First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, October 10, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“When the Name of Christ Is Held in High Honor!”
Acts 19:8-12 & 17
Acts chapter 19 takes us to the heart of Paul’s Third Missionary Trip. Paul’s third missionary journey took place in 53 AD and lasted for 3 years. The big portion of this missionary trip was spent in the city of Ephesus. For three years, Paul spoke boldly and argued persuasively about Jesus of Nazareth and the kingdom of God’s arrival in Him. This is the longest period of time Paul ever stayed in one mission field. You may be interested to know that during his house arrest in Rome in 61 AD, Paul wrote and sent 3 letters to the congregation in Ephesus: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Ephesians.
In Acts 19:17, the passage we are looking at this morning, Luke gives his summary of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Having seen lives transformed by the gospel, miracle done in the name of Jesus, Luke sums up and captures the ministry in Ephesus in these words: “When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”
In order to appreciate and understand the magnitude of this statement, we need to know how difficult it was to share the good news of Jesus in Ephesus. It was extremely difficult to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the pagan city of Ephesus. The story of planting the Church in Ephesus is a hope-filled story. There are many lessons we can learn today as we reflect on this story. Please allow me to underscore a single lesson this morning, but before I do that, Let’s first examine the city of Ephesus.
The City of Ephesus
Ephesus was the capital city in Asia Minor under the Roman Empire. During the days of the Romans, the city of Ephesus bore the title “the First and Greatest Metropolis of Asia.” Ephesus was the most populous city of the most prosperous province in the empire.
The religious atmosphere in Ephesus was a tough one. As I mentioned earlier, to appreciate the early Christian community in Ephesus and their perseverance, we need to understand the culture in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus had one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world: the Temple of Artemis (also known as Diana). Artemis was worshipped as the fertility goddess among the Greeks and Romans. People from around the world came to worship the goddess Artemis.
The Temple of Artemis was bigger than a football field and a half long and wider than a football field. It was wrapped with 127 massive pillars of marble. All the town worshipped at the temple. Given that Artemis was the goddess of fertility, hundreds of temple prostitutes both male and female were present at any given time. Many of the festivities celebrating Artemis ended in rampant sexual immorality. That was the environment. Think of the challenges faced by the early Christians who lived in Ephesus.
But at the end of the day, this challenge really didn’t compare to the worship of the Emperor Domitian, which was also headquartered in Ephesus. Ephesus also hosted a temple to the emperor. Very few cities had those temples. In Ephesus, stood a temple to worship Domitian built on the highest place in town so that all could see. Domitian began his reign in 81 AD and immediately selected this place for people to worship him as god. On the plateau of the temple – where the temple actually stood – was a statue of Domitian that was held up by other statues. These were all the statues of all the gods of the empire holding Domitian up as the highest. For early Christians, that was a very intimidating sight, because Domitian, next to Nero, is one of the emperors that most brutally persecuted Christianity.
It was here in Ephesus that Paul preached the gospel and planted a church. How did the followers of Jesus survive the culture of Ephesus? How can we maintain a strong spirituality, a closer walk with Jesus, in the midst of such a hostile culture? Here is an important key from Acts 19: Stick to the Body of Christ and grow daily.
Stick to the Body of Christ and Grow up Daily in the Lord
Here is the formula, the secret, to persevere and endure a pagan culture: stick to the Body of Christ and grow up in the Lord daily. This formula is based on Acts 19:9-10, “Paul 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.”
Growing up in Christ is a daily process. It’s a journey. This journey is traveled with a like-minded community. This community is called the Body of Christ, the Church. Ephesus was a tough place to evangelize and to make disciples. That’s why the apostle Paul stayed in Ephesus three full years. Luke tells us that Paul gathered with the disciples “daily” in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Paul met daily with the followers of Jesus in Ephesus. They traveled this tough road together. They were fed God’s Word. They became an encouragement to each other. Someone said, “Come to Church every Sunday and come to Christ every day.”
Friends, Paul’s experience in Ephesus reminds us of the importance of this gathering. It’s God’s way to build up our faith. May we never give up meeting together. May we never forsake the gathering of the saints. When such dedication and perseverance are found, “the name of the Lord Jesus will be held in high honor.” It will not be the name of Domitian whose statue was held up by all the gods of the empire; it’s the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we never lose sight of our mission to honor the name of our Savior. The 21st century American culture is as tough as the first century Ephesian’s culture. Yet, it happened back then and by God’s grace it can happen today. May it be so. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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