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Online Text Sermon - A Jew Named Apollos, Acts ch.18 v.24

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleA Jew Named Apollos
TextActs ch.18 v.24
Sermon ID579

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"And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18, 24-26).

The place here is Ephesus; that is on the western coast of Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey. It was then one of the great sea ports of the Mediterranean world, a great centre of Greek civilisation, a place of learning. But also, as the Greek world was sadly, a place of superstition, idol worship and magic, to which I drew attention in the reading. It was filled with the practice of magic and superstition.

When the apostle first came here he had an influence to the extent that a church was strengthened. I dare say there had been a little church before, but that church was strengthened through the ministry of the mighty apostle Paul. When Paul had to leave, he went by ship southbound to return to his own country of Palestine. When he came, however, the second time - as we saw in the second reading in Acts 19 - there is an immense influence of the Gospel in that pagan idolatrous city; so great an influence that demons were cast out. There was a furore because so much power from God was being poured upon the preaching of the apostle that multitudes of people who were locked up in the practice of magic and curious arts brought their books, we are told, books of magic of course, and they burnt them. It seems that they burnt them publicly, and the price of these books is told at 50,000 pieces of silver. Imagine how much money that was at the time. This meant that the principal superstition and false religion of the city was under attack, and you can imagine how that affected the devotees. "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19, 28), cried the silversmiths whose craft was endangered by the preaching of the apostle Paul.

However, in between those two visits God brought another preacher to Ephesus, and he is the one we are looking at tonight; his name is Apollos. I want to spend a little time considering this man and what we are told about him here: "A certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria [which is a large city in the north of Egypt], an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus" (text). God was doing a work at Ephesus, and when God does a work in any place He sends men to do it. He doesn't send angels and He doesn't do it without men; He sends godly men. The apostle had broken up a lot of the fallow ground and sowed gospel seed in it, and as he was to come a second time, as I said, he was to reap a great harvest of spiritual souls and conversions. But in between these two visits of the apostle God sends now another man, Apollos by name, also a Jew.

This evening in our study there are three things which we have time to consider. Let me tell you what they are. First, we are told here about the exemplary character and outstanding gifts of this man Apollos. Second, we are told about him that there was a serious defect in his understanding of the Word of God, and we are informed as to how this defect was put right. And thirdly, we are told that as a consequence of the correction which he received, and fuller instruction from Aquila and Priscilla, that his ministry was enriched and became still more powerful, so that he mightily convinced the Jews and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Let's look then at those three things: his gifts and character, the defect and how it was corrected, and thirdly the increased power therefore of his own ministry.

One way in which the scriptures are valuable to us, amongst many others, is that they set before us men to be admired, men whom we should strive to emulate as to their character. Part of the secret of being a Christian is to have the right heroes. We should all be hero worshippers in the true sense; that is to say we should all choose for ourselves someone whom we strive to be like. Spurgeon always confessed that his great hero was Whitefield. Many have taken Luther, or Calvin, or Knox, but whoever you take as your personal hero, male or female, let it be someone like this man Apollos, worthy of our admiration. The reason why young people in this country have gone astray is because the Beetles became the great heroes in the 1960s, and the Beetles stood for what was worthless. Young people today are following what is worthless. Thank God there are many exceptions to that, but that's the general rule and you know it to be true. Sports people, athletes, singers, pop groups, pop stars, these are the heroes of our age for the young, and it's a terrible pity. If you have any influence with young people or children, in your family or out of it, try to get them to admire the right heroes. The Bible gives us these characters on the stage as it were of scripture that we might see the kind of person that God praises, and he praises a man like this Apollos. The reason why these men are praised by God is of course that we might ourselves love them, and admire them, and strive to be more like them.

