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Acts

The Name

Acts  19:11-20

It is a curious thing in our time. When I was a child, it was considered socially graceless to use the name of Christ (or God) as an expression of anger. People were not particularly offended in a religious sense; it was simply impolite. (Do you remember the old Superman series, and Perry White's "Great Caesar's Ghost?") Now, it is considered "punctuation." Where did this sense of politeness, now long since gone, come from?

·         Search the Old Testament. Every time you see the phrase, "the name of the Lord, you will notice that it is in small capitals. That means that it is a translation of the Hebrew word we now use as Jehovah. It is a personal name - God's first name, if you will.

·         In the New Testament, the same phrase translates the Greek word kurios - which means "supreme authority." It is usually coupled as "name of the Lord Jesus" - which again is a personal name. I have in my possession a version of the Bible in Hawaiian and English. I am told that the early missionaries introduced the "S" sound into Hawaiian simply for the purpose of pronouncing the name. It is a personal name.

We don't like it when our own personal names are misused. How much more, then, should God care for his own Name? We shall see such care here today.

The Demon

(Acts 19:11-20 NIV) God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, {12} so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. {13} 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 Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." {14} Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. {15} One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" {16} 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. {17} 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 honor. {18} Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. {19} A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. {20} In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

(One should note that the kind of miracles worked here are a specific fulfillment of John 14:12)

The Jewish Priests

The Jews who "went around" (the word actually connotes a vagabond) were a familiar site at this time. Over the years they developed the legend that their wisdom, by which they exorcised demons, was handed down from Solomon (the tale is still common in the occult world today.) This band must have been particularly noteworthy, as there would be a "seventh son" in it - and the son of a chief priest (which would be one of the 24 courses of priests). They did this, generally, for money, but Jesus acknowledges that their work produced real results.[1] Here, however, they try something new - imitation of one of their competitors, it would seem. In that imitation we can see their problems:

·         Like most believers in magic, they are convinced that the "right incantation" will do the job. They've seen Paul do it "in the name of Jesus" - and assume that the words are all that is required.

·         Their motive is money, not faith. Indeed, it seems they never considered faith a necessity at all. If you want to know how this would sound today, consider any fraudulent televangelist.

·         They get what they deserve - which has some interesting implications, considering that God uses a demon to deliver it.

·         They get what they deserve - in God's style. They did this indoors, but they are exposed for their fraud in public.

Why didn't Paul confront these exorcists?

It's not that Paul is shy about confrontation. Meekness in front of a crowd, an unwillingness to confront Satan's emissaries - these are not noticeable in his character. So why then does he not confront them? Why does God keep him from it?

·         First, so that no one will mistake his confrontation with envy. To confront them directly might have given the impression that he and they were actually in the same "business." To avoid confusing his hearers, Paul leaves them to God.

·         Next, so that the Spirit might do His work. Sometimes we forget that we are not alone.

·         Finally, so that all might be saved. Paul could have made them enemies of the faith. By allowing this method, there is a chance that these men might be saved.

The demon's attitude

Even a servant of the father of lies may inadvertently teach us something of the truth - especially when good comes from this. What can we learn from this demon's behavior?

·         The demon does not mock the name of the Lord - indeed, he would not dare. Recall that whenever Christ encountered a demon, the first reaction of the demon was to scream in terror. This demon begins by acknowledging Christ - he can do no other - with a word that implies a deep knowledge.

·         He also knows Paul - the word would imply "acquainted with" - which is a great honor to Paul. When the enemy knows you by name, you are honored indeed. This explains no small amount of Paul's suffering, by the way.

·         He also knows the difference between incantation and faith. He sees no faith. Therefore these exorcists, being evil, are the lawful prey of the Evil One - and the demon turns on them.

·         But God does not permit evil to arise unless he intends to bring a greater good from it. From this evil we find that many are saved.

