Monday, July 2, 2012

100% Pure Kingdom of God. - Acts 19 (Accept no Substitutes)

(Read Acts 19)

Say no to Artificial Swedeners.
Acts 19:1-6 (ESV)
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.

Paul had a good rest between his last preaching tour and this, his third mission. In Acts 19, Paul seems to have matured and grown from the worn out and angry man that ended his second mission in Acts 18. Luke reports that Paul enters a synagogue to talk about the Kingdom of God in verse 8. There is no bitterness to report when his message is rejected by some in verse 9. Paul seems to just graciously move on, continuing to share his message for two more years without dramatic incident on his part.

Instead of focusing on Paul as much as the last two chapters did, this chapter mainly concerns itself with how the message of the Kingdom of God that Paul preaches is received by those who hear it, and how they respond. The stories illustrate the nature of “the Way” for the reader, and further clarify just what is the nature of Holy Spirit empowered life. The authority of Kingdom citizens is contrasted with that of the world.

Jesus (Grace) compared to John (Repentance) – vv1-6

Acts 18 introduced us to a fiery new preacher named Apollos, who had been boldly preaching about repentance after the authority of John the Baptist. (Was Apollos the first Baptist preacher?) Paul's friends have already corrected and expanded Apollos' understanding of Jesus at the end of Acts 18, but here Paul comes across some of the believer's who came to faith by the preaching of Apollos. John the Baptist preached repentance, encouraging people to make straight paths in their lives for the coming Messiah. But once the Messiah came in the person of Jesus, the message he preached had become so much fuller. Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. By faith in Jesus, we can now receive the power of the resurrection in the person of the Holy Spirit living in us. This gift of Grace empowers us to live the lives God created for us as Kingdom citizens.

Jesus' Authority is Extended Only to Those who Follow Him – vv11-20

The message of the Kingdom and “the Way” as Paul preached it was followed by miraculous signs to confirm its truth and power. People were being healed and set free. Anything that would hinder a person from living in the Way of Jesus was miraculously removed.

But when some magicians in Ephesus try to use the authority of Jesus' name to cast out demons, they fail. Jesus' name and Kingdom authority is not meant for anything but the glory of God. It is when we are subject to Jesus that we are able to act and speak in Kingdom authority. Those who are not citizens of a kingdom may not seek to speak on that kingdom's behalf or in that king's authority.

Just as Stephen Colbert must be granted special authority by the nation of Sweden to speak on its behalf, we must also be granted the grace of the King to dare speak in his name. The Kingdom of God does not abide Artificial Swedeners.

The practice of the authorities of the world, whether natural or unnatural, must all bow to the one authority of Jesus, the King of kings. Only Jesus' authority is supernatural, and by his authority the blind see, the crippled walk, the oppressed are set free, the imprisoned are released, and sinners are forgiven. All other authority outside of Loving and Just Kingdom power is a perversion of true authority, and will fail in the end. In Ephesus, many of the people who dared subvert or transcend the authority of Jesus repented after believing Paul's message and seeing the demonstration of Holy Spirit power through him.

(see the end of this entry for more on verse 19)

Kingdom Freedom vs the Economy of Empire – vv21-41

Paul preached boldly and truthfully that people no longer needed to be bound by the worship of man-made idols (see Paul's message to the Areopagus at Mars Hill in Acts 17). This is Good News, as the alternative is a single mediator, Jesus, who through our faith gives anyone direct access to Almighty God. We no longer need to imagine we must coerce or manipulate or convince a god to do our bidding. We no longer need a human mediator or priest to stand between us and direct relationship with our Creator

But this news has consequences for the economic and power structures of the empire. If people believe they must sacrifice to an idol to become fertile or have a good crop, the idol-making
industry has a never-ending string of customers. This is comparable to the moneychangers in the temple courtyard, who took advantage of the faithful because of the rules against images of idols in the temple. They had the people by their faith, and manipulated them for their own gain through it. If such an industry existed today, whereby Christians were convinced they could only consume products or media made by or for Christians by Christian companies, such an industry could also manipulate people in a similar way.

When the Kingdom of God comes to the citizens of the empire, the very structure of the empire must change. Jesus sets people free. As the Ephesians are being set free, it is for their financial stability the idol makers are concerned, not for faithfulness to their culture and traditions.

When the morality of slavery was challenged in the Southern United States, pragmatists argued for it to continue for financial reasons. The affects of globalization today are devastating to the world's poorest and most in debt. Yet arguments against debt cancellation and for a more fair global trade are not based on right and wrong, justice or love. Instead, the keepers of the selfish orders of empire argue pragmatically. They frighten us, the wealthiest people in the world, with what justice would cost us.

The Kingdom of God is lived in Justice and Love and Freedom. Jesus will always challenge the world's systems. Followers of Jesus will always live in resistance to empire.


On verse 19, Book Burning, and Arrogant Christian Colonialism

The burning of books in verse 19 will of course remind us of the book burnings of the Nazis, which is horribly unfortunate. Let us please notice that this event is described as one begun and carried out by the very people who owned the books. It's also shown as having been completely voluntary on the part of the people burning them. This was not a top-down or hierarchical event. Neither should we see it as an example that we must follow. Nowhere else in scripture is this demonstrated or suggested as a good idea. The arrogant colonial attitude of later Christians that would destroy the arts and culture of civilizations around the world is a different animal than this, and we should not use this example as justification for the sins of those Christians who have done or do the same.

If the early Christians were to arrive in North America today, and treat us as these colonial missionaries, they very well might burn down our McDonald's and destroy our televisions and movie theatres. Let's consider our history very humbly, and remember that we, like Paul, are imperfect and have made mistakes. Not every Kingdom ambassador has perfectly represented the King of love we serve.


v1 – See 1 Corinthians 1
vv1-7 – These were disciples, but we see them first get saved in verse 5. They weren’t Christians before this.
v8 – Kingdom of God
v9 – The WAY
v16 – Jesus isn’t magic. We have a right to walk in his authority only if we are submitted to him.
v23 – the WAY
v26 – This was a problem with business, not religion

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