I Must Visit Rome Also
Key Verse 19:21
“After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’”
We started chapter 19 and so far spoke quite a bit about those “believing” “disciples” that Luke mentions at the beginning of the chapter who actually scare us. They scare us because as many as existed in those days back then, they exist today as well; and the scary thing about them is that they are believers who actually consider themselves disciples of the Lord Jesus, but who do not have the Holy Spirit. Worse yet, many of them have no idea who the Holy Spirit is! And that’s scary. It’s not their fault though. It’s the church’s fault, it’s our fault, and the fault of Christians who do not preach the gospel in its fullness. These days they like to tell stories rather than preaching the good news of Christ. Christmas eve, we decided to go to a candle light service in one of those magnificent churches in the suburbs hoping to hear the simple message of the Lord’s coming. What we heard was a drawn out sweet story about a broken instrument that can only be fixed by the original instrument maker. Stories are nice. But they don’t bring saving truth to the inner parts of the human soul where the damage is severe and the rot is irreparable. You can’t repair a soul damaged by sin with beautiful and heart warming stories. People today just aren’t hearing the gospel message in its fullness. Look at these twelve men! Not that they heard stories, but they didn’t hear the full gospel either. What good was it for them that they were “believing” “disciples” but had no Holy Spirit, and having no Holy Spirit, having no life of God nor relationship with him, no salvation; only the darkness of a guilty conscience before a holy God. What they needed to hear was the truth, that is, to go beyond the baptism of repentance.
They needed to believe in the Christ (that’s what we call one sided faith which depends entirely on what Christ has done— and relies absolutely on nothing they— you or I can do— have done— or are able to do— ) who died on the cross (that is, the Christ who sacrificed himself in their place— in your place and my place— because God is just and therefore two things need to happen—  we need to be punished for what we’ve done. And  every sin we’ve committed needs a holy sacrifice to be made to cover for it. Jesus sacrificed himself— he was 1st punished in our place. And 2nd in one sacrifice he was covering for all the sacrifices we need to do for our offenses against God and each other.) and shed his blood (Why blood? Because his blood is the  the only holy payment that can cover for sin for all time— that’s forgiveness, it offers forgiveness, and  also can cleanse our sinful blood from the disease and stench of sin— that’s restoration) to atone for their sins, and who rose from the dead (and that’s one of the most neglected but more powerful aspects of the full gospel message which is the resurrection— which has many meanings— but for them, it meant exactly what it meant— resurrection is the birth of a new life) to give them a whole new life to live— no longer for their own selfish and self centered purposes (that’s how those without the Holy Spirit live— actually they don’t know better until someone shines the light on their hearts) but to live for the glory and purpose of God! (And that’s what Paul explained to them which they now believed in faith. Earlier, they had believed but they had no idea what they had believed, it was a mystical Messiah. All they had known was that they needed to repent of their sins and wait for him. How miserable it must have been to live such a depressing existence with nothing but repentance— not knowing the joy of his sweet endless forgiveness— not knowing the joy of his amazing grace— the outpouring of his abundant love— his incredible patience, and all this made manifest through his own presence in and through the Holy Spirit in their lives. But Paul taught them, baptized them, and if you follow the passage, you’ll see they became his companions and students who studied under him in the hall of Tyrannus). (9)
If you’d look at verse 8, you’ll see that Paul spent considerable time, as we recall talking about that as well, near three whole months in the synagogue in Ephesus arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. And it amazes us that while it was his custom in all the synagogues that he visited throughout his missionary journeys to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ (17:2-3), he spends three months here in Ephesus preaching the kingdom of God to his own people, the Jews. There may be many reasons he did this, as we thoroughly discussed last time. But as much as his people, the Jews needed to hear and to believe that the Christ, or the Savior they were waiting for “Had to suffer and rise from the dead” (17:3), they also really needed to hear that the kingdom of God is in no way an earthly kingdom but in every way a heavenly one. Now here’s where we can understand at least in part why Paul spent time helping them understand some of this.
Earlier, he preached that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, a reality totally foreign to the Jews. Why would the Messiah have to suffer, let alone rise from the dead? Well, they could understand it and accept it better if they understood what the kingdom of God is all about. The kingdom they were waiting for had everything to do with this world. It was going to be here. God was going to send a Messiah and establish his glorious kingdom right here on this solid visible earth. (In a sense, this very concept is very comforting for those who have silver and gold, and big checking and saving accounts, who have big beautiful houses away from the poor smelly crowds who always seem to get in the way, and for those who have hopes built on their positions and prestige and honor and accomplishments here in this world. When the Messiah comes and establishes his kingdom, why, they’re already set— they can only get richer, stronger, and God help anyone who gets in their way. Imagine how a joke Jesus’ teachings seemed to these people!) But when Paul taught that the Messiah had to suffer and rise, the Messiah would have to die first. And a dying Messiah changes everything, because such a sacrifice can only be for sin, and if it is for sin, then the kingdom of God has nothing to do with this world, since this world is steeped in sin and damaged by it beyond repair.
