ALIVE City | Ephesians 1:1-2 & Acts 19
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 1:1–1:2, Acts 19:1–19:41
Christopher Rich – September 15, 2019
ALIVE | The Way Unearned
ALIVE CITY | Ephesians 1:1-2 & Acts 19
Introduction | The Way Unearned
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we beginning a new series walking the through the book of Ephesians called ALIVE: The way Unearned.
We are earners by nature. We work and strive for the purpose of producing something better than we currently have. We understand the satisfaction of accomplishment and the relationship between effort and earning. We typically experience these two directly tied to each other. We believe the more individual effort put in, the greater the personal reward. We see this played out in athletics, business, government, and other arenas. Sometimes we work with others in teams, companies, community organizations, but the principals are the same. The way to have a greater, more abundant, life is to put more effort towards earning what we desire. This isn’t always wrong. Accomplishment, taking healthy pride in the work we are given, or unifying with others for common goals can be very effective in bringing flourishing to many. However, earning and effort cannot be what defines our lives. If so, our way of navigating the world, knowing who we are, and how we interact with others will be characterized by either pride in our successes of earning or accomplishing what we desire (or simply more/better than others around us) OR despair in our failures relative to how see ourselves or compare to others. This way of life promises a reward at the top of the mountain, but it’s all dependent on us to earn it. The reality is we’re not built capable of earning our lives, the breath we have now, or the future life for eternity. Yet, we keep believing life is best when it’s earned.
Early this summer, I went with 6 other men on a day long 20-mile expert level hike up and though The Enchantments Trail in the Washington Cascades. (The background image from this guide is from one of the alpine lakes on this trail) With 12+ hours, thousands of feet of elevation gain, a harrowing scramble up Aasgard Pass, narrow trails, expansive snow fields, exposure to the elements, mosquitos, and even a passive aggressive mountain goat, it was exceedingly difficulty beyond any hike I’d ever done. I did put in great effort to prepare but it was more exhausting than I thought. At the same time the majestic views and epic nature of the endeavor were greater than I imagined. It was a journey that had moments of joy but also significant fear of failure (or great harm) and doubt as to if I was going to finish. To even make the attempt there was training involved, our group excluded those we didn’t think could make it. It was intense, enjoyable, but decidedly not for everyone. We end with a meal celebrating like champions who had bested a mighty opponent. Even telling people about it is can be pride inducing as so many respond with “Wow, I could/would never even attempt that!” and inwardly I say, “yeah I know!” This way is for the few.
Later in the summer, I took another hike. This one around Tubbs Hill on Lake Coeur D’Alene in Idaho. This one was with my family, wife, sister, and all our young kids. There was challenging terrain, but constant views of one of the worlds prettiest lakes. All different ages and skill levels were included. It was shorter and accessible to mostly everyone. When we started, we didn’t consider if it could be completed by everyone. There were no “are we going to make it to the end” moments because we knew it would be finished by nature of the family staying together. Our hike ended at a great playground with a picnic lunch and ice cream for everyone. While not perfect, the time was characterized by joy. Two days later, my four-year-old daughter said her favorite part of the whole vacation was the hike around Tubbs Hill. I asked her “Why?” because frankly she didn’t walk nearly any of it. She replied, “I liked it because you carried me!” She was on my shoulders most of the trail except when I thought it was safe and comfortable for her to walk. There was great joy for her and she never worried if she would fall, get fatigued, or finished because she knew she was in the presence of her father who would carry her to the end. She was with her family on a journey that led to even greater enjoyment, and she did nothing to earn it.
While imperfect metaphors, these hikes are two dramatically different views of the way of life with God. The first is religion. We put in the effort to ascend the mountain, we earn the reward, we feel the pride, but if we fail we’re falling down the hill all on our own. This way leads to great self-righteousness at points in the journey but doesn’t secure our eternity because all of us have and will fall short because we are all imperfect. We all have sin. We are all separated from and accountable to God. Some dismiss religion in favor of irreligion, claiming we’re already perfect or that the only pursuit that matters is our own happiness. Those who cannot see themselves as a religious elite or with the right endurance don’t try or assume that the top of the hill was not for them. They either rally and fail with despair or reject the idea that there is anything more or better than where they are now. Neither of these ways will lead to life.
The way unearned is the Gospel where we are brought into family by the grace and mercy of God alone. The only earning done has been by the work of Jesus Christ (God the Son) in our place living the perfect life we have not, dying the death we all deserve for sin, and rising again so we can be alive now and forever with Him. We haven’t earned any status on our own. Because of Jesus effort for us, we’ve been adopted by a Father (God) who loves us. He picks us up, He carries us, He encourages us, and He empowers us (by the Holy Spirit) to walk in the ways and places He sees fit for us. We walk with the knowledge that He’s the one who brought us here for our growth, our good, and His glory. We are humble because we know how dependent we are. We are joyful because we know how loved we are. We invite everyone and let them know the life with God is not dependent on what they can earn, but is reliant on a God who has big enough shoulder to carry all His people. In Christ, we have been made alive for a purpose. To live in the way God has created us. Both the rewards of and endurance in this life are by His grace alone so they are by nature unearned.
