been.
We can think of the great famous revival at Cambuslang. The minister, a Mr McCulloch, had for years been preaching to his people without any results. Then he began to urge on them to turn to God, to live, and suddenly the Spirit of God fell upon them in Cambuslang. They weren't going about clapping one another or rejoicing in that kind of way. No, they were in tears. 'God, have mercy upon me! Save me through the blood of Christ!' This was their cry. Then you remember how that great man McCulloch sent for George Whitefield and George Whitefield - with a voice that could carry across miles - came up. He said that it was one of the greatest revivals he had ever been in. Whitefield was a man who could produce a dramatic effect upon the people - not that he tried to, but he had that kind of influence. Wasn't it Garfield, I think his name was - one of the great actors of that time - who said this: 'If only I could say, "Oh!" as Mr Whitefield says it, I would give him this or that or the other thing...' But you see, Garfield had to understand that it's not something that you act out, it's something that comes from your heart, which is set on fire by God.
Jonathan Edwards, that great preacher who preached on the text: In due time their feet will be on "slippery places" (Psalm 73, 18). As he stood there with that candle in his hand - no electric light in those days - and as he read from his manuscript people began to fall about the place asking for God's mercy. Robert Murray McCheyne in Dundee, preaching in St. Peter's - you remember one day he was getting his horse shod at a forge and the blacksmith with one or two men were round there looking at the fire which they were heating up in order to make the shoe for the horse. All McCheyne said to them was: 'What does that fire remind you of?' They had a power!
The Results of Revival Power. Look how it affected the personal lives of the people of Ephesus. Look at how it affected their city. "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (Acts 19, 19-20). You know, revival costs something. We make bonfires of old useless rubbish, but here was a bonfire that cost 50,000 pieces of silver. That's even a great cost in this day. What must it have been like in those days? As someone has pointed out, it was one of the costliest and most expensive bonfires ever. The books, the items of magic, they were speedily disposed of. It was an indication, you see, of the resolve of these people to turn their backs, once and for all, on a way of life that was in conflict with God. That's what revival means. It means that you burn your boats.
There was a man called Savonarola who was a Dominican monk who taught in Florence. He was a great religious moralist. Under him an awakening took place in Florence, and he sent boys round collecting evil books, pictures, playing cards, dice, gambling apparatus, even musical instruments, perfumes, powder, veils - everything that expressed vanity in life - and he had them destroyed. Don't you think that's what would happen in the town of Inverness? All these pornographic films stripped off the bookstalls; all these magazines full of immodesty; all these CDs with their pop music. You know the writer John Blanchard has written a book called Does God Believe in Atheists? Well, he has written a book now called Pop Goes the Gospel. It has been reproduced. This is not us getting at all sorts of things like this, but some of these things are degrading. You happen to switch on the television set, waiting for the news to come on, and you see a preview of something that they're going to show. It might be an audience of young people; different coloured lights are flashing and they're all jumping about one way or another. They're all behaving as if there were something wrong with them, as if the world had gone mad. Sometimes I wonder if the world that we are living in is going mad.
They'd had enough of it. They brought these filthy books; they brought all this apparatus of magic; they brought everything that had to do with the occult and they burned it there, got rid of it once and for all. That's the kind of revival, that's the religious awakening that we need: an awakening that will shake us out of our complacency and out of our indifference. At Ephesus the Word of God grew and prevailed. In other words, the Word of God was resistless and overpowering in its strength.
I've just about finished. I ask you this question, as I ask it of myself: Has God given the multitude of people in our day over to a reprobate mind? That's a serious question. Let us pray God that He hasn't. Paul preached faithfully in a deplorably wicked city like Ephesus, and look at the outcome. But Paul had something more. He had divine power; that's the power we lack and that's the power we need. Will you pray for it?
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