A sermon on Acts 19
I preached this yesterday:
8 ¶ And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.
9 But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyran'nus.
10 And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
11 ¶ And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
12 so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.
13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.
19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
21 ¶ After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achai'a, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
22 So he sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timothy and Eras'tus; but he himself stayed in Asia for a season.
In this passage we have an account of Paul’s preaching ministry in Ephesus. We learn of his engaging in intellectual debate with the synagogue and with the school of Tyrannus. But we also learn of his demonstrating the power of his message through miracles, even through aprons and handkerchiefs. Indeed, the message of the Gospel preached by the apostles was accompanied by miracles that proved that God was at work. We read in chapter 2 of the epistle to the Hebrews:
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost according to His own will?
The miracles performed by the apostles confirmed that God had begun a new work, that salvation was being proclaimed to all the earth.
There are some Christians who think that we should expect signs and wonders today. There was a time when I used to lament with bewilderment the fact that when we preached the Gospel on the streets, there were no miracles.
However, it is a great mistake to treat Acts as being the norm for the church’s experience. We should note that in Hebrews 2 the signs and wonders are talked about in the past tense. They were given to confirm the work and authority of the apostles. These men gave us the completed New Testament and it must be that which we proclaim, not signs and wonders. The only signs and wonders we should expect are those that are performed by the man of sin, the antichrist, whenever he should appear. He will have plenty of those.
Related to miraculous signs is the confrontation of demons. This incident with the sons of Sceva is perhaps one of the most memorable incidents of demon activity in the New Testament, perhaps because it has a slightly comical aspect to it.
What are demons? Demons are evil spirits that gain possession of the bodies of men and women and overthrow their personalities causing chaotic behaviour. Most Christians think that demons are fallen angels. Other Christians believe that they are the disembodied spirits of dead men. The Bible does not tell us where they came from.
The demons are subject to Satan. Just as God has His kingdom, Satan has His own kingdom, made up of both angels in the heavenly realms and evil spirits at work in the earth. He is the ‘god of this world’. In the 18th and 19th century humanists boasted that ‘Man is free’, that men could control their destiny, yet the truth is that this world is under Satan’s dominion. The earth is not free from Satanic tyranny and the powers of darkness.
The early twentieth century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft wrote many stories about the Old Ones, malevolent beings from distant cosmic realms, before whom humans were utterly powerless. Lovecraft created a vivid picture of cosmic evil and the hopelessness of the natural man. Without God, man is helpless before the power of Satan and His kingdom.
I want to tell you that if you are not a Christian, you are under Satan’s power. He will blind you with lies. He will give you things to do, whether they be work or leisure; things to distract you and keep you from God. You may regard yourself as a 'free-thinker.' You may think you can choose between one religion and another. You think you can decide for yourself what you want to believe. But you are merely floating between one set of lies and another. Socialism, Mormonism, evolution, Islam- name any religion or secular philosophy, Satan will use it to keep you from believing the truth that Jesus Christ is the Saviour who can life. The only way you can find freedom from this evil cosmic kingdom is to be received into the Kingdom of the Saviour Jesus Christ through being born again. I tell you, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In recognising the fact that demons are a reality, we must exercise some caution. There are a lot of sensational books written about demon possession today. If you study the epistles that are addressed to the churches you will find that most of them say nothing about casting out devils. Most of the incidents of demon possession that we find in the Bible are in connection with Christ’s earthly ministry. Throughout the Bible as a whole, possession by evil spirits is quite rare. It seems likely therefore that very few people today are actually possessed. It would seem that the activity of demons today is rather more focused on deceiving people through false ideas and teachings.
We are to confront Satan’s kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel rather than by casting out demons. Hence, Paul was not just doing spiritual warfare when he drove out demons, but also when he debated in the synagogue and in the school of Tyrannus. There he was fighting an intellectual battle. We have to fight ever false idea that is opposed to the truth. We have to confront Islam. We have to show that the New Testament is reliable and not the Quaran. We have to oppose Communism. The Communists thought that through revolution they were building a perfect society and creating a 'new man.' We must oppose this teaching with what the Bible says abot the sunfulness and depravity of man.
A teacher at my school was once told by a couple of female pupils that being a teacher must be really easy. The teacher was quite amused by this and offered to let them teach the lesson next week. They were delighted at this and were briefed on what they needed to teach the glass.
