Read Acts 19:11-20
Have you ever done something a little more adventurous that you should have known better than to try? Do you ever wonder who the person was and what they did in order for specific content to be covered in the company safety video? I have seen some interesting stuff in my life. I currently work at Disney. I remember going to Disney as a child and feeling like half of the safety guidelines that are currently in place were not established at the time. However, there are people who feel like it’s not a bad idea to jump out of a moving ride, climb onto props, or touch wild animals. I remember a time about 2 months ago when several of us had arrived to work early and a manager said, “Hey, you 3. I need you to walk the exit path from our attraction and pluck up all the mushrooms. We had a Guest who just kinda sat down in the grass yesterday and started eating them.” Only in a fallen world do people eat tide pods and wild mushrooms at a theme park unprovoked. There are some things that people just shouldn’t do and it shouldn’t be explained why.
In Acts 19:11-20, we see a group of people take on a task where they should have known better. Verse 11 tells us that God was doing extraordinary things through Paul while he was in Ephesus. How extraordinary were these things? So extraordinary “that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them the evil spirits came out of them.” We have to be careful when examining the events in this text. Have you ever received a letter in the mail or watched a show on television where an “evangelist” promised to send you a healing cloth of some sort that they had prayed over for the low price of only $10? Who is the star in these works advertised? The preacher. Who was the star when miraculous works took place in the BIble? God. This is an important truth to take note of in our celebrity preacher context. We often look at people who are merely servants of God and attribute a supernatural greatness to them. This is incredibly unhealthy. Even the greatest preachers who reach the most people and are used the most by God in this world are nothing more than redeemed sinners who are being used by Him.
This is where the story gets fun. After seeing God do great things through Paul, some unbelievers who were exorcists by trade decided they were going to use the name of Jesus over the evil spirits they encountered. Notice how these exorcists were commanding the demons to come out in verse 13, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches.” If they were believers then this would be the Jesus that they proclaim. Despite not being convinced that Jesus is Lord, they had recognized that there was great power in this name. You can imagine their thought process, “If this ordinary tent maker can do these extraordinary things in the name of Jesus then surely we, the professionals, can do greater things than he.” As we will see the name of Jesus is nothing to be played with, It comes with great power and demonic recognition.
At this point we come to a certain group of these exorcists who are sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva. When they attempted to cast out a specific demon, this demon chose to lash back. He responds with a very fascinating comment in verse 15, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul, but who are you?” This statement sheds light on a reality that should haunt us. Demons have a thorough understanding of who Jesus is. This reality is reflected in James 2:19 when James wrote, “You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe—and they shudder.” Demons are not only able to articulate, but believe the most accurate theological statements that are most crucial to the Christian faith. We see in the Satan’s temptations of Jesus that Satan has Scripture memorized. Satan demons know Scripture and theology drastically better than many of the people in our context, yet they are still cursed. We must never put our faith and our hope in the knowledge we hold. The question is not how many Bible stories you know, how often you attend church, or how thoroughly you hold to the Nicene Creed. Sure, these things are helpful, but the real question is whether you have encountered Jesus. Have you experienced and been changed by His grace and forgiveness?
The story takes a turn in verse 16. The men who had been taking control of all these demons were suddenly taken hold of by this demon possessed man. We read, “Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded.” Like the person who drives the forklift off the ledge, the person who jumps out of a moving ride, the person who eats wild mushrooms a couple of hours after the fact, it was at this moment that they knew they had messed up. Demonic power is one that can overcome man. However, the point of this entire passage is not to show that demons are superior to man, but rather that Jesus is superior to demons. Demons have a power in this world that can be burdensome to us, therefore we must run to the One who has power over them.
People witnessed this encounter and the news spread across the city. All people in this city became fearful, but the name of Jesus was held in high esteem. Jesus’ name was being exalted so much in this city that people began to turn away from witchcraft and other practices and turn to Jesus. People came together and burned their books in order that they might never revisit these obstacles again. I know exactly what you are thinking. Many of us have bad memories when it comes to the fundamentalist groups wanting to burn everything that did not fit their agenda. This is not the picture being presented in this passage. When we read this passage, we should not think of the fundamentalist agenda, we should think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:30 where he tells us to cut off our right arm if it causes us to sin. The point of this passage is not burning everything we disagree with, but rather getting rid of that which causes us to stumble. This should be the prayer and heartbeat of our church. Do we truly desire on a daily basis that the name of Jesus be so great in our hearts that we actively rid ourselves of every stumbling block that hinders this exaltation from happening?