Acts 19: 11 – 22 Paul in Ephesus – part 2
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
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 the 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 Paul I know about, 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.
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 honour. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to 50,000 drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’ He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
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“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed.”
The result was a disaster for them; they were beaten up by the possessed man, and fled his house naked and bleeding. Let’s compare this with another story in Luke’s gospel.
“’Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’
‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’” (Luke 9: 49 – 50)
At first sight this seems contradictory, but is it? There are several different ways of comparing the two events.
What is going on in the story of the sons of Sceva? They try to cast out a demon by invoking the name of Jesus. This was Ephesus, and sorcery – as we see later in the chapter – was rife. When a sorcerer tried to invoke a spirit to do something – for example, to heal somebody – he thought of it in terms of having power over the spirit he invoked. So in this case, the sons of Sceva were trying to cast out demons by ‘controlling’ or ‘using’ the spirit of Jesus. In the case of the gospel story, however, Jesus endorsed the healer’s actions; although the man wasn’t one of the group of disciples closest to Jesus, he was witnessing to Jesus and that was what mattered.
Then, there is the motivation of those who were trying to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. The sons of Sceva may well have been expecting payment for the healing. We can assume, I think, from Jesus’ endorsement of the man mentioned in the gospel that he was doing it purely as a witness to Jesus. It is important for our hearts to be right before we even think of attempting prayer for healing.
Finally, another way of looking at the events is through the lens of what God wants to happen. Anyone who has had contact with a Christian healing ministry knows that prayer doesn’t always lead to physical healing. Before praying for healing, it is better to pray for guidance. Consider the raising of Tabitha from the dead.
“Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning towards the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.” (Acts 9: 40)
Why did Peter pray? I believe it was so that he was completely sure that God wanted him to raise Tabitha.
What was God’s will in the attempt by the sons of Sceva and their failure to heal the demoniac? Look at the consequences. The populace of Ephesus had a stark sign against sorcery – and they heeded the warning.
“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to 50,000 drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
The big lesson that I take away from today’s reading is that it is God’s will, and God’s power expressed through Jesus. My role is to witness to that truth.
Thank you for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Please help me to witness about Jesus, in whose name I pray.