So, when Paul taught for three months about the kingdom, they needed to hear and to know that the kingdom of God is a kingdom apart; it is something otherworldly— a kingdom which a person in this world cannot reach out for and get nor touch or feel nor buy or gain nor inherit nor pass on to others nor wish for nor work hard for nor save up for nor even sacrifice one’s life in exchange for. It’s a kingdom that’s so far out of our reach that only God in his incredibly amazing mercy has offered to open a portal for us to enter in. But even then, we cannot enter that portal the way we are— like this! Since the kingdom is otherworldly, or, spiritual by nature, we have to be changed and put on a spiritual nature so as to see the doorway and then to go in. And the first step to that is this: Let me read you what Jesus said in John 3:3 & 3:5. I won’t get into it, but I will read it for your reflection. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Or “…unless you are born from above” “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” And how can one be born of the Spirit? There are many correct answers to this enormous question, but I will give you only two. Peter tells us that we are born again “Through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23), and James tells us that it’s the Lord’s will that we are given this birth “Through the word of truth” (James 1:18). Therefore, somehow one way or another, there can be no new birth by the Spirit to spiritual life without the word of God. And after that, entrance into the kingdom. (Let me say here that it’s worrying when folks don’t trust the Bible and so they pick and choose what they want to believe to be genuinely God’s word and what is not. They can never be sure which words will actually lead to the new birth and which words are just worthless duds, the fabrication of man. But for those who have actually been born again through the living word of God, there is no doubt that from Genesis to Revelation, every stroke, every syllable, every comma and ever word is living and active— as the author of Hebrews tells us the word of God is living and active.)
Suffice it to say then that after the three months of intensive discourse on the Kingdom nature and ethics and more, Paul takes his twelve students to the lecture hall of Tyrannus and then as we also talked about spends some two years preaching and teaching until as verse 10 says “All the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.” After the countless experiences Paul’s had everywhere he’d been so far, the persecution and hardship, the abuse and imprisonment and all, it’s refreshing to see in verses 11-12 that there was an outpouring of blessing through all that Paul put his hands to. His life seems to have mimicked that of Christ in many ways. But with the glorious work God was doing through his servant Paul, we have in verses 13-16 a typical story of a work of the evil one taking advantage of the gullibility and anguish of people in order to disparage and vilify the blessed name of Christ. Someone who has a demon inside of them may say or do terrible things to others, but there’s no doubt that the person is a prisoner in great anguish of soul, suffering beyond human comprehension. A person like this is in need of compassion. But the seven sons of Sceva made it a business to prey on such people, using any means to make money. Without knowing Jesus personally, and without knowing how real the spiritual world is, and without knowing how real evil spirits exist, even in people at times, these brothers tried to use Jesus’ name in their bogus ceremony to their own demise. They remind us of the countless Christian scam artists on every corner of this globe who do business with the name of our Lord in order to fleece the suffering people of the little they have and fill their own coffers. But we need not worry, because the Bible says that “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)
What happened as a result of this incident is unusual but not unexpected especially when people’s security gets shaken, and they begin to feel afraid and vulnerable. Read verses 17-19. They all witnessed something they never imagined to ever witness in their lives. Most people, including Christians take a lot of serious things lightly. They read or hear about them in the Bible, but don’t give them a second thought. For example, the occult, witchcraft and such, and those who practice them; The Bible mentions demon possession and evil spirits and those who invite them in. The Bible not only teaches that the devil is real, but Jesus tells us that he’s “The prince of this world” (John 12:31) and Paul says of him that he’s the “Ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:2) The Bible tells us that Satan has the ability to do all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders in order to deceive those who refuse to believe the truth of God. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11) What does all this mean to us? It means that while most people, including Christians think all this is a joke, the world isn’t only mocking us, but going a little further than that. It’s writing books, making movies, producing shows, creating games about the occult about witches and devils and demons and apocalypses as if all this was nothing more than entertaining fiction, a child’s fairytale. There are thousands of teenagers who are either buying or receiving as gifts Ouija boards and tarot cards and engaging in this kind of sorcery to summon the dead and to divine the future; and they do it as if it’s a harmless game. This means that the powers of the world have successfully numbed everyone to what’s Real that even Christians are terrified when it does happen! Apparently so many of the people living in Ephesus were drawn and ensnared by the dark arts.
