Summary: Rip Van Winkle is the story of a man who woke up after a 20-year nap, only to find that the world had radically changed! Acts 19:1-7 tell the story of 12 1st century Rip Van Winkles who discovered that God’s entire way of dealing with mankind had changed.

First Century Style Rip Van Winkles

Series: Acts

Chuck Sligh

August 20, 2017

Adapted from a longer sermon by Stephen Davey.

TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 19:1-5


Illus. – In 1820, a lawyer named Washington Irving published his first short story. It became so popular that for the next 185 years it would be read by millions and his name would be known by most Americans with at least a high school education.

The story was about a man who walked into the woods one day with his favorite dog and his favorite rifle; who met some peculiar men deep in the forest who offered him a strange tasting ale; who eventually lay down; and under the influence of that magical brew, fell into a deep sleep that would last for 20 years.

His name was RIP VAN WINKLE. When he awakened from his long sleep 20 years later, he hurried back into town—only to discover that EVERYTHING HAD CHANGED. He went back to the inn where he used to sit and talk with his friends under the tavern sign with a painting on it of His Majesty King George III on it—except now the sign had the portrait of a different George—George Washington. Van Winkle’s friend, the tavern keeper, was gone, and so were others he had known.

Let me read you Washington Irving’s own words:

In the place of his friends was a lean looking fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections— members of congress—liberty—Bunker’s Hill—and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle. The appearance of Rip, with his long-grizzled beard, his rusty rifle, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They crowded around him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity. [One man] bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired, “On which side did you vote?” Another short busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, “Are you a Federal or a Democrat?” Eventually they all demanded who he was and what was his name? “God knows,” exclaimed [Rip], at his wit’s end; “I’m not myself—I’m somebody else—I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain... and [now] everything’s changed.”

During one long 20-year nap, the world of Rip Van Winkle had changed; and he had an incredible amount of catching up to do.

In our Bible text today, we have twelve First Century Rip Van Winkles. But there are still some Van Winkles among us even today in the religious world. This morning I want to talk about these First Century Van Winkles and see what the Bible teaches us about them.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus in Acts 19, it had been a little more than 20 years since Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, just as long a Rip Van Winkle slept. It had been 20 years since the establishment of the Body of Christ at Pentecost—and the world had changed dramatically!

Yet there were sincere Jews who were still unaware. Like Rip Van Winkle, they hadn’t not heard of the vast changes in their world. One night they went to bed under the Mosaic law, bound to Judaism, governed by the prophets; the next morning, they awakened, but unaware that the NEW COVENANT had replaced the OLD COVENANT; that the CHURCH had replaced the SYNAGOGUE; and that CHRIST had replaced MOSES.

Here was a group of people who were about to awaken from a long spiritual sleep. They were still following John the Baptizer, the last Old Testament Prophet. From our text, we see that they needed three things:


Acts 19:1-2 – “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, 2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.”

I can just imagine that these men must have felt a lot like Rip must have felt. They were confronted with the news of this Holy Spirit, and they didn’t have a clue about who He was. John had prophesied the coming baptism with the Holy Spirit, but he gave no further teaching on Him. He said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

These are the only words John ever uttered about the Holy Spirit. It’s possible that John himself didn’t know his prophecy meant. So these 12 Van Winkles might have had some inkling of this coming indwelling Spirit, but that’s all they knew. So, they needed the new revelation.

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