About The Kingdom Of God
Acts 19:8-16; 1-7
Key Verse: 19:10
“This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”
The first part of this chapter (19:1-7) is troubling. It is always troubling when one reads it. Twelve men, not one or two, but twelve men who could potentially be a disaster of false teaching! Twelve men who were probably associated with, or even personally taught by the charismatic Apollos— of course— before he was educated by the house church of Priscilla and Aquila, if you haven’t caught this the first time, Luke says they were believers and disciples! So we can say they were believing disciples of the Lord. And here’s what’s deeply troubling about them: they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. What Luke’s saying is they didn’t have God’s life in them. And that’s because they weren’t born again through faith in Christ and in what he’s done for them through his death and resurrection. It seems they were Christians only by name. Whatever they believed about Jesus wasn’t enough; and it wasn’t based on the full gospel truth; and it didn’t find its way to their heart. So it didn’t matter that they were believers or disciples of the Lord. And as such, they were still as hopeless and lifeless as the pagans all around them. Without the new birth through the Holy Spirit, they would not be able to cross over from death into life everlasting. Like any decent Christian, Paul was concerned about their salvation, so he asked them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And of course, when he got their attention, he shared the gospel of grace with them.
Like so many who’ve heard about Jesus and the gospel and think they know what the Christian faith is all about, but in reality have no idea, these twelve men also had missed the core of gospel faith. They told Paul they had only known John’s baptism. What’s that? It was a baptism of repentance in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming. Repentance is always good, but only if there’s forgiveness and atonement in sight. But for these men who didn’t put their faith in the Christ who shed his blood for their own sins and died for their very own deliverance— well, their repentance was admirable but useless! It was like carrying a heavy burden of shame and guilt on their bent back all the time, and then plodding towards a questionable judgment. It was mercy that Paul found them and challenged each of them to accept the gospel, and to personally call on the Lord’s grace for deliverance and for new birth through the gift of the Holy Spirit to everyone who confesses faith in Christ. All twelve men were now ready to receive the Holy Spirit, baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and became true Christians in every sense of the word. And so they become the elders and main co-workers of the church which Paul would establish in these parts in Ephesus where he would end up staying for about two years and three months. Only God knows how much these men, were suffering under the yoke of an oppressive doctrine of repentance without hope. Praise God that Paul didn’t despise or criticize them for their faults, but rather led them to the gospel truth and made them his co-workers in the mission field. May the Lord give all of you such hearts like his— hearts that aren’t quick to judge but quick to show compassion instead for those who are going astray, and lead them in the gospel way of life. Amen.
Look at verses 8-10. “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” We’re surprised to find him once again going to the synagogues, especially when he’d washed his hands of the Jews and had clearly decided to devote himself to the Gentiles. (18:6) But we can’t fault him for that, for he loved them as if they were his own children; and who could abandon their children regardless of how belligerent and godless they may be! Yet look at how long they put up with him this time! Perhaps this is why he’s able to keep on going there for three whole months. For three whole months he’s there day in and day out, arguing persuasively with the Jews; that’s before things get out of hand [look at verse 9] and they turn against him and begin to malign the way and he’s forced to relocate to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. The question is what was he arguing so persuasively with them about for these three months, before things turn south? Look again at verse 8. Luke tells us that for three months Paul talked to these people about the Kingdom of God! How interesting. All the other times he’d spoken to the Jews in other synagogues, he’d tried to persuade them that Jesus is the Christ. But to these Jews he spoke for three whole months exclusively about the Kingdom of God! Why?
It’s not easy to understand why Paul would speak for three months about the Kingdom of God. Jesus spent three and the half years with his disciples teaching them the gospel of God’s grace and truth. He lived a simple life of faith and was fully dedicated to the mission entrusted to him by his Father. He owned nothing in this world except the tunic he wore, and desired nothing in this world but to bring comfort and healing to the suffering. And as he taught his disciples by example, he said things like: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19-20) He even surprised many by saying things like: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21) His heart wasn’t in this world at all, for he knew that this world was ephemeral, temporary, necessary but transient. For him, the body was important, but without a healthy living soul to occupy it, the body and its comforts were insignificant and useless— it was only the playground of the devil. For Jesus, the body needed regeneration, as did the soul. And the world as it is wasn’t a place worth fighting for either. It was a place awaiting judgment— a place God promised to purge with fire. Jesus spoke repeatedly about the Kingdom of God where he came from and where he was returning to. It was for this reason he came to this world sacrificing his life to reopen the doorway that was once shut to mankind. His sacrifice would make the way through faith for those who believe to follow him to his kingdom. His disciples didn’t get it the first time; they didn’t get it even when they witnessed his resurrection in his glory form with his resurrected body.
