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Adventures in Capital City

In the nineteenth chapter of Acts, when the apostle and missionary Paul walked into Ephesus, he was entering the queen city of the Roman province of Asia, the capital city. It was a city that enjoyed the power of Rome, the splendor of Greek culture, and was at the high tide of Oriental superstition and magic. In that city was found the temple of Diana, or Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. And the apostle entered a city that God would bless.

In this text, we find how God brings adventure and excitement and change to Capital City and what happens. There was a great deal going on there, but nothing like when Jesus came to change that city. It was a city of power, a city of wealth, a city of prestige, a city of art and culture and wonderful architecture. Yet it was an empty city because it was without God. That was about to change. It started in the name of people who thought they knew God, who gathered in the name of God, who had been baptized by John the Baptist. It begins by saying that you and I need to make sure we understand that what we don't know can hurt us.

The baptism of the Spirit

Look in verses one through seven.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. And Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him. That is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke in tongues and prophesied, and there were about twelve men in all.

They were probably sincere men. They had heard John the Baptist speaking of the need for repentance, and they were convicted of the sin in their own hearts; and they came and were baptized by John. But somehow they didn't hear him. They didn't get the whole message. I guess they thought that by doing this religious act, everything would be all right; and they missed the message. John said, "There's one coming after me. I'm not worthy to untie his shoes. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. He's the Messiah who is coming. And he's the one who will come and baptize you with the Spirit and baptize you with life. He is the one you must believe."

That was John's message, and somehow they missed it. They thought by joining and by being baptized that everything was going to be wonderful; everything would be changed, and it wasn't. Then they heard about Jesus, and believed in him; and they were baptized in the name of Jesus. Not all of John's converts were re-baptized. The disciples were not, but somehow these had never heard John's whole message. They were baptized in the name of Jesus, and then the Spirit came on them.

You don't get God in pieces. Jesus and God and the Spirit are three; they are one. He came upon them because Jesus was in them; and because Jesus was in them, they did exactly what Jesus said in Acts 1:8. He said, "You will receive power when my Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses." So Christ's Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak and witness in a language they hadn't learned. They began to prophesy. It's a word that means they told forth; not that they foretold. They spoke about Jesus Christ because they were fulfilling this thing that Christ said happens when "my Spirit dwells within my people."

The town around them needed the real thing. God is going to make his change in the capital city of Asia and the capital city of Mississippi. When God's people see that repentance begins in the house of the Lord, then God's power and God's Spirit comes. It begins with the people who claim to know him. We come to him through total commitment to Christ. Then we become real and God can use us.

Authority comes through authenticity

On a winter's night, I was called by a frantic high school drama teacher. She told me that two young men had already walked away from the role of sheriff in that year's production of the junior play, and would I please come and try to learn the lines and do the play in three weeks? Well, it was a melodrama, sort of a country counterpart of As the World Turns. It was a lot of fun. I got to arrest the bad guys. I won all the fights. I wore the guns. I was a tough guy and the good guy too. I didn't get the girl. The leading man got the girl. I said that my profession was so dangerous that it just didn't open itself to marriage. Everything was all right.

But what if somebody came and needed a real sheriff? What if someone came and said, "There's a bank robbery going on, you got to go down there and do something?" I'd have to say, "Now wait a minute. This badge is fake. This gun is a toy. I have no authority." It's a sad thing when people come to those who call themselves the people of God and find that everything about them is fake. There's no authority. There's no real power. Revival always begins when God's people come all the way back to God, through Jesus Christ, and love and honor him.

Could it be—is it possible—that there are good people, very good people who were convicted of their sins and said, "I am not fit. I am not saved. I need to be forgiven.?" They came and joined the church and were baptized. But when you say, "Is the Holy Spirit of God working in you?" They might say, "We've heard of him, but we don't know him." That Spirit comes in power upon those who have surrendered everything to the Lord Jesus Christ. The capital city of Ephesus needed real Christians. The capital city of Jackson desperately needs real, committed Christians who believe this is the priority of life and Christ is Lord and Master of their lives.

The dangers of syncretism

Another interesting thing happened in that city, a thing that indicates that the most dangerous thing in the world is to mix a little Jesus in with the culture. It's to sort of add Jesus to the mix of things, and say we can add a little Jesus to our conversation, and we won't have to change much. We can just be like this in one place, like this in another place. We think we can mix paganism and Christianity together, our selfishness and God's commitment, put all these things together into a kind of crazy mix. But it won't work. Listen; beginning in verse 13:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

It's a dangerous thing when we think we can put a little Jesus into the mix and it will be all right. For the time will come when we face the real stress and trials and confrontations with evil in life, and some evil spirit in us is going to say, Jesus I know, but who are you? Where's the power in you to do anything about this? There is a frighteningly tragic time in the Word of God when Jesus said, "One day people will stand before me, and they're going to say, 'We called you Lord. We did wonderful things in your name,' and I'll have to say to them,' said Christ, 'depart from me. I never knew you. Pardon me, we've never really met.'" It's a dangerous thing to think you can mix a little Jesus in with the rest of your own selfish or pagan world and expect that to make a difference.

It's who you know

The point of all this is that it's who you know that gives you life. Look at verses eight through ten:

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 the Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord.