PART I | Intro to Ephesians | Ephesians 1:1-2
Eph 1:1-2 | 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Man - Paul, was a self-righteous religious terrorist whose life mission was to persecute, imprison, and even kill followers of Jesus. After overseeing the execution of an early church leader in Jerusalem, Paul (known then as Saul) was on his way to Damascus on a mission to kill Christians. It was on this road that that he was met by the risen Jesus. He is humbled, blinded, called to faith, and changed forever. He’s given a new name, identity, and mission. Appointed by Jesus, Paul was sent as a missionary to the gentiles (non-Jews) to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus who makes spiritually dead sinners alive by His mercy and grace. He would go on to plant churches across the known world and his writings would make up a large percentage what we now call the New Testament. Paul had done nothing to earn this great calling, quite the opposite! Because of His sin and rejection of God/Jesus, all Paul deserved was the wrath of God. Instead, it was the will of God to turn this intense terrorist into an exceedingly effective ambassador of Jesus.
The Message - Even ‘faithful saints’ need to be regularly reminded of the truth of the Gospel that makes us alive and the implications it has for our lives. Paul, likely in prison, writes this letter to the Ephesian church with several key characteristics and themes:
Entreating- This is a letter has many of the attributes of a prayer to God for a people. While the initial immediate audience was the people of Ephesian church (and eventually for all Gospel-Centered churches) the ultimate audience is God Himself. Unlike so many letters, this one is not structured like the answers to great debate hoping to persuade people towards God. It is written more like a prayer toward the God who has already moved toward these people in Christ Jesus.
Encouragement – There is so much affirmation about the character and nature of God, our identity, how God has worked in our lives, and what He’s calling us to do with our lives. There is a God! A God who, before we experienced the world, elected us to be fully alive before He even created the world. None of this was earned by our merit, but given to us as a gift through Christ because of God’s great mercy and love. No longer exhaustedly striving to earn approval or acceptance, we can now walk the way of our life resting in the Father’s election of us, the Son’s effective sacrifice for us, and the Spirit’s empowerment in us.
Evangelistic – Theologian Markus Barth outlines the book with the following progression: Chapters 1-2 focus God’s saving purpose and action. Chapters 3-4 show God manifesting His work in and though the Church. Finally, chapters 5-6 characterize our lives as joyful ambassadors TO the world through our various relationship IN the world, ie, Marriage, family, work, etc.
More simply, this letter effectively ties together our small individual stories to God’s great story. Specifically, Chapters 1-3 reveal the meaning and effect of God’s Story for us where we are made alive by Him. While Chapters 4-6, remind us of the tangible outcomes of us being truly alive to walk out our stories for Him. The Gospel (God’s good news to us) impacts every aspect of our lives now and forever. The purpose of this is clear, for many to be called and move from spiritual death destined for wrath, to be made ALIVE to walk the way that will lead to an everlasting inheritance through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
PART II | Missing from the Mission | Acts 19:1-10
Acts 19:1-10 | And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. 8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
The Mission - After time training and serving in both Damascus and Antioch (site of a flourishing church planting church) Paul was sent on several missionary journeys across Asia and Europe preaching and planting churches. On his second mission, Paul came for a short time (with the ministry couple of Priscillia and Aquila) to Ephesus. Ephesus was a costal Greek city on the Eastern coast of modern-day Turkey. It was the Roman capitol of the region and enjoyed a long season of economic and cultural flourishing. The city was also home to the great Temple Artemis (the Greek cult goddess Diana) that is known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a city whose identity was tied to their economy and their idolatry. They worshiped dead idols verses the God who is Alive. Politically Roman, Socially Greek, and religiously pagan, this diverse city was driven by age old idols of sex, money, and power. Paul preached briefly in the synagogues and left Priscilla and Aquila to continue planting the church. A polished preacher named Apollos came to town sharing the gospel of Jesus with clarity and boldness. The church grew!
Something was missing. Great Bible teaching, evangelistic zeal, engaging with the city, people trusting Jesus as the Savior King of God’s people, are all great and necessary. But there was a big gap in the church.
