Sermon for Sunday Evening, July 23rd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 19:11-20 ESV] 11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
The text tells us that handkerchiefs and aprons that touched Paul’s skin were carried away and used to heal the sick. Diseases left them and evil spirits came out of them. It says “even,” presumably meaning that many were healed directly by Paul. That was the primary method of healing, but EVEN others were healed by handkerchiefs and aprons carried away.
Christ had given the twelves apostles (in Mark 3:15) “authority to cast our demons.” Now Paul has that authority as well, which supports his contention that he too is an apostle.
And we see that these are not Paul’s miracles, but God’s miracles. Only God has the power to do such things, but he can and does use people as the instruments of his miraculous healing. “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.” Surely many that weren’t even recorded. But among the miracles were the healing of diseases and the casting out of demons.
I. Disease and Demon Possession Separate
It is interesting that those two things are put together in the same place here – the healing of disease and the casting out of demons. Possibly SOME disease could be related to demon possession, but there is no Biblical warrant to think that all diseases are related to demons.
In Matthew’s Gospel we find demon possession separated from disease as two different “classes.” Matthew says of Jesus, “So his fame spread throughout all of Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those afflicted by various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and healed them.” (4:24) Some with disease, some with demons; two different groups.
Similarly with Peter healing others in [Act 5:16 ESV] The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
Very devout Christians get diseases and die from them, yet Christians are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” Christians are not “a house divided” between the Holy Spirit and evil spirits; a house that could never stand. If a person is a genuine believer inhabited by the Spirit of God, demon possession is not possible. And it would be quite disastrous to tell a person (or their family) that their disease is because they don’t believe enough or because they have a demon in them.
II. The Sons of Sceva
We then have yet another time where Christ is called God, indirectly. First we see that “God was doing extraordinary miracles.” Then we understand that these miracles were done in the name of Jesus Christ. That is what Paul was doing – working in the name of Jesus Christ. And that is what these false prophets, Jewish exorcists, Sons of the High Priest Sceva were doing. They were invoking the name of Jesus Christ over those who had evil spirits.
When I think of these Sons of Sceva, I think “how SHAMELESS” these men are. Have they no shame? Invoking the name of Christ (who they don’t believe in) for financial gain? Well, it says they are “itinerant exorcists” and literally this just means they travel from place to place, but I think we can say with some certainty that they were charging for their services. They weren’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.
We are warned here to beware of counterfeit lies of those who use Jesus for their own gain. Counterfeit lies for their own gain. Something that Jesus warned about in [Mat 7:22-23 ESV] 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Just because a person uses the name of Jesus, doesn’t mean they are OF Jesus. Even entire false churches –– The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons — use the name of Jesus. But they deny the Gospel and truth of the triune God, and frankly almost all that the Bible teaches they distort. And so many televangelists. They call their ministry a church, but it is no different than the self-help section in the library. There is no gospel. They just occasionally throw in the name of Jesus all the while asking for money. Pure evil.
Well, the ploy of Sceva’s seven sons backfired one day. A demon they were trying to cast out refused, saying “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?.” The demon then turned on them viciously. The demon-possess man “leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
This reminds me of the Old Norse practice of the berserker. The berserker were those who were said to have fought in a trance-like fury, given rise to the modern English word berserk. They are said to have worn bearhoods or wolfhoods. In battle they’d howl like beasts, foam at the mouth, even gnaw at the rims of their shields. (One of the pieces of the Lewis Chessman has a berserker gnawing on a shield.) They were be sent to cause great havoc in the ranks of the enemy. I imagine they were on some strong drugs, or maybe they were possessed.
Well, here in the text we have something similar; one wild man (possessed) is able to overpower the rest.
What then were the results?
1. The Ephesians could readily see the difference between the power of Christ and the impotency of pretenders.
Christ has authority, and Christ has power, even to cast our demons.
While the evil spirit is more powerful than many men, the Lord Jesus Christ is more powerful than all of the evil spirits.
Evil Spirits are dangerous, but the HOLY Spirit is far greater than them all
2. Many came to Christ, repenting of their occult practices.
The people saw that Christ was powerful. So what did they do? Actually, the right thing. They repented of their occult practices and came to Christ.
17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.
They even had a good old fashioned book burning.
3. There was a good old fashioned book burning.
19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Book burnings have a bad rap. They are often associated with intentional ignorance, burning things to remain ignorant. But here, this book burning is for the love and care of their families, their communities, and their children. They know that their witchcraft, which these books promoted, was doing them no good, even harming them. Why would they want that to come back to their society. Just like the casting out of a demon, they cast out the knowledge (false knowledge) that the books contained, and desired that it never return.
So opposed to these occult books did the people come that they burned them, fifty thousand pieces of silver worth. While the Sons of Sceva wanted money, they got evil. And when the people who believers got rid of evil they shunned the money that was with it. They could have sold the books, but no money is worth one’s soul.
4. The Gospel made great inroads into that city.
And what was the final result of this episode?
20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
This is the fulfillment of what Paul said in 2 Thessalonians, from our text this morning.
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,”
See, everything is FOR and TO the glory of God.
And the Lord is victorious.
This is much debate HOW the Lord is going to be victorious in the end, but there is no debate among Christians THAT the Lord will be victorious. In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
This is the purpose of the ministry of Christ, and of Paul, and all of the apostles. Not to do miracles – thought they did indeed do miracles. No, not to do miracles, but to preach the Gospel that it may make great inroads in the world. Believer in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sins. The miracles attest to his divine power. And it is from his divine power, and his death on the cross, that Christ’s life and death and rebirth becomes and is the Gospel message. A victorious gospel.