Well what was there that was so eminent about this man? First, we are told that he was eloquent, an eloquent man. That is to say, he was a born speaker, he was a born preacher. Not all speakers and preachers could be said to be eloquent. The apostle Paul did not claim to be eloquent; even Moses did not claim to be eloquent. Moses said to God, "How then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6, 12). He found it hard to speak. Aaron, seemingly, was a better speaker; and it looks as if Apollos was a better speaker than the apostle Paul. So, there are some preachers who are naturally good speakers, brilliant, powerful, it's part of their natural gift, and Apollos was one of these. However, we must all of us strive to be as good speakers for Christ as we can. The gift of eloquence is distributed by God sovereignly; He gives it to whom He will. We can at least, if we are called upon in a public way to serve Christ, do our best to improve on our speech at least a little. We cannot make ourselves eloquent but we can correct some of the blemishes. We can cut out what we call 'non words'. Do you know what they are? 'Non words' are the noises that people make sometimes when they are speaking publicly, which would be far better cut out. The 'um's' and the 'ah's' and these other noises we make, grunts and groans. So though we can't make ourselves eloquent, there is something here which is an example to us to strive after if we are called upon to speak in any public way, to speak clearly and as correctly as we can.

The second thing we are told about this man is that he was "mighty in the scriptures" (text). This is far more important. Eloquence you either have or you don't, but to be mighty in the scriptures is a wonderful attribute of any man or woman. It was the fruit of his love of God, and his love of the Word of God. He studied it. You don't become mighty in the scriptures by accident. It doesn't happen in between falling out of bed and putting on your clothes in the morning; it is a daily, yearly, life-long, diligent study of the holy Word of God - reading it, re-reading it, thinking about it, comparing it, talking about it, learning it, memorising it. Here is something which of course is set before us that we might all make a little progress. My dear, dear friends, we could all do more than we do, and I speak to myself first of all. I have a friend in America who does this on his way to work. He is not a minister, although he does preach as a layman and a good minister in that sense too. But he has a certain distance to travel to his work, in the train, and he is very disciplined. He spends much time reading his Greek New Testament and memorising portions of the Bible. I had another friend, I think he was in Liverpool, an Englishman and a Christian obviously. He had to walk to work and it took him about 35 minutes. He discovered that he could, in his memory, in his mind as he walked to work, go all the way through the Epistle to the Romans from start to finish. Of course he took a long time to get it right but he kept going over it, and going over it, and going over it, day by day, until eventually he was pretty good at it. That is something we are encouraged to do. Oh, my friends, this generation needs, more than almost anything, people who are mighty in the scriptures. Happy the congregations, happy the churches, happy the fellowships where believers strive to be mightier in the scriptures!

What else are we told about this man? We are told he "was instructed in the way of the Lord" (text). Why is that said? Well I think it's this; you see it's possible to know the Bible merely in the letter of it, but this man knew it in the power of it. He was instructed in the way of the Lord so as to worship God. He was a man in whose life the very scriptures breathed. As it was said about John Bunyan, if you pricked him anywhere, his blood was bibline. It was as though he was so full of the Bible, if you pricked John Bunyan, Bible blood would flow. I'm sure it was only a way of speaking, of course, but that was the way Apollos was, mighty in the scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, not simply theoretically but spiritually. Well now, is not this something wonderful for us to follow? Listen to this, "Being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord" (text). I think you would agree with me, it would have been an inspiration to have met this brilliant Christian man. He was a shining Christian and a wonderful speaker for God.

Second, notice, there was a defect in this man. At the end of verse 25 we are told that he knew only the baptism of John. Let me explain what that means. John the Baptist belonged to the Old Testament. He was the last and greatest of all the Old Testament prophets. He was even more than that; he was the forerunner to Jesus Christ. You could put it like this: he was the morning star of the New Testament - I think that's a good phrase - but he wasn't himself a New Testament man; he was the one who was described in scripture as the "friend of the bridegroom" (John 3, 29) - the best man, as we call him - to introduce the Bridegroom to the bride, that is Christ to his Church. But he himself was an Old Testament man, the greatest Old Testament man, said Christ, but still, for all that, an Old Testament man.