We are all incomplete people. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re missing until someone else comes to show us. The church in Ephesus had great preaching and gathered disciples, but even the best preaching is pointless without the Power of the Holy Spirit. Paul saw this gap in their ministry and God brought them life pointing them to reliance on the Holy Spirit for power and the experience the presence of God. A small core group lead to a great impact, but there was also great opposition. Even Spirit filled, gospel preaching churches can still face opposition and difficulty. You cannot make anyone receive Jesus. Paul, (with all his credentials and commissioning) still was met by people who were stubborn, walked in unbelief and were even in opposition to “the way” (that was the name of the church because it characterized how much it changed how people lived.) Holy Spirit works over time in the lives of disciples the mission continues. The result was a shift for this church towards greater engagement with the city and region around them so that “all the residents… heard the word of the Lord”.
PART III | A Mighty Enemy, A mightier Word | Acts 19:11-20
Acts 19:11-20 | 11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
It is exciting to see God work and move, but that cannot be mistaken for participating in the mission of God. There are people who like the outcome of faith in Jesus, who want the power of the Holy Spirit to work in and through them but don’t desire repentance, relationship, and reliance. They want God to be a cosmic Genie to help them on their own agenda rather than submitting their lives to His mission. These guys think they know about Jesus so if they say the right things in the right way, they’ll get the right outcome. You need to be known by God not just know about God. Hearing the Gospel and receiving it are not the same. There is real spiritual opposition to the advancement of God’s kingdom in the world. Believing the way to overcome is through our own strength, or even our collective work, is a recipe for a disgraceful defeat. These guys are pants by a demon possessed guy, injured physically and likely had their pride hurt. A story like this spread throughout the city quickly. It led people to question their own motives. Some of their practices in their inner lives, private lives, were not in line with the gospel. These are believers in Jesus who functionally were pluralistic in their practice. Hearing these men were humiliated led to self-reflection and conviction of sin, driving many to repentance. Do you want the presence of God in your life or just the powerful things you hope God can do for you? What practices, or attitudes, do you need to repent of?
Repentance of sin and reliance on the God who prevails through His word is where life will be found. This is necessary for us to have a flourishing life AND essential for mission. If you want to impact your city, or be on mission? Start with repentance of sin! Repentance of sin is costly, but it’s worth it. The Holy Spirit working in and through the church helps confirm and affirm the truth of the word of God that lead to true life for disciples of Jesus. It wasn’t the miracles that prevailed, it wasn’t the healings, or the hyper spiritual experiences the drove the growth and impact it was the “word of the Lord” that “prevailed mightily”.
PART IV | Economy of Idolatry – Peaceful Protest | Acts 19:23-40
Acts 19:23-40| 23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” 28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd.34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.”41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
Economy of Idolatry – The livelihood of many in the city of Ephesus is tied to people paying tribute to false gods. The impact of this church and ministry cannot be understated. So many renounced false religion (trying to earn their way to God) for the refreshing unearned way of the Gospel of Jesus that it began to impact the local economy. People’s souls were made alive by the grace of God in ways that transformed how they lived their daily lives. There is a meeting of the Ephesus chamber of commerce where they start counting the cost of people repenting of sin and trusting Jesus over slavish devotion to the local cult. Silversmiths, whose trade was crafting statues to Artemis, began having to close their shops for lack of business! “Heresy, people have been told that what they create and work with their hands and efforts are not God’s. That if we make a god and serve it, it’s not really a god, besides don’t they know a meteor hit this area a while ago.” They wanted to be a people who serve their idols. Idol worship is really self-worship. It is us trying to earn a life, blessing, favor from our own efforts. What are the idols of our area? What would shut down for lack of business if our region was radically reached for the Gospel of Jesus?
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in Freedom, most people find sin.” – John Green
Peaceful Protest - The Way (what the Ephesian church was known as) was so disruptive by their lack of participation in the local cult it caused those who built their lives on idolatry to riot in protest! The gods we serve we make ourselves have to be defended by us when they fail. If their god’s had real power than they wouldn’t need to chant and shout down any who disagree. The dark lifelessness of idolatry was met with the power of the living God! Not through angry protesting but remaining peaceful, even quiet, as others were chaotically ruled by their emotions and fears. Paul wanted to jump in by the grace of God and submission to other disciples did not, instead they trusted in God who brings peace. The riot dies down and Paul leaves giving a stirring farewell address to the Ephesian elders. Paul wasn’t just an evangelist/planter, he was also a concerned shepherd to the faithful “saints who are in Ephesus.”
Repentance of sin has a great cost, as we are no longer living as we once did. But, it also has a great impact. To create community change, we don’t have to riot against sin and idolatry. Simply no longer participating in them in favor of the worship of God will provide positive disruption. The greatest impact we can have in our families, church, community is us being transformed resting in our identity as people who have been made Alive, and are now walking The Way Unearned.
While the world protests and promotes their failed idols, we remain peaceful and pray remembering it’s only God that can change hearts. The way to Gospel transformation of a city, even our own lives, cannot be earned from our personal efforts. We remain faithful, repentant, humble, as we share Jesus with people, knowing only God’s power can make dead cities and dead men come Alive when people Trust Jesus!