The next week, the teacher sat at the back and let the two girls deliver the lesson. The two girls had an horrible time. They were mocked and jeered at by their classmates who had no desire to be taught by them. This derision was brought to an abrupt end halfway through the lesson by a loud cough from the back of the class by the teacher. Fortunately after that the lesson continued in peace.
The boys and girls in that class knew who had the authority. They feared and respected the teacher, but they had no patience to be instructed by their classmates.
Likewise, the demons know who has the authority. The demons know who is boss, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. As the risen saviour, Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth.
The man Jesus Christ is made the supreme ruler of everything. He has not yet claimed that rule, but at His coming He shall do so. All things will be put under Him, the nations of this earth, the angels of heaven and the all the devils.
The demons know this and they tremble, for they are subject to His name.
But Christ is not the sole heir of all things. He is the head of a new race of heavenly humanity. A people destined to be conformed to His glory and to exercise rulership over creation. Those who are in Christ can receive through Him power over the demons.
Hence the apostles were able to cast out demons in the name of Christ because they had been brought into that vital relationship with Christ. Even Judas Iscariot, though he was not a true believer, was able to cast out demons because he had been delegated that authority by the Saviour.
In this passage we see those that did not have any relationship with Christ falsely claiming the power of Jesus’ name. Just like the class at my school did not recognise the authority of the two girls who took the lesson, the demons do not recognise the sons of Sceva. “We know Jesus. We know Paul. But we don’t know who you are. Raaahh!” And the sons of Sceva got a well deserved beating for their folly.
There is nothing to be gained from falsely claiming the name of Christ.
Sadly, there are millions around the world who profess the name of Christ yet who are utterly lost and have never exercised true faith in His name. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who mix up Christianity with idolatry, liberal Protestants who doubt the truths of God’s Word and the many cults who vainly follow the lies of men. Not to mention the hoards of benchwarmers who go to church to give themselves an air of respectability.
Calling yourself a Christian will not save you on the day of judgment. On the day of judgment, being a church member will not save you from hell.
It is only faith in Christ for eternal life that will get you into heaven. You must look to Christ alone for everlasting life and give up the hope that your good deeds will save you. Don’t put your trust in churches or religious ceremonies; trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. In Him you can find eternal life if you would only receive it from Him by faith.
Notice the results of this incident. It leads the believers to burn their Occult books. It is so important that we shun things of the Occult. If you get involved with Occult things you are dealing with Satan’s realm. You are engaging with him. Some of those things like astrology and Ouija boards might seem harmless, but they are not good. We must turn away from them.
It is very likely that some of those who burned their books may have been believers for as long as two years, when Paul first began his ministry in Ephesus.
When a person becomes a Christian, she is born again. She has a new nature. A new start. Yet the old flesh remains. And sometimes Christians can continue to feed that flesh by hanging on to old habits. Sometimes Christians can really struggle with addictive habits like smoking. Or pornography- there are so many Christian men who struggle to avoid viewing vile images on their PCs.
The temptation for the mature Christian is to judge young believers and to doubt their conversion on the basis of their failings. Yet beware lest you judge with a stricter measure than you judge yourself.
Perhaps you are struggling with some old habit of your past life that you find really hard to break free from. Maybe you wonder “Am I really born again? Surely a true Christian would not keep on doing this thing!” Do not be discouraged. If you have looked to the Lord Jesus Christ you have founded grace and acceptance in Him. All Christians have experienced this struggle with the flesh. Yet if you look to Christ and trust in Him for His great work of sanctification, you can experience victory over sin. Confess your sin and think on your Saviour and what you are in Him. By looking to Christ in faith you can claim the victory which is yours by right.
But you do need to be willing to turn from that which is wrong. And there may well be a cost to that, just like those believers in Ephesus gave up books that were of great financial value to them. However, the rewards for doing so are immense. It will lead to a closer union with Christ and deeper fellowship with Him. It will lead to His praising you at the judgement seat of Christ. It will mean sharing in Christ’s rule over the cosmos. There are great rewards to be gained!
Let us not be deceived by the vanity of earthly pleasures. Next to the things we have gained and will gain in heaven they are nothing.
Let us set our affections on the things of heaven and forsake all those things that are unacceptable to God.
Jesus Christ is coming back to establish His kingdom. He shall destroy the evil order of Satan and crush all his strongholds. Our feet shall bruise Satan shortly. Let us not fear his minions; but let us not be deceived by them either.