Apollos, coming from Alexandria in northern Egypt, evidently had been impressed by the teaching of John the Baptist, which somehow or other - we'll never know in this life - had filtered down all the way to his native city of Alexandria. He had believed the doctrine of John the Baptist but he did not know the fullness of the New Testament revelation. He did not know the wonderful theology of Paul. He did not know the fullness of the Spirit, such as those who were fully of the New Testament church and revelation understood. Now my friends, there is something very important for us to learn here. I don't hesitate to say that the purest and best form of the Christian faith is what we normally refer to as Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace - the fullest, the richest and the best. That was the view of the great B.B. Warfield, himself one of the greatest preachers, or at least theologians, who ever lived. The Westminster Confession of Faith enshrines Christianity at its very best, consisting of three things: wonderful doctrine; wonderful experience; wonderful practice - the working out of the Ten Commandments. These three things make up perfect Christianity, sound doctrine, rich personal experience of God, and a careful keeping of the Ten Commandments. All lesser, weaker forms of the Christian faith are a departure from Calvinism or the Reformed Faith. We meet many Christians who do not share our admiration for the doctrines of grace, or Reformed Faith as we call it, because, perhaps, they are ignorant of the privileges that we have.

Let me quickly mention four modern weaknesses in many Christians. The first one is a failure in many modern Christians to believe in the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God. You and I must try to help these people. That's why there are so many books being produced by the Reformed part of the church: to correct the ignorance and the defective knowledge of so many Christians today. Let us promote these books, let us pass them on, and give them away, and sell them, and so on. This is the function of it: that people's religion may be perfect and not deficient, because the case you see set before us here of this man Apollos was that he was an excellent men but, there was a defect in his understanding. It's a very common phenomenon.

Another of these things is, in the modern Christian, a defect in people's realisation that God from time to time sends wonderful spiritual revival. We've had this emphasis again and again - from my dear friend Mr Vernon Higham and his son Mr Dewi Higham, and many others. It's a tremendous emphasis, and it is largely lost in this generation. People are just not believing it, just not hoping for it, just not praying for it. And of course, according to our faith, so it will be done unto us. We couldn't do a better thing than to show people that God can change the face of a nation in a day; and if people don't know that, they'll never pray for it.

There's another thing that we can do; we can show people that the so called 'charismatic gifts' were intended as signs of the New Testament age rather than things which were permanent for the end of the world. We could show them that the Day of Pentecost had things in it which were temporary, and things in it which were permanent. The temporary things, surely, were these outward gifts of tongues speaking and what not, but the permanent value of it is that the Spirit of God will be poured out again and again and again and again upon the Church on earth until Christ's return. I say, we have much to do to correct people's deficient understanding, and of course our own too.

How did Aquila and Priscilla go about this? They were in the synagogue, which is a Jewish word for a church, just like the one we are in. And this man Apollos, being a Jew, was preaching the Word of God, eloquently, in the synagogue. No doubt it was breathtaking to listen to this man. Amongst the people in the congregation there was this man and his wife - Aquila and Priscilla. He was a Jew and his wife no doubt too. They heard this preaching of Apollos and they were impressed by his wonderful flow of eloquence, but they detected there was a missing note. At that stage you and I would probably, on the way home, say to one another, "Tut, tut, what a pity that such a preacher had such a glaring mistake, such a glaring fault and defect in his ministry. Poor fellow, he couldn't have gone to the right college." But no, they didn't do that, they didn't criticise this man behind his back; they didn't start a gossiping campaign against him. What they did was far, far more charitable. They said to Apollos, "Come sir, come. We enjoyed the sermon. Come home with us and take a meal. Let's have fellowship together." So they invited him to their own home, and there they explained to him: "...expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly" (text). You know, Aquila and Priscilla weren't preachers, but they took upon themselves the responsibility of making a good preacher still better, and they did it privately, not only the man but the woman. It is legitimate within our own homes for the woman to speak. Let no one suppose that the woman is to be silent always; in her own home she may speak. And many woman, of course, are far better theologians than us men, and better in working out the gospel than we men are. Let them therefore feel free, in the context of a home and a house, to share together what they know. That's what this man and his wife did. They explained: "Dear sir," they said, something like this, "you know the great apostle Paul has been inspired to show us the fullness of the message. John the Baptist did great work up to that point in history, but there's much more to be said. The Epistle to the Romans - and indeed to the Ephesians and the Corinthians - Paul was preaching all of this for years before he wrote it down." They had heard the apostle; they were great admirers of the apostle; they loved him, they loved his preaching. They had the fullness of doctrine in themselves and they showed this eloquent man these things that they knew.