Paul came to town with a message, and that message had to do with the kingdom of God. "Remember, Jesus came." That was his message: "I'm here to show you the way to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is at hand." He was talking about Jesus. He said some of them resisted him when he kept persistently talking about the Way. Remember Jesus said in John 14, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." He talked about how all the people—Jews and Greeks, everybody—heard the Word of the Lord. And, once again, it was the word about the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to town with the message of Jesus. John Wesley wrote in his journal one day: "I came into town and I brought them Jesus." That's what Paul did.

A pastor called the kids down for the children's story. When they got there, he smiled and said to them, "Today I want to talk about frogs. What do you think about when I say 'frog'?" A bright little girl quickly shot up her hand and said, "God." And he said, "Why do you say that?" She said, "I know you didn't bring us all the way down here to talk about frogs." We need to ask ourselves, "Who are we supposed to be talking about? What's really happening here? Who is the center of our love and our worship and our conversation, and all that happens when we come to this place?" Paul came into town telling them about Jesus. It was a wicked town, a very wicked town. They didn't have newspapers or phone books to tell how to find the massage parlor or the strip joints or the casinos, but they had their ways. You can go to Ephesus now; I saw it this year. On the main street, right in all of that splendor, there was engraved into the stone curb the explicit directions for how to find the local house of prostitution.

Yet, when Paul came to town, he talked to them about Jesus. There was a temple of Diana, a beautiful, wonderful, fantastic building, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. When Paul came to town, he talked to them about Jesus. There was superstition and magic of all kinds around. This was the heyday for that kind of thing, and Ephesus was a center of it. There were the psychics and the swamis, and they were swarming. But Paul came to town and talked to them about Jesus.

The results of plain talk about Jesus

Look what happened in verses 18-19. "Those who believed repented of their evil deeds and confessed them. They brought their books about magic and sorcery, their incantations for driving out demons," all of this weird and wicked stuff. They brought those books, those scrolls worth more than fifty thousand pieces of silver, and they burned them. Diana was one of the most favored of all the Roman goddesses. They thought that their power and their splendor, everything they had, stemmed from Diana and her center of worship at Ephesus. But even the followers of Diana were shaken up by the preaching of Jesus.

Then, beginning in verse 23, we read of a riot that almost took place. 25,000 people came to a big outdoor theater in Ephesus, and there they tried to put down the people of Jesus Christ. But it didn't work. In verse 37 you read that one of their own people said, "These people have not said anything against Diana." Do you get the thrust of that? The apostle didn't come to town moaning about the symptoms of a sick society. He came to town saying, "I've got something to tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ."

When he preached Christ to them, they were changed. They repented of their evil deeds. When he preached Christ to them, they were changed. They burned their evil books. When he preached Christ to them, they were people so shaken up that they even defied the greatest religious power that place had ever heard of—all in the name of Jesus. All this, with never a negative word spoken. Do you understand that? Do you understand that if you and I want something to happen in Capital City, it will happen when we take seriously God's assignment for us to tell people about Jesus Christ? That's when it happens. He changes things. He changes people. Let's tell them about him.

Two men were riding on a train in first-class. They were wealthy, and they were intelligent; recognized by our nation as outstanding movers and shakers, and atheists, both of them. One was Robert Ingersoll. The other was a man named Lew Wallace, a great writer. As they were talking about the life of Jesus, Lew Wallace said, "Well, his really is an interesting life. He really was an interesting man and made some impact. I think it would make a wonderful romance novel, to write about him as a man." Ingersoll said, "You're the man to do it. Why don't you write a book, and let's expose all this divine stuff, and this Son of God stuff, and write him for what he is. Write him as just a man, just one of the men who lived in history." Lew Wallace set out to do that, and the more he read about the life of Christ, the more he exposed himself to the life of Christ and the people of Christ, the more his life was affected. One day Lew Wallace got on his knees and said, "Jesus Christ, you are Lord, and I am yours." And he wrote Ben Hur, one of the greatest Christian novels of all time.

Jesus Christ changes people. Jesus Christ changed the capital city. The church that evolved in Ephesus was one of the greatest churches that history has ever known. Jesus Christ can do that. If your life needs changing, come to Jesus Christ. If your city needs changing—and God knows it does—then let's all of us together come to Jesus Christ and share Christ with all of our hearts and souls. He's the one who will make the difference.

Dear Lord, it's so painful sometimes for us to understand that your ways are not our ways, that you don't do things like we do them. And so often we make the big mistake of thinking of all we're going to do for you when, really, you've told us to do one thing. Through us, you want to share the love of God in Jesus Christ. I pray you'll endow us with sanctified common sense, to understand that changes are made when people are changed, and only Jesus Christ can change lives. God, we pray for the revival. We pray for the spiritual awakening. We pray for the adventures that you want to bring to Capital City as your people become yours. In Jesus' name. Amen.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

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Sermon Outline:

Adventures in Capital City

by Frank Pollard


Acts 19


How talking about Christ can change those around you

Big Idea

What you don't know about Jesus Christ can hurt you.


Salvation; Evangelism; Change






Ephesus was an empty city because it was without God.

I. The baptism of the Spirit.

II. Authority comes through authenticity.

III. The dangers of syncretism.

IV. It's who you know.

V. The results of plain talk about Jesus.


The church that evolved in Ephesus was one of the greatest churches that history has ever known. Jesus Christ can do that.