So what did he do? Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection and before his ascension talking about the Kingdom of God with them. That’s a month and the half that the Resurrected Christ spent with his own disciples talking about the glory of his Kingdom. Imagine how earth bound and fixated on this world his very own disciples must have been that they needed serious education and re-education on Kingdom glory before they were ready to turn their hearts away from this world to the invisible and eternal things of Christ and his glory! How much more the Jews then, who had a hard time believing that Jesus is the Christ, but that his kingdom isn’t earthly as they’d imagined, but that it’s heavenly in every sense of the word!
Paul once wrote extensively to the Corinthian church explaining to them some spiritual principles they couldn’t fully comprehend yet. In his writings he says to them: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Think on this for a moment. [You cannot go to heaven like this, just as you are!] He continues on, he says: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and mortal with immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:50, 53) [Think on this too. You have put on a different body] But it also means there is no heaven or Kingdom of God on this earth because everything in this world is mortal and perishing. It means that to enter into the immortal realm of God’s Kingdom, you’ll need to be washed clean of sin and changed into the likeness of the Lord’s resurrected body first. What’s the point of all this? The point is that all these are Kingdom principles! And there are many more which Paul must have used to explain to these Jews, arguing with them and trying to persuade them about the Kingdom of God. They longed for the Kingdom of God which the Messiah would bring. But unless their sins are washed away by the Messiah’s sacrificial death, and unless they are born again by the work of the Holy Spirit, and unless their bodies are transformed by the power of Messiah’s resurrection, they cannot possibly enter the into the glory of God’s Kingdom. They needed faith in the Messiah who forgives their sins through his one sided grace in order for them to see and to enter that Holy and righteous kingdom that no one deserves but the Christ himself and his redeemed. Paul argued with these Jews for three months that the kingdom they were longing for here on earth— that ideal kingdom where Gentiles are subjected to abject slavery, and Jews live happily ever after in a paradise of wealth and power is a fairytale of a diseased mind. No wonder Paul had to argue with them for a long time persuasively to weed out the deeply entrenched idea of an earthly kingdom from their hearts.
It took a long time, three months of intensive Bible study that Paul invested on teaching the glories of God’s kingdom. But persuasion isn’t only a matter of arguing against or nullifying what errors the Jews might have had regarding the kingdom, and they had many. Paul must have also spent much time planting the hope of God’s kingdom in their hearts, much as our Lord Jesus had done during his own teaching regarding the Kingdom and its glory. Paul fully understood the false hopes people build in this world and in the things of this world. Paul understood because he himself was a deeply religious man much like the people he was arguing with, only probably even more. He had put all his hope in the Law of God, and in his own ability to fulfill the Law of God. He had put so much confidence in his own ability to rise up to all of God’s expectations, that he thought himself a prince to be in this kingdom that the Messiah would establish in this world. His hopes were very high, for he had staked everything he had on it. He really was like many people who stake all they have on hopes that are here in this world, on a job, a position, on a man or a woman, an inheritance they think they deserve to get or are surely getting; some even stake all they have on a friendship, on a good friend who would never let them down, on a brother or a father, on a son or daughter; some go as far as staking all they have on a hopeful future they cannot yet see— but they’re hopeful, they’re crossing their fingers, they’re hoping for the best! Paul staked it all and as expected, even when he staked everything on the Law of God to come through for him, and on his own confidence to not let him down, as expected, every single earthly hope disappoints, fades, passes, and perishes right before our eyes. Paul experienced great disappointment in this world and its perishing hopes. So he finally came to one conclusion alone, and it’s deeply rooted in God’s kingdom. While he lost everything, he says that he gained Christ, and knowing Christ, in his death and resurrection, became the pursuit and the hope of his life. It was his road to the Kingdom. [KC would you read Philippians 3:7-11 please]
So Paul, knowing the disappointment of any worldly hopes, for three months planted the hope of God’s kingdom in these people’s hearts. He taught them the value of putting their hopes in God’s kingdom rather than on anything in this world. As saint Peter puts it, the hope of God’s kingdom that our Lord Jesus plants in our hearts is a Living hope (1 Peter 1:3-4) in contrast to all the dead hopes of this world. It’s a pity that these Jews argued with him for so long. Why would they argue against the hope of God’s kingdom? Because in order to hold on to the heavenly hope, one has to let go off, abandon whatever dead hopes one holds on to in this world, and that’s not very easy to do. People tenaciously hold on to what hopes they have here. We remember how ferociously Nicodemus argued back with Jesus when Jesus mentioned the new birth to him. Jesus challenged him that if he wanted to see and to enter the kingdom, he needed to be born again. To do that, Nicodemus would have to abandon many things in his life, his religious education, his achievements, his reputation, his prestige, his status in society, his eldership in the Sanhedrin, perhaps even many of his friends and family members who would shun him, even his wealth, because the life of one whose hope is in the kingdom of God must also reflect kingdom values rather than those of the world. You see how it’s a challenge for anyone, especially a Jew whose hopes are in an earthly Kingdom. Jesus shattered his hopes when he challenged him that the kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and one must be born again to go there. Nicodemus was in a quandary at the time. But much later, we see him coming to terms with what is truly valuable to him. At the critical moment of decision, he comes out of the closet as a Christian, and he spends his wealth on anointing Jesus’ body for burial. (John 19:39)