There are lessons, aren't there, here? First of all, weren't they discreet in what they did? Weren't they charitable? Weren't they kind? You can't do another Christian a better service than to give them more light on the truth. You can't do another Christian a better service than to win him over to a better knowledge of the counsel of God. Furthermore, wasn't he a spiritual man? You can imagine some creatures and they were beyond their dignity: "Wait a minute," they would say, "I thought this was an invitation for a meal; you're beginning to preach to me. Do you know who I am? I am Doctor So-and-so! You keep your mouth shut when you speak to me about religion. I have been a student of theology all my life. I am mighty in the scriptures. Who are you - just a woman!" No, no, he didn't say that. He was delighted to learn from any source that could teach him, and so should you and I be. We can learn from a little child; we can learn from a lady; we can learn from anyone. Spurgeon learnt his theology from his cook, he said. When he was a schoolteacher as a young man, there was a cook at the school and she was a thorough theologian, a great reader of the Bible and of books, and she taught Spurgeon, on the side, his theology - he said so. He never went to a college, he tried to but it never worked out. Of course he was just a born genius, a great and wonderful man, but he learned his theology from a cook! You and I must be humble enough to learn theology from a cook or whoever, as this good man was. He learned the fuller way of truth from this couple who gave him hospitality. They expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. Are you humble like that? Pray God I may be. We must humble ourselves to learn the truth from anyone who can teach.

Thirdly, notice the increased power and influence which attended the ministry of this good man Apollos as a consequence of his learning the fuller way: "And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia [that means the south of Greece, places like Corinth and south of there], the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace" (v.27). You see he helped them greatly. It's a wonderful thing to help the people of God to a fuller appreciation of the riches and of the treasures of truth, and that's what he was doing. Not only that, but he went into the synagogue, evidently, and he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ. He convinced them that their Messiah was none other than the Jesus of Nazareth whom their forefathers had crucified, indeed their contemporaries had crucified. This was the focus of his ministry.

Oh dear friends, we are needing men like this to rise up in society at all levels: of government that they will stand up in the House of Commons or at Holyrood or in Cardiff and say: "Men and brethren, we can't bring in these wicked laws. There is a God in heaven who rules and has commanded us to live in such a style." They would silence and shut the mouths of wicked men. We need men like that in schools who will fill our children's minds with godly learning, as used to be the case, till Britain again would be a mission-sending country and send out young men and women to the ends of the earth. Of course, supremely, we are needing men like this in pulpits. Oh, you couldn't do a better thing for your own soul and the souls of others than to study the scriptures and theology night and day, that we might become just a little more mighty in the scriptures.

I must close, but I set before you this dear faithful and good man. Scripture places him, as it were, on a pedestal before us, that we might admire the grace of God given to him, and the truth which he was able to assimilate and to teach to the people. Remember this teaching and preaching is the only thing which will break up the godlessness of this world, nothing else will do it. And if teaching and preaching doesn't do it, you may be sure nothing else at all will. That is why this man was set before us. He is the case of a man whose whole life, like Paul, being filled with the Spirit of God and of truth, was a beam of heavenly glory to light us on the way to heaven.

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