Witchcraft

The counterfeit of science

It is important to remember that Satan creates nothing. He is a created being, and only man is the creating creature. But he can twist and counterfeit that which God creates. Indeed, this might be the very definition of evil - twisting and counterfeiting that which is good, for all things which God created were created good. So magic tells us that if we chant this incantation and propitiate that demon, we will get what we want - an "if-then" indicative, just like science. "Magic and science," said C. S. Lewis, "are twins."

The counterfeit of faith

Here we have seen the use of an incantation which, in the mouths of the faithful, would have produced the desired result (and often did). By imitating (counterfeiting) the reality of faith, witchcraft promises the results of faith. In fact, in can only deliver counterfeit results, as we shall see.

The back door: the occult

In our own time we have seen many trapped into the occult by the assumption of, "what harm could there be in it?" In our own neighborhood, two of the girls told my daughter that they were going to cast a spell on a third girl. Neither - I talked to one myself - thought anything of it. She had no idea what she was dealing with. How is it that people who would never think of juggling jars of nitroglycerine would deal with something far more dangerous - the occult?

·         There is the desire for knowledge. We want to be the ones in the know, those who are sure of where they stand. Is this not particularly true in our personal relationships? And doesn't the ouija board seem harmless?

·         There is the desire for power. The next promotion, the next business deal, influence, fame - all these seem desirable. And who wouldn't want the edge - after all, the other guy is talented too, but I have a secret weapon.

·         There is the desire for freedom from guilt. To be vindicated, or at least absolved, by someone powerful may soothe the conscience.

All these are counterfeits. By these Satan tempts us to give ourselves to him in this life so that we may die forever. It substitutes the partial for the whole, the counterfeit for the real, the cheap fake for the real thing.

The necessity of burning the books

It sometimes surprises readers of this passage that the new Christians burnt their books on the occult and magic. These, after all, could have been sold. Why did they have to be burned?

This is an outward sign of inward transformation

·         The new Christian often feels as if he'd like to testify - but has nothing to say. It is not so; look at the powerful testimony without words that was made here.

·         They are testifying to what they know. They don't yet know all that they need to know of the faith, but what they do know, they testify to.

·         And they do it in a way that speaks loudly to the people they know best - those who are also in the occult.

Like burnt bridges, burnt books strengthen the resolve

·         There is the obvious point that once the books are burnt, it is much more difficult to go back into the life of the occult - you'd have to buy all those expensive things again! It's a sign of life long commitment.

·         These things are not cheap. The new Christian can, by doing this, offer a devotional sacrifice to the Lord.

This is the destruction of that which is used for evil

Satan can only twist - but man can create, and he can create that which is evil. By its destruction, that much more evil is removed from the world. A book burnt cannot be read by its next victim.

Worse than a demon

You might ask, what does this have to do with me? I'm not into the occult. But do you not see that demon possession is not nearly as terrible as possession by sin?

Chrysostom - who was familiar with the demon possessed on a daily basis, living in a time where Satan openly displayed his power - tells us this. A man attacked by such a thing as demon possession would often have moments of lucidity, when the power of the demon was in abeyance. In those moments, the man would feel deeply ashamed. He would be ashamed of the pain he had caused; ashamed of the humiliation of his family and loved ones. Demon possession at least can be recognized for the evil it is. There is no pride in being possessed by an evil spirit.

But sin - ah, that's different. How often we take pride in our sins! Do you think not? Consider this: do you know someone who is owned by his rage? A person who constantly goes into extravagant fits of anger? Do they not justify themselves by their pride? "At least I fixed his wagon!"

Perhaps you don't think that applies. But which is worse: an anger on display, out of control, which may produce consequences - and God will use those evil consequences to bring forth a greater good; or a rage which burns inside the heart, eating it out, a concealed fire that hollows out what once was a living tree?

Consider it well. The time of repentance is always near. Today is always a good day to return to the Lord's way. Burn the books, whatever they may be, and commit yourself to Him. You call yourself a Christian, a follower of the Christ. Does your life honor His Name?


[1] Matthew 12:27

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