Amazingly the unexpected happened! It was that one incident where the unauthorized name of Jesus was used in some business deal to perform a dark ritual that turned the tide in Ephesus, the seat of idolatry. Sometimes it was hard to tell the power of the gospel and of the name of Jesus from the beautifully changed lives of those his grace touches. When Jesus’ grace touches people’s lives, things in a person’s life tend to change. They tend to leave the past behind and embrace the glory of the new life Christ offers. And that’s the sort of power Jesus’ gospel mostly manifests in many a life. It’s not very impressive to the people of the world who tend to interpret everything from a worldly perspective. But this incident forced a different perspective on those who heard what happened. The name of Jesus was indeed far superior to any name in heaven or on earth, that even the underworld cowers at the mention of his name. His name is so glorious that abusing it could not be tolerated. People saw and heard and they honored the name of Jesus. Whether at first it was out of fear or reverence, or if it was genuine conviction, whatever it was, we see there was a great revival in that city. It seems that the power of Light was chasing the power of darkness from people’s hearts. And they were coming together not to cast spells against each other, or to harm one another, nor to seek the power of darkness as sorcery compels people to do— but now they were coming together to confess their sins openly and to repent of them. And their repentance wasn’t superficial, it was practical. They got rid of the very things that were cutting them off from life in God. As you can tell, what they now rid their souls of was really costly. (Not many people are willing to give up things that will eventually drag them down to destruction). Genuine repentance always involves cutting off and throwing away, whatever stands between us and our Savior, even if it cost us the most precious thing in the world.
Verse 20 is prophetic in a way. Look what it says: “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” It’s like Revival! It’s not exactly revival, but let’s call it new life or Christian Spring: and it comes when a people come together united of will and have a common conviction that they have sinned against God; and are now ready to come back to him and are willing to surrender their all at whatever cost it takes in order to honor him and obey his will. You can tell that Paul was encouraged and he made a very important decision of faith and commitment of heart. You’ll find it in our key verse 21. But here’s the heart of that decision. “He said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’” After that he sent his coworkers to Macedonia and he stayed in Asia a while before going to Jerusalem. But our concern is mainly with his decision and words: “I must visit Rome also.” The word must is very significant. Jesus often used that word. He said that “He must go to Jerusalem” and that “He must be killed” (Matthew 16:21) These were not mere tenses, but decisions of faith that he struggled to make before God and accept and set his heart to fulfill. Likewise, Paul’s must was a struggle. Rome was as decadent and hostile as any other Gentile city, if not worse. Yet, Paul determined to bring the gospel of life to Rome with “I must” spirit because it was the Lord’s will to make Rome the place where the gospel should go out to the ends of the earth. It was also hard to have such a vision— a vision that some day Rome would be the seat of world mission. But Paul accepted God’s vision as his own vision and made it the conviction of his own heart. It’s impossible for us to serve God and to fulfill his vision in our life without this same “I must” kind of conviction and vision. So, I pray and hope that this new year may bring a similar conviction to every one you whose faith rests on Christ Jesus and whose desire is to serve his glory— an “I must” key verse rooted in God’s hope and vision for your life. Let’s pray that as Paul’s heart’s conviction was “I must visit Rome also”, that we too find God’s vision and struggle to make it the “I must” word or key verse for this year at least. [We pray to commission Nonso as a missionary to Seattle; to have the same “I must” spirit as that of Paul to serve God’s purpose as a shepherd and Bible teacher and to raise disciples for his honor and glory.]
Look at verses 23-41. The devil finally went full force against God’s work in Ephesus through a man named Demetrius. He was a craftsman who made idols, and appealing to these people’s nationalism and of course, their bank accounts as well, he manipulated them into a frenzy to defend the fake goddess Artemis whose image the craftsmen craft and sell, and to denounce Paul who preaches one God and Lord Jesus Christ. For hours there was much confusion and shouting and there was danger that Paul might be hurt. But in the end, God used the city clerk to calm the crowd on the basis of law. And all was well. There are so many things to learn from this passage, but one thing that came to my heart is the importance of having a personal conviction, an “I must” decision of faith, a God’s vision to hold to in my heart and to determine to fulfill this year and the next and the next. Without it, we are really scattered and wishy-washy in our faith and direction. May God give me and you a clear vision and conviction to serve his purpose in spreading the gospel in this dark age. “I must”, “you must”, “we must” honor the name of the Lord this year; and with that same conviction and spirit, our prayer is that the Holy Spirit may oversee and bless this work. Amen.