I have always been amazed at how generous he was with these spices, and on a dead body no less! He spent a treasure on Jesus at his death. Yet, there are so many Christians who say they are devoted to Christ, but the sad reality is that they will not spend a penny on Christ who’s no longer a dead body but who’s alive and sitting on his throne in his Kingdom at the moment. What does it say about them? Devoted to Christ, yet unwilling to spend on the living Christ and his work, even if they do, its pathetic leftovers. They are stingy to the core when it comes to Christ and the church, and they’re generous to a fault when it comes to themselves and those they care about. What does it say about them? It says something about where our real hopes are. You know, the hope of the kingdom of God is usually reflected in our lives and our behavior, even in the way we use our wealth and our time. When one’s hope is in the Kingdom of God, it is reflected in acts of kindness, servantship and generosity. He or she don’t retreat from this world, but their actions reflect kingdom values. Paul spent time planting the hope of the kingdom in these people’s hearts. Look at verse 9. “Some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the way.” Obstinate! Another word for obstinate is stubborn or pigheaded. Luke tells us that they refused to believe. That tells us something about them too. To refuse to believe is a conscious decision one makes not to believe. And that’s a terrible burden on the conscience to bear before God when the day comes to stand before his judgment seat. It is one thing to be ignorant and not understand, and another thing to be obstinate and refuse to believe. Not only did they refuse the message of hope, but they began to malign the way. That’s plain evil. It was a message that liberates people from the prison of this dead and oppressive world and delivers them to the freedom of God’s eternal peace. But they maligned it, and spoke ill of it, and put stumbling blocks in the way of those who would believe and be saved. That’s plain evil. There are people like this today as well, who also refuse to believe. But they don’t stop there. They also want to do harm. So they whisper doubts and speak ill of the way to those who are walking in it to make them stumble. They hope to see them fall. Such people pretend to be open minded but what they do is evil.
Look at verses 9-10. Paul didn’t remain in the synagogue. He took it as a sign that he should move out and found himself a hall called Tyrannus which he probably rented. So he took his disciples there and for two years gave lectures there on the word of God. He held daily discussions, perhaps one on one and groups studies, and whatever else it took in order for him to bring the word of God to the people of the city. For two whole years Paul did this without encountering any opposition. It must have been refreshing to spend two whole years in uninterrupted Bible study in the hall of Tyrannus without having to deal with the enemies of the gospel. God gave Paul a respite so that he might focus on raising and training disciples. But as you can imagine, it must have taken a lot of sacrifice on Paul’s part. Even in times of peace, teaching Bible and raising disciples isn’t easy. Teaching Bible is a commitment that requires a labor of love and prayer. And raising disciples is a conviction that requires one’s heart and devotion to love and to sacrifice one’s all for the raising of another. So Paul must have poured out his heart into this ministry, laboring for two years with his whole heart. And it bore fruit. If you look at verses 11-12, they say that “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” Paul’s life and ministry was not a business venture, but a genuine gospel centered ministry that closely followed the Lord Jesus’ life and ministry. And it had the Lord’s seal of approval on it, as was evident in what God was willing to do through him to advance the gospel.
If you read the ensuing comical story about the “seven sons of Sceva” (13-16) you will understand why God would allow such things to happen. Luke is telling us that in contrast to Paul’s genuine gospel ministry, apparently there were many charlatans of the day in those provinces who went around and pretended to do the work of God. Among them even so called Jews. These clowns obviously had a good business going for a while until Paul appeared preaching the gospel and driving out real demons from real suffering people. So business minded as they were, and observing that Paul used the name of Jesus, they tried to adopt the name of Jesus in their rituals, thinking it to be another magical formula like theirs, and you know the story! They were beaten up pretty badly by the real demon they were trying to cast out. People are suffering from many ailments. Still there are those who would use people’s suffering to their advantage to make money like these seven brothers. There are so called Christians who do that, using the name of Jesus, as well as non Christian organizations, occult, other religions, and all other kind of counterfeiter clowns like these who aren’t genuine, but only use people’s suffering to make money. Even television psychologists and talk show hosts who appear genuinely concerned with people’s problems who bring them out and then make a mockery of their problems and pains, all for money and ratings. All evil things happen around us. But we must remember that the gospel ministry is genuine and it comes from the heart of our Savior who is genuine, who gave his life to offer the free gift of forgiveness and the hope of the kingdom of God to those who suffer from sin and from the consequence of sin. We must remember that, and be like Paul, teaching the word of God and planting hope of kingdom, and raising disciples for a suffering world. Amen.